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Joe Estevez Versus Mutant Armadillos! This May Be The Greatest Film Ever Made!
on June 2, 2010
"Dark Universe" is more than one in the long line of Joe Estevez films. No, it's much more than that: not only does it have spaceships, spores, aliens, and airboats, it has deadly mutant armadillos! What more could you want from a movie?
Released by Retromedia as part of Fred Olen Ray's "Nite Owl Theater" series, the film showcases the talents of not only the master thespian Joe Estevez, but the talents of Blake Pickett and Bently Tittle, too! There's are even cameos by William Grefe and Cocoa Zuckerman, the dog, as Cracker. This is a tour de force extravaganza, and I can't imagine that everyone won't need their own copy to watch over and over. (Especially the scene where Blake Pickett's outdoorsy activities are curtailed by the horrifying armadillo of death.)
The film starts with a typically coarse introduction from Fred Olen Ray, and gets right down to business. Rod Kendrick (Joe Estevez) is the owner of Kendrick Aerospace Corporation, which has built and launched their own space shuttle to show NASA how it is done. It's flown by petulant pilot Steve Thomas (Steve Barkett,) and the ground control team consists solely of Kendrick. During reentry the shuttle "Nautilus" is attacked by alien spores, which through the most hilarious transmogrification ever, change Steve into a monster that's supposed to be scary like "Alien," but looks more like something from "Sesame Street." The shuttle crashes in the Everglades, and the flaming wreckage is shown in closeup, though in truth most of the parts look more like they came from a commercial kitchen than a spacecraft. As the film pans through the wreckage the shadow of a huge dinosaur-like alien with insect legs crosses over the debris, instilling great fear.
After a quick subplot about the Roger Tory Peterson "Field Guide to Birds," the film takes us to crack television reporter Kim Masters (Blake Pickett,) her Producer, and an "archeological team" allegedly looking for Indian burial mounds, but really headed by Frank Norris (John Maynard,) a biologist specializing in alien life forms. They are looking for old Tom Hanning (played in cameo by legendary filmmaker William Grefe,) but since he's dead, they settle for his son, young Tom Hanning (Bently Tittle.) Hanning agrees to take them into the woods, but once there demands to know their real motives, as he doesn't buy the burial mound story. He quickly discovers they are looking for the "Nautilus."
Before long the monster and former astronaut shows up, and if this doesn't make you laugh, you are more than likely dead. This is just about the most hilarious thing I have ever seen. While at camp the monster watches them from the underbrush while having flashbacks of Joe Estevez and an atomic bomb explosion. One of the party is so comfortable that the remark "What could possibly go wrong here?" is heard echoing through the leafy glade....
They stumble on the shuttle, and it's covered in orange sponge cake, which is supposed to be the alien spores thriving on Earth. Kim is extremely hot, but cranky, and has a certain effect on her producer ("You know how I am with buttons, Kim") that is not at all professional, resulting in a moment that can only be interrupted by a mutant orange armadillo attacking the poor fellow. And things had been looking so good for him, too. The armadillo attack is the highlight of the movie for me; when we learn more about it, we discover that the alien spores have possessed the armadillo's mind, causing its ferocious attack. (Frank learns this from the fact that a sample of the spores mixed with sulphuric acid causes a Florence flask to explode. I don't know how he knows, he just knows.)
The body count credited to Steve Thomas, the drooling astronaut-dinosaur, starts to really pile up, causing great concern to the cast. Unfortunately, they find that he's anemic, and is now also a vampire. That is one monster with a lot going on. Frank gets possessed by an agglomeration of spores in their "flying foccacia bread" formation, but narrowly escapes, while another member of the party isn't so lucky with the larval alien eggplant from the neck eruption. Frank declares "somehow these spores are sentient," and after a discussion of the desirability of dropping a nuclear bomb on central Florida, the final battle with the alien commences. It's settled with a flare gun, which results in the funniest burning monster plot resolution I've seen in a long time. But is the fight really over? I am not at liberty to reveal that information.
Bear in mind that even though this allegedly stars Joe Estevez, he really isn't featured prominently. He's seen as a mission controller in the opening shot, and throughout the film there are shots of him doing press conferences explaining why he's not looking for his crashed spacecraft. This looked to be a pretty good afternoon's work for Joe, who never appears in the same shot as any of the other cast members. This duality only heightened the onscreen tension, making a standout production uniquely haunting.
For some reason the credits show shots of the planet Jupiter. Why? the shuttle didn't go to Jupiter. Are the spores from Jupiter? If so how did they get into low Earth orbit? These kind of questions delicately nuance the film, and demonstrate that in the darkness of the universe all things are interconnected. (Or not.) The credits themselves are humorous to read. We learn that "Dark Universe" was "Filmed on Location in Orlando, Sanford, Titusville, and Kissimmee Florida and in the Merritt Island Wildlife Sanctuary." For those that don't know, this means the film was made very close to the Kennedy Space Center, home of actual rockets and real space shuttles. The credits also mention that the alligator and wildlife footage was shot in Gatorland (a longstanding Florida tourist haven) and gave "Special Thanks To" (among many others): Pizza Hut, Popeye's, Subway, Winn Dixie, Chick-Fil-A, Frito Lay, Hostess (a Twinkie is discussed in some detail in the film), Midway Fish Camp, and Valencia Community College. They all contributed their part to this piece of cinematic wonder.
The DVD also features a few extras, including an "Evil Toons" animated cel offer, a very brief still gallery, and some amusing trailers.
For people who love cinematic cheese and B-movies of any kind, this is completely indispensable. I was amused or entertained by something in every shot, and lovers of bad or cult movies will undoubtedly be thrilled with this, one of the greatest films Joe Estevez made that week.