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

Editor’s Desk: As result of their production synergies, we’ll also discuss the Star Wars-cum-Alien resume of Gold Key Entertainment’s nine direct-to-video/cable-telefilms, which includes the 1981-version of Lifepod.

“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!

The “Glen Larson” Lifepod I am thinking of is 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. It’s this one, starring TV’s Joe Penny (Jake and the Fatman) and Kristin DeBell (Meatballs), made, by not by Glen Larsony, but by producer Allan Sandler for Gold Key Entertainment for the VHS home video shelves.

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?)

So, the Penny-DeBell 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 (yes, this is better, at least in script, than Saturn 3).

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.

So, that’s that. There’s no there there, Joe. Uh, what?

Oh, by the Lords of Kobol . . . there’s 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 Larson or Corman flick (Oh, no! There’s 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 (Raiders of the Damned) 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 starring Dead Calm — with Richard Grieco as the star-stranded galactic serial killer, aka the Billy Zane role, and Corbin in the Sam Neill role.


I refuse, on principle, to never 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.

Gold Key Entertainment in Space!

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-version over the ’93 Silver-version for me.

So, does this mean the rest of Gold Key Entertainment’s Kessel Run are just as good as their version of Lifepod: a series of pumped-out-in-quick-back-to-back-succession sci-fi flicks by writer-director-producer Allan Sandler and his partner, Robert Emenegger (he’s the point man, here, as he wrote them, directed six, and by Atari and Casio, scored them all) between 1979 to 1981.

As far the order in which these were made or released: your guess is as good as ours. It’s possible — since it’s the best looking of the nine films and has the stronger, best-known cast — Lifepod ’81 was probably the last film produced. However, we’ll defer to the order in which the IMDb lists the films. Some are more easily available to purchase or stream, than others:

Captive (1980) — Two survivors of an alien spaceship crash-land on Earth and hold two people hostage. Cameron Mitchell stars with ubiquitous TV actor David Ladd.

PSI Factor (1980) — Aliens from another dimension appear on Earth as a scientist tries to learn of their intentions. The first Gold Key’er for Gretchen Corbett, alongside go-to TV bad guy Peter Mark Richman (one of his films was Jason Takes Manhattan).

Killing at Outpost Zeta (1980) — A team is sent to a remote planet outpost to investigate two missing expeditions. Jackson Bostwick, aka TV’s Captain Marvel from the ’70s Saturday morning series Shazam!, stars. Yes, that’s Paul Comi, aka Lt. Stiles, from Star Trek: TOS: the first season episode, “Balance of Terror” (and this almost plays like an old ST episode-arc). This one is still out there in 2023 on Tubi!

Beyond the Universe (1981) — A scientist tries to save the Earth after two atomic wars. Familiar TV actor Christopher Cary of Planet Earth (1974) with John Saxon, stars.

Escape from DS-3 (1981) — A man framed for a crime he didn’t commit breaks out of a satellite-based security prison. Jackson Bostwick returns (then he’s off to the Future Zone with David Carradine), alongside Cameron Mitchell’s son, Jr., who had a small role in the even-cheaper, somewhat similar production stumble, Space Mutiny (1988), that starred his dad, and sister, Cissy.

Lifepod (1981) — Our space-take on Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.

Warp Speed (1981) — A psychic is dispatched to an derelict vessel in space to discover what happened to her crew. Cam Jr. returns, his sister Camille is on board, along with Adam West, and early roles for TV actors David Roya (Law & Order franchise) and Barry Gordon (Archie Bunker’s Place).

Time Warp (1981) — An astronaut returns from space only to discover he somehow traveled through a “time warp” and is now one year into the future — rendering him invisible. Gretchen Corbett, Cam Jr. and Adam West, returns. As result of the Adam West-connection: Time Warp and Warp Speed are available as a double-feature DVD — and the only other of the series on Tubi. (Even after the likes of Adam’s work in Omega Cop and Zombie Nightmare, which are, well, you know: this is a major step down for him.)

Laboratory (1983) — Aliens kidnap a group of humans in order to perform experiments upon them. Camille Mitchell returns, alongside Martin Kove (John Kreese from The Karate Kid.)

Based on these film’s syndicated UHF-TV, pay cable plays, and VHS quick releases and common-cast actors threaded throughout — including many more, very familiar ’70s TV actors in support — there’s LOTS of stock prop, set, and footage recycling — courtesy of Steven Spielberg’s sister, Ann, as the Production Designer.

So, after Lifepod: Warp Speed my interest as the best of the bunch — as far as acting, sets, and script; it reminds of a cheaper Silent Running. Then, Killing at Outpost Zeta, since — even though it’s ripping Alien and foreshadowing Aliens — has some nice cinematic atmosphere that reminds of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965). But it is still pretty bad, with its motorcycle space helmets and flexi-hoses.

Let’s put it this way: Are you into Alfonso Brescia’s five Italian space operas that we covered with our “Drive-In Friday: Pasta Wars” tribute? Are you hankering for Filmation’s Ark II, Jason of Star Command, and Space Academy Saturday Morning “Star Wars” homages? Have you wondered if there were pseudo-sequels (at least in style and tone) to the Canadian Lucasian rip that is The Shape of Things to Come? Did NBC-TV’s plastic Kessel Run 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 sci-fi watching to occupy your time adrift on that intergalactic lifepod that Alfred Hitchcock built.

Oh, yes, there’s stock footage, sets, props, and costume recycling adrift in those there stars, keep looking up, young warrior!

Back to the Lifeboats, er, ah, Pods!

You can stream the 1981 Joe Penny-version on Amazon Prime and You Tube, and the 1993 Ron Silver-version on Amazon Prime and You Tube. If you absolutely must defy the Magic 8 Ball’s heeds beyond the trailer or skimming the upload . . . you can watch the 1996 Richard Grieco-version on You Tube.

* 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. Also check out our month-long “Star Wars” tribute blowout rife with over 50 space opera droppings and clones reviews, as well as our “Space Week” tribute of films from the ’50s and beyond. And we got all your Alien-rips, too, with our “Ten Films that Ripoff Alien (and more)!” feature.

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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