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

Aliens, Rocks, and Predators, oh, my!

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!).

The German VHS.

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.


* 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.

** 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.

Oblivion 2: Backlash (1996)

Written by comic and Star Trek writer Peter David and the sequel to 1994’s Oblivion, this Full Moon movie has a great cast, I’ll give it that much. There’s Andrew Divoff coming back as Jaggar, along with Musetta Vander as Lash, Richard Joseph Paul as Marshal Zack Stone, Jackie Swanson as Mattie Chase, Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame member Isaac Hayes as Buster, Julie Newman as Miss Kitty (simultaneously a Batman and Gunsmoke reference), Twin Peaks giant Carel Struycken as Gaunt, George Takei as Doc Valentine and Romanian singer Nadine Voindrouh as Josephine.

There’s a new bad guy in town, however. Sweeney, a British dandy who is the deadliest bounty hunter in the universe (played by Rex Manning, err, Maxwell Caulfield) has come to Oblivion to bring Lash to justice. This character originally appeared in David’s DC run of the Star Trek comic book.

While this was shot at the same time as the original, troubles between Full Moon and Paramount Pictures led to this movie being delayed. As this was the end of the studios working together, the third movie in the Oblivion series was canceled.

You can watch this on Tubi.

 

Ebola Syndrome (1996)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

The 1990s were the golden era of the Category III film in Hong Kong. Category III was the HK equivalent to an X or NC-17 where absolutely no one under 18 could view the film in question and many were relegated to playing in porn theaters. While it would be unfair to label all films produced the region as being distasteful (Wong Kar-Wai’s brilliant Happy Together received a Cat III), it would also be remiss to ignore the power that exploitation films held at the HK box office during the category’s heyday. Many of these films were notorious back in the ‘90s for featuring lots of action, gratuitous nudity, sex, and over-the-top violence, including lots of rape. Anyone who paid to see one of these films back in the day would likely be disappointed if the movie they’d bought a ticket for didn’t deliver. Thus, the creators of these films often went to great lengths to push the boundaries with audiences. Following the commercial and critical success of the 1993 Cat III classic The Untold Story, star Anthony Wong Chau-Sang reunited three years later with writer/director Herman Yau to see if they could re-capture lightning in a bottle with Ebola Syndrome.

Beware: this film has a notorious reputation for a reason. True to its rating, the film features a lot of really depraved behavior on screen. Some of it is extremely offensive. There’s a shit ton of racism, too. It is not for the faint-hearted or easily triggered.

As in the notorious duo’s previous collaboration, Wong once again plays a depraved rapist vivisectionist who feels justified in his killing people because he doesn’t like to be “bullied,” i.e. asked to behave like a normal human being.

Released the year after the international hit film Outbreak (1995), the story remains perhaps even more relevant today in a world ravaged by Covid-19. The plot concerns a criminal named Kai (Wong) who goes on a killing spree, dispatching most of his boss’s family. He murders everyone except for their youngest daughter with whom Kai will cross paths later as an adult. He flees to South Africa for the next decade and becomes a cook in a Chinese restaurant owned by Shaw Bros. star Lo Meng. Everyone hates Kai. Justifiably so. He’s a real scumbag. 

One day while visiting a nearby village to buy cheap pork (no pun intended) he happens upon a very ill-looking African woman whom he unceremoniously rapes. Unbeknownst to Kai, the woman was dying from the Ebola virus. Unfortunately for everyone else in the film, Kai is one of the few people who become asymptomatic carriers. Turning him from a normal run-of-the-mill amoral psychopath into walking death.

Predictably, in a re-hash of The Untold Story, Kai kills his new employers after they criticize his work habits and he makes burgers out of their newly Ebola-infected flesh. Of course, the customers gobble them up, declaring them “delicious!” Believing the coast is clear back home, Kai returns to Hong Kong where, for the rest of the movie we get to see Anthony sneezing and spitting on people while maniacally shouting “Eeeebolaaa!” Not to mention spreading the deadly virus to a bunch of hookers via his semen and saliva. Right about now you’re probably thinking “But why would I want to see this?” There’s really only one reason. Because Anthony Wong is awesome. Yes, Kai is reprehensible. Hell, he’s downright vomit-inducing. But Wong plays him with such zeal that he makes one viewing worth it. Overall, the tone isn’t as horrific or nihilistic as, say, A Serbian Film. Far from it. It’s more like a very, very dark comedy. Eliciting the occasional awkward sanity-questioning chuckle is pretty impressive considering there’s so much nasty stuff going on. Fans of the Grand Guignol will likely enjoy this aspect. Will I be watching it again? No. The cinematically sane should probably tread lightly not only into this title but into the larger HK Category III library.

Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (1996)

Farhad Mann had some major success in TV. Perhaps most importantly in our study of ancient future film, he was the director of the U.S. pilot for Max Headroom (as well as the pilot for Forever Knight). He’s done tons of commercials and now makes TV movies, but at one point, he wrote and directed a sequel to a movie that people hated. And the few people who liked The Lawnmower Man hated this one.

