Split Second (1992) Retrospective

SUMMARY

In the year 2008, global warming and heavy rainfall has left large areas of London flooded. Rookie police officer Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan) is assigned to partner with Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer), a burnt-out and highly cynical veteran homicide detective who, according to his commanding officer, survives on “anxiety, coffee, and chocolate” after being unable to prevent the death of his partner Foster by a serial killer 3 years previously. Now, the murders have begun again and Stone is obsessed with the case. An Oxford-educated psychologist, Durkin is ordered to stick with Stone at all times and report any unstable behavior. After investigating the scenes of several killings, they appear no closer in identifying the killer, although Stone seems to share some sort of psychic connection with him. Their only clues are that the murders seem to be linked with the lunar cycle, and that the killer takes an organ from each victim, apparently to eat them. Lab analysis of blood left during one encounter shows that the killer possesses multiple recombinant DNA strands, somehow having absorbed the DNA of its victims. Complicating matters is the return of Michelle (Kim Cattrall), Foster’s wife whom Stone had an affair with.

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While attempting to figure out the killer’s motives and pattern, Stone & Durkin begin to bond as Durkin loosens up and starts to understand Stone. Durkin hypothesizes that the killer is taunting Stone personally, following him and then killing someone at each location. The killer then attacks a woman in Stone’s apartment building, afterwards kidnapping Michelle while the two detectives are downstairs. They track the killer deep into the flooded tunnels of the London Underground subway system and discover the truth: the killer is not human. It’s actually a large, horrific and possibly demonic creature that is fast, savage, and bloodthirsty. Durkin figures out that Stone escaped from it ten years ago, and it is now fixated upon killing Stone just as it previously killed Foster. In fact, as the movie progresses, each killing and “appearance” of the monster is an attempt to lure Stone closer and closer. The massive chest wound that Stone sustained all those years ago is what created the psychic link between Stone and the creature.

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Finally learning where the creature makes its lair, Stone & Durkin head to the area, armed to the teeth and relying on Stone to find the monster just as it always finds him. They emerge into an abandoned underground train station to find Michelle suspended over the water as obvious bait, but Stone frees her anyway, prompting the creature to show up. During the fight, Durkin wounds the creature’s chest – allowing Stone to pull the monster’s heart out and kill it. However, as the three of them leave the station, bubbles of air are seen breaking the surface of the water, suggesting that there may be more than one monster.

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DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION

Walking onto the set of Split Second is like wandering into your worst public transportation nightmare: A train waits in an underground station, but it’s not going anywhere: the platform is obscured by a lake of stagnant water which laps quietly at your ankles: half-torn posters on the walls warn of rat infestation and disease. The scene is London in the year 2008. and global warming has taken its devastating toll, causing the River Thames to burst its banks and flood the city. The scene is set for a futuristic nightmare in which a caffeine junkie cop and his comics obsessed sidekick hunt an unseen (and perhaps unnatural) fiend through the netherworld of London’s underbelly. It is a world which occupies a twilight territory between Blade Runner and Aliens.

“The idea was simply to create an environment of post-global warming with extensive flooding. comments production designer Chris Edwards, whose inventive sets are the key to Split Second’s atmospheric feel. “Everything you will see in the film is a set on one of two locations. We shot it all here in this brewery, or in the disused Hartley’s Jam Factory just across town.” Edwards’ work is impressive indeed, and standing amidst his detailed reconstruction of the desolate subway, the specter of a flooded London seems disconcertingly real.

“Because the film is set not far in the future,” Edwards continues. “we tried throughout to take ordinary images and make them seem just a little off-kilter. Some of the scenes are set in a police precinct, and I got a lot of inspiration for that from my Belfast background the way that the police have become very defensive, with everything shuttered up with barbed wire and corrugated iron.

