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Film / Screamers

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Screamers is a 1995 Sci-Fi Horror film based off of the Philip K. Dick story "Second Variety".

The film is set on the planet Sirius 6B in the year 2078. Sirius 6B was the source of Berynium, a mineral that solved the energy crisis on Earth, but which produced radioactive waste as a byproduct, contaminating the planet and leading to a war between the New Economic Block, and their former employees The Alliance. While on Earth there was a tense peace between the NEB and Alliance, on Sirius 6B, the war went nuclear. Eventually, the Alliance introduced "screamers", a series of subterranean killing machines, which replicate themselves ad infinitum in an automated factory. The war eventually ruined the planet, leaving only a handful of Alliance and NEB strongholds intact. As it turns out, Earth had long since abandoned Sirius 6B, with the soldiers fighting for control of a ruined planet.

As Colonel Hendricksson (Peter Weller), the Alliance's leader on Sirius 6B, heads out to discuss a peace treaty with the NEB General, it is revealed that the screamers have changed; building newer models. They can pass for human, and soon, no one is safe.

A direct-to-video sequel, Screamers: The Hunting, was released in 2009.

Not to be confused with the obnoxious Jump Scare Shock Sites you see floating around the internet as Schmuck Bait.


  • Adaptation Distillation: The original short story takes place on a post-apocalyptic earth with an escalated cold war being the backstory. The movie replaces this with a colony world run by Corrupt Corporate Executives in a fight with a militant union. The story itself is largely unchanged. Even the endings have similarities;
    • In "Second Variety", it's a Bittersweet Ending; the "claws", having evolved enough that They Look Like Us Now, manage to smuggle one of their number onto a space transport so they can wipe out what's left of humanity - the catch is that part of what made them convincing was that they were capable of killing other claws, which leaves the protagonist grimly satisfied; humanity is finished, but the "claws" will kill themselves off in the same manner, as they are no different. This is subverted in the sequel: the survivors on the Moon figure out what's happening and are able to detect and eliminate the infiltrators, then resettle Earth once the "claws" have wiped themselves out.
    • In Screamers, it's Zig-Zagged. The Type V screamers have evolved so that they can "smile, cry, bleed, fuck" - which enables the a Type V-Jessica to come within moments of hijacking the space transport to Earth. However, Jessica has become human enough to not want to kill humans anymore, and sacrifices herself to save Hendrickson from one of her duplicates. Averted in that it turns out the teddy bears carried by Type III's are also screamers, and Hendricksson not only brought one onto the transport but took his Tab off...
  • Adaptation Expansion: a lot more scenes and characters are added.
  • After the End: At the start of the story, civilization on Sirius 6B has been reduced to irradiated ruins infested with Killer Robots, with the only thing left being the two opposing bases of the NEB and the Alliance. And on Earth, the leadership of both factions have written off Sirius 6B to fight over a new planet.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Screamers were designed to kill humans in the first place, but they weren't supposed to attack Alliance troops, or to develop new forms that resembled humans.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The enemy soldier sent to deliver the truce gets his hand severed, still holding the canister with the peace offering. The next Screamer slices his foot off, leaving him on the ground and vulnerable to the rest. Even the hardened soldiers watching from the bunker are squicked out.
  • Anti-Radiation Drug: Administered via cigarette, hence, why Everybody Smokes.
  • Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age: The Autonomous Mobile Sword (aka Screamer) kills with an automated buzzsaw rather than guns or explosives. Even the human models seem to prefer hand-to-hand methods for killing.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: This little gem - "Cubic tons of radiation."
  • Becoming the Mask: Jessica is a screamer, but she defends Hendricksson from another Jessica, to allow him to escape to Earth.
  • BBC Quarry: Albeit in Canada. There's also the requisite Abandoned Warehouses and refineries you find in any low budget sci-fi production.
  • Catchphrase: Type III's repeat a single phrase because "they can't think of anything better to say." This gets one character killed — he repeatedly asks people to "get off my back", apparently as a Madness Mantra, and Becker (one of the true Screamer infiltrators) kills him alleging (well, up until the poor guy is fully dead and bleeding all over, thus proving he's human, which gets Becker the riot act) that this repetition is proof that he's actually a robot.
  • Cat Scare: There's speculation that the message cylinder is a bomb, so Chuck jumps when the cylinder shoots out the NEB truce offering. Hendricksson finds that funny, only to get a nasty shock later on when he picks up a rock and it turns out to be an insect. Then later a rat drops on his shoulder while he's fleeing the David units in the darkened command centre.
