Within the Rock (1996)

“Give me a film where Armageddon meets Alien, kid.
— A cigar-chompin’ B-Movie executive to British special make-up effects designer Gary J. Tunnicliffe looking to make his break as a director

The VHS trailer.

After binge-watching all of the Battlestar Galactica: TOS and Six Million Dollar Man series two–parters on NBC.com (as I prepared to review those series’ TV movie installments for our “Space Week” tribute), I couldn’t help but revisit what is one of my favorite (of many) Prism Entertainment ditties made for the Sci-Fi Channel (during their pre-“Y” days) — with all of the film’s totally awesome junk science tomfoolery of creating atmosphere and gravity on rogue moons. Obviously, someone in the Prism cubicles watched the epic, Steve Austin two-parter “Dark Side of the Moon” (Season 5), with our favorite cyborg “jumping the shark” by pushing the moon back into its proper orbit with a nuclear explosive device. (Junk science is great when you’re a kid, but a groan-enduing, mixed bag of Daggit dung and feldercarb when you’re a post-VHS codger lost in a digital world.)

So, our best estimation amid the B&S About Movies’ cubicles: Alien Resurrection (1997) went into production and the major studio asteroid-disaster battle of ’98 between Armageddon and Deep Impact was readying for theaters. And we can’t help but wonder if Creature (1985), William Malone’s Ridley Scott’s Alien meets Peter Hyman’s Outland (1981) redux, was pinched along the way?

Then there’s the marketing. Oh, you gotta love the marketing on this one.

It’s bad enough when a studio rips 20th Century Fox, Touchstone Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Trans World Entertainment in one fell celluloid swoop — along with every other ’80s Italian Alien ripoff* — but Prism’s distribution network decided to evoke a few more films to convince those doubting, overseas Thomases. You can easily pick up on the films clipped with the foreign theatrical-television-home video titles of Spacegate, Spacetrek, The Last Predator (!), and the-what-the-hell-why-not grey-market title of Armageddon II. Some of the more unique titles are: Asteroid Mystery (Russia), The Fossil (Greece), From the Abyss of Space (Italy), The Prisoner of the Moon (Canada/France), and Terror Moon (Germany).

Regardless of the myriad of questions in the originality department and its you-swear-that’s-recycled-sets from Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars/Galaxy of Terror clone-verse — even with its against-the-budget CGI absent from its fellow ’80s antecedental ripoffs — Within the Rock is actually a pretty fun watch courtesy of its smart scripting (all of the chemical compounds, explosives, and mining tech-speak seems well-researched and convinced me) and direction from a debuting in-both-departments Gary J. Tunnicliffe. Gary’s over 100 effects (and writing) credits include the Dracula 2000, Hellraiser, and Return of the Living Dead franchises, My Bloody Valentine 3D, and Drive Angry; to that end, he’s also brought us top-notch against-the-budget production design.

So, what “clones” are attacking here?

In the future-history of 2019 (Did you miss the Rollerball championship game between Houston vs. New York?), we not only get a Xerox’d Xenomorph XX121 (The Creature from the Black Lagoon-inspired, caked-in-mud-cum-oatmeal ancient demon imprisoned by an alien race**), we also get a crew of the same old corporation-paranoid, slovenly, greedy types with overactive libidos. And, just to make this a little bit the same, but different: the mining crew of Galileo’s Child, instead of drilling in explosives, they’ll plant rockets. But why send a bunch of miscreant, malcontent miners and not NASA-trained astronauts? Are you not following along, dear B&S readers? We’re more into evoking Armageddon than Deep Impact, here. And if those miners fail? Hey, there’s no time for any last minute, Liv Tyler glycerine tear-inducing heroics: NASA will send a crew to blow up the rouge moon, aka Son of Galileo, with a couple of shuttle-launched rocks, criminal miners be damned. See, this isn’t the same, its different: a moon instead of asteroid.

Oh, yeah. The junk science. Apparently, in the future-history of 2019, the Russians developed technologies that can reproduce Earth atmosphere and gravity “walls” on astronomical bodies. Too bad those same Ruskies were unable to advance man beyond floppy discs technology. Where’s Snake Plissken with those 1997-era, mission-critical audio cassette tapes when you need them the most? And dig that Atari 2019 gaming system!

