Someone called this Fred Olen Ray’s best movie.
I’ll admit that sounds a lot like saying your car is the fastest production model Trabant. Fred was one of those directors who was busy making cheap SF and Horror in the Eighties, like Roger Corman, say, only much, much cheaper. Much, much.
But unlike the only other Ray film I’ve seen (his second, The Alien Dead (1980)), Deep Space is actually a passable time waster, with one or two clever moments in the midst of some fairly routine buddy cop/alien on the rampage/government conspiracy/mad scientist stuff.
Mind you, even in the Eighties, most cheap SF films didn’t include all of those.
Detective Ian McLemore is the familiar stereotyped cop who doesn’t follow the rules. In fact, I would argue that he is the Platonic ideal of the cop who doesn’t follow the rules, and all others are just pale imitations of him. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t follow any of the rules: he’s the guy who doesn’t sign his name on the dotted line, or just take one, or keep off the grass.
Well, you get the idea.
He’s played by veteran character actor Charles Napier, who seemed to be everywhere in the Eighties, playing tough guys, particularly on TV (see, for example Alien from the Deep). However, this is one of his few starring roles. In one of the film’s truly outstanding moments, he engages in what has to be the most bizarre seduction attempt ever committed to film.
One word: bagpipes.
(And what is stranger is that it works!)
His mildly comic sidekick (who is also the buddy who will have to be revenged. That isn’t a spoiler as they show it in the trailer!) is played by Barney Miller‘s Ron Glass (although those of you who didn’t live through the Eighties will probably just remember him as Shepherd Book from Firefly. Sad, really) He was a talented comic actor who is completely wasted here because Fred gave him so little to do. I guess, after six years without Barney Miller, he must have been pretty desperate for a job to take this one.
Now, where you have the cop who won’t play by the rules, you always have to have the angry, by-the-book Police Captain, yet another mostly thankless role played by the third familiar face here, Bo Svenson. Like Ron, his brief moment of Walking Tall fame had faded, so he also must have been desperate. Actually, it seems strange that he wasn’t the star, considering that he’d have had more name recognition.
However, he does get a small moment of glory, when he joins in on the final kill, which has to be one of the messiest on record, complete with shotguns, an M-16 with a grenade launcher, a Bowie knife, a chainsaw, an axe, a bottle of poison, multiple pistols, various blunt instruments and who knows what else.
Despite references to spaceships and aliens, The creature itself is actually a bioweapon, which gives us a lot of room for the usual government conspiracies we find in these things — and even a mad scientist. It is clearly a second cousin to the Xenomorphs from Alien, complete with lots of teeth and big claws. However, in one of Fred’s cleverer additions, it also has lots of ropy tentacles and a big belly mouth as a backup for the big, toothy jaws on its head. Which means it can snare things and drag them into its belly while just standing there. That’s a lot easier than trying to get something this big to move convincingly.
My all time favorite Catwoman, Julie Newmar, also shows up (although I wouldn’t have recognized her), as a psychic who keeps calling McLemore and telling him that the lastest terrible things that happened wouldn’t have, if he’d only listened to her.
Which, yes, makes her about as popular as you’d think.
She also gets some of the funniest lines in the film as she seems to know everything, even the unimportant stuff. My favoriteis the moment when she calls McLemore out of the blue while he’s cooking, and she ends the call by saying “your steaks are burning.”
Another familiar face, although he only gets a couple of scenes (even if he does survive a baby monster attack) is Repo Man‘s Fox Harris, playing a rather strange Entomologist.
This one is a B-Movie. It was never meant to be anything else, and has no pretensions to being a great film. Or even a good one. But it is a surprisingly enjoyable B-Movie, which has more than enough goofy and unexpected moments to keep you entertained.
Heck, some of them are even deliberate!
So don’t ask too much of it, turn off your brain, and dust off your bagpipe records. If you’re in the right mood, you’ll have a good time. And what’s even better, you get to be sarcastic about it later…
That’s like getting two bad movies for the price of one!