Usually, sequels try to play it safe and get as close to remaking the original film as they can. However, every now and then sequels go completely haywire and deliver a bizarre experience that acts like a funhouse mirror reflection of its source film. Species II is the latter kind of sequel. It didn’t do as well as its surprise hit predecessor at the box office but has picked a cult reputation with fans of eccentric major studio genre fare. The results live up to that cult rep, and then some.
Species II brings back a few key characters from the original but comes up with a radically different plotline. An experimental U.S. mission to Mars experiences a strange gap in communication on its flight home – and head pilot Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard) returns home feeling strange. It is revealed he has been overtaken by alien DNA brought home in a soil sample. Said DNA quickly has him bedding down women and giving them instant alien/human hybrid pregnancies that erupt from their wombs in a matter of minutes.
Scientist Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger) and ex-government spook Preston (Michael Madsen) return from the first film, teaming up to track down the alien-possessed astronaut. They try to get help from Eve (Natasha Henstridge), a refined clone of the alien villain from the first film, since she has a psychic link to Patrick. Unfortunately, she’s got some extraterrestial biological urges that are awakened by her alienized potential human mate and they might make her as dangerous as Patrick.
The original Species was a knowing, clever update of b-movie science fiction realized on a studio movie scale. Species II plays like a perverse, splatter-and-skin-driven send-up of the first film. Chris Brancato’s script has a kind of go-for-broke nastiness to it: the characterizations and dialogue are perfunctory but that seems to be because the film’s main interest is playing out the alien’s mating rituals and their nasty effects on the human body to Cronenbergian extremes.
Making the main alien predator a man who sexually assaults women gives the proceedings a mean edge that will turn some viewers off: for example, there is a scene where Patrick terrifies a woman with tentacles erupting from his body mid-coitus while an alien baby erupts from another sex partner in the bathroom. It plays like the live action version of a particularly perverted sex/horror anime. That moment is the litmus test for viewers with Species II: if that sounds fascinating to you, you’re likely get to into this oddball sequel.
The filmmaking and the performances are mainly there to abet the film’s splattery spectacle. It is directed with great visual flash by Peter Medak, who seems to be aware this is the goofiest item in this filmography and digs into its inherent weirdness. His work gets better and more baroque as the film gets loopier and slimier. As for performances, Madsen seems a little bored but Helgenberger manages to keep a straight face and Mykelti Williamson has fun hamming it up as a sexually frustrated astronaut pal of Patrick’s. Henstridge gives a surprisingly sincere performance, which makes sense as she has the best character arc to play here. There are also gleefully goofball cameos from Richard Belzer and Peter Boyle that up the film’s camp aspect.
That said, it’s the special effects that are the main draw here. There is some CGI but most of the setpieces are driven by mindblowing practical makeup FX from Steve Johnson: in addition to the sex/instant pregnancy showstopper described earlier, there is a wild CGI/makeup hybrid scene where Patrick’s head reconstructs itself after being blown off with a shotgun and a madcap finale in a barn full of alien hatchlings that also includes a combination sex scene/battle between two Giger-designed aliens.
In short, Species II is a rare example of a sci-fi/horror item where the budget is big enough to realize bizarro ideas on a grand scale. It has a fever-dream quality that is a rare for a film of this budget and it will thus be catnip for fans of bizarro cinema.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently issued this film on a new special edition blu-ray. The transfer looks great, with sharp detail and rich colors, and the 5.1 lossless stereo mix is robust, with plenty of fun directional effects across the speakers.
The disc is packed with special features new and old. Fans will be excited about three new interview featurettes added for this release. A chat with Henstridge (16:21) covers her work in the entire series, including how it allowed her to transition from modeling to acting. She’s chatty and cheerful but also frank about her career missteps. A special makeup effects featurette (28:48) interviews Steve Johnson and members of his team. You get breakdowns of different effects, most of which were done practically, and also some funny H.R. Giger stories. Finally, a talk with writer Chris Brancato (19 min.) offers an overview of the writing process, including an unused scenario and a hilarious story behind the film’s multi-jump scare coda.
Carried over from the old DVD is a relaxed but detailed commentary by Medak that covers effects, actors and his critical thoughts on his own work. Additional extras include 13 minutes of makeup FX behind-the-scenes footage (including multiple views of the exploding head), a vintage EPK, eight minutes worth of longer scenes from a video workprint and two still galleries, one of which is devoted totally to the makeup FX.