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Despite Split Second’s grimly foreboding atmosphere, producer Laura Gregory insists that the film will have a glossy sheen. “The look is American and Gothic.” promises Gregory, who is keen for Split Second not to be tagged as “British” or labeled simply as the latest Hardware. “It’s a international picture with an international cast.”

Split Second began shooting last June, after only 21 days of pre-production (due to the tightness of Hauer’s schedule) and only seven months after production executive Susan Nicoletti first brought the script to Challenge. Shooting lasted eight weeks, and finished on time despite radical last-minute rewrites (for which Thompson was flown in from the U.S.) which spiced up the climactic moments and introduced an entirely new character: a ratcatcher played by Pollard. The film is scheduled for a spring ’92 release, though no U.S. distributor had picked up the film at press time.

Although preproduction on Split Second began only last year, the project’s genesis can be traced back three years to a Thompson penned script entitled Pentangle. Set in present-day LA, Pentangle dealt with a detective’s obsession with a serial killer who has slain five people every five years, with the locations of the murders forming the shape of a mystic symbol. Thompson was forced to radically rewrite his story when the thriller The First Power (1990) emerged using a similar idea. “It was horrible, and it really destroyed my script,” frowns Thompson, who then searched for a new gimmick to make his work unique, hitting finally upon a futuristic, eco-nightmare theme. “I was in England, and we started talking about global warming, and someone mentioned casually that the River Thames is rising. I was really excited about this and I started researching it, and the movie just took on a whole new life. It’s interesting, because in the States we really have no idea about what global warming is doing to other countries, and we have a President who says we just need to have more studies. He’s just gonna ‘study the problem until he has water in his bedroom in the White House! So this was a great way to have a message in there, but still make it a good roller coaster ride.”

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Enter Challenge Films, who saw the script’s commercial potential for their entree into feature film production. Susan Nicoletti, ex-MPAA ratings board member and associate producer of the zombie thriller Night Life (1989), executive in charge of production at Challenge, recommended the script for filming. Laura Gregory, partnered in Challenge with Roger Lunn, brought in Maylam as director and hired Thompson for rewrites. Gregory and Maylam wanted Thompson dialogue left intact, but the script’s buddy cop concept got reworked and the setting changed to London in the year 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 each year. Maylam retitled the script BLACK TIDE. Co-financing was secured by executive producer Keith Cavele, (producer of QUEEN KONG, SYMPTOMS, THE BURNING and Chuck Russell’s upcoming NEUROMANCER), from Muse Productions B.V. Inc., a new subsidiary of an unnamed private Swiss bank.

“From what I’ve seen of the rushes, the dailies, being on the set and everything. I think that it’s all there,” adds Thompson who also gets an associate producer credit. “Chris Edwards), the set designer, has just done incredible things.

BEHIND THE SCENES

10698171-l“This is a buddy story about cops, but it has a slight twist, a sense of humor in it.” Hauer explains. I was hoping for two things: One was the humor, that we would get that I’ve always wanted to play a character that has a cartoon quality

“The other thing was that the story has a psychic element. The character I play has an instinct. Like a dog or something. he sniffs-he doesn’t go. “Oh, there’s dust from three days, that’s interesting: he gets there with his nose and instinct, and he works that way

“They team me up with this Scottish guy who’s naive and very bright, and we become a good team together. It takes a long time, because I hate his guts, because of all this knowledge. We got very lucky, because I think he’s a real discovery: he’s real good.”

The “real discovery is 33-year-old Scottish actor Neil Duncan, who portrays Hauer’s partner Dick Durkin. Duncan whose last major role prior to Split Second was in the British TV cop series Taggar isn’t filming today, but he has come to the jam factory anyway. Wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans cut off at the knees and Batman logo sneakers, the tall actor moves easily around the set cracking jokes with the crew members

Duncan, who describes the story as ” futuristic SF/buddy/thriller/cop movie, also sheds some light on Split Seconds storyline. “Stone’s a very streetwise cop in the year 2008. His buddy has been killed by some thing down in that flooded subway. He, at the same time, was attacked and got his arm slashed open, So, ever since then, he has been hunting this serial killer who tears his victims’ hearts out.

