Lifepod (1993) and (1981), and Inhumanoid, aka Lifepod (1996)

“It’s a homage, not a remake.”
— Tony Award-winning actor Ron Silver about his film directing debut

If you’re familiar with the classic, 1944 Hitchcock source material, you know that Lifeboat* was a World War II-set psychological thriller about a group of shipwrecked survivors adrift in a lifeboat — and they have to depend on a surviving Nazi officer to sail them to rescue.

This Fox Television sci-fi version — which aired simultaneously as a commercial-free Cinemax cable exclusive, was produced by Trilogy Entertainment, the studio that also produced Ron Howard’s firefighter drama Backdraft and Kevin Costner’s big screen Robin Hood romp — is written by Jay Roach, whose expansive resume has given us everything from the ’80s Animal House-inspired radio romp Zoo Radio to the Oscar-beloved Bombshell.

We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert.

This time out, our group of survivors (a great cast of Silver, Robert Loggia, C.C.H. Pounder, and Adam Storke, who you’ll recall as Larry Underwood in the ’94 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand) are lost somewhere between Venus and Earth on Christmas Eve in the year 2169 on a shuttle craft jettisoned from an exploded spacecruiser. And they spend the rest of the film — in plotting that reminds of John Carpenter’s The Thing remake — bickering over who is alien-infected set the bomb that destroyed their ship and has already murdered one of the survivors.

So, do the Star Wars-inspired bells and whistles satiate the younger Starlog magazine subscriber-set in digesting Hitchcock? Well, courtesy of the remake homage’s financial and creative backing by Trilogy and Fox, the production values are high and the acting is top notch . . . but didn’t we see this film already? Wasn’t this fodder for an old ’80s Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode? Weren’t Starbuck and Cassiopeia or Buck and Wilma lost on a lifepod with a gaggle of ne’er do wells before their series cancellations?

Me and Kristin DeBell stuck in a space pod? Sounds like heaven.

No . . . wait a minute . . . now I remember! I’m thinking of the screenwriting and directing debut of go-to TV main titles designer Bruce Bryant (Salvage I) and his sci-fi remake (not a homage; this time) of the Hitchcock concept with 1981’s Lifepod. And that one, starring TV’s Joe Penny (Jake and the Fatman) and Kristin DeBell (Meatballs), and was made by producer Allan Sandler for Gold Key Entertainment for the VHS home video shelves. And yes . . . we are talking about the same Gold Key who gave us the early ’70s kid adventures of H.R Pufnstuff and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. But, since this is B&S About Movies: Gold Key unleashed the likes of Amando de Ossorio’s Fangs of the Living Dead (1969), I Eat Your Skin (1971), UFO’s: It Has Begun (1981), Piranha (1982), and Don Dohler’s The Alien Factor upon the unsuspecting drive-in masses. (Is this the same Gold Key who also produced comic books; my beloved cheap jack Space Family Robinson issues bought in a three-pack off the comic rack at my local strip mall bookstore, in particular?)

Anyhoos . . . the Joe Penny one is set 22 years after the Ron Silver one, in the year 2191, with the maiden voyage of the Whitestar Lines’ (know your British nautical history) new Arcturus cruiser in jeopardy on the way to Saturn. Hey, wait a minute . . . this is SST: Death Flight all over again! No, wait . . . Starflight One (where’s Lee Majors?)**. Ugh, don’t you follow along, B&S readers: Lifepod ’81 is the same, but different: we have a talking “Mother” computer, like Alien, natch, who alerts everyone to abandoned ship . . . so instead of planting a bomb, the ship’s “main cerebral” is sabotaged. See, different. Oh, no! Wait . . . the ship was originally intended as an interstellar exploration vessel and the greedy corporation refitted the Arcturus into a pleasure cruiser . . . so, what we really have here is Hitchcock meets Kurbrick, aka a confused Hal has another temper tantrum over mission directives. But since there’s more than one lifepod bouncing amid the stars, we also have a touch of James Cameron’s Titanic in the pinch-o-rama spacestakes.

Wait, what? Oh, by the Lords of Kobol . . . not another Lifepod movie! Is Glen Larson committing sci-fi larceny, again? Roger Corman, are you making more cheapjack sci-fi cable movies? Ugh, not more footage and sets from Space Raiders, again. Please, spare us the Buck Rogers plastic sets, Glen.

Aka, Lifepod. What, no “3” suffix, Mr. Distributor?

