Unknown Origin (1995)
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Unknown Origin (Scott P. Levy, 1995)
I watched Unknown Origin immediately after finishing the excellently stupid Irish monster movie Grabbers, which in no small part redeemed itself because at no point did it ever take itself seriously. It's not the most original movie in the world, but it celebrates that fact. Unknown Origin gets everything wrong that Grabbers got right; it is an obvious, painful ripoff of the much-superior The Thing (the '82 Carpenter remix) and Alien, but never even nods in their directions. Worse, it takes itself as seriously as cancer. This movie probably had ten times Grabbers' budget, but I've no idea where it went; it looks like it was made for three cases of beer and ten bucks on borrowed equipment and stock that had been thrown away for being years past its expiration date. If the actors worked for scale, the production company should sue them for fraud. As for Scott Levy (whose next feature was another rip-off of exactly this sort called Piranhas)? Somehow, he got away with it, and kept directing all the way up until the dawn of the new millennium. I am reasonably certain that if I never see another Scott Levy film, my life will be much the better for it.
Unknown Origin, also released under the more-obvious-ripoff title The Alien Within, centers around an undersea mining city overseen by Jedidiah Pickett (Pretty Woman's Alex Hyde-White), who looks like the kind of guy who would rather be out in the action than administering things from behind a desk. They receive a distress call from another of the company's undersea mining rigs, and Pickett, along with the city's doctor, Henry Lazarus (The Poseidon Adventure's Roddy McDowall, slumming it) and a couple of other crew members, head for the other city. They discover it has been torn to shreds. The only survivor is out of his mind and has to be sedated. At least, they thinkhe's the only survivor, but if you've seen The Thing, you know he's not, and soon the crew are getting paranoid around one another and trying to devise a test to discover who's infected and who isn't.
I spent half this movie laughing at it and the other half of it wondering how in the flying Poughkeepsie the casting director convinced Roddy McDowall that he needed to appear in this monstrosity. Blackmail may have been involved. He is, as usual, a slight bright spot in the otherwise ridiculous proceedings, but let's face it-this is a seventy-five minute movie where seventy-three minutes could have easily been (and should have easily been) left on the cutting-room floor. A couple of clips of McDowell pontificating and a couple others of Sha-Ri Pendleton glowering would have been all that survived, and it would have been better than this. 1/2
"I mean, what if we're up against the flying purple people eater from hell here. Maybe fire heals it instead of hurts it or what if it eats bullets like we eat after dinner mints?"
If only all of the dialog was this great. But alas it isn't. This movie is quite the rip off. No joke, everything in this movie is from something else. There isn't one original thought, idea, or spin on an idea that wasn't done by another movie before this. I think it was meant to be a celebration of the writer's favorite films but it fails so miserably that it's hard to not be somewhat disappointed. That said, there is some strange power of attraction to it. Which would explain why I've seen this movie 3 times now.
It goes like this. In the distant future of 2020 we've pretty much screwed up the planet. Big ass companies are venturing out under the waves to setup lucrative investment opportunities. An undersea mining operation is sent to investigate a distress call sent by, who else, the Russians. Once they get there they find out that something very odd is going on. [insert default creature movie plot here] The end.
This movie has some redeeming qualities, which is probably why I've seen it so many times now. It was produced by Roger Corman. It has fun characters. Like Roddy Mc I'veBeenInEverythingDowall as the Dr. from Lost in Space wannabe. Don Stroud plays a eye twitching muscle man who could be strait out of the WWF. Richard Biggs plays his Babylon 5 character only in a different uniform, and someone threw William Shatner's daughter a bone too. Roger Halston plays the character we can all relate to the most. A laid back, take life as it comes, drug addled communications officer who spends his time watching movies and head banging to metal when he should be working. With their powers combined they become Captain Planet ... wait ... that's not right. With their powers combined they become ... slightly watchable.
Some funny things to look for when you're watching this are ...
1. The emergency medicine that the Dr. tries to give to the weight lifter chick is nothing more than a glow stick.
2. Them setting fire to a room in the compound, and then walking away like it's no big deal. It's a hermetically sealed environment knuckleheads.
3. The rain coming from the ceiling in the underground mine.
4. The sheer number of shameless references to The Thing and Alien.
5. The flying mouth grapnel insect aliens who make excellent use of the "vorpal bunny" camera angle.
6. The opening shot of the conference room conversation that needlessly keeps taking laps around the room.
7. Shatner's daughter!
This made for TV schlockfest is pretty bad. But for some "unknown" reason. I like it. I say rent it from Netflix and call your friends over.
And the award for BIGGEST rip-off of John Carpenter's The Thing goes to Unknown Origin. A team of underwater miners investigate a nearby Russian vessel that sent out a distress call, only to find that the entire crew is dead save for one survivor. Come to find out, the survivor is harboring an unknown alien species that transfers from body to body (a la The Hidden) and turns the crew members against each other, leading them to not trust anyone, try to conduct tests, etc. The filmmakers tried so hard to cleverly disguise this film, but I found myself laughing out loud and their lame attempts of changing up minor aspects of what is clearly a rehash of Carpenter's aforementioned film. The cast is highlighted by character actor Alex-Hyde White as the team's leader, the late Roddy McDowall (all of the Planet of the Apes films) as the head doctor, Melanie Shatner (William's unsuccessful daughter) as a new by-the-books crew member, and Blaze from the old-school American Gladiators. If you have NEVER seen John Carpenter's The Thing, you may get a kick out of this small budget underwater Sci-fi flick, but if you have seen it, you may find Unknown Origin to be one of the funniest films ever in terms of being a sheer rip-off. Has its moments, but completely unoriginal.
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