On it’s way back to earth, the spaceship Nautilus and it’s lone occupant, astronaut Steve Thomas, encounter an unexpected meteor shower, which causes the ship to crashland somewhere in the Florida swamp. The company that owns the ship sends out a search team, consisting of some scientists, a news crew, and a local guide, to investigate what went wrong and recover any wreckage. Unfortunately for them, the meteor shower camouflaged an unknown alien lifeform that infected the ship. As the spongy alien substance slowly takes over the surrounding area and infects the local wildlife, the little search team are about to come face-to-face with Steve Thomas…or rather the murderous creature he’s mutated into.
And by ‘murderous creature’ I mean a cheap ‘Alien’ rip-off.
After the surprise enjoyment I got out of Metalbeast, I figured I’d give another unknown film a try. Maybe I’d luck out.
In case you’re wondering, I did, in fact, not luck out. Dark Universe is an independent Alien rip-off that’s almost as cheap as it is dull. Likely it’s biggest claim to fame is that it stars Joe Estavez, but considering his reputation with choosing horrible film projects that’s not exactly a highlight.
The use of early PC graphics for the title should have been my first clue.
For starters, the film looks terrible. Other than just being cursed to have been shot on what I’m sure was piss-poor film stock, the film also suffers from colors randomly fading in and out, and the tint of the film tends to swap back and forth during certain scenes. Part of it is likely due to a shoddy transfer from VHS, but I’ve seen crappy transfers before, and that doesn’t excuse all of the film’s visual problems.
The fire should really not be causing this kind of color discrepancy.
Then there’s the acting. It’s, well….let’s just say an attempt was made and leave it at that. In some low budget films, even if the acting is sub-par, you can at least get the feel that the actors themselves were having fun working on a project that they surely knew would be a dud. But here it feels like just about everyone is either woefully overdoing it or completely detached. It’s hard as hell to be invested in a scene where the alien menace is advancing upon them, when half of the actors in the frame look like they’re bored as hell. I’ll give some of them credit for doing the best that they could with the horrible dialogue provided, but that doesn’t excuse poor readings or a complete lack of interest.
She’s actually one of the better actors. I just want to point out that her hair is already perfectly coiffed and dry.
Then there’s the story, which, at its base, is pretty standard. As far as the basic plot goes, it’s pretty cut and dry: alien menace infects human, human threatens earth. It’s something everyone’s seen multiple times before, but also nice and simple. The problem is all the extra crap that they throw in there that ends up muddying the waters. The spaceship isn’t owned by NASA, but by what looks like some kind of high-tech competitor (one who looks to have already perfected artificial gravity WTF).
I’m confused. What decade are we supposed to be in?
When it crashes they don’t want anyone to know about it, and claim it burnt up on reentry. So they secretly send in a small team and hire a local guide to help them find a ‘Seminole burial ground’ out in the middle of the swamp. Which sounds like a fine plan for a coverup, except they bring along only a single weapon (and give it to a guy who doesn’t know how to use it), a small local news team (with camera) and hire the best local guide they can find who, basic logic should deduce, would not only know the area but the history of the area. So of course the question that comes out of all of this is: why? Why not just say you’re looking for the debris from the ship? Everyone already knows it crashed, you held a damn press conference about it for god sakes. What’s with the ‘Seminole Burial ground’ cover story? And if you’re trying to cover something up then WTF were you thinking when you invited a news crew to go along with the search party? Shouldn’t people who build spaceships be smarter than this?
I guess not.
Finally, we have the alien. This Ridley Scott knock-off looks like a face-hugger accidentally latched on to a giant beetle and produced the fattest Alien in existence. I actually feel bad for this poor thing. It has stubby little beetle arms and moves so slowly that the only way it manages to kill anything is if someone stumbles upon it while it’s hiding in the shrubbery. Plus, it seems to have retained at least some of Steve Thomas’s memories, so the viewer is forced to watch the same “Ah! It’s taking me over!” scene at least 3 separate times.
We get it. You’re traumatized. You don’t have to channel Jack Nicholson.
So is Dark Universe any good? Only if you need something to make fun of. It’s more no-budget than low-budget and the sound, visuals and acting leave much to be desired. Add to that a convoluted plot, poor visual effects and an un-frightening menace and you’ve got yourself a real downer. The only way for this one to be more enjoyable would be if Rifftrax got their hands on it.
Dark Universe is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
It is also available on DVD.