Stone is almost there in the same spot when the killer strikes again, but he’s outside the door, and he’s too late. “Stone doesn’t sleep. He drinks coffee, has anxiety attacks and lives to catch this guy. He’s given a new partner, Dick Durkin, this book-bound, academic, intellectual, gung-ho, comic-book-reading rookie, and off they set in different directions, because Stone really doesn’t want Durkin with him. There are more murders, be continues. “Again, they’re always too late. Stone knows that this killer is taunting him. The killer leaves his ex-partner’s old gun and a sign-Stone’s heart is going to be the last one.MV5BNDU3OTA1NDgwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzMyNTgwMw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

Finally, through a series of incidents, good luck and police work, the final confrontation takes place. But during all that, Durkin and Stone have learned to trust and like each other, and they’ve also grown towards each other Durkin becomes more Stone-like, and Stone becomes slightly more Durkin-like he starts thinking that when they go down there, they’re working as a leant. For Duncan, taking the role as Durkin was easy. It’s the best part I’ve ever been offered! The part is brilliant. Although he’s a sidekick, he is in no way a cipher or Il foil for Stone. He’s a comic-book aficionado: he believes and would love to be one of these characters. He believes in truth and justice. Rutger Hauer’s character leads mine all the way. I worship him at the beginning, and even at the end. when we go to confront the Killer. I’m still following him.

What’s interesting is that at first my character doesn’t fear death. He’s somewhat complacent because he comes from a secure background. Everything in his life is easy and he doesn’t think he can die. Then he learns fear, he learns that he can be hurt, and there are forces beyond his ken. So ironically at the end, when he is experiencing fear. he’s actually braver than at the beginning when he just doesn’t give a shit. When you don’t know fear. that’s not bravery. So he changes…but he doesn’t lose his innocence.”

Still, it’s Hauer’s Stone who will have to carry the story. “Rutger’s character is very paranoid and neurotic.” explains Thompson. “Rutger is a cop who is psychically attuned to the Killer whom he is tracking. He can’t quite figure out why, but subconsciously he knows that it has something to do with his massive caffeine and sugar intake. I once described his state of mind as being like that one-in-a million time when you knock your glass off the table with one hand and somehow you catch it with the other. He is reaching a point where he’s almost as powerful as the Killer. but the Killer has also been playing with him. It’s as if the Killer wants to build him up so they can have a great fight at the end. How much fun is it just to kill someone when you can really mess with his mind?

Working with Hauer has been a “joy” for the actor. “He gives and gives and given.” Duncan says. “Rutger knows more about cameras and how to use them than anybody I’ve ever worked with. He’s also probably the best actor I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve probably learned as much in the last seven weeks as I’ve learned in the previous 10 years particularly about film acting.

Neil Duncan wasn’t squeamish about doing his own stunts, but he ended up taking part in one particularly dangerous sequence quite by accident. “We shot a scene in which a car comes screaming around a corner and narrowly misses Rutger’s character. So they had a stuntman stand in for Rutger, but unfortunately when we did the take the car went miles away from the stuntman and nearly ran into me! We only did one take. and that scene is going to be there in the movie.” Duncan sullied many other indignities during Split Second’s filming. One day he stood patiently while rats were repeatedly thrown onto his face until Maylam was satisfied that they had achieved the desired “rodent avalanche.”

Kim Cattrall was attracted to Split Second by the script. When I first read it. I thought it was a psycho-drama. It’s very well-rounded in all aspects of the genre. I thought it was a good story. I like Rutger Hauer and I said yes to it.”