The founder of virtual reality, Dr. Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin, who once menaced Julia Roberts in Sleeping With the Enemy), lost his legal battle to patent the Chiron Chip, which could be the tool that makes mankind slaves to computers. Of course, once entrepreneur Jonathan Walker (Kevin Conway, the barker from The Funhouse) finds a barely alive Jobe Smith (now played by Matt Frewer, speaking of Max Headroom) and hooks him up to the virtual reality grid, well, that’s exactly what happens.

I kind of loved this movie, because I kept yelling out lines in the voice of Sark from Tron, stuff like “The Master Control Program has chosen you to serve your system on the Game Grid.” and “Bring on the Logic Probe!” and “Welcome to the video game grid!”

If you can watch this incredibly dated VR movie with that attitude, you just may enjoy it.

Freeway (1996)

Matthew Bright started his career by writing Forbidden Zone as well as playing Squeezit and René Henderson in that transmission from another dimension. With Freeway, he’s simultaneously making a Hollywood movie and the kind of exploitation film that was often outside the mainstream.

Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon, who was the hottest actress of the time after this, so this is kind of strange seeing an A-lister, much less two, get down into the scuzzy dirt as if they were making an AIP movie or worse) has a horrible life. Her mother — Amanda Plummer is, as always, dependably deranged — has just gone away for hooking and her stepfather — Michael T. Weiss from The Pretender — has been assaulting her for years. She steals her social worker’s car and heads off into the woods — or the road from Los Angeles to Stockton — to live with her grandmother, only stopping long enough to get a gun from her man Chopper and to narrowly miss him get killed in a drive-by. And oh yeah, her real dad was Richard Speck.

Things seemingly get better when she’s picked up by Bob Wolverton (Keifer Sutherland), a counselor for boys who she feels able to share all the secrets of her horrible past. Then he tells her a secret too: he’s the I-5 Killer and she’s going to be his next victim.

She turns the tables and repeatedly shoots him, but the media and society turn the tables on her, casting him as a hero and landing her in jail. That’s when she joins with Rhonda (Brittany Murphy) and Mesquite (Rhonda Alanna Ubach) to escape prison and head back to grandmother’s house, where this movie’s big bad wolf is waiting for her, facial paralysis and all.

Maybe I was in the right mood for this, but it hit everything just perfectly. It helps to have Dan Hedaya in the cast, because he’s the kind of actor that elevates everything. And casting Brooke Shields as Sutherland’s rich wife really pays off.

You can watch this on Tubi.

No One Would Tell (1996)

Fred Savage was an ebullient teen, someone who seemingly could never do wrong until in this film, he becomes a high school wrestler who gets on the gas and goes bonkers on Candace Cameron. Yes, there comes a time in every actor’s life to do a made-for-TV ripped from the headlines movie. This one is based on the August 23, 1991 murder of Amy Carnevale by her high school boyfriend Jamie Fuller.

There’s also a Lifetime remake that came out in 2018, but we’re dealing with the original.

Man, there’s really nothing like seeing Kevin Arnold tear into D.J. Tanner with full force roid rage, is there? I realize I’m making light of a real problem — women now know to respect themselves and show ape-like men the door — but I’m also in awe of movies where actors just go for it. More often than not, this action happens in TV movies about very important issues.

Everyone just wants to be popular and not rock the boat. Their indifference — one could say that No One Would Tell — leads to Cameron’s character getting treated to a Laura Palmer funeral. I mean, even when these kids get on the stand in a trial, they speak up for the boy, saying that he wouldn’t have had to beat her if she just listened.

Reginald VelJohnson turned down the role of a cop in this movie. IMDB wants me to say that it was because he had scheduling conflicts with Family Matters, but I think VelJohnson was just sick of constantly having to play a cop, a role he did in Die HardDie Hard 2Turner & HoochGhostbusters and Plain Clothes*.

You may wonder, “Why is this movie so scummy?” I’d blame director Noel Nosseck, who made drive-in fare before this like Best Friends and Las Vegas Lady before moving to TV movies.

Also: I absolutely love the fake Guns ‘n Roses playing in the first scene.

*This reminds me of a convention I was at where Michael Dorn was speaking. Someone asked, “Why is Worf your favorite role?” He replied that he was tired of always playing police officers after CHiPs and it was great to be in a role that let him do something different. The person who asked the question then said, “But as a corrections officer, isn’t Worf a cop?” Dorn looked out at the audience, crestfallen, then just slowly walked off the stage early and went back to his room alone.

You can watch this on Tubi.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

1995’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was a hit, prompting Daiei Studio to produce the sequel, Gamera: Attack of Legion one year later. Ayako Fujitani returns as Asagi Kusanagi, the teen who bonds with Gamera. The film also stars Japanese soap star (and Granddaughter to Toho Kaiju Eiga star Kumi Mizuno) Miki Mizuno, as a computer scientist aiding the military in unraveling the mysterious life cycle of earth’s latest invader. 