So, after we slog through the expected carbon-copy character development — rife with horny sex innuendos — the mission shifts from a Bruce Willis-dupe into a William Malone-trip as the miners discover a bone-filled alien sarcophagus — and, like many o’ Transylvania Counts before it, the skeletal remains regenerate when exposed to blood oxygen (speaking of classic horror villains: the cast name drops The Mummy). Then, we’re off into the Shaw Brothers’ British-shot Alien ode known as Inseminoid, with one of the miners going off the deep end, adding to alien slaughterhouse rock.

See? It’s an awesome popcorn bucket full ‘o fun for the low-budget, sci-fi guilty teen inside your still VHS-loving adult. I love this movie: it’s a pure ’80s VHS-retro tale o’ yore, just like Mr. Corman used to make.

While there’s no production or crew connections (in the music department) to William Malone’s eleven years earlier, best-of-the-Alien-clones . . . the musical déjà vus are obvious. As we discussed in our review of Creature: Trans World Entertainment (not the retail company of the same name that operates mall-based entertainment chains), was defunct by 1989. And those intellectual properties, in turn, came under MGM Studios’ tutelage after the Great Lion purchased Orion Pictures. So, it seems MGM may have sold off Malone’s score as stock scoring for other films. (Amazingly, no South African sci-fi production pulled a Space Mutiny and stock-footage raped Malone’s Creature.)

As for Le Monde and 360 Entertainment, the Canadian production companies that worked with U.S.-based Prism Entertainment on Within the Rock (that played as an R-rated theatrical in the Great White North): both companies were defunct by 1998. They made one other film that same year: the 1997-released Ravager starring Yancy Butler, a déjà va space romp about another group of space miners, natch, who — in lieu of an alien — stumble into a forgotten, infectious bio-weapons depot (so, Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak meets Ridley Scott’s Aliens). And, you guessed it: the Corman work ethic of waste-not-want-not recycling (and on-the-cheap CGI instead of in-camera, blue-screen modeling) across all departments is in play. And that’s more than likely, since James D. Deck, who served as the Unit Production Manager and 1st A.D. on Within the Rock, made his screenwriting and directing debut with the impossible-to-find-a-copy Ravager.

If you’re one who pays attention to opening title card and edits credits . . . and you’re wondering if that’s the same actors we know as Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) and Scott McGinnis (Joysticks and Thunder Alley) in the producer’s chairs, your VHS-analog centers deceive you not: they’re one in the same (McGinnis also produced Ravager). And would you believe Pacific Rim junkmeister Cirio H. Santiago (who we love at B&S!) would be at the center of this Alien clone’s Venn Diagram? It’s true: Barbara Patrick, starring here as the Ripleyesque chemical-explosives expert Samantha “Nuke em” Rogers, was once known as Barbara Hooper, the star of Cirio’s Filipino post-apoc slopper The Sisterhood; while working for Cirio, she come to meet her future husband, Robert, who began his career with Cirio on Future Hunters. And you might have noticed Duane Whitaker (Maynard from Pulp Fiction) as one of the miners; he worked with Barbara Patrick on his self-penned Elvis homage, Eddie Presley. So this is an all-in-the-family shoot if there ever was one: and we dig it (mining humor!).

Oh, you reissue scamps!

The fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment make Within the Rock easy to own as part of its “Fright Fest” 12-pack issued in 2005 and 2012. It’s also part of a Mill Creek triple-feature pack with a Phantom of the Opera remake and The Fear 2. If you’d prefer a single flick-issue, you can pick up Image Entertainment’s 1999 pressing. Why Within the Rock — considering the producers synergy — wasn’t public domain double-packed with Ravager by Mill Creek is anyone’s guess. But if you can’t wait for your order to arrive, then you can stream Within the Rock for free on You Tube. Unlike its sister film, the harder-to-find Ravager ran as a home video-only release in the U.S. and is not currently available on any streaming platforms. Anyway you get it, this is a fun flick! You go, Gary!

* We blew out all of those Alien rips with our “Ten Movie That Ripped Off Alien” and “A Whole Bunch of Alien Ripoffs at Once” featurettes. And since there’s always a soupçon of Lucas in the sci-fi pots and pans, check out our month-long “Exploring: After Star Wars” blow-out featuring over 50 space opera ripoff reviews. And since we have Cirio apocs on our mind, check out our two-part “Atomic Dust Bin” round-ups with links to over 100 post-apoc flick reviews. And don’t forget out “Movies in Outer Space Week” of 50-plus flicks.

** You can check out Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s impressive alien-head design — complete with multiple servos, movable jaw motion, eye blinks, breath bladders — up close at You Props.com.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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