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Cattrall has found director Maylam “fine” to work with. “He’s very open to suggestions, Rutger’s ideas and the way a scene is,” she says. “With most directors in this kind of film, it’s easier to get wrapped up in the FX and how they look, instead of what’s going on between the people. If you don’t care about the people, it doesn’t matter how great the monster looks. That’s something that we’re all guarding against, and we have to remind each other of it all the time.”

As well as Hauer, Cattrall and Duncan the movie’s other major player is Michael J. (Dick Tracy) Pollard, who plays the Rat Catcher. Executive producer Keith Cavele had worked with Michael on The American Way, Gregory says, and immediately thought of him for the Rat Catcher.”

An acquaintance of Stone’s who knows his way around the sewers beneath London’s streets, the Rat Catcher has his own subterranean “office. It’s on this set that they are now Filming: A dark little room with numerous mousetraps hanging from the walls, wire mesh cages hanging from the ceiling and dead rats hanging by their tails. In the scene. Stone and Durkin, both carrying huge guns, are negotiating with the Rat Catcher and his string-vested assistant. Hauer makes some suggestions to Maylam as to how they might add a bit of humor to their entrance. Then the camera crew needs to get into the room, and all non-essential personnel are cleared from the set.

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An inhuman serial killer stalks the flooded streets of future London in the $7 million supernatural action thriller SPLIT SECOND. Dutch actor Rutger Hauer plays the Special Branch cop, “Harley” Stone, assigned to hunt down a demonic Jack the Ripper who strikes during phases of the full moon. Stone shares a psychic link with the monster that murdered his partner in director Tony (THE BURNING) Maylam’s water logged SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, representing the first movie project from Challenge Films, one of the top four commercial production companies in the United Kingdom.

Thompson wrote the script with Harrison Ford in mind, but was happy with Hauer’s casting, with one reservation, “Rutger doesn’t sell tickets in America,” said Thompson. “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 well-known American actors, including Kim Cattrall and Michael J. Pollard. Joining the American contingent are Alun Armstrong, Neil Duncan and former rock star lan Dury.

SPLIT SECOND is Hauer’s third science fiction film counting the post-holocaust The Blood of Heroes (1989)  but he’s not really a fan of the genre. “What I liked about SPLIT SECOND were the twists it brought to the routine buddy-cop formula,” said the imposing blond actor. “I’ve always wanted to play a cartoon character with the accent on humor. That element is very light here, though the underlying theme-how to destroy a monster-is classy and classic.”

Hauer had Thompson rewrite the script’s climax to make it more physical and better define the psychic link his cop character has with the monster. “They hadn’t quite worked it out and the climax suffered from that,” said Hauer. “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”  where we changed three words and, during shooting, changed two back.”

SPLIT SECOND was more occult-oriented originally 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,” smiled Thompson. “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? 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.”

SPECIAL EFFECTS

The basis of the thrills is still the simple tale of a cop tracking a maniac who rips out his victims’ hearts. “The figure of the Killer was somewhat more demonic originally,” explains Thompson, “but I left open the possibility that it could just be a psychotic man, or perhaps someone who was possessed by the devil.” Now, such ambiguity is gone and the Killer has taken on a new identity as a sleek, blackened, 7-foot monster.

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Steven Norrington, the animatronic and prosthetic designer came up with the Gigeresque design of SPLIT SECOND’s killer. Norrington’s “huge black killer with big sharp claws and pointed teeth” had to be designed and built quickly in three weeks. “We made five casts from a mold of performance artist Stewart Harvey Wilson of which two were “hero’ suits for close-ups, two were rough-and-tumble versions for stunt work, and one was a dummy to be tossed around and abused,” said Norrington. “The one-piece foam Latex suit had a separate head, which just slipped over the actor’s glove hands with different lengths of fingernails and feet. The whole thing was then covered in surgical jelly to make it slick. There tended to be a lot of wear, particularly under the arms, but because it was black and only glimpsed at, that wasn’t a problem.

