(aka, Unknown Origin)
As I’ve mentioned before, if you can’t find one of the films Roger Corman produced, there’s usually a reason.
In fact, now that his early films like Not of This Earth are finally out on DVD, one might note that there is almost an inverse relationship between how hard it is to find the film and how good it is.
But for once, that iron law of badness did not hold true and The Alien Within proved to be one of the more enjoyable B movies he turned out in the Nineties.
In fact, if you compare it to Lords of the Deep (1989), the movie which is the main reason this one even exists, then The Alien Within is the winner.
Now we all know how Roger Corman worked. He had all this special effects footage and props he’d made for an underwater Sci Fi adventure film (which, ironically, he made to catch the wave that never was that everyone expected James Cameron’s The Abyss would create) and he didn’t want it to go to waste. So, naturally, he had to take that footage and wrap another movie around it.
Well, “naturally” if you’re Roger Corman.
I have no idea how many other films ended up with the recycled footage. There probably were others. To be fair, the underwater base, and the footage of the subs looks great. Not James Cameron great, but what do you expect, after all?
But let’s face it, Lords of the Deep suffered enormously from the curious fact that it had the same exact plot as The Abyss (James should have known better than to tell his old boss what he was working on. Just saying), while The Alien Within has a far better story because it was stolen in various chunks from Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and even a few bits from Aliens.
All of which were better films than The Abyss.
Like the best of these Corman produced films of the era it is a fun little B-Movie which doesn’t pretend to be much of anything else. The crew of an underwater mining facility get a distress call from a nearby Russian base, and find most of its crew dead — and one of them tries to kill the other remaining survivor. They’d dug up a tiny alien spaceship and found a creature in it.
And now that critter is loose on their base.
What’s even worse is that it can easily take people over and pass unnoticed among them.
So now they have to somehow find out who’s infected and stop the creature before it can escape to the surface…
As always for these productions, we have one familiar face — in this case, Roddy McDowall — and a collection of people you’ve probably never heard of if you don’t watch these sorts of films. To be fair, many of you would undoubtedly recall Richard Biggs. who played Doctor Franklin on Babylon 5, although I suspect this film was shot right before he got that job.
We get a more exaggerated version of the blood test scene from The Thing (honestly, haven’t any of you ever heard of a thermometer?), people wandering through tunnels using motion trackers as in Aliens, and a downbeat ending which tries to outdo The Thing.
But then, we expected that.
I’ll admit, though, I’m surprised at how much fire is used, thanks to the flamethrowers and convenient cans of kerosene, particularly when you remember that this is supposed to be a sealed environment where they’ll be stuck with those fumes for days and days — assuming their HVAC system can actually scrub it all out. Yeah, that’s from The Thing as well — a film which totally ignored the awkward fact that there are few things explorers in the Arctic or Antarctic fear more than fire. After all, it burns faster in sub-zero temperatures than it does in more temperate regions.
What matters though, is that, stolen or not, made for TV or not, The Alien Within achieves a sort of B-Movie transcendence, overcoming its obvious limitations to give us an hour and a half of low budget bliss. It’s fun, moves quickly and looks great for what it is.
And, for goodness sake, it’s better than the lame film they borrowed the effects from…