“Are you telling me there’s some thing running loose in this city ripping the hearts out of people and eating them so he can take their souls back to Hell?”
“Looks that way.”
I think you will be surprised to hear that I never saw SPLIT SECOND until now. Released against LEAVING NORMAL and NIGHT ON EARTH on May 1, 1992, I guess we could say it was the first sci-fi or action movie of Weird Summer. It’s part of that brief, beautiful phase when Rutger Hauer could be the protagonist of action movies (see also WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, BLIND FURY and THE BLOOD OF HEROES).
He plays Harley Stone, an infamously burnt out London homicide detective in the futuristic year of 2008. His first line of the movie is “Police, dickhead,” said to a barking guard dog while flashing his badge. Later he’ll call the dog a dickhead again and accuse him of knowing something about a murder. So he’s a pretty good action hero.
Stone usually wears a leather trenchcoat, pants and boots with round sunglasses, and he constantly smokes cigars, at one point even stopping to light one while running up some stairs trying to catch a killer. According to his boss Chief Thrasher (Alun Armstrong, GET CARTER) he “lives on anxiety, coffee and chocolate.” In his apartment he has a hammock instead of a bed and he doesn’t even use that – he falls asleep sitting up, with a lit cigarette in his hand. In one scene he shaves at a bar. Not even in the bathroom – just sitting at the bar. That’s who we’re dealing with.
Oh, and he’s really into Harley Davidsons and collects all kinds of Harley Davidson signage and stuff, even has a giant logo in his shower. Because his name is Harley? Isn’t that kind of a dorky little boy thing? Oh well.
In London, “day has become almost endless night” from pollution, and global warming has caused “forty days and nights of torrential rain” that have flooded much of the city. So some of the police drive hovercrafts and most scenes are accompanied by the sound of splashing. The flood has also caused a major rat infestation, which I don’t know to be an actual result of global warming, but I appreciate the movie acknowledging chain reaction effects in addition to the weather. I’m gonna bring this up the next time a Republican pretends to think global warming is only about hot weather, not extreme weather patterns or other consequences. “You’re telling me you don’t know what fucking SPLIT SECOND knew 30 years ago!?”
(Another pretty accurate detail: a news broadcast in this U.S.-U.K. co-production mentions the U.S. blocking “yet another U.N. resolution on global warming.” Yeah, that seems fair.)
Stone is still obsessed with catching his partner’s killer, which is kind of inescapable because he has a psychic connection that makes him hear his breath and heartbeat. This is why he goes into a club where a woman in S&M gear dances to a seemingly Prince-inspired song*. It’s a two drink minimum, so he orders two coffees. While he’s on the pay phone next to the restroom entrance a woman asks him to “watch the door” and not to peek (weird) and the next thing you know her heart has been torn out of her ribcage and it says “I’m back” on the mirror in blood. Stone lays his coat over her corpse out of respect. (He either has another one or wears it again the next day.)
Thrasher assigns him a dorky new partner named Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan, now the voice of Alfred in various Batman cartoons). To enter police headquarters you have to walk down metal-lined hallways, hand over your weapons and type in a code to enter a cage. And yet somehow this killer manages to drop off a refrigerated case containing the woman’s heart with a huge bite taken out of it. Later Stone says, “The only thing we know for sure is that he’s not a vegetarian.”
There’s another cop called Paulsen who fulfills the role of “prick who hates Stone so we enjoy the various ways Stone tells him to fuck off,” and he’s played by Pete Postlethwaite. I think I first noticed Postlethwaite in the other sci-fi movie he did this summer, and then it was a few years later that he became inescapable (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, ROMEO + JULIET, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, AMISTAD, etc.)
When Paulsen gives Stone some grief about being suspended, Stone pulls the gold pen from Paulsen’s shirt pocket and stirs his coffee with it. So it’s a creative fuck-you that also elaborates on the theme of “Stone loves coffee.” Good stuff.
