The ‘Species’ Sequels Bring DNA and T&A to DTV

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week, we go hunting for horny aliens.)

Science fiction movies are commonplace, and they typically fall into one of two camps – small, smart, and geared towards adults, or big, bone-headed, and aimed at less discerning audiences. Back in 1995, though, a relative rarity appeared in the form of a summer release with a respectable budget, a recognizable cast including two Oscar winners (and one future nominee), some truly impressive special effects, and a story about government agents trying to cock-block an alien intent on copulation.

Species was a hit on the big screen and on home video, and viewers ate up the genre mashup that gave big, messy sci-fi back to adult audiences with sex, nudity, a wonderfully nonsensical script, and a healthy dose of fun. A sequel followed three years later, but it bombed at the box-office and ended the franchise forever. Just kidding – its theatrical outings stopped, but two DTV sequels followed. Are they cheap cash-grabs and lazy excuses to show more alien booty, or is there a chance they’re actually worthy successors?

Let’s find out together.

The Beginning – Species (1995)

Humanity hasn’t always been known for their bright ideas, but SETI scientists nailed it when they decided to send a breakdown of human DNA structure out into space without worrying what other species might do with it. When a response arrives with a few extra lines in the recipe, the US government follows the directions and creates a new half human/half alien life form. One named Sil is raised in isolation only to escape into the world just before she hits puberty and grows into an adult – a process that involves junk food, a pupal sac, and a lot of murder. Some of it is sexy murder, some of it isn’t, but it’s all bad news leading the agency to hire an elite team to track the now adult Sil down and exterminate her.

The lead scientist is joined by an anthropologist, a microbiologist, an assassin, and an empath – because sure, why not?! – and they’re soon on her tail. When they discover she’s gone home with some club stud they call to warn him (“Tell him he’s about to copulate with a creature from outer space!”) but are too late. Realizing she’s being hunted, Sil fakes her own death and dyes her hair… which fools all of these experts long enough for her to be impregnated by the anthropologist (of course) and give birth to a child spawn. Luckily the others arrive in time to clean up the mess, and soon the world is safe once again.

Species II (1998)

The world celebrates as the first manned mission to Mars sees an astronaut land on the planet’s surface, secure some samples, and return home a hero. Unfortunately, those samples are tainted leading an alien ooze to contaminate two of the three crew members. NASA’s big star, Space Shuttle Commander Ross, is now fully hybridized (it’s a word!) and begins spreading his corrupted seed throughout Washington, DC, resulting in women giving near-instant birth via exploding bellies. He buries the bodies on his dad’s farm, dresses the resulting children in potato sacks, and then stores them in a barn. The first film’s assassin is called back to duty only to discover that the microbiologist – a woman he “connected” with during the original hunt – has continued the experiment and actually cloned Sil into a more docile variety.

They haven’t let her see any males so as not to arouse her sex drive (but they dress her in seat belts because they apparently want the opposite for male audience members). It’s not long before they realize their new blond alien, named Eve, has a psychic love connection of her own to Ross, and soon they’re all working together to stop this new threat. (The empath did not return, presumably because he felt this sequel was going to be a mistake.) Ross quickly comes to sense her existence too, and soon the two are bumping alien uglies with the threat of an unhappy ending for humanity before Ross transforms into a large alien puppet thingamajig and fights humans and Eve alike. Luckily the others arrive in time to clean up the mess, and soon the world is safe once again… Eve gives her life in the process, though, and as the film ends she’s being carted away in an ambulance only to have her belly burst as a stowaway alien child watches from the shadows.

The DTV Plot – Species III (2004)

Eve’s still in that ambulance. Abbott the driver has plans for her biological bits, but before he can reach his secret lab she awakes to a bloated bubble bleeding out from her belly with a baby inside. The small child watching from the corner kills her by strangling her with his tongue, and Abbott takes the newborn away. Meanwhile, back in the normal world, college student Dean is struggling to manage his time between classes and work at an experimental and “dangerous” proton collider (what are the odds that place will play a role later…). Abbott is one of his professors, and the alien baby – now a young, saucy blond woman named Sara who he keeps in his basement – is showing signs of sexual interest. Worse, other half-breeds are coming out of the woodwork, and they’re all dying from an unknown illness.

Abbott brings Dean in to help with his little experiment, and the two find themselves in a disagreement almost immediately. While Dean thinks disruptive species should be annihilated, Abbott believes it’s not humanity’s decision to make. Things are complicated further when a competing (?) professor comes snooping around only to find a naked Sara home alone. His attempts to force himself on her result in a fleshy spike through his head, and as if a body to dispose of isn’t trouble enough the arrival of another sickly half-breed – this one’s female, so unlike the male who looked to be on death’s door, she still looks healthy enough to show naked a few times – sees both Abbott and Dean fighting for both Sara’s life and their own. Abbott the idealist is killed, but luckily the others arrive in time to clean up the mess, and soon the world is safe once again… thanks to a fight at the collider (told ya!). Dean, having learned to respect other life forms, diddles with Sara’s DNA to make her sterile, gives her an equally infertile male companion, and sends them on their way.

Species: The Awakening (2007)

Tom is a renowned scientist who conducts important experiments at his desk, but when his hot blonde niece Miranda is found naked and clinging to life in a park he’s forced to confront an unfinished experiment from the past. Turns out Miranda was made in a lab – like Sil twelve years earlier – but after the program imploded Tom took the hybrid child home to raise as his own. Her talents include wearing short skirts, absorbing knowledge simply by touching a book’s cover, and transforming into an alien creature that kills people with angry tendrils. The pair head to Mexico to to find help for her decreasing health, but Tom instead runs afoul of a sexy, fork-tongued nun and an irritable taxi driver. They eventually find the cure for what ails Miranda, but when it turns her into a raging horn dog it opens up a whole new set of problems.

