Color, 1988, 90 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Fred Olen Ray
Starring Charles Napier, Ann Turkel, Bo Svenson, Ron Glass, Julie Newmar, James Booth, Norman Burton, Elisabeth Brooks, Anthony Eisley
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
One of the great bait and switch acts from the '80s video era, this adorably cheapjack and derivative alien-hunting movie was pushed as a belated Alien copy but takes place entirely on Earth and plays a lot more like Contamination. What makes it really stand out is its status as a rare later period starring vehicle for the late, great tough guy character actor Charles Napier, who played tons of supporting roles in studio films and TV shows after an early start in three Russ Meyer films. He really makes the most of it here showing off more quirkiness and charisma than usual, ultimately carrying what could have been a routine programmer. It's also one of the more ambitious films from director Fred Olen Ray, who was on a serious tear in '88 with this one sandwiched among Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, The Phantom Empire, and Warlords.
On a dark, quiet night in sunny California, a military facility is sent into pandemonium when one of its satellites crashes to earth and leaves a fiery mess. A local psychic, Lady Elaine (Newmar!), senses something amiss nearby, and she turns out to be correct when it turns out the craft contained a bioengineered, tentacled creature intended to be unleashed on some of America's enemies around the world. Of course, it immediately takes out two snooping teenagers with its slimy tendrils and poses even more of a threat due to some unnatural rocks that lead to more beast-spawning mayhem. Meanwhile the police force led by the stern Captain Robertson (Svenson) investigates with the case going to Detective McLemore (Napier) and Merris (Barney Miller's Glass), with the former tending to fall asleep on benches in the office and brag about his cooking abilities to fellow officer Carla Sanbourn (Humanoids from the Deep's Turkel). All of them have to team up in various combinations, aided by phone alerts from the psychic, to hunt down the alien threat before it takes out the city -- even if it takes every shotgun and hardware tool in sight to do it.
Shot by exploitation workhorse Gary Graver and certainly never dull, Deep Space would have been right at home in drive-ins had it been made just a few years earlier. Unfortunately it landed just as straight-to-video proved to be the only real option for films at this level, with this one bypassing a traditional theatrical release entirely and ending up on VHS shelves everywhere courtesy of Trans World Entertainment. That release didn't really do this film any favors as the nocturnal opening and closing sequences were so dark it was impossible to make out a few crucial bits of action, but at least you could savor the weirder grace notes like erotic deployment of bag pipes, foreboding meatloaf cooking, and little baby monster offspring nipping at the cast.
Anyone who ever had to suffer through that awful VHS will be relieved to lay eyes on the 2019 Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray, struck from a solid HD master created by current rights holder MGM. Anyone who's seen other TWE titles should have an idea of what to expect here as detail levels are very satisfying without losing that vaguely scruffy texture common to their late '80s titles. It isn't the prettiest film by a long shot but at least you can finally see everything that's going on and really appreciate the intense green of Glass' sweater choices. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track is also perfectly fine without any significant issues, and it comes with optional English SDH subtitles. The one notable extra here is an audio commentary by Ray, who's a fun audio companion as always with a very sharp memory for just about everyone who stepped onto the set. Ray is full of stories about the film including the higher budget than usual for Trans World, Newmar's own belief in psychic abilities, the trick to creating shimmery roads, the punishing shooting schedule, his own cameo in one scene (and wow does he look young!), and an attempted gag involving a car that didn't quite come off. A very dupey trailer is also included along with bonus ones for P.O.W.: The Escape, Hell Camp, 3:15, Night Visitor, and Land of Doom.
Buy from Ronin Flix
Buy from Diabolik (international only until 12/1/19)
Reviewed on October 20, 2019.