“In 2008, London is suffering from the worst flooding in a decade. As the water levels rise, Harley Stone is a neurotic veteran cop who seeks revenge on the creature that killed his partner. As a new rookie is assigned to him, Stone must find the killer, rescue his girlfriend and fight off his own inner demons as he gets closer and closer to his mysterious enemy.” (courtesy IMDB)
If you don’t like B-grade movies, then you should stop reading this review right now and drop any interest you might have had in Split Second (1992). On the other hand, if you do like B-grade movies, you should check this one out because it has all the makings of a cult favourite (or at least a guilty pleasure): fast-paced action in a tech-noir near-future Britain starring Rutger Hauer. The acting isn’t all that bad, the plot is interesting enough and the action sequences deliver the goods on what was no doubt a tight budget. Split Second began life as an original script titled Pentagram by Gary Scott Thompson, who also served as co-producer. Written in 1988 and set in present-day Los Angeles, the story involved a ritualistic serial killer who has committed five murders every five years for the last quarter of a century, leaving a pentagram symbol. But similarities to Robert Resnikoff‘s The First Power (1990) seemed to sink the chance of it ever being made.
This is where Challenge Films comes in. Their production manager Susan Nicoletti – ex-censorship board member and producer of the zombie comedy Night Life (1989) – saw the script’s commercial potential for their entree into feature film production. Tony Maylam – a rather mediocre filmmaker whose best work involves documentaries – was brought in to direct and Thompson was kept on for rewrites. The script’s buddy-cop concept was reworked and the setting changed to London in the far-flung future year of 2008. Thompson came up with the premise of global warming for the rewrite when someone mentioned casually that the level of the river Thames rises every year. Maylam retitled the script Black Tide. All that was needed was a star name. Co-producer Laura Gregory: “It screamed Rutger Hauer. We sent the script to his agent who loved it, who then passed it on to Rutger who was just boarding a flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles. Above Alaska he excitedly radioed down a message saying he wanted to meet Maylam two days later in L.A.”
Hauer only had a limited gap in his schedule so, after only twenty-one days of hectic pre-production, Split Second started a twelve-week shoot at a number of unusual London locations: “What I liked about Split Second were the twists it brought to the routine buddy-cop formula. I’ve always wanted to play a cartoon character with the accent on humour. That element is very light here, though the underlying theme – how to destroy a monster – is classy and classic.” Thompson wrote the script with Harrison Ford in mind but was happy with Hauer’s casting, with just one reservation: “Rutger doesn’t sell tickets in America. People either love him – Blade Runner (1982) and The Hitcher (1986) – or they don’t know who he is.” For this reason Gregory beefed up the cast with other better-known American actors, including Kim Cattrall fresh from Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country (1991) and cult-movie veteran Michael J. Pollard. Joining the American contingent are UK actors Alun Armstrong, Neil Duncan, Pete Postlethwaite, and alternative rock star Ian Dury of the Blockheads.
It is the year 2008, and global warming and heavy rainfall has left large areas of London flooded. Rookie police officer Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan) meets his new partner Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer), a burnt-out highly cynical veteran homicide detective who survives on anxiety, coffee and chocolate. Stone was unable to prevent the murder of his partner by a serial killer five years previously. The murders have begun again and the detectives are assigned the case. They appear no closer to identifying the killer, with their only clues being that the murders seem to be linked to the lunar cycle, and that the killer has somehow absorbed the DNA of the victims. After Stone’s girlfriend Michelle (Kim Cattrall) is kidnapped, the detectives track the killer deep into the flooded and disused London Underground and discover the truth – the killer is not even human, but a demonic life-form that is not only savage and bloodthirsty, but also determined to kill Stone just as it had killed his partner five years before. In fact, each killing has been a deliberate attempt to lure Stone closer to his fate. During an intense battle in the abandoned underground railway, Michelle is found as bait, suspended over water. Stone manages to kill the creature by tearing its heart out but, as the detectives leave the scene with Michelle in a rescue dinghy, bubbles of air are seen breaking the surface of the water, suggesting that there might be more than one monster.
Hauer had Thompson rewrite the climax to make it more physical and to better define the psychic link his cop character has with the creature. “They hadn’t quite worked it out and the climax suffered from that. For the last five years I’ve been looking at filmmaking more from the director’s point of view and I know I’ll helm my own soon. Split Second was a totally different experience from The Hitcher (1986) where we changed three words and, during shooting, changed two back.” Hauer did get around to directing three short films earlier this century: The Room (2001), Starfish Tango (2006) and Requiem 2019 (2011). The climactic fight scene was choreographed and directed by Ian Sharp, who started making television shows like Minder, The Professionals and Robin Of Sherwood until Robert Zemeckis hired him to direct the second unit on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). He has since created action sequences for many big-budget films, the best possibly being GoldenEye (1995) starring Pierce Brosnan.
Split Second was intended to be more occult-oriented until Thompson decided to leave the description of the killer intentionally vague and more open to the imagination. “We had heated discussions about whether to show it or not. If we did, what was it going to look like? A man, a man possessed, the devil, an alien, or the Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)? We see only flashes of it until the end. There’s an argument over whether it will look good or not because it is ultimately a man in a suit.” Stephen Norrington, animatronics and prosthetics designer for an array of genre films during the eighties and nineties – from Aliens (1986) to Blade (1998) – came up with the H.R. Giger-like design of Split Second’s killer, and was given three weeks to construct it using little more than foam latex and a six-foot-six mime named Stewart Harvey-Wilson.
Unfortunately, after all this preparation and production at a breakneck pace while keeping the budget under US$7m, the film was considered a flop taking a mere US$5m at the box-office. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the film opened during the weekend of the infamous Los Angeles riots and, secondly, the critics who did manage to see the film panned it unmercifully. “Split Second is an extremely stupid monster film, boasting enough violence and special effects to satisfy less-discriminating vid fans.” (Lawrence Cohn) “It’s hard to think of a less satisfying creature feature in recent memory than the simply terrible Split Second.” (Chris Wellman) “Fairly dull.” (Stephen Holden) “Utterly soulless and imitative.” (Doug Brod). Well, don’t listen to them, what do they know, hey? It’s a fun bit if sci-fi fluff obviously inspired by Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and Predator (1987).
It never reaches the heights of those films, of course, and as such it is unlikely to appeal to anyone who doesn’t go for this kind of B-grade drive-in movie. It does however provide a good ninety minutes of solid entertainment in a fascinating environment – the rain-lashed semi-flooded London is an interesting premise and is explored as much as the budget would allow (although you might get tired of hearing the song Nights In White Satin by the Moody Blues which features prominently throughout as the romantic theme). When Split Second was released on VHS and eventually DVD some scenes were missing, including additional murders, dream sequences, and meeting Durkin’s girlfriend Robin (Roberta Eaton). It’s now come the time for me to graciously invite you to please join me again next week when I have another opportunity to make your stomach turn and your flesh crawl with a lusting, slashing, ripping flesh-hungry, blood-mad massacre from the back side of…Horror News! Toodles!
Split Second (1992)