Now, let me state for the record that I always look forward to spending an evening or two among the recycled plots, rubber monsters, and storyline knocks-off that define Roger Corman's American International and Concorde Pictures output. I am constantly amazed by his ability to green light pictures that are not only astoundingly late to the game "homages" to other, better higher budgeted films, but are often remakes of earlier copies of other better, higher budgeted films. Like, for example, Dead Space (1991), which is a near shot-for-shot remake of Forbidden World (1982). We'll talk Dead Space more, later.
Once the B-picture and drive-in market collapsed at the end of the 1970s he moved directly into straight to video and straight to cable TV pictures. Suddenly, Cinemax, HBO, and the local video rental store were the new drive ins and with his relentless production schedules it was a very short time before you couldn't walk into a store or click on TV and not find a Corman film either on, or about to be on. The very amount of Corman genre stuff from1980 – hell – to present! (Have you seen SyFy Friday's lately?) is enough to prove the health of what's now called the B-Market, even if these films never see the inside of a cinema projection room – Some of which, like Sharktopus, shouldn't see the inside of as human eyeball – but that's neither here nor there.
Standard among the five or so plotlines used at Concorde pictures in the 80s and 90s was that of the film Alien. It's rather simple really, take a small cast of people, give them identifying archetype characteristics, isolate them, then turn an unkillable monster among them, throw in stock footage from the glory days of American International, a-la "Battle Beyond the Stars" and voila! Cut, print, ship to Showtime!
What we have here in this double feature are two of these identically plotted films bound together like a grindhouse double feature (and we'll talk more about that later too).
But first, onto the first film.
The Terror Within (1989)
Following a worldwide epidemic that wipes out a full 99% of the population, very small military labs dot the apocalyptic wasteland and seek out survivors. The lab we'll spend the time with is Mojave Military Lab. In keeping with the cheapy nature of the film the lab is underground, the only above ground aspect of it shown in the film as the shack that hides the entrance tunnel. Out in the desert, Bronson Canyon and Vasquez Rocks for those used to seeing them in Corman films (and the odd Classic Star Trek episode) will be our outdoor location shots. In one scene too we'll even visit the old cave used for the craptastic Robot Monster. Mojave Labs houses a handful of survivors, all of which have been inoculated against the plague, but due to their location and the length of time since the world ended, are beginning to run low of food. Two of the lab personnel are attacked and killed by something out in the wilderness. Before long a single pregnant survivor is found and brought back in time to give birth to a mutant monster that grows extremely fast and plans to chow down on all the male survivors and impregnate all of the female ones. Standing in their way are six soldiers/scientists and their dog. This is a direct story lift from Alien, even the characters have some of the same characteristics, the maintenance guys Andre (John Lafayette) and Neil (Tommy Hinkley) are direct analogs of Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Standon – Shit, they even have some of the same conversations.
The cast is led by Andrew Stevens (the poor man's everyone in Hollywood who isn't Andrew Stevens) as David, and George Kennedy is Hal, the lab commander. One word about George Kennedy, I've come to the conclusion that he elevates any material in which he appears. I don't know why, but I am always weirdly comforted by him showing up in a film, and for the life of me I can't think of a film where he appears that I don't like, and The Terror Within is no exception. I mean, the material is stupid, the script is an obvious Alien lift, it's been done a billion times, and yet here he is delivering this stupid dialogue with believable gravitas. He's underrated, severely, George Kennedy is. Don't believe me? Watch "Guns of the Magnificent Seven".
The rest of the cast are standard B-flick Corman players, washed up soap stars, and bit players from film and TV. All of them are perfectly suited to this material. The acting is TV quality but they all manage to carry off the idea of being stalked and eaten by a guy who looks like a a half-skinned sheep with teeth just fine.
The monsters, which we later learn are called "Gargoyles" for no good reason are sort of half skin, half muscle, and all teeth. The head design follows the standard set by Alien with dripping wet needle-like teeth, only here the head doesn't move at all. But, the creature effects and flashes of gore and blood are good enough for standard direct to video fare as this. There is one thing missing from the standard Corman/Concorde pictures film.
Boobies. Those expecting some breasts to help blunt the impact of stupid dialogue are out of luck here.
Dead Space (1991)
Dead Space is a redo of earlier American International classic Forbidden World, the script is almost identical, the special effects shots here, as there, come from Battle Beyond the Stars, the acting comes from Mark Singer and a cast of soap stars and nobodies. In this tale, a space ranger type guy Kreiger (Mark Singer) after being jumped by stock footage from Battle Beyond the Stars is called to space station Phaebon by a distress call. Turns out that (unlike in Forbidden World) one of the scientists sent the call as a precaution because she is worried about the impact of their experiments. Before you can say "Mark Singer? Wasn't he in Beastmaster?" There's a monster rampaging around the station. The lead scientist Darden (Bryan Cranston) railing against the idea of even harming the monster let along killing it, and a bunch of might as well be nameless cast members to be eaten by the monster.
Here, like in Forbidden World, the monster isn't a man in a suit, but rather than being an articulated appliance type monster, we get a series of hand puppets that burst out of the beds, air vents, and other small spaces in the station. Effective editing gets the message across that the monster is larger than Kermit the Frog.
The acting is okay, I never felt like I was watching people read cue cards but Mark Singer doesn't bring anything special to the role of Kreiger whereas his predecessor in the role, Jesse Vint in Forbidden World, seemed like he was really into the part, Singer just doesn't. The female leads suffer too as they aren't of the caliber of June Chadwick or Dawn Dunlap from Forbidden World. They also fail to get naked as readily as the two ladies in Forbidden World.
All that said though, Dead Space is okay, and if you haven't seen Forbidden World* it's a perfectly serviceable monster-on-the-loose sci fi flick.
*Director Fred Gallo, brought in from USC after a screening of his masters' thesis film, to direct say in the commentary that he never knew that Forbidden World existed and even today hasn't ever watched it. Er... You'd think he would have. You'd think someone would have shown him that no matter what work he was doing on this film, Corman already had a perfectly usable version of this story. The commentary track for Dead Space is the only commentary in the double feature and while it's moderated, and I usually like that, I found myself wanting to punch Fred Gallo in the head after a bout 40 minutes.
The DVD double feature from Shout! Factory is an excellent presentation of two moderately okay films. They know enough not to load these down with unwatchable or unwatched extras, instead they overdo the menus. I mean really, if I go through the trouble of putting the DVD into the player I don't need to confirm that I want to watch a movie by clicking on a box office, then on the inside of a theater lobby do I?
The grindhouse gimmick is okay, I guess, but applying the same old crackly public domain "Previews of coming attractions" and "Our feature presentation" and "Concession stand" bumpers and stuff does not a Grindhouse feature make. In fact, I'd like to propose a moratorium on the use of Grindhouse, it's way outlived its cool factor. The red-band trailer for Galaxy of Terror was cool though, I've never seen that before.
The Terror Within comes in flawless widescreen while Dead Space is 4:3 TV aspect ratio, but still crystal clear.