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Friday, September 13, 2013

The Killings at Outpost Zeta




The Killings at Outpost Zeta
1980
Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler

My initial encounter with The Killings at Outpost Zeta was, in my mind, a picture perfect example of the joys of delving into unknown films. I discovered a dusty VHS copy in a record store’s used video section. The cover was cheap looking, the images on the back even more so. It was only a couple of dollars and I figured it would at best be good for a laugh. Indeed there is plenty to laugh at in the film, and it’s easy to view it on that level. What I did not expect was how much I would honestly enjoy it.

The distant planet of Zeta if due for colonization in a short period of time, but has been running into some troubles. Not one, not two, but three expedition teams have been sent there and none of them of reported back. Lucky team number four is sent out and along the way intercepts a rocket bearing a message that tells them not land on Zeta. Naturally they ignore it and land anyways. The team investigates the seemingly abandoned Outpost Zeta and the barren rocky world it inhabits. While they try and piece together what happened to the three previous crews, something outside starts hunting them.

On the surface (so to speak) The Killings at Outpost Zeta is not much to look at; the costumes and props are woefully cheap looking, and the interior sets look like they were filmed at a local strip mall. The acting ranges from hammy to non-existent. The ship models are competent if unspectacular. The monsters that lurk on the planet are barely glimpsed, and this is almost certainly a good thing. It all feels pretty much in line with what you would expect from a late 70’s/early 80’s zero budget feature.

What The Killings at Outpost Zeta does do right is atmosphere. There is a quiet dread inside the outpost, despite the clean white walls and bright lights, it feels haunted. The surface of the planet is a craggy and ugly nightmare. Everything is shot in close-ups with a fish-eye lens and an orange filter giving scenes a distinctive sweltering and queasy dream-like air. Death comes with a surprising brutality, and the native life, against all odds, feel like a legitimate threat. This is all helped significantly by a brooding and cold synthesizer score that keeps things feeling off kilter from the very start. The whole film feels like a PBS special about space exploration that turns eerie and violent.

Most people's only contact with this film is from a scene used on the cover of Boards of Canada's 'Twoism' EP. I didn't make the connection until the scene actually happened on screen. Boards of Canada's creepy and beautiful electronic sound is a pretty good match for the film. I like to image they discovered it in much the same way that I did.

The Killings at Outpost Zeta has become one of my favorite films because it simultaneously exists as a bit of trashy pulp with some enjoyably bad performances and questionable costume choices, but also as a legitimate piece of low budget science-fiction horror. It is a film that entertains and engages me because I can enjoy both its flaws and its strengths simultaneously.

5 comments:

  1. Hmm, is something going to start hunting people who visit this blog?

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    1. Yes, but only if you put on a red body suit, a silver vest, and top it off with a white motorcycle helmet.

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  2. Have watched it several times now, eversince encountering it for the 1st time on TV in 1981. The Saturday matinee, there it was, the Killings at Outpost Zeta. Somehow the tv movie gripped me and never left my mind. Today I can be watching it at any time, found it on the net one day as well as on You Tube (before the RUS version took over the original Amercan version). tKAOZ, here to stay, for a long, long time, I hope. Thanks for writing the great review above, my compliments!! ;)

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  3. It's seems we have the same thoughts in regards to this movie. Nice review!

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  4. A local TV station aired it on a Saturday afternoon, appropriately on a "Bad Movies" program. Yes, they were showing it KNOWING it was bad; that was the point and the fun. I was a teen, had never seen the superior "Alien" of the year before, and got surprisingly caught-up in the plot. Kinda liked it, especially Jackson Bostwick, who I knew as Captain Marvel on my favorite childhood show "Shazam!" But oh, that low budget, the goofy spacesuits and helmets, and the tubular guns! Found myself bored with it when trying to watch again as an adult.

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