Dick Durkin: I don’t think this thing thinks it’s Satan, I think this thing IS Satan.
Stone: Well Satan is in deep s***!
Venom is one of the most recognizable comic-book villains of all time, but its fair to say he hasn’t had a smooth ride on the big screen. Sam Raimi’s noted distaste for the character didn’t bode well when the studio insisted he include Venom as an antagonist in Spider-Man 3. While using the symbiote as a means to explore Peter Parker’s dark side was intriguing, Topher Grace’s take on Venom proved majorly disappointing to many. Raimi has since admitted he just didn’t get the appeal of the character, and a planned solo movie was scrapped.
Channing Tatum was rumored to be interested in taking on a Venom movie during The Amazing Spider-Man era, but once Marvel and Sony came to terms on sharing Spider-Man in the MCU, those talks came to nothing. Now a Venom solo movie has finally hit big screens with Tom Hardy playing both Eddie Brock and his symbiote alter-ego. Sadly, the movie is something of a dud, and fans were disappointed to learn the movie wouldn’t be the uncompromising, R-rated take that was initially teased.
Regardless of the merits of the final product, those craving a darker, bloodier interpretation of the character may want to give 1992’s Split Second a chance, which pits Rutger Hauer’s on the edge cop against a monster who bears an uncanny resemblance to everybody’s favorite alien parasite.
Split Second is set in London in the distant, dystopian future of 2008, which is partially flooded thanks to global warming. The story follows Hauer’s cop Harley Stone hunting a serial killer who cuts out the hearts of his victims. Stone is a paranoid, chain-smoking, caffeine-addicted mess, but wouldn’t you know it, he’s also the best damn cop on the force. He’s partnered with a by the book geek named Dick Durkin (Alastair Duncan) on the case, and as they work together they discover there’s much more to this killer than meets the eye.
Split Second started life as Pentagram, a serial killer script by Gary Scott Thompson (The Fast and the Furious). This draft followed a detective chasing a satanic killer who murders five victims every five years, leaving pentagram symbols at each scene. The script was well received, yet similarities to Lou Diamond Philips thriller The First Power led to changes being ordered. The setting was changed from Los Angeles to futuristic London and the project was renamed Black Tide, before being christened Split Second before release. Tony Maylam signed on to direct and while Thompson pictured Harrison Ford for the lead, he was more than pleased when Hauer took the role.
Split Second can’t objectively be called a great movie. The plot makes little sense, the few action sequences are underwhelming and its futuristic world feels chintzy and unconvincing. Yet there’s an undeniable charm and energy to it, which mainly comes from a very game cast. Hauer is having a ball making fun of the renegade cop trope, with his first line consisting of him flashing his badge at a dog and sneering “Police, dickhead!” He’s clad in a stylish leather coat, carries a huge magnum, wears sunglasses despite pollution blocking out the sun and smokes while brushing his teeth.
Fun as Hauer is, Duncan’s partner is Split Second’s secret weapon. There is an endearing innocence to Durkin, who weathers Stone’s constant insults until his sheer likeability wins him over. Despite being sold as a pulpy action film the dynamic between Hauer and Duncan is the real key to what makes it work. Kim Cattrall plays Hauer’s love interest, whose husband – and Stone’s partner – was murdered by the killer years before. The role is relatively thankless and comes with an obligatory ’90s shower scene, but Cattrall manages to invest it with some heart and there’s a surprising sweetness to their strange romance. Pete Postlewaite and Alun Armstrong – as the awesomely named Chief Thrasher – also elevate the material, with the latter getting to chew the scenery beautifully once he learns the true nature of the killer.
One hell of a killer
Fun as it is, Split Second bears the scars of constant rewrites, with the nature of the villain being a prime example. The movie eventually reveals the killer isn’t a man at all, but some kind of monster made up of human and rat DNA. It also bears a major resemblance to Venom, right down to the toothy grin, oily black skin, and razor-sharp claws; for some reason, he also sports a visor. Apparently, the indecision over what the monster would be left creature designer Stephen Norrington (future director of Blade) with mere weeks to come up with something, but to his credit, it’s a cool design.
Split Second never reveals how the creature came to be, but given his occult activities, Durkin thinks it could be Satan himself. Once the story reveals the killer is a monster, however, a number of things don’t make sense in hindsight. There are a few POV shots of it looking at Stone in a nightclub in the opening – which is a tad strange considering he’s an 8-foot tall demon going unnoticed on a crowded dance floor. Hauer later gets into a shootout with it and never cottons on to its monstrous form either. The movie hints it might have shape-shifting abilities that only allow it to be seen by animals or children, though a solid answer is never provided, which is likely due to the script being made up during shooting.
The stress of filming an ever-evolving screenplay led Tony Maylam to step aside towards the end of production, with Ian Sharp coming on to shoot the finale, which takes place in a flooded London Underground tunnel. This is where the creature effects finally get a chance to shine and the showdown is a genuinely atmospheric one. It’s also the closest cinema will likely come to Rutger Hauer fighting Venom on the big screen, which is reason enough to give it a chance. Split Second has a small but loyal cult following these days, and while it’s not quite a lost classic, it does prove a b-movie with bags of personality can make up for any numbers of narrative flaws. For those Venom fans hoping to see the character in a more traditional creature feature setting, Split Second is – for now at least – their best bet.
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