Welcome to Arrow in the Head’s The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw, which will be dedicated to highlighting horror films that, for one reason or another, don’t get as much love as we think they should. We know plenty of you horror hounds out there will have seen many of the movies we pick, but there will be plenty of you who have not. This column is for all of you!
THE STORY: In a very soggy futuristic London (well, the film takes place in 2008, which was the future in 1991 when it was made), lone wolf cop Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer) goes after a serial killer he has a psychic connection to. Saddled with a stuffy new partner – he works alone, dammit! – Stone must take down the monster in order to save the city at large as well as settle an old score.
THE HISTORY: The script for SPLIT SECOND was written by Gary Scott Thompson, who would later go on to work on the very first FAST AND THE FURIOUS movie. The film originally took place in modern day Los Angeles and was called PENTAGRAM, but producers felt it was too close to the Lou Diamond Phillips occult thriller THE FIRST POWER so changes were demanded. Thomson eventually decided to set it in a futuristic London that had been devastated by the effects of global warming. Producers sent the script to Rutger Hauer, who loved it and agreed to star in it, even though Thompson had originally imagined Hauer’s BLADE RUNNER co-star Harrison Ford in the lead role. (It is currently very, very hard to picture Harrison Ford starring in this movie.)
The film was directed by Tony Maylem (THE BURNING) but evidently there were several on-set rewrites and changes made throughout the production, which could explain why the plot often makes no sense. (This isn’t a knock on the final film, but it is a fact.) Apparently no one could agree on what the main villain (which is a sort of alien/monster hybrid and I’m still confused as to what this thing’s deal is) would look like, so creature designer Stephen Norrington (who would eventually helm BLADE) had only a few weeks to work on the design. The end result is certainly reminiscent of the xenomorph design from the ALIEN films, perhaps no coincidence as Norrington was on the ALIENS effects crew. Maylem was eventually replaced by Ian Sharp, a veteran from the world of British television. The final film certainly wears some of the hallmarks of a movie that endured trouble during production and post-production, but the end result is still rather entertaining, especially for aficionados of action-horror-buddy cop flicks from the 80s and 90s.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This is being written less than a week after the unfortunate passing of the legendary Rutger Hauer. Originally, we were going to go with another film for this installment of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw, but it only felt right to give Rutger his due. It’s easy to forget, in light of the many straight-faced, dour and intense performances he’s best known for, that Rutger had some really decent comedic timing. (Look no further than his humorous turn in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.) You can’t exactly call his turn in SPLIT SECOND a comedic performance, but there is no doubt Rutger knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and goes all in on a character who is such a complete stereotype. Harley Stone, in many ways, comes directly out of the grizzled cop manual – works alone because he lost a partner, smokes constantly, always being yelled at by the chief, lives in squalor – but Rutger’s wired, frequently batty (pun intended) performance definitely sets the character apart from the rest.
And that’s what makes SPLIT SECOND really worth a look; if we’re being honest, the movie is really messy from a screenplay standpoint, but Rutger is the whole show and you can’t take your eyes off him. (This is a movie where Rutger Hauer basically interrogates a dog at a crime scene and you’re okay with it.) He’s not alone, however. Neil Duncan comes along as Dick Durkin – a name Stone has a lot of fun with – who is teamed with Stone to catch the elusive serial killer. As it must be, Durkin is the opposite of Stone in every way: regimented, fastidious, sensitive. Naturally, after much bickering, the two come to rely on each other and become true partners, which is helped along by Durkin’s continuously deteriorating mental state. Duncan is really terrific in the role, giving Durkin the stuffy attitude needed in the first act and gleefully playing up his batshit-insane side as the character clearly begins to take on some of Stone’s personality traits. Even during the movie’s more middling passages, the Stone and Durkin chemistry works and makes you glad you’re sticking with the flick.
For a movie that had its share of problems, the final result looks solid. The London presented here is appropriately ruined, grim and wet. Very wet. Some of the production design by Chris Edwards will no doubt remind people of BLADE RUNNER, and even SEVEN (which would come out three years later) comes to mind, thanks to the bleak, rainy urban decay on hand. While it’s probably not at the top of many people’s favorite apocalyptic thrillers lists, SPLIT SECOND easily sells a “future” where hope is in short supply, the world is collapsing, and a man like Rutger Hauer can be our only savior.
BEST SCENE: For my money, the scene where Stone and Durkin – who is now quite deranged – load up on guns before their final confrontation with the monster is the movie’s high point, just too much fun.
WHERE TO WATCH IT: SPLIT SECOND is available on Amazon Prime Video. It is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK as well.
PARTING SHOT: If you’ve seen all of Rutger Hauer’s most famous films but still need to bone up on some of his lesser known flicks, this is a perfect place to start. It gives Rutger a chance to display the toughness, the charisma, the utter badassery that made him so beloved.