[NOTE: This is one of the first reviews I ever wrote. It was commissioned for a 1979 Yearbook that Cinefantastique magazine was planning but later abandoned, so the review was never published. Looking back, the review takes an approach typical of CFQ at the time, emphasizing the film’s thematic ambitions, as if the filmmaker’s intentions outweighed their execution of the material. Writing today, I would probably spend more time emphasizing what the film actually achieved (or failed to achieve), rather than what it intended.]
An isolated government institute raises clones who are unaware of what they are. Kept in top physical shape (they seem to think they are training for the Olympics), the clones are told that they are going to “America”; then, when at their physical peak, they are taken off and freeze dried, their remains used to perpetuate the lives of their originals. In order to prevent the clones from realizing the truth behind their situation, most of them are lobotomized. However, one day, two fully intelligent clones, male and female, meet accidentally. Their mutual curiosity leads to the discovery of what they are (not to mention romance and sex). The male escapes, meets a reporter and the man from he was cloned, and helps reveal the secret nature of the Clonus Institute to the world, although not before all the heroes have been slaughtered in an attempt to hide the truth.
CLONUS is a low-budget shocker that strives to alarm the audience by convincing them of the scientific possibility of the events on screen (much like THE CHINA SYNDROME). Unfortunately, there are glaring flaws, as if to confirm that, despite its ambitions, this is indeed an exploitation film: the awkward, obligatory love scene (by firelight, yet); not to mention the gratuitous bloodshed during a lobotomy sequence.
There are also problem built into the plot. The slow revelation of exactly what is happening at Clonus leaves viewers with the impression that the film is horribly written and acted, because (before we know they are lobotomized clones) the characters seem to be moronic, inexpressive airheads. Also, the script must rely heavily on coincidence once the male clone escapes, because he has absolutely no knowledge of the outside world.
Although the filmmakers may go overboard in their attempt to disturb, and then try too hard to pull an upbeat ending out of a hat, what redeems CLONUS (at least in part) is its grim point of view. Like a cynical conspiracy thriller, this film attempt to provoke outrage at the events onscreen; it wants you to leave the theatre feeling as if you might read about something like this happening in tomorrow’s headlines. Instead of simply trying to shock, the filmmakers want to force the audience to ponder the moral questions they raise.
Titled CLONUS during production, the film was retitled PART — THE CLONUS HORROR by its theatrical distributor (whom director Fiveson called a “schlockhouse”). On the Internet Movie Database, the official title is now given as THE CLONUS HORROR, but the DVD box art reverts to the original title, CLONUS.
Given only brief theatrical exposure in 1979, the film was subsequently relegated to late-night TV airings (in the era before home video). Since then, it was probably most famous for appearing on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000 — until it was unofficially remade as THE ISLAND (2005), directed by Michael Bay.
The 2005 DVD features a new anamorphic transfer from the negative, with the soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Bonus features include an audio commentary by and an interview with the director, plus an original theatrical trailer.