On its way back to Earth, the space shuttle Nautilus passes through a cloud of alien spores causing its sole occupant, astronaut Steve Thomas to transform into a blood-thirsty monster. The shuttle crashes into a swampy region of central Florida, creating a situation which threatens contagion and/or death to all who encounter the shuttle or its mutated pilot.
DARK UNIVERSE would be a Fred Olen Ray production, wouldn’t it? Indeed, it stacks up nicely next to HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS and COMMANDO SQUAD. Alas, Ray acted only as co-writer and producer—not director—for DARK UNIVERSE, a hybrid cash-in on ALIEN and PREDATOR that is full of gratuitous nudity, conspiratorial duplicity, and the violent hi-jinks of an outer space monster named Steve.
Our story begins . . . in space. Steve Thomas is the sole operator of the space shuttle, Nautilus. About to return to Earth, Thomas experiences turbulence. Major turbulence. And unidentified spores have clogged his life support system . . . and turned him into a slimy, flesh-eating space monster! He’s coming home, though. Steve is coming home, now looking a striking amount like the monster from ALIEN (what a coincidence).
Cut to a stock footage explosion. Cut to bird watchers getting covered in goop and being ripped to shreds by . . . Steve, who has landed smack dab in the middle of a swamp in Florida.
We then meet a crew being led by a scientist who studies alien life—I mean—wait—an archaeologist named Frank Norris. Norris, joined by the babin’ journalist, Laurie, and a few others are looking for Tom Hanning, a “two-fisted gator wrestler.” He’s dead. But, his son, also named Tom Hanning, has his gator wrestling certificate . . . and a fondness for denim shirts. Guess what. They hire him. He takes them around the swamp. Tom finds out that Norris is really an “exobiologist,” studying alien life, and not an archaeologist. His cover is blown. Oh well. They eventually run into the rampaging Steve and fight for their survival.
There’s a lot of low-brow fun to appreciate here. DARK UNIVERSE is really bad, but not so bad that it causes pain. The Steve monster is such a blatant rip-off of H.R. Giger’s design that it is comical. You have to wonder, too, where they got that warped-looking, monster-creeping through-the- trees perspective. Could it be . . . PREDATOR?
Yep. It’s a miseralby cheap imitation—and a hilarious one. And whatever you do, don’t stop to fornicate in the middle of the woods: a slimy armadillo that bleeds orange paint might attack you. Yeah. That armadillo, its brain was invaded by the spores from outer space. “THESE SPORES HAVE TAKEN OVER THE CREATURE’S MIND!” That’s right, “not an invasion of little green men, but little orange spores.”
DARK UNIVERSE has plenty of good colorful ooze, decent body horror,
and a few great scenes of the monster turning people to charred-up skeletons. But, hey! Using chocolate syrup for blood worked for Alfred Hitchcock only because he was filming in black and white.
DARK UNIVERSE also has every sci-fi movie character archetype you need, each one acted more incompetently than the last. It’s not the worst acting, though; it’s corny enough to be amusing, I suppose.
If the acting is somewhat tolerable, the soundtrack, most certainly, is not.
Some synthesizer settings were a mistake, as DARK UNIVERSE will evince. It makes the score to PUPPET MASTER sound good—or any Charles Band movie’s for that matter. It’s just awful to listen to.
There are plenty of plot holes in this one, too. But you expect that, don’t you? So what: Steve the monster didn’t burn up hitting the Earth’s atmosphere
thousands of miles per minute, but a little gas and some flames can take him down. Why not? And all the business about trying to keep the alien investigation a secret—they have a mainstream news reporter in their crew who is making a story out of it. Jeez.
And so much time—so much time—is spent explaining, figuring out, the true nature of the spores. What are they? How do they behave? We must know. And this Steve guy? What’s his deal? Who cares? The spores possess living beings. Steve drains bodies of all flesh and blood instantaneously. We get it! No one cares how, or why. This is a Fred Olen Ray production.
Luckily, technology permits fast-forwarding. So long as you don’t get bogged down by all the weak, attempted sci-fi wonder masquerading as plot, DARK UNIVERSE is a reasonably enjoyable b-movie. It has unintentional laughs, cool—albeit highly unoriginal—special effects, and some hysterically unnecessary nudity. Check it out . . . if direct-to-video schlock is your bag. If not, uhhhh . . .