It’s one thing to recycle a concept from a popular mainstream flick in your own knock-off version. Schlock merchants have been doing that since the birth of cinema. However, recycling a film that already recycled another film really takes things to the limit. If you aren’t giving as much as you are taking, the results can be some very thin retread-gruel. Dead Space is an example of this sort of recycled recycling — and the results show off the limitations that occur when the copycat begins to devour its own tail.
Though it is not credited as such, Dead Space is basically a remake of Forbidden World, the Roger Corman-produced cult fave that ripped off Alien with guttersnipe verve and dished up a heaping helping of cheesecake to sweeten the pot. Dead Space follows its plotline closely, sending intergalactic troubleshooter Krieger (Marc Singer) to a distant planet where scientists are trying risky, experimental means to devise a cure for the dreaded “Delta 5” virus. They accidentally create a fast-growing reptilian beastie that begins chewing its way through the cast. Lot of cat-and-mouse suspense follows, plus plenty of slime, latex and the inevitable mano-a-alien-o showdown.
Like Forbidden World, Dead Space is an abbreviated affair that runs just under 80 minutes and opens with recycled spaceship-dogfight scenes from Battle Beyond The Stars. Despite having roughly the same plots, the finished results couldn’t be more different. Forbidden World delivered its schlock with a cheeky smirk, added a healthy dose of sexy sleaze and reveled in its cheap gore effects. Dead Space leans toward the antiseptic in its approach to schlock: the competent but dull script lacks trashy verve, glumly slogging through its paces with a limited amount of effects and bare skin.
Fred Gallo’s direction brings competence to the table but little else. He and cinematographer Mark Parry give the film a look that you could describe as “Tony Scott on a budget” — lots of smoke and shafts of diffused lighting — and he gets competent performances from his actors. Singer is a solid if bland lead and the backing cast also features a pre–Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston as a driven scientist. However, Gallo doesn’t bring any passion or excitement to his work here. Like the script, he just rolls through the paces in a no-frills style. It doesn’t help that his bright, smoky visual style calls attention to how threadbare the effects are (the final stage of the alien is notable for its poorly-done puppetry).
In short, Dead Space hits all the required paces but it forgets one key element: fun. There’s no spark of excitement to be found here — and when you’re dealing in retread concepts, you’ve got to give the audience something extra to keep your recycled mixture fresh and interesting. As a result, the film comes off like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox — you can see what it was supposed to be but it’s too lacking in crucial details to work as a convincing copy.