While it’s not a Larsen or Corman flick (Oh, no! A “Roger Corman Presents” title card!), this is, in fact, a third Lifepod flick, one that’s also known as Circuit Breaker and Inhumanoid in various markets. In this version of the battle of the Lifeboat/Lifepod sci-fi homages remakes reboots, this one was released direct-to-video in 1996 and stars Richard Grieco (Art of the Dead) and Corin Bernsen (The Dentist). Ah, oh, okay . . . I see, it’s not the same, but different (you know, like when Within the Rock clipped Armageddon and Creature), since, in addition to Lifeboat, they’ve also ripped the 1989 Sam Neill-Nicole Kidman starrer Dead Calm — with Richard Grieco as the star-stranded galactic serial killer, aka the Billy Zane role, and Corbin in the Sam Neill role. And I refuse, on principle, to ever watch it: ever, as I have my limits on how much galactic feldercarb I can swallow a secton. Hey, wait a sec . . . yep, ol’ Rog is copycatin’ again! Event Horizon, which started out with the pitch of “Dead Calm in space” (and became something completely different by the time it hit the big screen), came out in 1997 — and it starred Sam Neill. Bravo, Rog! You beat ’em to the punch, again!

2001: A Space Boat Odyssey.

I have, however, watched the 1981 and 1993 Lifepod flicks, and truth be told: they’re really not that bad and both are solid on the production and acting fronts (the ’81 Penny over ’93 Silver for me). But I have not watched the flurry of pumped-out-in-quick-succession sci-fi flicks by writer-director-producer Allan Sandler (and his partner, Robert Emenegger) between 1980-1981 under the Gold Key banner:

  • Beyond the Universe — Starring familiar TV actor Christopher Cary of Planet Earth.
  • Captive – Staring Cameron Mitchell and ubiquitous TV actor David Ladd.
  • Escape from DS-3 — Stars Cameron Mitchell’s son, Jr.; he had a small role in Space Mutiny with his dad and sister, Cissy. (If you haven’t seen it — and you’re into “prison in space” flicks — pencil this one on your watch list.)
  • The Killings at Outpost Zeta — Jackson Bostwick, aka ’70s Saturday Morning TV’s Captain Marvel!
  • Laboratory — Another Mitchell daughter, Camille, stars alongside Martin Kove (John Kreese from The Karate Kid!).
  • PSI Factor — Starring familiar TV actress Gretchen Corbett and go-to TV bad guy Peter Mark Richman (one of his films was Jason Takes Manhattan).
  • Time Warp — Corbett and Cam Jr. returns, along with Adam West.
  • Warp Speed — Cam Jr., Camille and West returns, along with TV actors David Roya (Law & Order franchise) and Barry Gordon (Archie Bunker’s Place).
  • Lifepod — The best-known and distributed of the bunch, thanks to an also-pay cable run and the presence of the always likable Joe Penny (then hot with TV’s The Gangster Chronicles and the syndicated Rip Tide).

So, based on these film’s syndicated UHF-TV and VHS quick releases and common-cast actors throughout (including many more, familiar ’70s TV actors in support), rest assure — without even seeing the films — I’ll bank that there’s plenty of stock prop, set, and footage recycling (with production design courtesy of Steven Speilberg’s sister, Ann!) amid the planets. Are two films with Adam West enough to make you hit the big red streaming button? Uh . . . after the likes of Omega Cop and Zombie Nightmare . . . Magic 8-Ball says, “Proceed at your own peril” with Sandler’s space opera oeuvres of the Corman-Larson suspicious recycle variety. (Plus, I am too lazy to Google all of those titles. Go find your own damn movie links for a change.*˟)

You can stream the 1981 Joe Penny “remake, not a homage” version on Amazon Prime (and You Tube) and the 1993 Ron Silver “homage, not a remake” version on Amazon Prime (and You Tube). Oh, if you absolutely must defy the Magic 8 Ball’s heeds . . . you can watch the 1996 Richard Grieco one on You Tube.

* From the “Everything You Wanted to Know About Lifeboat but Were Afraid to Ask” Department: Film Talk Society answers all the questions with their “Beginners Guide to Alfred Hitchcock: Lifeboat” feature.

** Be sure to check out our Lee Majors Week tribute of film reviews. We are also reviewing Battlestar Galactica and Within the Rock during this week’s “Space Week” tribute, so look for them.

From the “Never Say Never, Young Warrior” Department: A month after writing this review, I caved and skimmed all of ’em (but Warp Speed held my interest as the best of the bunch, as far as acting, sets, and script; it reminds of a cheaper Silent Running). Let’s put it this way: Are you into Alfonso Brescia Italian space operas (and who isn’t; see our “Drive-In Friday: Pasta Wars” tribute to Uncle Al’s five Star Wars rips¹), or hankering for Ark II, Jason of Star Command, and Space Academy Saturday Morning “Star Wars” homages, or wondered if there were pseudo-sequels (at least in style and tone) to the Canadian Star Wars rip that is The Shape of Things to Come? Did NBC-TV’s plastic Star Wars hopefuls The Martian Chronicles and Brave New World capture your imagination? Well, then, you’ll have yourself a fun-filled weekend of it-ain’t-George Lucas-or-even-Glen Larson-it’s-Allan Sandler movie watching to occupy your time adrift on that intergalactic lifepod that Alfred Hitchcock built. And yes, there’s stock footage, sets, props, and costume recycling adrift in those there star, Big Hoss.

¹ Check out our month-long “Star Wars” tribute blowout rife with over 50 space opera droppings and clones reviews.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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