A couple of tweaks coulda made this one an all-time classic in this reviewer’s eyes
The back of the box of the copy of Plaguers that our pals at Wild Eye Releasing sent along for review has a blurb comparing the flick therein to John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Not going to start a feud, but other than a couple uses of unimpressive space welding torches as flame throwers (no full body burn budgeted) and one of the characters wearing some protective glasses around his neck that kinda-sorta look like the set Kurt Russell wore when he flew the helicopter over to the Norwegian base, I disagree with said blurb’s provider — Plaguers doesn’t have much similarity to The Thing and the whole mysterious unease that pervades that classic isn’t there either.
Now, that reviewer may have been referring to the employment of copious slime glopola effects in Plaguers as being inspired by The Thing. But even that is kind of tenuous because there’s no big guy whose chest opens up and bites a guy’s arms off or Siberian husky face-splitting alien-monster transformative scene. There is some throat gouging and deformed decaying monsters spewing slime, but that’s not what Plaguers is all about.
Nope. What Drive-In Mutants get here in this flick is better than a tenuous link to an incomparable Carpenter classic. What you have here is Demoni (Demons) in Space, which, if only writer/director Brad Sykes had traveled forward in time from 2008 to watch Joe Bob’s rant on the Italian horror “franchise” during the original Last Drive-In marathon, would have opened up a whole new realm of marketing opportunities for this flick in multiple countries.
Plaguers starts out with a woman being chased by monsters dripping slime through a darkly lit corridor, but she’s cramping up and is barely able to get away. The monsters are about to get her when the screen cuts to black and we’re treated to the dreaded …
8 HOURS EARLIER.
Yep. Two weeks in a row. Bio-Dead did this too last week, except it was 11 hours ago in that one.
So viewers have to resign themselves that they’re gonna spend the next hour and 17 minutes of runtime getting back to where we started the flick from.
But fear not! This is fine because Plaguers borrows the scummy, dark spaceship setting and the malcontented blue-collar crew attitude from the original Alien, it features the Greatest Space Vampire Conqueror and Luckiest Actor Alive in 1985 Steve Railsback himself (watch Lifeforce if you need a refresher) as an android and straight up duplicates elements of the very first transformation in the movie theater of Demoni.
Getting into the meat of the matter here, the six-person crew of the USS Pandora is returning to Earth from an interplanetary mission transporting some kind of alien power source called Thanatos that’s the glowing green orb from Heavy Metal suspended in this hourglass-shaped framework, except in this one, the orb doesn’t talk or massacre Valkyries and it’s not a cartoon. The Pandora’s original captain died during the mission, so his main squeeze, Holloway (Alexis Zibolis), is now in charge of the ship and completing the mission for Zelacorp. She’s visiting the late captain’s space-casketed corpse, and as every Drive-In Mutant familiar with Chekhov’s Rule for Corpses in Zombie Movies knows (you did read Joe Bob’s Fangoria column this week, right?), we’re gonna see him again later on.
The Pandora happens to receive a broken-up distress call from the USS Diana and the person making the call screams and gets cut off. The rank-and-file crew members are concerned that the green orb they’re transporting is flaring up “like a virus” and want to jettison it, and our brave captain says that they’ll dock to check out what happened at the Diana but “at the first sign of trouble, we’ll bail.” This being decided, they forget about tossing the orb for the moment, and it falls over and starts leaking green goo as they dock because Zelacorp has the crappiest storage protocols in the solar system and perhaps even the galaxy and won’t even spring for some damn futuristic bungee cords.
Being lowest ranked on the crew, Mason (Robert James) and Riley (Jared Michaels) get sent onto the Diana. After being spooked by some banging noises, they find that four space nurses have emerged, and they talk about how they had to hide from the crew because things went crazy. They’re brought back aboard the Diana and it turns out that no, they’re not really purple-clad space nurses, they’re purple-clad space pirates disguised as space nurses who are there to raid the ship.
The crew of the Pandora gets tossed in the brig, some retro weaponry gets whipped out, the pilot/communications officer gets a knife through the throat and one of the pirate space nurses gets into contact with the green slime glopola, causing the previously mentioned Demoni-inspired transformation.
More folks get infected, more slime gets spewed, a bunch of running around in dark corridors happens, Steve Railsback grabs this yardarm thing that partially decapitates the monsters and, oh yes, we eventually get back to where we started when the flick started rolling which is about three minutes ahead of the final showdown.
Speaking of a circuitous route …
- Best Foreshadowing: Landon (Maija Polsley) says as they approach Earth that she’s dying for a cheeseburger. She ends up becoming the first crewmember of the USS Pandora to start chowing down on meat of a different source. She was that hungry.
- Best Resistance to Infection: Pseudo space nurse/pirate leader Kyra (Noelle Perris) gets cut on the shoulder and then teams up with Captain Holloway to fight a whole bunch of the Plaguers but doesn’t get infected. There are a couple scenes where people should have been infected but didn’t. In this time of pandemic, you tend to pay attention to this sort of thing.
- Best Quote to Reproduce Here Because ‘Tis the Season: Grumbling Mason frequently didn’t enjoy the tasks he was being assigned, often with the prelude of “I did not sign up for…” When ordered to go find the evil green orb, he says “I did not sign up for no Easter egg hunt.”
- Best Use of a Literary Device: As mentioned above, Chekov’s Law about corpses is fulfilled by writer Sykes. The dead body that we see all through the flick in a casket that ends up having evil orb slime dripped on it reanimates to become the biggest Plaguer of them all as the flick draws to a close.
- Best Comic Relief: You gotta feel for Riley. He barely escapes the first Plaguer attack and is paired with the whackadoodle space pirate Sadie (Paige La Pierre) the whole time: “She’s a f——g monster, she’s going to kill us both.” Then his pal Mason gets Plaguerized: “In case you didn’t notice, my best friend got turned into a f—–g mutant and now he wants to tear my throat out.” Then he gets turned himself and never receives his hazard pay.
- Best Attention to Detail: The filmmakers had the Plaguers get progressively gnarlier as the action progressed so that they were mutating into grosser and scarier forms than the original infected humans that they started out as, especially as Steve Railsback kept whacking them upside their heads and cutting parts off.
- Best Missed Opportunity: While watching, think how awesome it would have been if the filmmakers eschewed the expense of the outer space CGI graphics and instead brought in Italian cinematic legend Bobby Rhodes from the first two Demons flicks as the head “doctor” in charge of the space pirate nurses. Demons in Space, indeed.
Three stars, which includes a half-star deduction because the movie is about space nurses but no garbonzas, a half-star credit for having a character named Briggs in the flick and then a half-star deduction by having him be the first on-screen death.
Check Plaguers out on DVD, Bluray and also streaming on TubiTV and Amazon Prime. The flick’s original website is still online too at www.plaguers.com.