Dark Universe (1993)

All right, let’s start with the strangest part of this film.

This one starts out in space, with the shuttle Nautilus, a private vessel built by genius industrialist Rod Kendrick (played by Martin Sheen’s brother, Joe Estevez, whose voice you’ve probably heard if you think you just heard Martin in a commercial).  You are allowed to question just how much of a genius he is as it is basically a huge vertical stabilizer with a tiny shuttle stuck to the bottom.

But that’s not the strangest part.

We then get to see the pilot of the ship, Steve Taylor, played by none other than Steve Barkett.  Now if the name doesn’t exactly ring any bells, that’s because, while he’s appeared in a handful of other films, he’s best known for directing, writing, and starring in two movies he made himself, of which the first, The Aftermath (1982) is probably the best.

Or, in other words, he comes with a certain bargain-basement B-Movie cred.

The film starts with him just standing there doing nothing while Kendrick, at Mission Control tries to call him.

And he stands there.

And he stands there.

We’re just beginning to think he’s been taken over by aliens, as that’s what this movie is about, when he finally responds quite normally.

But then, halfway through Joe’s big congratulations, historic moment, giant leap for mankind speech, Steve suddenly says something has gone wrong and goes to deal with the strange spores which have surrounded the ship.

So…didn’t Steve know he was supposed to be talking just then?  Did someone forget to yell “action?”  Were the two filmed separately then stuck together badly later on? Were those spores already affecting Steve?  Is this the way it was scripted?  Did someone just miss this in editing…the very beginning of the film?

Very strange.

Perhaps we can get some sort of clue from the fact that Joe and Steve’s parts were all shot in Fred Olen Ray’s backyard, even if much of rest of the film was shot in Florida.

Not that either one of them interacts with any of the other characters in the film.

I should note that Fred didn’t write or direct this time, but merely acted as one of the producers.

Not that Dark Universe is notably better or worse than anything he did write or direct.  Nor is it a surprise, no matter how minor his involvement, that this is essentially a retread of The Quatermass Experiment: the first flight of a new spaceship goes horribly wrong, something…else gets on board and takes over one of the crew, and we have to stop it before it takes over the world.

Very familiar.

Now, for those of you who have seen Fred’s Deep Space (1988), it should come as little surprise that we never see the creature’s horrible mouthful of long pointy teeth (dripping with slime, naturally) actually move.  Instead, there’s a big tentacle thing which shoots out of its belly and sucks people dry.  A monster with moving jaws costs a lot more, as does actually having the thing eat people.  Someone compared it to a cross between H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph — and Barney.

However, it is not nearly as scary as that monstrosity would be.

Let’s face it, this is a super-cheap B Monster Movie.  It’s really that much better or worse than most of them.  There’s a bit of gore, a few monster attacks, a terrible mutant armadillo thing that can’t do much of anything, a few odd gaps in the editing, some bare boobs, and even Steve Barkett and Joe Estevez.  It’s a a Nineties direct-to-video Alien rip-off which is actually a Quatermass rip-off.

And proud of it.

Still, with plenty of popcorn and perhaps a few sarcastic friends, it’s reasonably entertaining.

What more can you ask?

So pop it in your VCR and give it a try.

Just watch out for that Armadillo.

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