  • Cold Equation: There's an escape rocket for the Alliance commander, but only seating and life support for one. Hendricksson insists that Jessica must go, but she refuses. Then a second Jessica appears and he realises why she's refusing.
  • Cow Tools: The NEB command centre has the requisite thing with lights that go back and forth. Until the Big Blackout, that is.
  • Cracking Up: Becker cracks his neck. Later when Chuck is revealed as a robot too, he does the same neck crack.
  • Creepy Child: The "Can I come with you?" boy (called David) who turns out to be a Killer Robot, after this fact is revealed.
  • Cyborg: Type V's. Jessica turns out to be one of the last models, designed to have both biological and mechanical components. It's to the point that she's as empathetic as a human being and saves the hero from another copy of her line.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: The film ends with a shot of a teddy bear in the back of the one-man spacecraft used by the protagonist to escape the planet. The teddy bear is the type previously seen carried by the Creepy Child Killer Robot. Just before the movie ends we see Hendricksson rip off his Tab in disgust and fling it away, landing next to the teddy bear, which starts to move of its own accord.
  • Darkness Equals Death: After Romo blows up a reptile Screamer in the command center, the lights suddenly go out and...
    "Can I come with you?"
  • Dead All Along:
    • The protagonists receive a VR communique from Secretary Green back on Earth, who advises them not to accept the peace offering from the NEB forces because it might jeopardize peace negotiations on Earth. Then Ace, the Sole Survivor of a disguised troop transport sending forces to Triton, reveals that Secretary Green was arrested and executed by the Alliance two years ago.
    • Chuck has been killed and his face transplanted onto a Type V Screamer. Given that he mocks Hendricksson with things he said at the start of the movie, this apparently happened a while back. He also brags of killing the NEB general who sent the peace treaty offer, so for all we know the whole thing may have been a ruse to get Hendricksson out of the bunker so Screamer Chuck could subvert the defenses.
  • Death from Above: The New Economic Block's response to the workers refusing to mine berynium.
  • Death World: The colony world Sirius 6B has become a wasteland due to an apocalyptic war between two different factions who've worn each other down to a few isolated and undersupplied forces holed up in bunkers. Near the end they release armies of self-evolving killer robots which kill indiscriminately, making the entire planet pretty much uninhabitable. Even venturing outside the few remaining bunkers is viewed as a Suicide Mission.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: The Type III is designed to play on a soldier's sympathy, so he'll take it into a sealed bunker.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Between two of the same woman no less.
  • Détournement: On entering the NEB command bunker, there's a giant travel poster urging tourists to Rediscover Paradise on Sirius 6B, long after it's become a Crapsack World.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Mostly everyone dies. And the teddy bear is a screamer. Though if one is familiar with the short story in the scene where "David" screamers pour out of the bunker, the teddy bears moved by themselves but got blown to bits before they could get to the main protagonists, the twist does not come as a surprise. And the ending of the short story is even darker.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Hendricksson's reaction to Ace saying, "Can I come with you?" Given that the two of them have been battling killer robot children who always say "Can I come with you?", Ace's joke borders on Too Dumb to Live.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Just as he's about to use the escape rocket to get off the planet, Colonel Hendricksson is knocked down and his weapon taken by one of the human Screamers, who then steps out of the dark to reveal he's Hendricksson's Number Two, who should have been killed by the Screamers when they swarmed the Alliance base. Turns out the real Number Two was killed and replaced by the Screamer before the events of the movie even started.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The last survivor escapes the planet after a number of horrifying revelations (and gruesome deaths), yanks off his Tab and falls asleep, safe at last... turns out, the teddy bear he kept as a souvenir is also a Screamer.
  • Everybody Smokes: Anti-radiation medication is delivered via red-colored cigarettes. Thus, lots of people smoke.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The NEB soldier approaching the Alliance base. He doesn't keep his feet for long.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing:
    • As the sniper scans the two approaching soldiers and David, all three show as ARMED even though David is not carrying a weapon. Also counts as foreshadowing — not only is David a weapon, he's carrying his teddy bear which is also a weapon.
    • A wounded Becker cries "Help me, help me!" just like the Type II he discussed earlier. Joe realises what's going to happen a moment before Becker crushes the life out of him.
