A team of archaeologists are sent to Titan to investigate artefacts found by a previous expedition from which no-one returned. After crash landing, they meet the sole survivor of a rival team who warns them that the find is a zoo of alien creatures, one of which is still very much alive…
Although some commentators have offered the opinion that this is not a knock-off of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979), it is hard to imagine the film existing without that earlier masterpiece. Matters open with helpful captions explaining that space exploration in the future is in the hands of two rival corporations, one from America, one from West Germany (I guess unification didn’t work out in the end). But it’s the Americans who have an expedition on Titan from the get-go, with two astronauts taking a few holiday snaps while sitting on the strange alien caskets they have uncovered. Shining a light into one of them reveals a being with far too many teeth and in urgent need of orthodontic assistance, but not to worry, it’s been lying there for centuries, so it must be dead, right? Umm…no. The last man standing after these gory shenanigans manages to escape being turned into lunch but flies his spacecraft into a model from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) instead.
Dispatched to Titan to pick up the pieces is Captain Mike Davison (Stan Ivar) and his crew of working stiffs, most of whom are archaeologists. Ok, senior company man Lyman Ward is also along for the ride and he has brought security expert Diane Salinger with, but it does seem as if they could have had a few more military types, given the mysterious demise of the first expedition. Ward isn’t sinister at all, of course (he might as well have ‘hidden agenda’ stamped across his forehead) and orders Ivar to land the ship without carrying out any surveys or safety procedures. This turns out to be sound leadership indeed, as the ship falls part-way through the moon’s fragile crust and is seriously damaged.
On their way in, they’d noticed a rival West German vessel, so it seems like a good idea to nip over for tea and maybe scrounge a few spare parts. Unfortunately, there’s a strange and dangerous lifeform on the loose; a halfway demented survivor of the German crew. Or perhaps he’s completely sane. As he’s played by Klaus Kinski it’s kind of hard to tell. Oh, and there’s that monster thing with far too many teeth that I mentioned earlier.
This production is a fairly typical example of what you would find at your local video rental store in the 1980s. Ok, this feature did get a theatrical release in many markets but, really, it’s only the presence of a name like Kinski and some decent model work that make it stand out from dozens of similar projects of the time. The creature itself is not badly realised, and its method of reanimating its victims to kill everyone else is a clever notion, especially given that the man in the monster suit doesn’t look too mobile. Actually, the film’s main FX team went onto work on ‘Aliens’ (1986) just a year later, and it is possible that it was their contribution here that caught the eye of director James Cameron. After all, he started his own career doing production design and visual effects in low-budget science fiction flicks, such as ‘Galaxy of Terror’ (1981).
So, technically the film is a little above average. The main problem here is the script and dialogue. The situations are familiar, and the characters flat and uninteresting. There’s almost nothing for the actors to work with and the audience has no-one to invest in. There is a pleasing repetition of the blue collar aesthetic of the Ridley Scott movie, particularly in the spacecraft’s functional interiors, but it’s really just for show; the crew never really engage in any ‘work’ as such, although some effort is made to give them specific roles within the team.
Lighting is also an issue. Whether it was down to practical limitations or budget, the action largely takes place in shadows and semi-darkness, which may be good for atmosphere but becomes a little wearing over an hour and a half. Unsurprisingly, the only cast member to make a real impression is Kinski, even though he’s little more than a generic ‘nutter’ and probably filmed all his scenes in a couple of days. This was probably good news for everyone else, as his questionable behaviour on film sets was notorious. The only example here is the scene where his character heavily gropes Salinger, something that was not in the original script. Pleasingly, she gets her own ‘Ripley’ moment late on, which is probably the highlight of the entire film.
The post-release history of the film is a little curious. VHS and DVD releases by different companies over the years seemed to infer that it had fallen into the public domain, but director William Malone released a Blu Ray in 2013, apparently believing that he owned the rights. Unfortunately, MGM’s legal department disagreed, and the release was withdrawn, meaning second hand copies now fetch high prices on the internet. This is probably because Malone released a longer, widescreen director’s cut, which added at least 5 minutes to the running time. I have not seen this version, but its existence might explain a few disjointed moments and odd editing choices during the climactic action scenes. Malone went on to direct the interesting (and unfairly maligned) remake of ‘House On Haunted Hill’ (1999), but followed that with the execrable ‘Feardotcom’ (2002).
This isn’t a bad variation on the horror/science fiction template pioneered by Ridley Scott, but neither it is a particularly remarkable one. A watch of Malone’s own cut would be desirable, of course, to give a more informed opinion. But who doesn’t want to see Kinski as a living dead astronaut on a murderous rampage? There’s always that.