For six-foot, six-inch mime artist Harvey-Wilson, being enclosed in foam rubber was nothing new. He played Jack Pumpkinhead in Return to Oz (1985) and also worked with Peter Elliott, animal behavioral consultant on Gorillas in the Mist (1988), who provided the actor with valuable tips on how to become the creature in SPLIT SECOND. “I didn’t want to come across as robotic or stiff, but fluid, swift and graceful,” said Harvey Wilson. “I wasn’t sure whether Maylam knew about movement so I prepared it and hoped he’d see my approach was the right one.”

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Some of Harvey-Wilson’s scenes were filmed in slow-motion to be speeded up for the final print. “The foam and Lycra body stocking costume wasn’t uncomfortable and only took 30 minutes to put on,” he said. “I had limited visibility wearing the head and wore a balaclava so my face couldn’t be seen. It had no moving parts, just lit eyes. They built a close-up head for jaw movement and one where my visor gets blasted away.”

“The creature represents the insanity of our whole being.” offers Harvey Wilson, a gentle man who has worked hard to develop movements which convey raw aggression. “I recently had an argument with a close friend with whom I’d seen Silence of the Lambs and Misery. I said that I could identify with the insanity of those people: I wouldn’t do those things. but I could imagine doing them. When I build myself into a frenzy to create a movement for the Killer. it takes total concentration, and for that brief moment I can imagine ripping somebody apart.

Despite such insights. Harvey Wilson remains squeamish about some of the gorier scenes in Split Second. “We did a scene in which one of the cast corpses is lying in a bath with her chest ripped open. Her guts were hanging out and there was blood everywhere. I watched that gory scene, and I really believed what I saw! When I saw her in the bath, with the blood on the walls. I felt quite ill! And there I was wearing the Killer’s suit, feeling like a child, going. “Oh gosh! Oh dear!”

Most of the gore FX for Split Second have been handled by Cliff Wallace, who created the monstrous Frank suit for Hellraiser. Working with a team of between four and six members, Wallace was called upon to provide an array of ripped torsos and broken ribcages. “The monster runs around tearing people’s hearts out. but with one exception, you just see the aftereffects,” he explains. “Basically. we’ve made a number of very big prosthetics that go from the neck down to the groin, all of which are built up quite considerably so you get the illusion of a deep hole in the chest.”

In addition, Wallace created a convincing severed head, which has undergone a bizarre catalog of character changes during shooting. “Originally, that was the head of Michael J. Pollard,” he notes. “It was made as a mask to go over his stunt double’s head. Then it was going to be a mask for his assistant, who was introduced into the script sometime this week. Then they decided that rather than being a mask, it was going to be a fake head in the ratcatcher’s hand. But now it may not turn up at all!”

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RELEASE/DISTRIBUTION

Some scenes were deleted from the film. A Japanese VHS version included two of the deleted scenes. In the first one, Stone and Durkin go to Durkin’s apartment where they talk with his neighbor Robin (played by actress Roberta Eaton, who is still credited in the film even though her scene was deleted). The second deleted scene features more dialogue between Stone and Durkin at the same time as the “monster” is killing a jogger and ripping his heart out. Stone and Durkin find the man’s corpse afterwards. These extra scenes are included as bonus features on the Blu-Ray of the film released by 101 Films

Wendy Carlos, who composed the scores for A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Tron (1982), was hired to compose the score for Split Second, but her score was rejected and replaced with a new soundtrack by Francis Haines and Stephen W. Parsons. Two tracks from Carlos’ rejected score were included on her compilation album Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 2; both tracks were going to be used in the morgue scene.

CAST/CREW
Directed by  
Tony Maylam/Ian Sharp

Produced
Laura Gregory

Written
Gary Scott Thompson

Starring       
Rutger Hauer
Kim Cattrall
Neil Duncan
Michael J. Pollard

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
STARLOG/May 1992
Cinefantastique v23n01
Fangoria#110

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