44 Days of Paranioa #1: Clonus (dir by Robert S. Fiveson)


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We live in paranoid times.

When I first started at the University of North Texas, I lived in the Bruce Hall Dormitory and every day, I could count on the fact that there would be at least one fat and bearded resident in the lobby talking about how 9-11 was an inside job and how the only reason we were in Iraq was so Dick Cheney’s buddies could get rich.

By the time I graduated, everyone was convinced that the Republicans were going to steal the election from Barack Obama.  Some people, of course, were hoping that was exactly what would happen because they were convinced that Obama was actually a Muslim from Kenya.

With each passing year of the Obama administration, there’s been a new conspiracy theory.  Some people claimed that Obamacare was actually a Socialist plot.  Others said that the Koch Brothers were behind the Tea Party.  Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street spoke ominously of how 1% of the population exploited the other 99%.  As I sit here typing this, there is undoubtedly a desperate Obama partisan somewhere who is writing up his 100th blog post claiming that the Republicans somehow sabotaged the Obamacare website.

And, of course, living and working in Dallas, I am constantly reminded of the biggest conspiracy theory of all time.  In just a few days, it will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and you better believe that my hometown is currently being invaded by wild-eyed men who are incapable of uttering a sentence without including terms like “grassy knoll,” “military-industrial complex,” and “coup d’etat.”

Yes, these are paranoid times.  Nobody trusts anyone.  All motives are suspect.  With each passing day, it seems that more and more people are convinced that their daily failures and fortunes can all be blamed on shadowy forces.  The world is a random place where a billion stories play out at once and not a single one of them is going to have a happy ending.  People cling to their paranoia for much the same reason that some people cling to their concept of God.  It gives them a false sense of security and reason in an otherwise chaotic universe.

As for me, I may not be a believer in conspiracies but, at the same time, I do find myself fascinated by both the theories and the films that they occasionally inspire.  If movies ultimately serve as a reflection of society’s secret fears, insecurities, and desires, can it be any surprise that so many movies seem to be just as a paranoid as the audiences that go to see them?

For that reason, I am proud to announce that today is Day One of the 44 Days of Paranoia!  For the next 44 days, we will be taking a look at some of the best and worst conspiracy-themed and paranoia-inducing films ever made.

Let’s start things off by taking a look at the 1979 sci-fi conspiracy film, Clonus (a.k.a. Parts, the Clonus Horror).

Clonus opens on a compound the looks a lot like a community college.   Living on the compound is a group of people who all appear to be extremely friendly and trusting.  Every single one of them has a permanent smile plastered across his or her fresh faces.  They spend their spare time jogging, working out, and — well, that’s about it.  At the same time, none of them smoke, drink, or do anything else that could possibly cause any damage to their bodies.

So, at this point, you can probably guess that they’re either Mormons or they’re clones.  (If you’re not sure, take another look at the film’s title…)

When the clones aren’t busy jogging, they’re talking about how much they hope that, one day, they will be allowed to go to “America.”  There’s actually something rather touching about how excited they all get whenever they hear that one of them is getting sent to America.  They’re a bit like the rubber aliens in Toy Story, putting all of their faith in “The Claw” and its ability to lift them up to a better life.  Of course, what the clones don’t realize is that “going to America” is just a euphemism for being put under sedation and having their organs forcibly removed.

Eventually, one clone (played to awkward blank-faced perfection by Tim Donnelly) starts to question just why exactly he and his friends are being kept on the compound.  He eventually escapes and discovers that not only has he been in America all along but that he only exists so that the rich and powerful can harvest his organs.  Donnelly meets an idealistic journalist (Keenan Wynn) who happens to be acquainted with the family of a sinister presidential candidate (played by Peter Graves).  When Wynn and Donnelly threaten to expose the truth, they find themselves targeted by the U.S. government which, in typical conspiracy-film style, is more than willing to kill to protect its secrets.

If the plot of Clonus sounds familiar, that’s because Michael Bay pretty much remade the film in 2005.  In fact, Clonus director Robert Fiveson felt Bay’s The Island was so similar to his film, that he filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement.  But whereas The Island was the epitome of a film that was more expensive than memorable, Clonus is an effectively creepy little film that, though dated, is still occasionally even thought-provoking.  Though it may have been the result of the film’s budgetary limitations, Clonus eschews flashy effects for atmosphere and even the blandness of some of the locations adds to the film’s sense of low-key but palpable menace.  If ever one needed proof that a low budget can occasionally be the best thing to ever happen to a film, Clonus is that proof.  The film is generally well-acted and, best of all, it all builds up to one of those wonderfully downbeat endings that appear to have been so popular in the 70s.

