Convict 762 (1997)

The late, requisite screen baddie Billy Drago—best known for his breakout role in Clint Eastwood’s Palerider (1985)—brought me here. Billy Drago—of Chuck Norris’s Invasion U.S.A. (1985) and Hero and the Terror (1988)—kept me watching. And Billy Drago—who made Hunter’s Blood (1986) watchable and Banzai Runner (1987) bearable—made me take the journalistic plunge on Convict 762, so as to put another one of Drago’s film’s on the B&S site—out of admiration and respect to the dynasty that is Count Drago.

Another name amid the credits of Convict 762 you’ll recall is Luca Bercovici (who will always remind me as Dennis Christopher’s faux-brother), a writer, director, an actor who—across his 60-plus acting and ten-plus writing and directing credits, we don’t mention enough on this site, outside of his appearance in Space Raiders (1983) and his writing and directing Rockula (1990). We’ve never gotten around (and probably won’t) to reviewing his writing and directing debut of the Gremlins-cum-Critters rip Ghoulies (1985), which turned into a four-part franchise.

Then, with Josh Whedon reactivating the Alien franchise in 1997 with the series’ fourth entry, Alien: Resurrection, Luca decide, for his sixth directing effort, he would direct the fourth—and final—screenplay of the once prolific, low-budget scribe J. Reifel. Reifel saw four of his sci-fi scripts go into simultaneous production in 1996 for EGM Film International (The Shadowchaser franchise and 1998’s Outside Ozona), with Timelock*, The Apocalypse, and Dark Planet for Charles Band’s Moonstone-imprint for dual-distribution on home video and the Sci-Fi Channel (in the days before the double-“y”).

Now, because of Michael York starring, I’ve seen (and don’t remember because it wasn’t very good) Reifel’s Dark Planet. And sadly, if not for the retro-UHF channel Comet running Convict 762 this past January 2021, I never would have sought it out on Tubi to watch. And, even with the presence of Billy Drago, I’ll soon forget this film once it publishes and is lost amid the 1,000s of other reviews at B&S About Movies. And speaking of distribution and Charles Band’s marketing tomfoolery: In the wake of the success of David Fincher’s Pitch Black (2000) (again, there’s that Alien connection), Moonstone reissued Convict 762 to home video with a Riddick-esque cover. But be not ye duped, oh, star explorer, for this ain’t a Riddick romp, not by a long shot.

Don’t fall for the dick faux Riddick.

However, not all is weak tea with this direct-to-video potboiler: Convict 762 has its strong points beyond Billy Drago’s presence. And those strengths come in the form of the stellar, Cormanesque up-against-the-budget production design led by art director Ron Mason (who’s work you know these days for The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy franchise). Kudos also goes out to set designers Denise Dowden (who vanished from the business) and Ann Shea, who ended up at CBS-TV (to work on several of their long-running series, including The Big Bang Theory). Tip o’ the hats as well to costume designer Wendy Benbrook, who’s still at it with FX-TV (most recently working on You’re the Worst). Courtesy of that behind-the-scenes-team’s collective efforts, Convict 762, again, taking into consideration it’s a low-budget product touched by the hand of Charles Band, looks really good. That is, until the CGI spaceships and exteriors (really bad, like Escape from L.A. bad) rear their ugly head, and then the rest of the cast chokes-on-screen in comparison to the thespin’ excellence of the always-making-chicken salad-out-of-chicken-shite Count Drago.

At the risk of insulting the still-(for the most part)-at-it actresses: Having been down more horror and sci-fi rabbit holes than the average VHS-rental dog, I’ve seen more than my fair share of low-budget B-renters starring reformed porn actress of the Traci Lords and alas-starring Michelle Bauer, aka Pia Snow, variety. Hey, it’s par for the course when you celluloid-mainline too many Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau movies. So, when I see a cast of unknown names like Shae D’lyn (who still at it on Orange is the New Black and Boardwalk Empire; a 96-episode run on Dharma & Greg?) and Tawye Fere (from Rockula?), well, what would you think? So, I deserve a Bechdel pass on this one.

The truth is: If Lords and Bauer—who have more than proven their B-acting chops over the years—along with Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens, were on board as the all-female crew of the star cruiser Alexandria, this film would be so much more awesome for it. For with films like this: you must go ditch the unknowns for a full-on-familiar exploitation cast—or the film simply will not work. (And this film, ultimately, does not.) On the other hand: Roger Corman hired both Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray to co-create Dinosaur Island (to get more mileage out his expensive Carnosaur footage) and that film works because, not only of their B-Movie triumvirate pedigree, but because they hired reformed adult actresses Michelle Bauer, Becky LeBeau, Deborah Dutch, and Toni Naples—which is why more have seen that film instead of this one.

