Somewhere in deep space, Commander (of what we’re not exactly sure) Steve Krieger (the always-trying-too-hard-but-still-never-quite-understanding-that-he’s-just-not-leading-man-material Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer) is involved in a pointless shoot-out with a couple of other ships that won’t have anything to do with the rest of the story and is cribbed together from footage borrowed/swiped from an earlier production (in this case Battle Beyond The Stars). He and his robot buddy, Tinpan, survive the “ordeal,” but their craft is damaged in the process, so when they make an emergency landing in response to a distress signal issued from a top-secret scientific research lab on the isolated and remote planet of Phaebon, they’re pretty much gonna be stuck there until they can get the parts or whatever to get up and running and go “command” outer space again.
Once they’ve arrived at the lab, they find the assembled brainpower there is seeking a cure for the deadly Delta 5 virus that’s currently the scourge of the galaxy/universe (take your pick), but the eggheads start playing coy and insisting that everything’s under control and gosh they just didn’t really mean to send that distress signal after all. It’s not like they’re doing anything that could be potentially dangerous here, no sir — they just figured that they’d combat the virus by genetically engineering an even more destructive counter-virus (is that what they’re called? I honestly have no idea) and then maybe these two super-viruses can, I dunno, battle it out for viral supremacy or something. Basic logic might dictate to the average viewer at this point that any virus strong enough to kill another virus that’s already in the business of decimating the galactic (or, again, maybe it’s universal) population might pose not just a threat, but an even greater threat to us pesky humans than the original Delta-5 bug itself, but hey, you’re thinking a little too hard there, friend.
In any case, that’s not really the problem here at all — the problem is that the new virus has mutated into an honest-to-goodness alien life form (hey, shit happens),and it’s escaped (rather forcefully, I might add) from one of the dumb suckers —- err, test subjects — it was implanted into, and now it’s changing its shape, growing in size, and stalking the humans at the base as its prey from its new home in the ventilation ducts.
Oh, and a few of the scientists are women who seem to have the hots for Krieger to one degree or another, and one is a youthful Bryan Cranston, who would of course go on to huge television success with Breaking Bad.
I’m not sure what we’re supposed to call a rip-off of a rip-off, folks, but this (admittedly snarky) synposis for first-time director Fred Gallo’s 1991 straight-to-video , Roger Corman-produced (okay, executive-produced — and to be perfectly fair, calling this film an SOV job isn’t technically accurate, as Corman still pulled together nominal theatrical runs (think one theater for one week in six or eight cities) for most of his Concorde releases, including this one, at this point — but he knew that home video was where the action was gonna be, so to speak, for this type of project, and put the whole thing together with an eye toward that market) shot-on- one-set, super-low-budgeter, Dead Space (no relation to the apparently-quite-popular video game or anime thing or whatever it is that came about quite a bit later) sure sounds a lot like another, admittedly much better, Corman production, namely Forbidden World, doesn’t it? And Forbidden World was pretty much just a straight cash-in attempt on the success of Alien. So what we’ve got here is, to put it kindly, pretty damn derivative in the extreme.
Of course, around these parts being derivative — hell, even being doubly-derivative — is hardly a cinematic crime. Some of my favorite films are obvious rip-off jobs. But let’s be honest — when you take Forbidden World and remove about 75% of the gore, 99% of the nudity, replace the hot women in the base with average-looking middle-aged ladies (no offense to any who may be reading this, I’m an average-looking middle-aged guy, after all), swap out Jesse Vint for Marc fucking Singer fer chrissakes!, and take the talented-and-inventive-on-a-budget Allan Holzman out from behind the camera and insert a kid right out of film school who you’re paying $7,000 (by Gallo’s own recollection, according to the commentary track on the DVD that we’ll get to in a second here — he also didn’t get to see the script until the morning they started shooting!) who’s just going with a strict “point-and-shoot” approach, the results are going to be both a)short (let’s not forget that Forbidden World itself was only 77 minutes long — this flick clocks in at a merciful 71) and b)anemic, because you’re taking out pretty much all the cool shit. The fact that the monster itself isn’t all that terrifically impressive doesn’t help matters much, either, given that this is supposed to be, ya know, a monster movie.
These days, with this production far in the past, Corman and company aren’t at all shy about admitting where this whole project originated from, although I still think the terminology they use is letting themselves off the hook a bit too easily — the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD from Shout! Factory that I caught this on (told you I’d get back to it in a second — it’s double-billed with another early-90s Corman DTV feature, the somewhat better The Terror Within, features the above-mentioned commentary with director Gallo that’s actually pretty interesting and some other Corman trailers as extras, and is presented full-frame with 2.0 stereo sound for serviceable if unspectacular visual and audio quality) even says right on the back-cover blurb that it’s “a loose remake of Forbidden World,” and I’ve seen it referenced on IMDB and elsewhere as “an uncredited remake of Forbidden World.”
Well, piss on that. I know it’s hardly the most rigidly-definable line to draw, but I’m sorry — there’s a big difference (although, frankly, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is — I just know it when I see it) between a “loose remake,” or even an “uncredited remake,” and Roger Corman saying “look, I’ve got this old script laying around, we can just tinker with it at the margins, re-shoot it with a different cast, put it out right on video under another title, and presto, we’ve got ourselves a whole new movie that won’t even cost us $100,000.” I think calling it a “remake” of any sort is frankly being a little too generous — it’s more a recycling.
Look, the late 80s and early 90s probably weren’t the easiest time to be Roger Corman. The kind of stuff he cranked out was too cheap for then-contemporary theatrical audiences, but it was a little too expensive, for the most part, for the then-nascent straight-to-video market, and Saturday night SyFy network movies were still well over a decade away. I’ll give the man credit for figuring out some angle, any angle, by which he could still survive financially in Hollywood. But when you’ve hit the point when you can’t even come up with a new idea for a blatant rip-off anymore and just start re-shooting scripts you’ve done previously and done better, then you’ve really hit rock bottom in the creativity department, not that creativity in anything apart from marketing was ever a Corman strong suit. In short, Roger should have to stuck to stealing other people’s ideas, rather than his own. Even if they weren’t his own to begin with. Does that make sense?