While visiting his dead partner Foster’s resting place in a necropolis, Stone runs into Foster’s widow Michelle (Kim Cattrall, the year after STAR TREK VI, the year before RUNNING DELILAH), who he was having an affair with, and is still in love with. She goes back to his apartment but it’s not that romantic because there are pigeons flying at her face and weapons all over the place. She still says “It’s good to see you” very sweetly and falls asleep next to him. She seems like a normal person until a later scene where she eats one of the chocolates he has stuck to his filthy refrigerator like magnets.
There’s a scene designed to make it look like the killer is going to attack her while she’s taking a shower, but luckily he doesn’t kill her, he just turns on the engine of the Harley that Stone keeps in his living room. Finally, Stone catches up to the killer in a neighbor’s apartment and we get some action, though it’s hampered by the need to not show the killer clearly. We do get enough of a glimpse to guess that he’s an alien or similar monster.
It’s one of those fun shootouts with giant holes being ripped through walls by guns and/or people. Durken is immediately hit and flies straight out the window like a cannonball (he’ll be fine). Stone does a bunch of somersaults and shit to avoid getting hit.
The appeal here is that it follows many of the cliches of a big city cop movie, but in a near-future dystopia, and crossed with PREDATOR. It is true that PREDATOR 2 is also a big city cop movie, but in a near-future dystopia, and crossed with PREDATOR, and that that movie is just way bigger and more exciting than this one. But it’s a very cool combination of genres, and this is another take on it, so I’m down for it.
It delivers pretty well on the ‘80s/‘90s action movie dialogue. Before Durkin meets Stone, Chief Thrasher says that he’s “worked in every hellhole in the world and been fired from all of them.”
“They say he’s the best,” Durkin says.
Another good one is when Durkin (an occult expert) says, “I wouldn’t say this thing thinks it’s Satan. I’d say it is Satan.”
“Well,” says Stone. “Satan is in deep shit!”
And there are a few good smartass lines. When the bar security guy (Dave Duffy, SPACE TRUCKERS) finds Stone trying to murderer-whisper by laying on the blood-splattered floor of the restroom (while chewing gum) and asks “What the ‘ell are you doin here?” Stone says, “I’m tryin to think. Do you mind?”
You get lots of the requisite cliches, like going to the armory to get ridiculous weaponry. Told that a Jesse-the-Body-type “assault shotgun” fires 650 rounds a minute, they take two. And something called a “Megatron flash grenade.” When somebody says “You would clear the jungle with one of these things” it might even be meant as a nod to PREDATOR. That would be the honorable thing to do, I suppose.
Stone gets Durkin really into guns, as well as coffee, cigars, chocolate and leather jackets. All of his trademarks. Unlike Michelle, Durkin thinks Stone’s trashy apartment is “amazing.” That nerd-who-comically-idolizes-alpha-male stuff is pretty corny, but it’s enlivened by little touches like when Stone is going to get milk for Durkin’s coffee and discovers that the monster left somebody’s heart on a plate in his fridge. So he says, “This thing has really started to piss me off” and dumps the heart out the window. I don’t think you’re supposed to throw hearts out the window!
Michael J. Pollard (Toxic Crusaders) plays a weirdo underdweller called The Rat Catcher, but he doesn’t do much.
The action is all confined to the second half. They shoot at the monster in a morgue, the sight of him obscured through plastic curtains, massive explosions of blood like he’s being hit, but actually they’re hitting blood bags. That was pretty cool. Then they track him to an abandoned-due-to-flooding subway station for a final showdown.
Unfortunately, they don’t clearly show the monster until about five minutes from the end, and though Durkin seems to think it’s Satan it’s a pretty cheesy xenomorph knock off. Sharp teeth and no eyes. I do like that it makes a wheezing sound – that’s strange, at least. And the way they kill it is pretty good. He rips its heart out, Durkin and Michelle blow the body to pieces, then he says “Sweet dreams” to the heart and shoots it too.
