Friday, May 1, 2009


Just when you thought it was safe to skinny-dip with a semen-hungry supermodel, along comes SPECIES to warn you that at any moment she might grow horns on her back and rip you up like a parking ticket. This blech-gak-ptooey sci-fi thriller is in fact mostly ptooey – sillier than it is frightening. The movie puts a definitive '90s twist on the old alien-is-loose scenario: she's a six-foot blonde goddess, and all she wants to do is get laid. If you decided to pass on this load of goosey nonsense while it was in the theaters, it's easy to see why: its biggest star was Ben Kingsley, and it reeked heavily of Alien rip-off. But Species had one thing all three Alien movies didn't have -- sex.

In short, the movie details what a beautiful alien/human (spawned by dark and stupid government forces from alien DNA received via radar) must go through to spawn in L.A. Sil (glassy-eyed model Natasha Henstridge) is a guileless, Nordic, man-hungry mating machine whose life cycles are commemorated by a trail of male corpses. Sil's F/X designs were indeed mustered up by H.R. Giger, the depressive Swiss artist behind that distinctive rib-cage-and-womb vibe that anyone who's seen Alien will instantly recognize. Sil is pursued through L.A.'s worst nightclubs and bachelor pads by head honcho Kingsley, sleepy manhunter Michael Madsen, blubbering "empath" Forest Whitaker, scientific Brit Alfred Molina and hot-to-trot biologist Marg Helgenberger.

Species gets its snarkiest thrills from Sil's nightmarish physical changes, though they're less shocking than cool, like watching a blister rash spread on your own arm. In fact, the scare factor is dwarfed by the movie's bumper crop of outrageous Freudian subtext. There's really no way to ignore the film's horrified view of feminine body rites, from puberty to childbirth. (The sequel should have taken on menopause.) The film practically shudders with fear: fear of sex, of menstruation, of dating, of female orgasms, of impotence, of fatherhood, of pregnancy, of birth, of statuesque blondes who undress in front of you without your having to so much as buy them a cocktail first.

Well, the last one might be a legit source of dread, but wouldn't it have been more interesting, though significantly less hilarious, if Sil hadn't been gorgeous – can you imagine the drama of a homely alien trying to get laid in L.A.? But it's not our fear we’re writing about, anyway – it's the filmmakers'. Their apparent horror outpaces ours by a mile. Giger, director Roger Donaldson, writer Dennis Feldman, co-producer Frank Mancuso Jr.– these guys must have some super dating stories. We can't help picturing them dissolving into quaking, bug-eyed panic whenever their wives complain of mid-month bloat. In the movie, catch Sil's tentacle-filled cocoon-transformation from girl to woman – it's the wackiest first period ever captured on film. Every time she gets aroused after that, it's time for some poor sucker to get mauled. You'd imagine that somebody might have noticed that the film boils down to a bunch of nervous guys covering their testicles. But apparently no one did; maybe it is all just subconscious terrors worming their way to the surface.

Which is even better, frankly; it's a timeless joy when Hollywood unknowingly unleashes its own neuroses on the world. We laughed so hard we nearly popped a blood vessel in our eye when Sil aggressively tries to mount one guy in a pool and the luckless dope promptly loses his erection. She turns into a cat-eyed alien thing and kills him.

Though it's far more polished, Species reminded us most of Humanoids from the Deep, a Doug McClure stinker in which icky reptilian creatures rape and impregnate human women. Sweet stuff, but Species is a lot more fun, because you can just see everyone sweating tremulously behind the cameras.

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