Studio: Phase 4 Films
Director: Emmett Callinan
Writer: Emmett Callinan
Producer: Ray Haboush
Stars: Keith Reay, Steve West, Alana Dietze, Tonya Kay, Joe Darden, Avital Ash
Marooned on a remote planet, six friends uncover a military conspiracy to eradicate a ferocious alien species.
A funny thing happened when I sat down to watch “Dark Space.” Shortly after the distributor’s logo in the opening credits came an animated title card touting the film as part of the “Still Night Monster Movies” series. “Oh no,” I reactively mumbled out loud to an empty room. I recognized that label immediately. As part of some bizarrely-conceived project to re-envision the classic creatures of Universal’s heyday, except without any meaningful budgets or name talent attached, Still Night Monster Movies was responsible for the truly abysmal “Mummy Resurrected” (review here) and the less-awful-by-comparison “Dracula Reborn” (review here).
Instinct kicked in with a synapse fire suggesting the only sensible course of action was to hit the off button with Road Runner-like speed. But that hasty finger press was halted in midair by a sudden flash of morbid curiosity.
Having originally announced a quintet of productions under the “Famous Monsters of Filmland” brand, Still Night had yet to make good on its promise/threat to deliver Frankenstein, creature, and werewolf-related entries. An alien thriller set in outer space doesn’t slot into that previously stated agenda. So how exactly does this follow the concept behind the branding? And how much of an unwatchable train wreck would it turn out to be?
The answer to that first question is: it doesn’t. Not any more than “God of Thunder,” based on the Fox Comics superhero (cough!) but branded as part of the same “Monster” imprint, does anyway. With companion titles like “Prometheus Trap” and “Dead Raid,” it seems as though the Still Night Monster Movies lineup reset its mission statement by aligning its new modus operandi with that of The Asylum’s, i.e. pinching out coattail cash-ins.
That still doesn’t resolve what “Dark Space” is or how it came to be, though I suppose it doesn’t matter much. Ironically, being lumped under the same banner as “Dracula Reborn” and “The Mummy Resurrected” works to the film’s advantage by setting it up for presumed disappointment. With expectations for quality now so far through the floor that they resurfaced in Shanghai, “Dark Space” had nowhere to go but up and it had not yet even begun.
Unless it is a Troma movie taking self-effacing potshots at itself, you will never see “not that bad” as an endorsement quoted on a box cover. Phrases like “better than I thought it would be” and “could have been worse” are similarly insulting backhanded compliments to bestow upon a film. At the same time, there really are no more accurate ways to describe how the standard bar should be set for “Dark Space” in order to weigh what it accomplishes against what it has the potential for in the first place.
The reality of micro and low-budget sci-fi/horror is that such movies are in bottomless holes from the outset when all they have to work with is one novice carpenter, plywood, and black paint. But “Dark Space” does more than simply phone in its sets and effects by executing a modestly professional look that would be serviceable for the kind of space fantasy fare populating syndicated television of the 1990’s. Think along lines ahead of “Time Trax,” even “Babylon 5,” but perhaps shy of “Earth: Final Conflict” or “Andromeda.” Considering the project’s scope, it is a respectable effort that gets the most bang for two bucks through the visual design and physical construction.
The bigger issue bogging down “Dark Space” is that its alien planet setting and outer space style are mere shells for a generic monster movie. Strip the futuristic theme along with the government conspiracy plot point and all that remains is six friends on spring break being chased through the woods.
Given the birth date listed on IMDB and the movie’s release year, lead actor Keith Reay was somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 years old around the time of filming. Nevertheless, Reay plays cocksure college kid of the future, Devin. Devin and his five similarly questionably-aged college chums pack their crow’s feet and their space ganja for an interplanetary road trip that ends with them crash landing on an uncharted world. That world turns out to be inhabited by alien beasts looking something like Amy from “Congo” mated with a grey from “Communion” and its offspring somehow ended up with Pumpkinhead’s legs.
Like contemporary Earth-dwelling college kids caught in a creature-on-the-loose flick, Devin and his friends take time out for forehead-slapping behavior. Marooned on a possibly hostile planet, their friend severely injured, and no hope of rescue in sight, Devin spots a small pond and suggests skinny-dipping as a sensible thing to do. The others agree.
Soon, the six friends discover that they have more than animalistic aliens to worry about when a heavily-armored military squadron shows up to exterminate the beasts and the human witnesses. Actually, the college kids don’t have to worry too much about the soldiers since they have worse aim than stormtroopers. These men number in the dozens, each one is armed with a scoped sniper rifle, and they still have trouble connecting one shot with any of the four people running in a straight line from a starting point of just 20 yards away.
Add in cheesy one-liners influenced by 80’s action movies (characters shoot people and then say things like “tag, you’re it” and “you’re relieved of duty”) and the net result is a straightforward action/horror/sci-fi feature that would score a lot lower if not for being graded against the Still Night Monster Movie curve. In all probability, if the film had a recognizable face and aired on SyFy, people would watch it and say, “eh, it was okay I guess.” As is, “Dark Space” doesn’t really inspire a strong reaction in any direction.
NOTE: “Dark Space” was previously titled “Off World.”
Review Score: 55