This movie starts out so cool, and overall I enjoyed it, but it definitely feels like alot of great buildup with just okay pay off. It would not be helped by adding back in the deleted scenes included on the 88 Films/MVD blu-ray, taken from a Japanese video release. Those scenes include an extra dead body but the bulk of it is a really dumb scene where we meet Durkin’s hot girlfriend or wife Robin (Roberta Eaton, SKINNER), who brags on the phone about the “Amazingly good sex. I mean it’s too good, it’s like an out of body thing,” and worries that Durkin “arrested some cute hooker” and is cheating on her. He drapes her over his shoulder and carries her upstairs to have a quickie before returning to work. I guess the joke is “ha ha, this nerd is also a stud.” I don’t think it fits the tone of the rest of the movie so I’m not surprised they cut it. (Eaton is still in the credits.)
SPLIT SECOND was written by Gary Thompson, now best known for writing the original script for THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. His first version was a normal cop thriller with a satanic serial killer, which he wanted Harrison Ford to star in. To avoid similarities to THE FIRST POWER he rewrote it for the futuristic setting (good idea – that’s what makes it interesting).
It’s not surprising to learn that it was a troubled production, with many last minute rewrites leaving the poor creature design team with only 3 weeks to make the monster. Luckily they were headed up by genius future BLADE director Steve Norrington, or it might’ve been worse. But even regardless of how good or bad it looks, their lack of organization seems to have prevented them from delivering enough monster movie goods to feel totally satisfying. It definitely feels more like a “we don’t have a monster to show” situation than an “it will be more dramatic to keep him hidden” one.
At some point director Tony Maylam (THE BURNING) stepped aside and was replaced by Ian Sharp (WHO DARES WINS), who gets a “Subway Train & Additional Sequences Directed by” credit. Arthur Wooster BSC, second unit director of eight 007 movies plus HIGHLANDER II and THE AVENGERS, is credited right below him as “Second Unit Action Director.”
I like the score by Francis Haines (who did the classic “Trioxin Theme” for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD!) and Stephen W. Parsons (HOWLING II, FOOD OF THE GODS II) – the main theme reminds me of a cross between THE TERMINATOR and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Wendy Carlos also composed a score that they rejected. Two of her tracks – “Visit to a Morgue” and “Return to the Morgue” – are on a CD I happen to have called Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume Two, along with music she intended for THE SHINING, TRON and WOUNDINGS. It’s creepy synthy sounds and strings that seems like it would’ve worked for those scenes, but based on her other themes I doubt her main themes had the sledge hammer action movie bombast of the ones they used, so I don’t question their decision.
SPLIT SECOND got horrible reviews and did not do well in theaters, failing to make back its pretty modest $7 million budget. But I do have a sense that many readers here and other friends who saw it at the right age (most likely on cable or VHS) have some fondness for it thanks to Hauer’s character, the premise, the world and some of the oddball touches. If so, I’m with you. Wikipedia claims that it has a cult following “largely due to the film’s ‘unintentionally hilarious’ nature,” but I couldn’t find that claim in either of their citations to know who to blame for not understanding the sense of humor of this movie and a couple decades of action movies it’s following in the tradition of. Oh well.
I’d say it starts out like a potential classic, and ends up just being pretty cool. But pretty cool is pretty good.
(Does anyone know why it’s called SPLIT SECOND though?)
*I’m not saying the vocals sound like Prince, but the style of the production seems like an imitation of his sound in that era. The song is “Really Something” by Playground, a.k.a. vocals/brass David Lloyd and guitarist Chester Kamen (who is not related to Michael Kamen).
The aforementioned deleted scene about Durkin’s girlfriend or wife starts by randomly panning across a bunch of action figures including a King Kong type ape, Hordak from Masters of the Universe (or maybe a bootleg of him) and what I thought was a guy from the giant-insect-riding Sectaurs but through research I’ve determined he looks more like a Sectaurs knock off called Guardian Patrol.
I was very confused why Robin is surrounded by random action figures until I made the connection that Durkin has been established as a fan of a (I believe fictional) comic book called Black Masque, where he gets some of his information about the occult. I like the small press/outsider art style of the drawings – looks more authentic than many fake comics, I think.