Dead Space (1991)

JUNE 5, 2011


Yesterday's The Terror Within may not have been a very good movie, but at least it moved along, had a couple of minor memorable bits, and never felt longer than its 85 minute running time. Dead Space, on the other hand (which was on the same disc) offered next to nothing, boring me to tears after 20 minutes and never getting much better, and despite only running 71 minutes (!), it felt at least twice that long. Hell I actually had to take a break from it around the halfway mark. If me of all people can’t get through a 71 minute movie in one sitting, then you know there’s a problem.

As with Terror, Dead Space is a ripoff of Alien, but it’s also a loose remake of Corman’s earlier Alien knockoff Forbidden World (which I have yet to see). To be fair, it’s not as blatant as the other film; they only restage a few of the obvious scenes (chest-bursting), and there aren’t any obvious replacement characters. They don’t even bother creating a strong female character; the female lead hilariously stammers and all but drools over hero Marc Singer the instant they meet, and spends most of the climax screaming instead of fighting. At one point she’s fighting a miniature baby monster while Singer tackles the real one, and they can’t even let her accomplish this much; Singer finishes his fight and then runs over to kill the baby too. There IS a robot in this one though, but it’s not evil; if anything it’s the most likable character, and I was delighted to see Tinpan’s unexplained return at the end after seemingly being killed around the end of the second act. Go Tinpan!

The other notable character is a scientist played by the great Bryan Cranston, long before his career skyrocketed by Malcolm In The Middle and then of course Breaking Bad. As you may expect, he’s the best actor of the bunch, and it’s great to see him putting effort into it. If you watch him during big group shots, he’s the only one bothering to act as the rest more often than not sit with blank expressions until it’s time for their closeup. He gets a hilarious death scene too; he’s dying from some virus and figures out that his tainted blood can stop the monster (which was born from the attempt at an antidote or something along those lines), so you think he’s gonna go all Harry Stamper and sacrifice himself to save the others/planet. But he doesn’t get the chance, because “hero” Singer literally pushes him into the monster, which promptly bites Cranston’s head off. Amazing.

But most of the movie involves stuff that doesn’t feature anyone’s head being bitten off, so it’s a giant bore. Everything that might allow you to actually take an interest in the proceedings (a thought out plot, character development, etc) is skimmed over if not raced through with a mercenary attitude. In the movie’s first ten minutes, we’ve met Singer, seen him tackle a minor problem, learned about the possible existence of the monster on the science base, and had Singer land there (answering a distress signal, of course) and find out what’s going on. This is pretty much an entire act of a movie condensed into half a reel, and the rest of it carries on in a similar fashion. And while that may sound great, it actually makes it boring. There’s no rush to get to the action if you’re spending that time giving the audience a reason to give a shit who lives or dies. Look at The Rock; it’s almost an hour into the movie by the time Cage and Connery even arrive on Alcatraz, because we’ve spent a lot of time getting to know them, understanding Ed Harris’ plan, etc (OK, and wrecking half of San Fransisco in a car chase). Then the rest is nearly nonstop action, all of which works and excites because you genuinely care for Cage (and even Harris to some extent). But the idea of this movie seems to be “let’s hit all the bullet points of what constitutes a plot and skip the shit in between”.

And even for Corman it’s obnoxiously cheap. The aforementioned chestburster scene is left largely to the imagination, as we just watch a reaction shot of Singer as the thing presumably finishes bursting from the host, scurries about and then climbs through an air vent (we finally cut away from Singer to see said vent, which Singer then runs toward). There’s stock footage galore, the monster looks like ass (and seemingly can’t even move; it spends the entire climax in one spot), and we never get a good sense of how big the base is. The editing confuses as well; Singer seems to get a do-over at one point where he runs through a door and immediately gets attacked by the monster, only to run into what looks like the same room a few seconds later, sans any sort of injury and then advancing on the monster that had just attacked him.

Shout apparently didn’t think much of it either; while Terror Within had a nice anamorphic transfer, Dead Space looks like it was taken from a cropped video master. But on the other hand they did provide a commentary track with director Fred Gallo, a Corman regular who seems to have a good sense of humor about this and the other films he’s made, but without being condescending or mean-spirited about them either, which is always the best route. As with the recent tracks with Corman himself (Sharktopus for example), it’s not too specific to the movie for a good chunk of the time, but a chat (I forget the moderator’s name, sorry) about what it’s like working for Corman, the changes in how he’s gone about making his films over the years, etc. There are still some good stories about this movie though, such as the fact that Gallo (who was paid a whopping 7k for his work here) didn’t get the script until the day they started shooting, and how Roger had an editor fired for sitting on his ass without taking notes while on set. In short, it’s far more interesting than the film itself, so if you simply must watch this thing, I’d suggest doing so with the commentary on, since the dialogue is rarely worth listening to anyway (and you can keep up with the “plot” just based on the exaggerated facial expressions of all the non-Cranston actors).

One other thing I should point out is that the disc has a “Grindhouse Experience” programmed into it, which allows you to watch both movies back to back along with some trailers. It’s a cool idea, though I don’t know how anyone could sit through these two particular movies back to back even in an actual Grindhouse screening. So hopefully they will offer it on some other double feature discs; if time allowed I’d totally watch/review the films that way in the future.

What say you?


  1. Completely agree with your reviews of this movie and The Terror Within. Shout has done a great job in general of presenting some pretty bad movies in the Roger Corman Cult Classics sets, but like you said, these two are nearly impossible to sit through back to back. The Grindhouse feature is on some of the other Double Features but wind up being pretty similar, so it's good to spread them out.

  2. While doing a totally random cheap sci-fi movie day i watched Battle beyond the stars (1980). Next up was Dead Space. Withing the first 5 minutes there was space battle scenes that were directly lifted from Battle beyond the stars. Yes Roger Corman makes movies on the cheap but taking footage from a movie 11 yrs prior is pretty bold.


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