Saturday, July 09, 2005

Review: Dark Universe (1993)


Astronaut Steve Thomas is just about to bring his ship, the Nautilus, in for a landing in Florida. Steve works for Rod Kendrick, a multimillionaire who runs a sort of budget-minded NASA competitor. Suddenly, the Nautilus is attacked by alien "spores" which infest the ship and attack Steve, turning him into a hellish, slavering Alien rip-off. The ship crashes in the Florida swamp not far from the grass hut of famed swamp guide Tom Hanning, where a gratuitous nude scene is in progress.

Kendrick suspects that the crash was due to alien interference, so he sends a scientist and a film crew down to investigate, and with Tom's help they go in search of the crash site. The alien creature that used to be Steve begins killing off the search team in various icky ways. We get another gratuitous nude scene.

Meanwhile, the alien spores (which closely resemble Play-Doh) are spreading through the swamp. They have strange effects on an unfortunate armadillo who happened to be wandering by, turning it into a rabid killing machine. The scientist tries desperately to find a way to stop the spores but his experiments only seem to make the spores angry. Sorry, no nude scene this time.

The few survivors of the search party make it back to Tom's hut with the Steve creature hot on their trail. The scientist tries to reason with it, failing to remember the Alien Communication Paradigm ("Ability of a given creature to reason is inversely proportional to amount of drool emanating from said creature.") Tom's girlfriend comes through in the clutch, remembering the deadly flammable swamp gas that is evidently floating around all over Florida. She fires a few road flares at the Steve creature and it burns up like a hot dog on the Fourth of July. Rod Kendrick makes plans for his next shuttle launch.


Will people ever learn that in making a science fiction movie it's best not to let your reach exceed your grasp? If you're going to have an astronaut, you've got to spring for a space suit. If you're going to explore the deepest swamps of Florida, you can't film it in the producer's back yard. If you're going to have a horrifying alien creature, it can't look like someone's 4th grade Halloween costume.

Okay, let's be honest about this. The creature in Dark Universe borrows some stylistic elements from H. R. Giger's Alien design, but basically this thing looks like a turd with arms and teeth. It's just a statement of fact. Maybe they should have brought in a proctologist to do battle with it, I don't know. I guess you can't expect too much from a monster made of Hefty bags and Redi-Spack, but I really didn't find this alien scary.

The only part of the movie that did scare me involved a creature of the more human variety. The scene of which I speak features one of the skinniest men I have ever seen stripping down to his boxer shorts and trying to be seductive. Witnessing this scrawny, bespectacled, brillo-haired skeleton of an actor cuddle up to his relatively attractive would-be love interest and utter salacious dialogue made me want to run screaming to the nearest dark corner and cower there for the rest of the night. His emaciated visage will haunt my dreams for years to come. Thank God the mutant killer armadillo chomped down on his broomstick leg before he and his costar progressed any further.

Speaking of people stripping their clothes off, I have to wonder what motivates an actress to go topless in a movie like Dark Universe. Could it possibly be worth the price of your dignity just to be involved in a grade-C load of bolus like this? I can see going nude for a more legitimate film, but I assume the two ladies who exposed their chestal regions in Dark Universe read the script beforehand... I mean, really - what were they thinking?! If Blake Pickett or Cherie Scott care to defend their decision to doff their garb, I welcome their comments.

Every character in this movie seems extremely angry. When anyone has a line, there's a high probability that they will spew it forth with a level of hostility that seems completely unwarranted. I imagine this is attributable to one of two scenarios. Either the director gave everyone vague instructions (something like "act intense"), or the actors were just so upset to be in Dark Universe that they couldn't contain their rage.

One of the hallmarks of a classic B-movie is the preponderance of quotably stupid dialogue. I offer here a few of my favorite Dark Universe quotes:
"Uh, Ol' Tom Hanning, he's... he's purty fur piece back in 'ere... but if he's still around... we'll find him back in 'ere."
"Listen to this: 'golden sponge cake with creamy filling...'"
"Wait! That's acid!"
"Humanity has been good to me."
"Swamp gas!"

I hate to be negative, but I must say I have issues with the whole "swamp gas" resolution to this film. Nobody was worried about the highly explosive swamp gas when they were firing off guns, lighting cigarettes, and building campfires throughout the rest of the movie. Beyond that, the scientist pooh-poohs the idea of burning up the alien as it already survived reentry into Earth's atmosphere and a fiery crash landing. In point of fact, he mentions this about 30 seconds before Tom's girlfriend gets the swamp gas idea. Was there a feud between the screenwriters? "Fine, we'll use your stupid swamp gas ending, but the scientist gets to point out that it doesn't make any sense!"

Final Analysis

I don't think the average person has ever seen a movie like Dark Universe. Once you've experienced it, your life may never be the same again. You might never escape the horrible image of the skinny guy - pasty and aroused - looming over his unfortunate costar. You might develop a morbid fear of swamp gas and refuse to leave your house. Or, you might find yourself feeling stronger, braver - able to face any challenge, your life filled with renewed hope for the future. For me, it was the first one. Good God, the man is just so damn skinny...


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