Richard Levinson and William Link are well known for gifting the wonderful character of Lieutenant Colombo to the world. In the 1980s they also gave us touring author and elderly herald of death, Jessica Fletcher in the popular TV show Murder She Wrote. However what you may not know is that a year or two prior they also wrote the script for the TV sci-fi movie Prototype.
The DVD of this movie was released with the following box art featuring a skeletal cyborg head that looks like the bastard child of Arnie’s Terminator and Skeletor along with the tagline “THE FUTURE IS NOT FRIENDLY”. To add an extra degree of industrial body-horror a huge screw appears to being driven into the skull from the side. Whole thing looks like a Fear Factory t-shirt.
Fans of 80s cult sci-fi and horror picking this up in a bargain bin will probably expect something akin to The Terminator, Hardware or Class of 1999; a dark gritty piece of visceral 80s science fiction horror. What they actually get is a TV drama about morality from the writers of some of television’s most acclaimed crime dramas.
This kind of thing goes on all the time. Forgotten movies and TV dramas are picked up for a song by low rent distributors and released with misleading box art making the movie look like it has a tenuous link to something more contemporary to make an easy profit from consumers who purchase based on a cursory glance at the product sitting on the shelves of their local supermarket or petrol/gas station.
Another example (there are so many to choose from) is the infamous early Tom Hanks TV movie Mazes & Monsters from 1983. The DVD box art would make people think it’s another movie in The DaVinci Code series, what they end up watching is an old and rather tedious TV movie starring a very young Tom Hanks warning about the alleged dangerous effects table-top role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons had on young minds. Spoiler: They make you hallucinate like you have been taking the drugs movies like Reefer Madness warned you about except the devil is also involved in the negative proceedings. Played D&D myself for years and was always disappointed that the worst experience I had was being bloated and gassy from an overdose of Doritos.
The Prototype movie itself features cinema legend Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) as a grumpy old scientists who creates a lifelike robot called Michael played by professional creepy guy David Morse (The Green Mile, House MD) and acts as a father to him as he learns about the world and deals with the consequences of shoplifting and various government agencies who see him as a weapon. It’s more like a low budget D.A.R.Y.L. than anything else. No chrome skulls, glowing eyes or anything being drilled. It’s a fairly decent 1980’s TV drama exploring the ethical implications of creating an artificial being.
Box art for a more recent UK release at least features a shot of David Morse on the cover but still seems to be selling a sci-fi horror with it’s glowing-eyed Terminator-esque skull, despite the U rating being somewhat of a giveaway to the real nature of the picture.
The DVD itself send to be out of print currently. However, like many forgotten cult movies, Prototype is available in its entirety on YouTube thanks to a random uploader.