Movie: Deep Space (1988)

I like how some of the graduates of the Corman film school, when they went on to better things, took some of that producer’s stock actors with them.  Like a good luck charm, Joe Dante always has a place, however small, for Dick Miller in his pictures.  Similarly, I can’t recall a Jonathan Demme feature which didn’t have Charles Napier in it.  You know him—he’s the guard who gets his face cut off by Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Of course, cameos don’t pay the bills, so Napier appeared in as many films as possible, which is why he headlines 1988’s Deep Space.  That, and it looks like he had a blast doing this.

Fred Olen Ray wrote and directed this straight-to-video sci-fi/horror flick.  I recognize his name from several of his works which were consequently mocked by Rifftrax.  And the movies of his which I’ve seen receiving such treatment were fully deserving of it.

That the bar was set so incredibly low likely contributed to me being pleasantly surprised by this, which is little more than another ripoff of Alien.  Despite the title, the action takes place entirely on Earth, which had me very confused at first.  Then I decided to turn my brain off and just go along for the ride.

The Dollar Store xenomorph arrives when the satellite it was on crashes.  This unstoppable killing machine was developed by the military on that unmanned (?—presumably) satellite.  I’m not sure how they accomplished that.  Also, the scientists and military personnel start freaking out when the craft begins its descent from its orbit.  So, from the best I can tell, these bozos: (1) decided to create a killing machine, (2) which they do without manual intervention on an Earth-orbiting craft (3) which they apparently never meant to bring back down.  Science!

A ”teenage” couple who look old enough to have pre-teens of their own are the first arrivals on the crash scene.  They discover a large object that is supposed to be a rock but which looks more like a severely burned meatloaf.  There’s some alien goo oozing from it, and the guy pokes his fingers into it.  As a member of the male gender, I can tell you this is, lamentably, exactly what a guy would do.  Tentacles shoot out of it and kill both of them, so there’s a great example of a woman paying for a guy’s stupidity.

I was surprised police arrive at the scene before the military does, seeing as to how the government were aware of the satellite’s impending crash as soon as it deviates from its orbit.  You’d think the feds would have had that area sealed off by then.  At the scene, a detective says of the scorched space meatloaf, “It looks like a rock, but it’s really alive”.  Since the rock doesn’t show any signs of activity such as…oh…I don’t know…tentacles bursting out from it, I have no idea what he based that conclusion on.

Also on the scene is Napier as a police officer, along with his partner Ron Glass.  These two have an effortless rapport that felt like they were having fun, instead of just phoning it in to cash a paycheck.  Glass is best known for Barney Miller and this feature was made in a period where he was probably struggling for work after that but before Firefly came along.

Another veteran of 70’s TV and movies is Bo Svenson, here as the obligatory police captain who is frustrated by the antics of his loose cannon detectives.  Like some other movies I have watched as of late, I considered how all three of the male leads would have fared successfully in any of each others’ roles.  Rounding out the cast is Ann Turkel as the obligatory love interest for Napier. Lastly, TV’s original Catwoman (Julie Newmar) contributes little as a psychic who tries to give the detective info for the case.

When we finally see the aliens, they come in two varieties, a full-sized model whose design is entirely lifted from Alien, and a baby version that is a complete rip-off of the facehuggers from the same film.  Both are of better construction than I would have expected on a straight-to-video budget, but only just.  The facehuggers fare more poorly of the two, especially in shots where they are supposed to be running along the ground but you can tell something at the base of the body is actually propelling them forward (I suspect some type of remote-controlled toy).

What puts this above the majority of such fare, and what I had seen of Ray’s oeuvre up to this point, is the humor.  I started to suspect this was intended to be a comedy during an early scene in an autopsy room where an anatomy poster gets showered in viscera. 

Then there’s the scene with Turkel going to Napier’s house for a dinner date and the humor comes to the forefront.  Distracted by a call from Newmar, he burns a steak so badly it shatters the plate he drops it on.  Instead, he serves fast food hamburgers for dinner and I had my fingers crossed this would somehow turn into the “Steamed Hams” sketch from The Simpsons.  Instead, he follows up dinner by seducing her with music he’s playing on bagpipes while kitted out in full Scotsman drag.  She’s baffled by how this is supposed to be seductive until he informs here he can only stop playing once her clothes are off.

For a movie with better production values than I anticipated, its most severe shortcoming is its soundtrack, al of which sounds like it was created on a single, cheap Casio keyboard.  That instrument, however, provides appropriately goofy entrance music whenever an alien is about to appear.  I’m not sure why, but the squiggly synth noises made me smile every time.

Deep Space is nothing more than dumb fun.  It knows how daft it is and leans into it pretty hard.  It’s the kind of film where there will be photo of Charles and Di on Napier’s dartboard for no reason.  It’s the type of movie where a car will leap over a truck despite there not being anything apparent in the environment that it could use as a ramp. Unfortunately, the movie does overstay its welcome, even at only 90 minutes in length.  Still, I would sooner watch this again than I would any of the other 162 films Ray has directed as of 2022.

Dir: Fred Olen Ray

Starring Charles Napier, Ron Glass, Bo Svenson, Ann Turkel

Watched on Robin Flix blu-ray