At first, the idea of a crew of Ripleys and Lamberts sounds like a great idea. Until the script Bechdels-off-the-rails into a 1950s sci-fi throwback (Project Moonbase) (and I know that is NOT the film’s intention), with bits about women—even behind the command of a starship, mind you—are still bad drivers who get lost in asteroid fields because they can’t read star maps (and I thought Denise Richards’s character in 1997’s Starship Troopers was badly written; yeah, we’re giving that a new take, this week, for “Space Week”). (At least Bercovici keeps them in Nostromo-wears and out of the skimpy-wears.) Oh, and the gals forgot to get gas (or plasma, or atomic-somethings) poured into the drive-tanks. But, in the ladies’ defense: asteroid damage forced them to jettison fuel to save the ship from exploding (or something). Luckily, a penal colony (ugh, and we cue David Fincher’s Aliens 3, again) on the only-populated planet in the system is their lone option for repair and refueling. And it’s there that they meet Jason Vorhees and The Terminator, uh, I mean Mannix and Vigo. (Uh, yes, the very-similar Jason-in-space flick, Jason X, showed up in 2001—and Ron Mason worked on that film’s artistic team.)

Mannix (Drago) and Vigo (Frank Zargarino of the aforementioned Shadowchaser franchise and a few Philippine knockoffs, most notably the Mark Gregory classic Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission) both claim to be the last prison guard and last prisoner survivors of an inmate uprising that resulted in the deaths of everyone on the colony (and one of them is an android-cum-cyborg). Now, in the tradition of the last-two-men-standing-in-mistaken-identity-to-the-danger-of-a-group-of-bad-decision-making-ne’er do wells . . . I know I’ve seen this before . . . and I can’t place it. (Damn it! Was it a ‘60s Star Trek episode?) So, I’ll just say it pinched (reminds me) from the 1986 Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell actioner The Hitcher, where Hauer’s psycho leads others to believe Howell’s the serial killer. And whoever the serial is, here (the script, to its credit, does keep us guessing), they Jason-cum-Xenomorph-offed the Alex’s entire crew—sans Shannon Sturges, here as Commander Nile. Now, Nile could be a Ripley, but she has so much caked-on make-up and hair product (thus, the my-bad porn assumption) that the rugged-Alien ass-kicker the character aspires to be, is lost. (Sturges guested on several TV series; she retired in 2014.)

In addition to the Alien (sans the Xenos, natch) and The Hitcher, you’ll see a bit of The Thing (running through a dark complex contemplating ‘who is who”). What you won’t see: decent acting. What you will see: sharp, inventive set design and cinematography that isn’t exactly competing with its big-budget inspirations (but it’s pretty damn close), but it all certainly looks (way) better that the worst (and even the best) of ‘80s episodes of Battlestar Galactica. It’s just too bad the women-nauts of the Alex are more William Deering eye candy than kick-ass sexy Ripleys. (Ugh. Do not get me started on Glen Larceny’s Buck Rogers series.)

In the end: Convict 762 is for Luca Bercovici curio-seekers and Billy Drago completists only. And we expect and accept bad CGI—and poorly portrayed and scripted characters—with films like these: we do not except or accept it with A-List junk like Escape from L.A.(1996) (what were you thinking, Pam Grier?). Again, this pops on Comet from time to time, but you can watch a more convenient, free-with-ads-stream on Tubi.

* Timelock is also runs Comet from time to time (sometimes double-featured with Convict 762) and is also available on Tubi. Timelock is your basic “space prison” shenanigans romp that also pinches from Aliens and Aliens 3, as well as Peter Hyams’s Outland—and every other “peril in space” remote penal colony and terraforming colony flick of the ’80s. In fact, it all feels like it was made ten years too late (or released ten years too late), and works better in a binge-watching session alongside ’80s Alien knockoffs like Roger Corman’s Forbidden World (1982; scripted by Jim Wynorski, natch), William Malone’s Creature (1985), and Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44 (1990) than John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (1996), which more than likely inspired its raison d’être—although ex-Bond Girl Maryam d’Ado ain’t no Ripley and the always likable Arye Gross (even when grunged up) ain’t no Plissken.

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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