Fred Olen Ray is a bit of a legend in certain circles. His films tend to be excessively cheap knock-offs adorned with bikinis, no shame and an enviably zesty energy. Possessing much of the charm of Roger Corman or Charles Band, Ray still manages to come in cheaper whilst pumping out several films a year. The odd title will escape the stable and become a runaway hit, given the outlay for one of these movies, a hit can bring massive profits. Deep Space was an attempt by Ray to cash in on Aliens madness in the late 80’s by making a sci-fi B-movie, with a slightly bigger budget than he would normally work with, as a homage to some of the lesser known 50’s titles, without the bikinis.
Charles Napier plays a tough cop partnered with Firefly’s Ron Glass investigating a mysterious crash site and the disappearance of two kids who were in the vicinity. Giving them aggro during their investigation is Bo Svenson, their captain, who has no tolerance for their antics. Striking up an interdepartmental relationship with Napier is Ann Turkel who assists him with the investigation and… bagpipe practice. Operating in the background are shady government organisations who appear to have some links with the crash and surviving entities.
Napier and Glass have chemistry and prove to be a watchable pair. It’s clear that Napier is a pretty terrible cop as at no point does he inform one of the kids’ mother (played by the late Elisabeth Brooks) of their findings, whilst also lifting two strange rocks from the crash site, for one them to be hidden under a kitchen table forgotten about until it starts making noises. Had these rocks been correctly stored it might have prevented a few needless deaths. However, it is made apparent quite early on that Napier is somewhat indestructible, taking a bullet to the shoulder in his introductory moments and after simply applying a plaster he is back to 100%. Glass is a smooth partner who goes along with Napier’s instincts and the pair have some natural banter. Knowing a little about Glass’ hair from the aforementioned Firefly it’s strange to see it greased down with a small quiff at the front.
Svenson is initially good fun, however, his constant confrontations with Napier and Glass become unnecessary and almost feel like a spoof, ordering the pair from his office to the crash scene only arrive at the crash scene to order them back to his office. Turkell feels a little out of place and a token love interest to allow Napier’s character to seem a little more manly and wacky. Julie Newmar turns up entirely to move the plot along with psychic visions to guide Napier to the next step in the case (and the writer from having to think too hard about how to get from A to B.)
The film boils down to an Alien knockoff, whilst not as poor as Alien 2 On Earth, it’s almost indistinguishable from the dozens of similarly themed knockoffs made during the 80’s. Deep Space still lacks a lot to keep it fun. There are fun moments but not enough to support the whole movie and even at this runtime it feels long. I laughed a few times though, Svenson fondly acknowledging a prostitute who had been brought into the station then catching himself on as he is the Captain, played with perfect comedic timing. Napier battling to save a character from a scuttling alien-spider-thing, only to throw it into the face of Turkel by mistake and then having to save her. Dawn Wildsmith’s fun cameo with the creature throwing personal garments out of a wardrobe into Napier’s face as he attempts to save her.
Then there is the bagpipe scene, the oddest moment in the film. A moment that can only be a lampoon of the genre, however, as the film lovingly embraces the genre the handful of spoofing moments feel like an unwelcome misjudgement.
Deep Space is a film that I have been attempting to track down for years. I remember references to it in Leonard Maltin’s guide alongside various other “movie compendium books” and they never had a good thing to say about it. The unavailability of Deep Space during the 90’s left me conjuring imagery in my head of what the film might be like and I was way off. You might be surprised given the title, but It does not take place in deep space, and the government satellite that orbited Earth is, again, not in deep space. The title makes little sense. Instead it’s a cop on the trail of a monster in L.A.
The film skimps on an entertaining climax. Where something like Aliens From The Deep goes all out for the climax, Deep Space settles for lots of weaponry in a dimly lit warehouse. A welcome addition comes in the way of a chainsaw and Napier aping Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II. However, both of those movies feature a much more convincing creature for the heroes to do battle with.
The film is shot with a lack of invention. Camera movement is kept to a minimum to keep from having to redress sets and there are a lot of closeups used when filming creatures from… deep space, oh that might be it! Whilst it does get a little dark and chaotic during the climax the majority of the film is acceptable if unimpressive.
Music is cheap and a bit tacky, a keyboard synthesiser picks up the majority of the score, however, it does feel a bit more cheerful and upbeat acknowledging the film’s lighter tone. The score was written by Alan Oldfield and Robert O. Ragland, the latter of which scored Q – The Winged Serpent, Grizzly and 10 To Midnight. It does not seem that there was a dedicated release of the soundtrack on any medium. A shame Napier did not cut a solo bagpipe album to tie in, he would have kilt it (bad-ump.)
There isn’t a whole lot of action in Deep Space, nor is there much in way of plot and there certainly isn’t anything new or inventive that makes it worth seeking out. The players are what keeps it afloat; alongside the curiosity of where the movie might go next. In all but one scene the result of that is disappointing and sadly Deep Space is a bit rubbish, not totally, just a bit.
There is some simple and groovy artwork from the US release. The French poster weirdly shows a climatic incarnation, if somewhat unintelligible shot of the creature. The UK VHS release reinvents the quad poster art. How I hunted for this release unsuccessfully during the 90’s, without ever knowing what it looked like.