Progeny (1998)
Studio Home Entertainment (Sterling)
Cast: Arnold Vosloo, Jillian McWirther, Brad Dourif
Extras: 2 Commentary tracks, Interviews With Alien Abductees, Screenplay

I was approaching "Progeny" with mixed feelings. I had read a few things about the production in a number of other publications, and despite the fact that two established horror icons, Bryan Yuzna and Stuart Gordon, were attached to the film, the story reminded me too much of a cheap alien invasion set-up, used for cheap thrills. Boy, was I wrong! "Progeny" actually turned out to be a truly challenging horror-thriller about alien abductions that is a far cry from the in-your-face horror you would expect from the creators of gore-fests like "Re-Animator". It is actually a film that helps manifest the horror in your mind, making you wonder all the while whether this whole abduction thing is true or just happening in the imagination of the film’s characters.

Craig Burton (Arnold Vosloo) and his wife Sherry (Jillian McWirther), a couple living in Newport Beach, California, are making love one night, when all of a sudden they notice a bright blue light. The next minute it seems, two hours have passed without the knowing what happened. Did they get so caught up in their marital pleasures that they lost track of two full hours? Craig doesn’t think so. Being an emergency doctor at the local hospital, he is too rational a person to believe that and during his weekly relaxation therapy he seems to recollect what happened. He remembers witnessing aliens abduct his wife while he was helplessly watching in a state, unable to move. Weeks later his wife turns out to be pregnant and as she tells him it must have happened that very night, Craig’s fears grow. Could it be the aliens impregnated his wife during the abduction? His sperm count proves that chances are one in a million of him being able to impregnate her, so what happened. He urges his wife to go through hypnosis to find out what happened that night. Hesitantly she agrees, and soon the couple learns that horrible things seem to have occurred. The baby she is carrying seems to be indeed an alien offspring!

"Progeny" is the mind boggling story about the struggle of this couple whether to trust their fears and nightmares, or to stay rational and seek proper explanation for what’s happening. Arnold Vosloo is putting in a good performance as ER doctor who is willing to throw all his traditional thinking over board to find out what’s happening. His portrayal of desperation on the verge of panic is intense and easily pulls the viewer with him, always on the edge of the seat. Vosloo is supported by a good genre cast, but it is screen veteran Brad Dourif who leaves the biggest impression next to the South African actor. Dourif plays alien abduction expert Bert Clavell, who takes all his knowledge from video tapes, papers and witness testimonies. When he gets to face the real thing, he completely fails and becomes a pale shadow of the reputation that precedes him. Dourif manages to characterize this change in personality perfectly, showing us the slightly snobbish, but always timid, pseudo-scientist when first introduced, who is eventually scared so incessantly that he literally runs off.

There are many scenes where you would expect the filmmakers to pull out the huge blood tank and splatter the screen red but they don’t. They tackle the issue seriously so much unlike Re-Animator and never give in to the cheap thrills. It is a sign of maturity and the fact that they trust their story and cast enough to know that they don’t need to viscerally shock viewers in order to get their heartbeat up. Most of the film is almost surreal and schizophrenic, and works mostly in your own head, it pulls you along into the inevitable abyss to the conclusion, which turns out to be even more nightmarish than what you expected.

"Progeny" is the second release in Sterling Home Entertainment’s new "Millenium Series" of Special Editions. The disc features a non-<$16x9,anamorphic> transfer of the film in its 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The image is rather soft and the transfer doesn exhibit the kind of overall sharpness and level of detail you would expect from such a new film. Red is also slightly too dominant throughout the film and it almost seems as if the black level hasn’t been set correctly for the transfer. There is never a really black spot in the entire film. All blacks are a murky gray, making the image look overly flat. While his is tolerable for the most part, it becomes quite obvious and distracting in a number of scenes. A solid transfer could have helped to make this disc stand out, I’m sure, with vibrant colors and a strong contrast. Like it is, it is unfortunately only average. The compression on the other hand is done adequately without major artifacts, although some dot crawl is evident. With a better transfer to start with, this would certainly have been avoidable however. Interestingly the disc comes on a <$RSDL,dual layer> disc. I have not been able to find a layer switch point during the film however. Judging from the look of the film, I would almost assume that the <$RSDL,dual layer> disc’s storage capacity has not been used to its maximum to achieve a better looking picture.

The disc contains a number of supplements, although limited in number by comparison to some other special editions in the market. The disc contains one-on-one interviews with cast members and some crew members. These interviews are rather crude however and neither convincing nor enlightening. The same is unfortunately true for the interviews with two true abductees and an alien abduction specialist. I don’t want to question their credibility, but their testimonies are neither convincing, nor relevant in any form. To be all honest with you, these supplements almost appear superficial to give the disc some leverage as a special edition. It is nothing a fan of the film or the filmmakers is truly interested in, I’m afraid. Not even the alternate ending that director Brian Yuzna reportedly shot can be found in this section. On the other hand the disc contains some DVD-ROM features, like additional cast & crew information, as well as the film’s full screenplay with direct scene access.

Fortunately the disc also contains two <$commentary,commentary track>s, both of which are much more what we’d expect from such experienced filmmakers. The first one features director Brian Yuzna together with the films’ producers Henry Seggerman and Jack Murphy. The three of them make an interesting team discussing many elements of the film’s creation quite animatedly. The second <$commentary,commentary track> is with writers Stuart Gordon and Aubrey Solomon. Again, this is a very nice <$commentary,commentary track> that sheds more light on the backgrounds and influences that lead to the film rather than purely technical aspects.

I was very pleasantly surprised by "Progeny". Expecting a down-and-out horror flick in the line of "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond", I was surprised to find that the film set up its narrative without gore sequences. When finally the blood starts to flow during the last few minutes, the viewer is so caught up in the actual story that the gore never appears superficial or put on. It becomes part of the story and we knew all the while, it had to happen! "Progeny" is a great film that is highly recommended, so make sure to put this disc on your shopping list and give it a look.