Case Number 22620: Small Claims Court

ALIEN OUTLAW / THE DARK POWER

Alien Outlaw
VCI Home Video // 1985 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
The Dark Power
VCI Home Video // 1987 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 28th, 2011

The Charge

Whip it!

The Case

From VCI, a double-dose of dreadful, low-budget B-movie offal, starring Lash LaRue and his whip and his hair. I was fortuitous enough to review both of these movies when they were individually released and after revisiting the material...The Dark Power is still sort of good and Alien Outlaw sucks balls.

The Dark Power
B-Western vet Lash LaRue stars in this low-budget horror movie from 1987. An elderly Native American man, who may possibly have ties to the mystical plane, croaks and leaves his house empty and waiting to be inhabited by college coeds.

A group of fun-loving girls (and one racist) rent the house. Despite the lack of modern-day amenities like a phone, the low price and convenient location are attractive features. Unfortunately, the new tenants are unaware of the local legend about the four evil sorcerers who buried themselves alive hoping to one day roam the Earth again.
When one of the girls invites her brother to live with them, the potential body count spikes as a flock of obnoxious alpha males pile into the house. As soon as the house fills up the "dark power" kicks in, and the quartet of zombie braves rise up, weapons in hand, and make ready to pick off the hapless coeds.

This is what I call a B-movie. Some great gore effects. A handful of despicable characters who are itching to die in creative ways. Some fun monsters. A crazy guy with a whip. These are the ingredients for a tasty dish of '80s trash.

Gore
Writer/director Phil Smoot throws in some fun blood effects. Lots of arrows fly into people and that's not too bad. But the real juice flows when the zombies get creative. Dig the one guy with the fuzzy upper lip getting his face peeled off. Or the poor schmuck who has his hand removed and gnawed upon. And then there's the climactic decapitation. Fun stuff.

Characters
The Dark Power is populated by a fun bunch, most of whom are just asking to be wasted by the zombie witch doctors. Lynn (Cynthia Farbman) is the aforementioned racist; she and her brother are especially detestable, but in an over-the-top can't-wait-until-they're-plugged-with-an-arrow way. While the rest of the cast is largely disposable (save for LaRue), these folks-turned-fodder add to the humorous tone of the flick.

Monsters
The four antagonists in this movie are pretty great. Sure, zombies gnawing on people isn't a terribly original concept, but these guys are damn funny. The make-up job is solid, especially with the lead zombie chieftain. This quartet is certainly not scary -- though there are some nice jump scenes -- but the tongue-in-cheek stuff works.

Lash LaRue!
This guy's one bad mofo! The opening scenes find him sleepwalking through the proceedings, but the second he storms onto the scene, trusty whip in hand, to face down the zombies, LaRue owns it. His "big whip vs. whip" showdown with the lead zombie is great fun. Yes, it's basically alternating scenes of the two snapping their whips with loud sound effects blasting away, but the gold is in LaRue's gruff, deadpan trash talk with an undead Indian sorcerer.

The Dark Power is not grand filmmaking. A quick glance at a capsule plot review would tell you that. The film is a scant 82 minutes long, though the front end meanders too much. Luckily, Phil Smoot gets to the nitty-gritty with plenty of time to spare, leaving a good thirty minutes for his splatter hijinks. This, mixed with some unique characters, a non-pretentious tone, and some sweet face-ripping, makes The Dark Power an amusing '80s horror romp.

VCI has crafted a loving tribute of a disc here. A newly adapted 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer suffers from occasional grain and uneven color, but for the most part it's a noteworthy visual presentation. The mono sound is surprisingly robust (for what it is), though the film's score -- from what I can tell, one guy pounding away on a xylophone -- does little to stretch it.

The extra features are very Lash LaRue heavy. A commentary track from Smoot and editor Sherwood Jones, while technical about the production in some spots, is heavily Lash-anecdotal. This is bolstered by a retrospect of Lash's career, consisting of a photo documentary narrated by Smoot.

Alien Outlaw
Jesse Jamison (Kari Anderson) is a world-class traveling sharpshooter who has fallen on some meager times. Apparently there isn't much clamor for the services of a scantily-clad woman who can shoot pumpkins blindfolded. As it turns out, financial hardship is the least of her problems.

An alien spaceship has recently landed and deployed a trio of raspy breathing, stumbling creatures intent on hunting and killing human beings. (The back of the disc claims this film "could have been the inspiration" for Predator. Whatever...)

No sooner have the slimeballs crawled out of their ship, they've claimed their first victim. They peel away his guns and begin their hunt in force, not knowing that two immovable obstacles stand in their way: Jesse, the gun-toting spitfire and Lash LaRue!

Where The Dark Power was corny, Z-grade goo that was somewhat entertaining, Alien Outlaw is corny, Z-grade goo that is tedious. All the ingredients for a fun B-movie seem to be present: a saucy heroine, gunfire galore, three potentially funny otherworldly nemeses, and the gruff powder-keg that is Lash LaRue.

The film became mired in the muck of a too-long personal story that goes nowhere. Jesse's trial and tribulations in show business, and her aggravating encounters with her manager, lead to no payoff in the movie. She shoots guns well, and that has some bearing in the climax; other than that, her career plotline consumes time, and that's pretty much it.

Lash LaRue was pretty great in The Dark Power, what with his needly voice and kick-ass bullwhip. But here that machismo is eliminated, and he runs around the film -- whip-free, mind you -- sharing corny dialogue with whomever will hear it and offering useless advice during heated, high-pressure moments that have aliens shooting guns a lot.

And about those aliens. Weak. These clowns showed flashes of coolness, but in the end we just have three heavily costumed guys running around a stream. Gore is minimal, with a few burning alien corpses comprising the hardest-hitting of the blood and guts. In fact, 90% of the shootings occur off-screen.

As a DVD presentation, this is a better outing than its brother. Both a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen and full screen transfer are available, though the widescreen is obviously the way to go. In the extras bin, former western star Sunset Carson (who also has a brief role in the film) sits down to interview (separately) Lash LaRue and Kari Anderson. These are short features, with the former basically a nostalgia session with two old-school cowboys, and the latter a fairly awkward Q and A, where it's obvious Carson has no clue what to say to Anderson. A couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes include a quaint news conference about the movie and some home video footage of the creature effects. Finally, Phil Smoot and editor Sherwood Jones lay down a low-key commentary track.

The Verdict

One movie is good, garbagey fun. The other is just garbage. Hung Jury.

Review content copyright © 2011 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Alien Outlaw
Judgment: 68

Perp Profile, Alien Outlaw
Video Formats:
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Alien Outlaw
* Commentary
* Featurettes

Scales of Justice, The Dark Power
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile, The Dark Power
Video Formats:
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Dark Power
* Commentary
* Featurettes

Accomplices
* IMDb: Alien Outlaw
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0190229/combined

* IMDb: The Dark Power
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0228183/combined