  • Flock of Wolves: It turns out the N.E.B. camp has been infiltrated by Ridiculously Human Robots. How bad is it? There are only three soldiers left: a female captain and two male privates. Only one of the privates is an actual human, both the captain and the other private are robots. Ironically, he's the first to get killed under suspicion of being an "infiltrator"—after being accused of such by one of the actual robots!.
  • Forever War: The war has been going on for ten years. When the N.E.B forces on Sirius 6B send a peace offering, the Alliance soldiers are told by Secretary Green not to acknowledge it as this could upset crucial peace negotiations with the N.E.B on Earth, as a safe form of berynium has just been discovered on Triton IV. Then it turns out the message from Secretary Green was faked and a new battlefront is being opened up on Triton IV as well. The Alliance is keeping them supplied because it can't just abandon Sirius 6B for propaganda reasons, but can't allow the troops to return home either.
  • Give Me a Sword: Or in this case, a nuclear-tipped rifle grenade.
  • Glad He's On Our Side: In reference to the first generation of Screamers, which hunt targets by burrowing under the ground until near their target, then bursting out to slice them up with high-speed cutting blades.
    Soldier 1: I'm glad those things are on our side.
    Soldier 2: And our side's the good side — right?
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Screamers were made to kill humans. And they're just getting better and better at it.
  • Gorn: There's a very large amount of blood and gore in The Hunting.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Not the Screamers in general, as they are programmed to Kill All Humans; they just got smart enough to see past the Tags and get into the bunkers. Judging from the Shakespeare he quotes, Becker accepts he was created as a killer and thinks there's little meaning in anything else. Jessica with her Black Market stash and attractive looks is just a more advanced means of getting into a bunker like the Davids. She does in fact get into a restricted area (the escape rocket that only the Alliance commander can access) but refuses to go to Earth for fear her original programming will reassert itself.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Becker, after getting shot by Hendricksson.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: The protagonists have to report a cease fire proposed by the enemy forces. A pair of doors slide open and their superior walks through and starts talking to them — all appears normal until he suddenly starts to fizz and sputter and the protagonists complain about the unreliability of holographic projection from Earth. The scene hints at The Reveal that the Projected Man is actually dead.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Averted when the Davids swarm out of the Alliance bunker; the protagonists retreat with one group firing and the others retreating, then vice versa.
  • Human Resources: The Screamers drag bodies underground to their factories (and presumably to study them for the later human models).
    Hendricksson: They're scavengers and they learn; they use everything. Rotting meat gives off methane gas, gas is fuel; hell I don't know. Maybe the eyeball jelly makes handy blade wax.
  • Idiot Ball: Private Jefferson doesn't hear his Tag warning of an approaching Screamer because he's watching a virtual reality music video projected into his sunglasses and headphones. This is put down to a dumbass New Meat mistake, but we saw Jefferson earlier walking along with Hendricksson with the headphones playing music; why didn't Hendricksson take them off him then and there, if he's walking through a war zone?
  • Impostor-Exposing Test: Hendricksson cuts Jessica to ensure she's not one of the increasingly advanced killer robots. Turns out the latest models can bleed too.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: Hendricksson fights a human Screamer on a claw-crane suspended over a launch pit protected by lethal laser grid.
  • Interrupted Declaration of Love:Jessica's Dying Confession Of Love to Hendricksson.
  • Invisibility Cloak: The "tabs" Alliance members wear makes them invisible to screamers. Until the screamers start updating themselves...
  • Kill All Humans: In fairness, the Screamers are programmed to do this, with no discrimination between either side. Those tags the Alliance soldiers wear just obscure their heartbeat so the Screamer can't detect them. If they were to become clever enough to see past the tag...
  • Kill and Replace: Hendricksson finds himself fighting his friend Chuck, actually a Screamer who killed the original and removed his face. He did the same to Marshall Cooper and says he's going to do the same to Hendricksson. 'Chuck' repeats a conversation they had earlier, so apparently we never saw the real one.
  • Killer Rabbit: The child screamer. And possibly the teddy bear.
  • Killer Robot: The screamers were designed to be the perfect soldier. They proved to be a little too perfect.
  • Killer Teddy Bear: Killer robots looking like little boys, carrying killer robot teddy bears.
  • Kill It with Fire
  • Kill Me Now, or Forever Stay Your Hand: After Becker kills Ross, Jessica suggests he might be a Screamer. Becker urges her to fire and be on the safe side. Jessica doesn't fire.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The Alliance use the typical post-Aliens rifle/flamethrower combination. The N.E.B. soldiers prefer a multi-shot Grenade Launcher to deal with the Screamers.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Jefferson shows so much glee at finding the nuclear mini-missile that Hendricksson guesses correctly on the climactic battle that he took it with him even after being ordered not to.
