SPLIT SECOND. Full-fledged VHS-era science fiction thriller

Don’t let this description mislead you into thinking that we’re dealing with a morally disturbing art-house cinema here.

Radoslaw Buczkowski

20 September 2023

SPLIT SECOND Full-fledged VHS-era science fiction thriller

The video classics mine is rich in titles that, to put it briefly, hit the spot so hard it’s like throwing logs into a furnace. However, let’s not kid ourselves, there are plenty of films that aren’t worth revisiting years later, so as not to spoil beautiful childhood memories. Nostalgia is all well and good, but not everything that shines on a VCR tape is gold, and often you have to sift through tons of junk, low-quality black briquette labeled VHS to find a real gem. Fortunately for me, when there’s some comic book PG-13 fluff circulating in theaters again (for my mental balance – a deep need for blood, violence, and flicks in movies – I’m just an old romantic at heart), I can always head to Rutger Hauer’s budget bin – those half-magnetized, pirate VHS tapes from the early ’90s – to unearth some cinematic treasure:

However, don’t let this description of Split Second mislead you into thinking that we’re dealing with a morally disturbing art-house cinema here, because at the end of the day, we have a full-fledged sci-fi thriller on our hands, a classic mishmash from the VHS era. The audacity of the creators in using every possible cliché and idea from the ’80s cinema is absolutely mind-boggling. You’ve got to have nerves of steel and be truly intoxicated with confidence in your own abilities to approach making a film in such an unceremonious way while simultaneously avoiding any self-aware meta-filmmaking antics. In Split Second, there’s zero irony; everything is 100% serious, and somehow, it works and only adds to the cult status of this production.

split second rutger hauer

The main character of Split Second alone can be seen as a product of a certain era’s cinematic thinking: right off the bat, his partner gets killed, so we have the classic revenge motif. The guy lives in a cluttered industrial loft (considering the prices of apartments in big cities, he must have quite the hourly rate); of course, he lives with a constant sense of guilt (and guilt, necessarily flirting with alcoholism, which he successfully turns into a dependency on sugar and caffeine); he breaks all possible rules, orders, and standards of police work while still being the best cop in town, and, on top of that, he’s just been reinstated (by a screaming boss) after a period of suspension for insubordination, and a new partner is assigned to him. Sound familiar?

On the surface, all of this has been done a thousand times in a hundred different ways, but these well-worn clichés and played-out tropes are presented in such a way that you feel like you’re dealing with a completely fresh and innovative product. Plus, Rutger Hauer stars in the lead role, in an absolutely badass outfit (leather coat, big gun holstered at his waist, dark pink shades, lighting a cigar with a flamethrower), and honestly, I could end the review right here because he always elevates the quality of the film by several notches.

split second rutger hauer flame thrower

Seriously, the Dutchman, who reportedly had only a few weeks of free time to shoot Split Second (pre-production lasted only twenty days) and was supposed to be very difficult to work with, pulls off such a show that I wonder if the director didn’t just leave a camera recording Hauer’s antics on set, who here seems to not give a damn about anything and anyone. Rutger looks like he’s smoked a really fat joint before every scene, he’s always cruising on idle (which doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a class act), and his blasé attitude in the film reaches the absolute zenith. At one point, the guy wakes up with a pigeon on his head (Roy Batty is turning in his grave), which he lazily shoos away, then fixes his hair with a garage wire brush and greets the morning with a sip of coffee, into which he extinguished his cigarette earlier—and what am I supposed to say here? It’s absolutely divine; I watch and revel in sheer delight.

split second Kim Cattrall

By the way, speaking of the Dutchman, if I ever have a son, preferably twins, I already have their names sorted out: Rutger and Hauer Buczkowski. It’s such a power move that the journal for grades 1–3 would spontaneously combust. “Rutger, you mustn’t hunt school vampires with a sharpened HB pencil. Go to the corner!” “Hauer, where did you get that switchblade?” (stupid question, obviously from your dad), “Go to the principal’s office!” Just the thought of it triggered my paternal instincts. The key to eternal youth (I want more life… fucker!) is two little dudes watching movies with me, the same ones I watched with my dad when I was young. In addition to that, modifying bicycles into police cruisers, building homemade crossbows, assembling “screw” bombs in the garage, and many other joyful activities that violate health and safety rules and modern child-rearing standards. Of course, I assume that VHS-style fatherhood, when mixed with TV Style-style motherhood, could end with a visit from the police and a bureaucrat from the local social services center, who will inform me that Rambo III is not the best movie for a six-year-old (it wasn’t me who spilled the first blood, it was Peppa Pig!), and trips to the shooting range with the kids shouldn’t be sponsored child support. Talking about fatherhood, here I come!

split second rutger hauer

Okay, because I’ve drifted beyond the territorial waters of the movie I was supposed to write about once again.