This time, the alien in question is called “Legion.” A symbiotic organism comprised of thousands of little insect soldiers whose mission is to prepare the earth for a flower to grow. Once mature, the space flower launches its seed with a destructive force equivalent to that of a thermonuclear device. There is also a Queen Legion who, much to Gamera’s dismay. sports shooting rays and tendrils as well as a nifty force field.

The story deals with the military and their failed attempts to assuage the Legion. It soon becomes evident that earth will be overtaken by the Legion and the human race will cease to exist. Things begin to look even bleaker when Gamera is mortally wounded during a seed launching in one of the films best special effects sequences set in the city of Sendai. Our hero is literally left a mere shell of himself until he is revived by Asagi and a group of children who bond with him mystically.

The end battle in this, the second of the Heisei Gamera trilogy (so named for its production during the reign of the Japanese Emperor Heisei) is astounding. The Suitmation is superb and Shusuke Kaneko, Shinji Higuchi and crew have bested themselves ten-fold in creature design as well as in areas of execution of the action and drama. 

During the suspenseful finale, the military finally come to the decision to aid Gamera by distracting the Legion soldiers. Once this is accomplished, Gammy uses the life-force of the earth to boost his firepower to destroy the Queen Legion. Mankind is once again safe.

The final scene foreshadows darker things to come in the next film when one character asks, “But we wouldn’t want Gamera as our enemy, would we?” No. No, we wouldn’t. 

Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters and Ricky Jay (1996)

Ricky Jay was one of my heroes. Beyond acting, writing books and being one of the best sleight of hand men ever, no one else was more devoted to capturing the history of magic than him.

Jay did not have a great childhood, said that possibly the only kind memory he had of his parents was when they hired magician Al Flosso to perform at his bar mitzvah. He was devoted, however, to his grandfather, Max Katz, an amateur magician who introduced Jay to the world of magic.

By the age of seven, he was performing, becoming the youngest magician to perform a full magic act on TV. He was also the first magician to ever play comedy clubs and probably the first magician to open for rock and roll bands.

What I love about this film is more than just seeing Jay do his illusions. I love that he let the curtain back a little and answers exactly who would sit in their room as a child for hours and hours, practicing with a deck of cards over and over.

There aren’t many celebrities that I’d want to meet. But Jay would have been one of them, even just to have a casual conversation.

Petticoat Planet (1996)

As I watched this week of women in power, I wondered, how long until I have to watch a David DeCoteau movie? This one started and had Ellen Cabot listed as its director and I paid no notice until I looked up and noticed that the man in the love scene was nude and the girl was fully clothed. One quick look at IMDB and yep. I just got DeCoteaued. Is that a word? It is now.

Commander Steve Rogers — not Captain America — has crash-landed on a planet where all of the men died in a mining accident. And yes, for some reason, much like Oblivion*, the planet is a Western movie because all of the women wear — you guessed it — petticoats and the more masculine ones wear cowboy hats. Steve is, of course, fresh meat for these ladies and soon, they’re all battling over him.

Should you watch it? Well, the town is called Puckerbush Gulch, for one. And you get to see Elizabeth Kaitan (Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, the last three Vice Academy movies), Lesli Kay (who was on As the World TurnsThe Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful) and Betsy Lynn George, the girl from Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love” video cavort about in soft focus.

But yeah. It’s a total piece of shit.

*That’s because it was shot on the same sets as that movie and its sequel, Backlash: Oblivion 2.

Vice Academy 5 (1996)

An x-rated computer game gets out of control when the commissioner’s son Irwin (Chad Gabbert, who played the role in the fourth through sixth films of this series) unleashes a virtual reality hooker that tries to take over the world of crime from his father’s basement. Meanwhile, the commissioner is also dealing with his new wife Ms. Devonshire (Jayne Hamil, who was in the first, fifth and sixth of these), who just wants to consummate their marriage.

Yeah, I watched the last two Vice Academy movies. And yes, I am waiting for a second box set from Vinegar Syndrome.

Candy (Elizabeth Kaitan, who is in every one of these but the first film) and newcomer Traci (Raelyn Saalman) are our Vice Academy girls this time out and they have their hands full dealing with the aforementioned Heidi Ho (J.J. North, Vampire Vixens from Venus), a virtual criminal. There’s also appearances by Tane McClure (who would go on to play Elle’s mother in the Legally Blonde movies), Karen Knotts (yes, the daughter of Don), Honey Lauren (who made Wives of the Skies, which we recently covered) and an uncredited Ginger Lynn, who briefly shows up as an inmate, but we should all pretend that she’s Holly working undercover, right?

Pretty much shot in writer/director Rick Sloane’s garage, this movie had such a small budget that Kaitan and Saalman’s outfits came off a dollar rack at an outlet store. This is a movie for those that want the storytelling of pornography without the semen all over the star’s faces. I don’t know who you are, but they made six of these movies just for you. And somehow, I have watched all of them more than once.

You can watch this on Tubi.