    Hendricksson (after ordering Jefferson to hand it over): I know you took it, you little thief!
  • Lost in Transmission: Played straight.
    Hendricksson: There's a new kind of screamer. Do not let it into the perimeter, over.
    Chuck: I missed that last part, over... (static)
  • Loud of War: The Screamers are called this because of the ear-splitting scream they emit while attacking. You can either cover your ears or fire your weapon at them, but it's difficult to do both.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • Becker quotes from Shakespeare a lot. He quotes from Henry VI while crushing Joe to death. Chuck does the same while trying to kill Hendricksen.
    • Ross, who is only slightly less visibly loopy than Becker, keeps telling people again and again to "get off my back". Becker kills him while accusing him of being one of the humanoid Screamers because of this repetition.
  • Mechanical Evolution: Just as in the original Second Variety. The Screamers were designed as self-evolving killer robots, and newer generations even take on human appearance. Eventually the Type V generation (Jessica) has both a mostly human biology and experiences human emotions, and saves Hendricksen from one of her evil counterparts.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: During their journey to the NEB base, the protagonists are attacked despite their tags by a more advanced Screamer, a reptile-like creature with legs and a tail.
    David: It's like an animal.
    Hendricksen: It's an upgrade.
  • The Men First: When the lights go out, Hendricksson orders the others out of the command centre, leaving himself vulnerable when he stays behind to examine the database on the Screamers. He likely only survives because Jessica and Ace went back for him. Later when he offers to cut himself to prove to Jessica that he's not a Screamer, she stops him saying she really doesn't need proof. Later when he sees the escape rocket has only room for one, he insists that Jessica go instead of himself.
  • Mistaken for an Imposter: One character argues that another one is a screamer, and then tosses a knife through his chest. It then turns out Becker was the real imposter, invoking this trope.
  • New Meat: "Ace" Jefferson hits all the points — blindly idealistic, skilled with weapons in training but Too Dumb to Live in practice, and knows nothing about the local situation (in fairness he was going to another planet) so has to have everything explained to him and therefore the audience.
  • Nightmare Face: Before attacking, the Type IIIs, which resemble young boys, open their mouths to reveal several nested rows of mechanical razor-sharp teeth.
  • Not His Sled: The film, which was based on "Second Variety" by Dick, retains the original surprise ending that the woman the hero met and bonded with is one of the robot decoys, but changes it so she has broken her programming and isn't out to kill humans. It further departs from the original ending by having her "dying" and putting the hero safely on the shuttle to Earth in a happy Hollywood ending...until it reveals that the teddy bear the hero kept as a souvenir is another deadly robot decoy. The direct-to-video sequel briefly mentions the first film's protagonist choosing to destroy his ship rather than allow the teddy bear to get to Earth, although it's difficult to imagine a single killer robot being able to wipe out the human race without the means to make more of itself.
  • No Blood for Phlebotinum: The original story took place in World War III. The film's Back Story adapts the capitalist/communist conflict by having a Mega-Corp called N.E.B fighting a worker/scientist Alliance over berynium, which has solved the energy crisis back on Earth but produces large amounts of radiation when mined. The idea of an industrial dispute writ large is at least original, though it bears little relevance to anything that happens in the movie.
  • Nuclear Option
  • Numbered Homeworld: The film is set on a planet called Sirius 6B. There's mention of Triton IV.
  • Ominous Walk: The Davids do this en masse. Becker after the Robotic Reveal, though it's uncertain as the extent to which he's genuinely damaged; it gives Hendricksson enough time to grab a gun anyway.
  • Protective Charm: The "tabs" worn by Alliance soldiers. Notably, as they operate by cancelling out the sound of the wearer's heartbeat, they only work on the basic and Type-I screamers; the humanoid screamers can identify a human target just fine, tab or no. Hendricksson is implied to doom himself in the end by yanking off his tab in disgust once he leaves the planet; without it, the teddy bear screamer in the shuttle with him identifies him as a target and starts moving...
  • Psycho Knife Nut: Becker, who also uses it as a throwing weapon to kill a suspected Screamer.
    Becker: (Licking the Blade) It's never sharp enough.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!
    Hendricksson: I pulled this off a David — it said Type III. Pulled this off the reptile it said Type I, now WHAT...OTHER...TYPE?
