Alien Undead (UK DVD)
Directed by Gregory Connors
Distributed by Left Films
Arcane, demonic terror makes its way from the furthest reaches of Outer Space in Aussie Gregory Connors’ sci-fi/action/horror hybrid Alien Undead, also known under its original title The Dark Lurking. This super-ambitious low budgeter sees a number of survivors forced to fight their way through 13 levels of a top-secret underground research station when all Hell, quite literally, breaks loose as a result of the scientists’ study. Escorted by a squad of heavily armed marines, the survivors are dragged through one Aliens-inspired action-horror setpiece to another and forced to face off against not only the myriad grotesque creatures now prowling the station, but also each other.
The ambition of Alien Undead really can’t be understated. Starting off with a bang, it rarely lets up – resembling a first-person-shooter video game in its lust for constant thrills, swarms of enemies and barrages of gunfire. Set and costume design are, for the most part, excellent, adding an insurmountable layer of production value as strobe lights, spiraling alarm systems and wailing klaxons dominate every corridor. The sense of claustrophobia and panic is most definitely there, and director Connors repeatedly displays a definite cinematic eye with some wonderfully framed shots and slick cinematography. The stand-out feature here, though, is the monster effects. Almost entirely practical, the creature designs are good old man-in-a-suit awesomeness, throwing buckets of blood and slime and walls of teeth and claws at the audience with gleeful abandon. Hell, a Lovecraftian tentacle attack even manages to work its way in there, too.
Unfortunately, that’s largely where the positives end. While principal players Tonia Renee and Bret Kennedy are particularly noteworthy in their roles, it’s only because every single other member of the cast ranges from barely passable to completely awful. Within ten minutes of the runtime you’ll be begging for them to die, and by the time the expository second act kicks in and the background of just what is actually happening in this station begins to unfold, you’ll be cursing out loud and questioning just why every single actor delivers their lines with a degree of stiltedness that makes it sound exactly like they’re sat in a sound booth, recording a dubbing track for some 80s Italian schlock. The dialogue, both as written and as spoken, is consistently unnatural, aggravating and absolutely terminal to the enjoyment of the film. The slower nature of the second act, too, is poorly handled in its effect on the audience – after the slam-bang opening and adrenaline-fueled fight for survival that follows it, the expository break brings everything to a crashing halt. Like driving into a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour, it’s an unpleasant shock to the system, and being populated with the aforementioned performances means Alien Undead quite quickly begins to lose its grip on the audience. By the time the monsters are swarming again and the lead starts flying for the remaining testosterone-filled final act, it’ll be too little, too late for most.
Alien Undead has an interesting, well developed and actually damn cool storyline – not to mention a neat twist ending and appreciable mean streak – but the bad slightly outweighs the good. Those looking for an undemanding monster fix will get what they need with the multitude of fanged beasties on parade but even then will still likely be hard pushed to get beyond the insipid dialogue and dreadful performances. Connors proudly wears his influences on his sleeve and is clearly a man who likes his movies fast, mean, violent and loud; he’s one to look out for, and Alien Undead is a respectable attempt with plenty of love for the genre -- but it’s a clear miss nonetheless.
Left Films have given Alien Undead quite a respectable treatment on this DVD release, with a splendid audio-visual presentation that offers up no major issues whatsoever and a neat little selection of special features. First up we have a 25-minute “making of” that features tons of behind-the-scenes footage and info ranging from the effects, stunt work and weapons in use in the film, through to the intricacies of set design and the inevitable sacrifices made when working on a low budget film of such ambitious scope. Backing that up is a short but sweet selection of some pretty nifty concept art that looks like it could have been lifted straight from the pages of an older Dark Horse comic book. Director Gregory Connors’ short film Netherworld pops up next, packing plenty of action in its brief runtime – featuring the angel Gabriel engaged in a demonic cage match before moving on to some rather more goofy John Woo-inspired gunplay. It feels like a potential sales pitch for a TV show or feature film, but just like Alien Undead it features some stellar practical creature effects and is just about silly enough to work. Alien Undead’s trailer rounds out the package.
2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5