Much like another recent and similar film — the excellent Never Let Me GoClonus works because it’s disturbingly plausible.  It’s a bit of a cliché to say that a film makes science fiction feel like science fact but Clonus is one of those films that accomplishes just that.

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10 responses to “44 Days of Paranioa #1: Clonus (dir by Robert S. Fiveson)

  1. Critical thinking is, well, critical, and it is wise to think for one’s self, and not be swept up by a wave of collective hysterical perceptions. But that same critical eye should be focused on all principals in a situation, especially those “explaining” it, and especially especially those with authority and/or an agenda.

    If a rational mind does not believe in magic, it follows that it should not believe in magic bullets, either. And why is a “conspiracy theory” posited by the laity (i.e. – Wall Street money changers have rigged the system such that they control both money and our legislators) ridiculous, yet one presented to us by our government (i.e. – Nineteen foreign guys with box cutters successfully commandeered four airliners, and precision-flew three of them into high-profile and high-security targets, unassisted) unquestionable?

    Maybe a little paranoia is a good thing, if it keeps us asking questions, and prevents us from accepting things that don’t makes sense as explanations for things that should not have happened. I don’t necessarily have any particular “beliefs”, nor am I an adherent to any particular theories. But I would like some better answers, or in some cases, any answers, to some of the questions that have been raised about certain events.

    And the Koch brothers may not have written the Tea Part charter, but they HAVE heavily funded the movement. That’s not paranoia – that’s cognizance of reality.

    Be rational, but keep your eyes and mind open. Blind Faith was a great band, but it’s a terrible intellectual posture to adopt, be it regarding God or government.

    And, of course, Clonus was real. Everybody knows that…

    Finally, if paranoia inspires great, or at least entertaining, cinema, it can’t be all bad.

    “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

    ~ Joseph Heller

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  2. Naysayers call them “conspiracy theories”. Me, I call them attempts at rational thinking. In any event, saying that 9/11 was an inside job is more plausible that the “official story”. The problem is that since 9/11, so much has been made about stepping up security at airports, as if at the end of last century, metal detectors and the wand didn’t exist. So people tend to think that before 9/11, airport were rather primitive places where anybody could sneak on and off the plane with anything.

    Are you fucking kidding me, people? Airport security has always been an absolute bastard! So there is no fucking way that a few lone terrorists could’ve waltzed through airport security with a few box cutters and boarded the plane without being detected. For crying out loud, an airport metal detector, which have been used for many decades, detected an empty bag that once contained macadamia nuts that I still had on my person. Try taking a box cutter on board an airplane, see how far you get. Even before 9/11, you couldn’t do it. So quite simply, I don’t buy it.

    I haven’t seen “Clonus”, but it sounds like it could become frightfully prescient. Given how cheap human life is these days, I see little if anything stopping the practice of conceiving children, or even cloning them, simply to use them as spare parts. If you think that’s foolish, consider that at one stage, things such as space travel and wiping out an entire city with a bomb were also considered impossible. It’s not exactly a giant leap to imagine a “Clonus” scenario taking shape before the end of this century.

    Finally, let me just say, the Establishment gets away with a lot of conspiracies, because they know that the few who do see through the smokescreen shall be shouted down as nutcases and zealots. It’s mob rule.

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  3. Pingback: 44 Days of Paranoia #25: Chinatown (dir by Roman Polanski) | Through the Shattered Lens

  4. Pingback: 44 Days of Paranoia #36: The Fugitive (dir by Andrew Davis) | Through the Shattered Lens

  5. I made that film and have the scars to prove it. Thank you for lending it credence. A little known fact is that the developer solution used on the film negative was actually a secret mixture blood sweat and tears. At the time it was made the tagline we asked the distrib to use was, “When Science and Nightmare Merge” – of course he came up with something much more brilliant – “The Only Thing They Dont Use Is The Scream”…. (nothing like having the spoiler built right into the title!). Yes The Island was reputed to be a remake, but the terms of the settlement with Dreamworks forbids me from commenting. Thanks again for the recognition of the serious underpinnings of our effort. Robert Fiveson
    PS: The Island had – literally – 500 times our budget (thats not a figure of speech).

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  6. Pingback: Embracing the Melodrama Part II #117: Never Let Me Go (dir by Mark Romanek) | Through the Shattered Lens

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