  • The Radio Dies First: The further Hendricksson gets from his base, the worse the communications get, so he's unable to pass on the warning about the human-looking screamers. Then he finds a working communication terminal at the NEB command post and tries to send a message back, only for Ross to blow it up while shooting a Screamer. Ironically the man he's trying to warn is a Screamer himself.
  • Recursive Creators: The Screamers started building new generations of models themselves after they were originally created by human soldiers.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: The latest model of "Swords". One of them falls in love with the hero and fights so that he can escape the planet.
  • Robosexual: Hendricksson realizes that Jessica is also a Killer Robot when an identical Jessica shows up. Earlier he'd tested Jessica by cutting her hand and the copy appears to know this, taunting Hendricksson by saying: "We can smile, we can cry, we can bleed, we can fuck." This was also shown in the original story where her counterpart was a Camp Follower for the Soviet army.
  • Robotic Reveal: The humanoid Screamers successfully infiltrate human camps before they're revealed. There are so many new generations that the protagonist eventually has trouble believing that anyone besides him is even human. In fact, he visits the enemy camp (dwindled down to three remaining soldiers) and the soldier who is killed under suspicion of being a Screamer turns out to be the only one of the three who wasn't a robot.
  • Robot War: For years the war between the New Economic Block and the Alliance has been fought by self-evolving robotic soldiers. The few survivors are holed up in their bunkers because the entire planet has become a death zone.
  • Shower Scene: Downplayed when Jessica strips off her top to wash from a hand basin. Given that everyone's rugged up in combat gear, it's more than enough; Hendricksson just gives a quiet, "Good lord, you're beautiful" at the sight.
  • See You in Hell: Via Shakespeare quote. "Down, down to hell; and say I sent you."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The sequel has an offscreen mention of the protagonist of the original dying to prevent the screamer from reaching Earth.
  • Sinister Silhouettes: When the Davids are stalking Hendricksson through the darkened command post.
  • Smoking Is Cool: The film made smoking a plot point: the drug that helped counter the radiation of the planet was administered via cigarette, presumably so the actors didn't have to go around in Hazmat Suit and breathing masks.
    Ace: I can't believe you've got to put this shit in your lungs, to neutralise the shit in your lungs.
  • Something They Would Never Say: When Hendricksson returns to base, he calls Chuck and tells him to come outside. A voice claiming to be Chuck refuses, telling Hendricksson to come inside. Hendricksson then asks to speak to Don Giovanni (the opera music he was playing earlier). When the same voice claiming to be "Don Giovanni" answers, everyone runs like hell.
  • Spot the Imposter:
    • Becker accuses Ross of being a Type II — he repeats things implying a limited vocabulary like the Davids, he doesn't drink from the Scotch bottle, and his twitchy behavior is creepy. The two men draw on each other, but Becker's thrown knife is faster. Then Hendricksson removes the knife and finds it covered in blood. Oops!
    • Averted when the two Jessica's are fighting each other. Hendricksson loads a Flare Pistol, but can't tell who's who. The evil Jessica than fatally injures the good one and turns on Hendricksson.
  • The Swarm:
    • The NEB soldier in the opening scene destroys the first two Screamers, but others show up en masse and quickly take him down.
    • Once a David unit has infiltrated a bunker, others soon follow to finish off everyone there.
  • Super-Scream: Hendricksson is about to shoot evil Jessica when she emits an ear-piercing scream, forcing him to drop his weapon to cover his ears. Fortunately she's roasted by the pre-launch burn.
  • Tattoo as Character Type: Becker has the teardrop tattoo.
  • They Look Like Us Now: In the original, there were Type IIs and IVs, which pretended to be wounded soldiers, and Type IIIs, which mimicked orphaned children. And Jessica. The sequel adds even more variety.
  • Toxic Phlebotinum: The process of mining 'Berynium' releases hazardous radiation, which is the root of the conflict between the Alliance and N.E.B. This has no plot significance beyond the movie's prologue and general setting.
  • War Was Beginning: With Opening Scroll (or rather War Has Been Going On For Ten Years).
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Jefferson has his own shocked reaction when he discovers there are automated factories churning out the Screamers, and no-one up top knows anything that goes on down there since (as Hendricksson put it) the last man to do so flicked the switch and ran like hell.
  • Wormsign: The first model of Screamers are a type of subterranean killing machines.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: The Type II Screamer pretends to be a wounded soldier.