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Copyright 1994 The Pacific Trust
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 10 May 2003

The Characters:  

  • Cmdr Pickett - The hero. No matter what he has been though, the man's blonde hair is immaculately combed.
  • Catherine - Melanie Shatner! She is an inspector from the mining company's head office.
  • Dr. Lazarus - Roddy McDowall! Convicted of being a mad scientist, he was offered the chance to avoid jail by working for the company. Cooked medium well.
  • Wyatt - The stoned communications officer. Burned.
  • Brill - Cheery android. Lazarus reprograms it to protect the alien, but Wyatt sets it on fire.
  • Hawkes - A nerd, hence the glasses and tendency to freak out under pressure. Parasite fodder.
  • Fife - Spends her spare time working out. At first the others think that her eating binge is carbo loading, not parasite feeding.
  • Louis - The gruff old guy with muscles of iron. He is possessed by an alien, but Pickett shoots the creature to death.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

Roger Corman has been involved in "reworking" any number of films or ideas over the years. Some of these are quite enjoyable to watch, such as Battle Beyond the Stars, while others are not so good. However, there is a third group: blatant and putrid copycat rip-offs, which aptly describes "Unknown Origin." Some of the ideas are from "Alien," but the real plagiarism is of John Carpenter's "The Thing." Bits of dialog, some scenes (including camera angle), and even a few characters are all direct copies from one of my favorite movies of all time. Taking a successful plot and remaking it is standard Hollywood practice. Copying it this closely is plain wrong.

The opening credits roll over scenes of the universe forming. This does not make much sense, because the rest of the movie takes place on the ocean's floor. In the future, mankind has turned to underwater facilities for mining. The characters are assigned to a station that mines uranium. The creatures are from outer space and uranium was formed when the universe came into being. I guess that the opening does make sense.

Obviously, given the setting, the plot is not kick-started by two crazy Norwegians chasing a dog into the American's camp. A nearby Russian mining station sends out a distress call. Pickett, Lazarus, and Brill take the mini sub to investigate. They find dead crew members and a minuscule alien spacecraft that the Russians uncovered in the mine (small rip-off of "Quatermass and the Pit" alert). A frightened man in a lab coat dashes by; he is pursued by an armed Russian who seems insane. Brill is shot and Pickett returns fire, killing the attacker. The rescued fellow promptly collapses of exhaustion, leaving the Americans with one damaged android, a comatose body, and several corpses to lug back to the mini sub.

I wonder how the actor felt about auditioning for a part previously played by a dog?

Back at the base, the unconscious Russian and desiccated corpses are placed in quarantine. Lazarus treats the badly fatigued survivor and performs autopsies. What he discovers is worrisome. The dead bodies seem to have been "used up," while the rescued crewman's metabolic rate is impossibly high. Lazarus suspects that some sort of virus is at work. The diagnosis makes Fife's actions seem idiotic. The Russian goes into cardiac arrest, so she breaks the quarantine seal and unsuccessfully attempts CPR (the demonstrated method is not recommended). The other characters dash in just as Fife is wiping slime off of her lips. You have probably guessed that something left the dead Russian and entered Fife.

After binge eating, Fife collapses and is taken to sick bay. During a seizure, an alien creatures crawls out of her mouth and attacks Louis, who is suffering from uranium poisoning. The others dash in (there are lots of scenes with people arriving right after the action is over) only to find Louis very wigged out and Fife dead. The old miner says that the creature escaped from the room. Right...

The communications are out due to a big storm, so the crew jury-rigs a number of weapons from available equipment. They even create makeshift motion detectors. The gadgets facilitate a stupid scene where the two groups are tracking each other. The search is unsuccessful.

Faced with uncertainty, Dr. Lazarus voices wild assumptions about the parasites' abilities and life cycle. Much as I enjoy Roddy McDowall's acting, any competent scientist would probably laugh at the idea of guessing about the capabilities of an extraterrestrial organism. The good doctor does develop a test to reveal any crew that are hosts for the parasites. Unfortunately, the equipment is found to have been sabotaged and two people had keys. Arrggghhh! Stop it, you bastards! Is there an original thought anywhere in this entire movie?

Oh, just in case you were wondering, it is revealed that Brill's programming will not allow him to harm a human being. God damn this script.

Pickett's field-expedient infection test is near suffocation. Due to their high metabolic rate, people with a parasite will quickly die if deprived of air. The alien would be forced to evacuate the dying host. No parasites surface when Pickett, then Lazarus undergo the procedure, but Hawkes is a different story. The doctor begins resuscitation only to be grabbed by lashing tentacles that erupt from the unconscious man's mouth. Plus, the creature possessing Louis' body reveals itself. All heck breaks loose.

The remaining humans are forced to hunt Lazarus through the base, but the alien is smart. It activates the station's self-destruct mechanism (password: "Nostromo") and prepares to flee in the mini sub. Can the parasites be stopped? Who will survive? Let us just say that the surprise ending is mighty annoying.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Tough miners prefer Mountain Berry Kool-Aid over hard liquor.
  • Dead bodies are not vectors for disease.
  • Never play rock-paper-scissors while stoned.
  • Pounding on someone's breast and yelling, "Breathe!" is not first aid.
  • If someone is going into cardiac arrest, you should give them a glow stick injection.
  • Flamethrowers use standard propane tanks as fuel.
  • Shooting a malfunctioning electronic door will cause it to open.
  • Robots can be programmed for devious mode.
  • Androids can feel the pain of being roasted alive.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 4 mins - What is up with the bubbling column?
  • 29 mins - Look, you are the one who brought it back to the base.
  • 36 mins - Burn it. That is new.
  • 42 mins - Three meters is all of ten feet.
  • 53 mins - Dictating, "Nobody trusts anyone else." You absolute skunk rip-off!
  • 64 mins - Axe being used on communications equipment; how novel.
  • 72 mins - Are they trying to burn or extinguish him?

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note unkorigin1.wav Lazarus: "Brill, are you getting what I am?"
Brill: "Yes, an abnormally high metabolic rate."
Lazarus: "Abnormally high? He's got the metabolic rate of a bloody hummingbird."
Green Music Note unkorigin2.wav Catherine: "Well, how do we kill it? Or can we?"
Lazarus: "We don't know that either."
Wyatt: "Well, this is great. I mean, what if we're up against the Flying Purple People Eater from Hell here? I mean, maybe fire heals it, instead of hurts it. Or what if it eats bullets like we eat after dinner mints?"
Green Music Note unkorigin3.wav Pickett: "You're telling me that the bodies we have here are all carrying babies of this thing?"
Green Music Note unkorigin4.wav Pickett: "Everyone is very tired. Nobody trusts anyone else."

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipunkorigin1.mpg - 2.8m
The parasites will flee a dying host, so the test used a vacuum chamber to almost suffocate the crew member in question. Suddenly, the electronic door stopped functioning. Here is the resulting chaos.

That is not a goldfish, nor an iguana, that Roddy McDowall is swallowing.

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