Dead Space (1991)
"In the coldness of space even hell freezes over."
After receiving a distress signal from the Phaebon research facility, Commander Krieger and his robot sidekick Tinpan respond straight away. Arriving on the planet, Krieger is told that there is no problem but due to damage his ship sustained during a fight in space, he is forced to stay and carry out repairs. The scientists on board the facility were attempting to find a cure for the deadly Delta 5 disease and created an even more deadly anti-virus to destroy it. But the anti-virus has become sentient, growing into a large creature which is now living off the crew members on board.
Dead Space bears no relation to the successful video game series given the latter was released in 2008 (though I do note costume similarities between the game’s main character, Isaac Clarke, and the robot sidekick in the film). In fact, Dead Space is a 'remake' of Roger Corman’s cult classic Alien-clone Forbidden World, a film which (though lacking in many qualities) is one of Corman’s best films. So Dead Space is a rip off of a rip off of a landmark film which is almost like wearing third generation hand-me down clothes which have been worn and worn to death in the years since the original owner put them on for the first time. Shot in just seventeen days, Dead Space will do little to convince you that these are anything but the tired and faded leftovers.
The plots in Dead Space and Forbidden World are almost identical: the intergalactic hero and his robot sidekick responding to a distress signal from a research station; the virus-like creature which has escaped it’s incubation; the team of scientists both in denial about what they have created and in fear of what may happen; and the inevitable carnage which ensues when the creature grows bigger and hungrier and begins to kill everyone off. There’s even a random and completely-irrelevant-to-the-rest-of-the-film sequence at the beginning just like in Forbidden World where our hero is involved in a space dogfight for no apparent reason other than to recycle footage from Battle Beyond the Stars and kill about five minutes of screen time. I sincerely hope that the writers of Forbidden World received some royalties because they seem to have done the lion's share of the work already for writer Catherine Cyran.
The big difference between the two films is the presence and/or absence of the trashy elements which made Forbidden World such a cult hit. Dead Space sorely needed an injection of gore, nudity and general low budget sleaze – it’s the film that Forbidden World would be if it removed most of its gore, naked chick quota and copious amount of sleaze and cheese. There’s nothing here to get overly worked over. Odd moments of blood, including a decent head-ripping late in the film, are not enough to save it. Dead Space doesn’t even attempt to send a wink towards the audience with its content. It’s played straight, serious and without a hint of irony or self-awareness, living up to every second of it's straight-to-video sensibilities. The production design is a little more generic here, with the station looking like every other cheap futuristic labyrinth of corridors and walkways - a bland palette of silvers and greys which suck the life out of the picture.
Dead Space commits the cardinal sin of movie making and that is it to be boring. Even though it’s only got a seventy-two minute run time, the film feels twice as long as that. Characters skulk around in the corridors talking about how they’re going to find and stop the creature for scene-upon-scene of innate tedium. The first hour grinds itself through the motions, only really picking up in the finale when the creature is given the big reveal, which is too little too late. The monster itself looks terribly static in the brief glimpses we get of it. For the majority of the film, it is masked in insane amounts of smoke/fog/ice when it’s outside the station or just dimmed in dingy rooms and corridors when it’s inside. It’s a pity because the design looks good, though you won’t get to see it walking around on two legs like the Xenomorph-wannabe from the cover artwork. It's no better or worse than similar genre fare such as Creature and I'll always prefer this level of cheapness over bloated CGI any day of the week.
Fans of TV shows will be quick to spot Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as one of the scientists on board the station. No doubt this is the type of film he’ll be wanting to hide on his CV now that he’s pretty famous in Hollywood right now. Cranston isn’t great but given where he’s ended up, it’s easy to ignore it - ironically he's playing a character who is dying of cancer here as well. The rest of the cast are pretty horrible, including Marc Singer as Krieger who is introduced to the audience laying down naked in some sort of steam room. However, unlike in Forbidden World, the hero of the day only gets to dream about the female scientists naked rather than get down and dirty in the flesh.
Dead Space is just that – a completely lifeless amount of time between opening and closing credits where there’s little to see, little to hear and little to worry about. Go and watch Forbidden World again and skip this unnecessary and tedious remake.
Director(s): Fred Gallo
Writer(s): Catherine Cyran (screenplay)
Actor(s): Marc Singer, Laura Mae Tate, Judith Chapman, Bryan Cranston, Randy Reinholz, Frank Roman, Lori Lively, Rodger Halston
Duration: 79 mins