Split Second was shot in no time, for a handful of bucks, unlimited tea refills for the filming crew (they had to provide their own milk), and the opportunity to take a photo by Big Ben. The rest of the money went to Hauer, whose performance is, of course, worth every penny. Considering the budget and logistical constraints, the creators did a damn good job—flooded London is just a few streets, but it looks impressive, and there’s no feeling of confinement or studio claustrophobia. The idea of shooting car scenes in London’s City during the evening hours, which at that time, even today, are not congested, makes the city look deserted and greatly contributes to the creation of an eerie, apocalyptic atmosphere.

In addition to that, there’s inventive interior design, especially in the London Finest precinct and the genuinely achieved futuristic morgue using really simple means. The only thing I missed in Split Second was a bit of matte painting, which would have expanded the film’s world of the decaying city, especially in the film’s opening sequence. Don’t get me wrong, that opening sequence already blows your mind with its music (the film itself borrows a lot of music cues from Blade Runner, Terminator, and even Die Hard) and beautiful shots of a fog and smog-shrouded London at sunrise. However, just a few strokes of the brush on glass would have significantly expanded this world at minimal cost, not to mention the aesthetic experience— a couple of skyscrapers piercing the clouds, a burning housing estate in the distance during riots, and in the background, that tune:

And then there’s the monster, built from the DNA of its victims, a powerful, incredibly fast, cockroach-like creature with black, velvety, amphibious skin. With a single strike from its clawed hand, it can rip out a human heart along with the spine. Just one look and you know that you better not mess with this creature without air support. The design and execution really deliver, although to this day, I have no idea what this monster was supposed to be. Throughout Split Second, various ideas were thrown around involving star constellations, moon phases, rats, soul theft, tax evasion, ice skating, the devil, and even the apocalypse, but in the end, nothing was explained. Particularly puzzling are the creature’s random abilities. It seems like it can materialize in selected places at will, only to disappear without a trace moments later. However, for some strange reason, it has a penchant for dramatically crashing through walls and doors like a juggernaut – a rather hobbyist approach. Of course, I can’t complain about this state of affairs because there’s never too much spectacular mayhem without CGI.

split second monster

However, I do have a small “but” regarding the completely out-of-place plastic visor on its eyes. Whoever came up with that silly idea deserves… wait a minute, it just dawned on me – a theory: in the vast array of VHS-era (and beyond) movies, there’s a recurring group of motorcycle goons in the employ of the evil boss (Hard Target, Black Rain, Cobra, Eye of The Tiger), cannon fodder that gets taken out by the protagonist’s fist/foot/elbow/forehead/bullet (you get the idea). These faceless heroes (that visor!) who nobody remembers and who spend half the movie sitting in waiting rooms for bad movie motorcyclists, usually in full gear with helmets on (say what you will, but I believe it), just to respond to every call and immediately get shot by some movie boy scout. Nameless victims regularly sacrificed on the blood-soaked altars of action cinema, who never receive the proper tribute and respect they deserve.

All that raw energy, frustration, anger, and a sense of hopelessness must have manifested themselves at some point, taking the form of a lightning-fast, monster-like creature that devours the hearts of its victims…

All the monster scenes are a joy to my heart; the gore flows in buckets, the creature bursts through walls, massacres people’s chests, and the constant sound of a beating heart, heralding the presence of the monster, is the best part. The hero, played by Hauer, senses the creature because he was attacked by it years ago (super scar on half his arm – children cry, women faint), and now some über paranormal bond connects them – in short, psycho brothers for life! Unfortunately, the ending is a bit of a letdown. After a solid build-up, I expected a bigger showdown, but what I got (due to a director change late in production) feels rushed, as if they were just eager to hear the final clapboard. It’s a shame because the specially constructed underground metro areas, flooded with water and filled with scrapped train cars, look genuinely atmospheric and beg for a spectacular and cinematic finale – a classic mano a mano drenched in gunfire, dynamite, and witty retorts. However, everything here feels a bit rushed, and sadly Split Second lacks that emotional earthquake found in the endings of films like Aliens, Terminator, both RoboCop movies, or the original Predator.

split second rutger hauer

That doesn’t change the fact that in the finale, there are, of course, a few pearl moments that make Split Second as a whole stand very high on my VHS classics shelf. It’s an absolutely genuine diamond among B-grade sci-fi flicks from the turn of the ’80s and ’90s. Far from perfection, unpolished, full of small imperfections, but still beautiful in its brutal simplicity – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.