While Tom struggles to keep Miranda from fooling around he’s also forced to deal with repercussions from his former friend’s small business in Mexico – Forbes, another scientist from the old days, now makes clones for paying clients wanting their dead loved one or pet back again. He mixes their DNA with some alien goo, and voila! A clone with only a small percentage of sprouting deadly tendrils. As Miranda goes on the hunt for satisfaction, Forbes’ side piece (also a nimble little minx of a clone) wants Tom dead for bringing this trouble to their door. Blood and other bodily fluids are swapped, and finally Tom just says the hell with it all and burns the whole place to the ground.

Talent Shift

One of the many joys of the original Species is the realization that it’s content being nothing more than a big B-movie. While director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, 1987; White Sands, 1992) brought a little class to the production, the cast is hardly box-office marquee material. Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger, and Ben Kingsley are the leads alongside newcomer Natasha Henstridge as Sil (and Michelle Williams as young Sil!) – you know them all, but no one went to the theater specifically to see them here. Species II kept the tradition going with director Peter Medak (The Changeling, 1980; Romeo Is Bleeding, 1993) and adding James Cromwell and Mykelti Williamson, and while they’re all good at their jobs they certainly make the step down for the DTV sequels a bit smaller than this column’s used to seeing.

Director Brad Turner helmed Species III, and while his TV credits are numerous his only theatrical effort is 1987’s Goofballs (which if I’m being honest I’m not even sure made it into theaters). The Awakening‘s director, Nick Lyon, has been a DTV filmmaker since 2000 and has kept busy despite not making anything else that I’ve seen. Robin Dunne takes the co-lead in the first DTV sequel – this is his niche apparently as he also stars in Cruel Intentions 2 (2000), The Skulls II (2002), and American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002) – alongside TV veteran Robert Knepper. Odds are you know neither by name, but they probably look familiar. Henstridge appears very briefly in the opening scenes, but she doesn’t utter a single word (kudos to her agent), meaning both DTV sequels use new actors as their frequently nude blond aliens. The second DTV sequel only has Ben Cross to its name, but he was in A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Live Wire (1992), so, respect.

How the Sequels Respect the Originals

Both DTV sequels connect back to the first two films, but only Species III is a direct follow-up as it literally picks up minutes after the end of Species II. Writer Ben Ripley (Source Code, 2011) penned both, and it’s clear that he’s working from a pretty straightforward order – the films need to have a naked blond alien woman at their core. The rest was probably left up to him, and while the results are a mixed bag of familiar beats, weird diversions, and genuinely creative choices, that core order is his main marching beat. Species III sees Sara settle in for a routine blood draw by stripping naked, Species: The Awakening gives viewers the ol’ pupal sac sequence despite a naked Miranda not actually changing physically, and both toss in additional alien ladies allergic to clothing. Neither, though, achieves the sexual power of Henstridge’s Sil dreaming about seducing a wife beater-wearing Madsen on the set of an 80s music video.

T&A is easier to accomplish on a DTV budget than effects and action, but both films make an effort on those fronts with differing results. Practical gore effects are a big part of the theatrical efforts, and Species III manages some cool shots of its own involving melting faces and exploding bellies. The Awakening‘s alien nun, meanwhile, enjoys some fun action beats that see her leaping atop buildings and being crushed by a giant cross. The alien creatures themselves have their drawbacks (more on that below), but it’s still fun seeing what amounts to creature features.

One unexpected element that carries into Species III is the support of “no means no.” It’s a complicated presentation as Sara is naked and coming onto a man before changing her mind mid kiss, but as with Sil’s experience in the first film (she French kisses him out the back of his head) the film draws the correct hard line. She says no, the man persists, and she pierces his skull killing him instantly. It happens elsewhere in the film too as another hybrid is almost assaulted by a man. Neither film plays their respective scenes as anything more than exploitation, but it’s a welcome nod to the original all the same.

How the Sequels Shit on the Originals

Look, neither of the first two films are built on sharply intelligent scripts and instead feature plenty of silly fiction – the first film’s least believable beat sees a guy try to leave a naked Sil in his hot tub so he can go answer the phone – but there’s at least an effort made with dialogue to be fun, B-movie material. “Where’s the goddamn cereal?!” growls Madsen’s assassin to a startled supermarket clerk. “Welcome to the maternity ward… from hell!” growls Madsen’s assassin while wandering some caves filled with alien sacs. This is good stuff, and by contrast, I can’t remember a single thing anyone says in the DTV sequels.

And not for nothing, but who in their right mind would try to move the alien’s look away from H.R. Giger’s original designs? Species III‘s executive producer Frank Mancuso Jr., that’s who. It’s bad enough we lose the nightmarish imagery from the first including trains with mouths, but messing around with the aliens themselves is just unwise. Budget plays a part, but the suits here – when not rendered in iffy CG – are lacking in detail meaning they look more like people in suits than alien beings. The contractually obligated nipples are always prominent, but the suits still underwhelm by comparison to the first two films. The Awakening even exaggerates its creatures’ coneheads suggesting cross-breeding with a whole other alien species…

Conclusion

I expected to dislike both of these DTV sequels, but they’re arguably on par with Species II for the most part. Sure, they’re noticeably cheaper, but there’s varying degrees of fun and stupidity to be had with all three sequels. None of them can touch the B-movie joy of the first, obviously, but as a whole the franchise remains an entertaining series of R-rated alien shenanigans through to the very end. Lower your expectations and settle in for some genre fun!

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