Species: A 90’s Reminder That Alien and Human DNA Don’t Mix

Welcome to another addition of It Came From the 90’s. The year was 1995 – horror game-changer, Scream, was still a year away. On one hand, the year produced a few cult classics-in-the-making including Demon Knight and Tales from the Hood. But 1995 also disappointed with poor follow-ups like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. Add a lukewarm John Carpenter remake, Village of the Damned, and Wes Craven’s Eddie Murphy misfire, Vampire in Brooklyn, and it was a forgettable year. Yet emerging from the mediocrity was a surprising box office successSpecies. An alien-on-the-loose mix of science fiction, action, and horor with a decent cast, Species was a limited success. Certainly, good enough to greenlight a theatrical sequel and two direct-to-video follow-ups. Now 25 years later, how well has Species aged for new horror fans?

Synopsis

After years of transmitting messages into deep space as part of the SETI program, Earth finally receives a message. They receive a transmission that includes alien DNA with instructions of how to splice it with the human genome. Government scientist Xavier Fitch follows the instructions, producing Sil, an alien-human female child. But when Sil exhibits rapid growth and dangerous tendencies, Fitch orders her terminated. However, the order fails and Sil escapes. As her growth accelerates, Sil begins to hunt for a mate to reproduce. Fearing for humanity’s survival, Fitch assembles a team to hunt and kill his creation before she can trigger the birth of a new, superior race.

Species Delivers Quick, Safe Sci-Fi 90’s Horror

After a decade that saw controversy and censorship, horor largely played it safe for most of the 1990’s. Outside of a handful of boundary-pushing movies, much of what surfaced was formulaic popcorn flicks. Not surprisingly then, Species is a fairly standard sci-fi/horror outings that – nudity, aside – follows a familiar blueprint. Government makes contact with alien species. Mad government scientist and unethical experiments result in an alien-human hybrid. Alien escapes putting humanity in danger. In response, the government assembles a motley crew that includes a former soldier, scientists, and … an empath.

Species offers few surprises, though Feldman’s screenplay has some fun dialogue and a bit of a sense of humour.

Screenwriter Denis Feldman doesn’t shake-up what a was a pretty familiar formula by the mid-1990’s. Species offers few surprises, though Feldman’s screenplay has some fun dialogue and a bit of a sense of humour. Somewhere in Species are some potentially interesting ideas about the nature of humanity and male perceptions of women’s sexuality. As far back as the 1950’s, movies like The Day The Earth Stood Still have used alien encounters to examine humanity’s place in the world. At times, Species looks like it want to exame Sil’s crisis – her struggle between the human and alien parts of herself. And Species follows a similar theme found in past horror movies, linking female sexuality with a predatory nature. Both these themes, however, take a backseat to the movie’s formulaic action as the story progresses.

Species Moves Quickly Enough to Entertain Despite Limitations

Where Species benefits is in its quick moving approach to the material. Though it’s entirely predictable, director Roger Donaldson navigates the expected developments with a steady hand. Both the jolts and ‘gore’ definitely fall on the lighter side, but they’re executed competently. Nothing is likely to resonate with audiences but, in a dark movie theatre, Species offered a fun, inoffensive diversion. Moreover, the movie’s better-than-average budget gives it a polish that most 80’s horror movies could have only imagined. All this adds up to a safe horror experience for a wider audience. If Species falters, it’s legendary HR Giger’s creature design that’s the culprit. It’s not hard to see the comparisons between the Sil design and Giger’s superior work on the Alien franchise. This aesthetic overlap and occasionally dated CGI work drag the movie down a bit.

Top-Notch Cast Breezes Affably Through Rote Material

Despite its B-move sci-fi movie roots, Species assembled a pretty impressive cast for the mid-1990’s. In addition to Sir Ben Kinglsey, you’ll find Tarantino regular, Michael Madsen, Forrest Whitaker, Alfred Molina, and a pre-CSI Marg Helgenberger. Kingsley brings some dignity to the proceedings with a straight performance, though he’s really under-utilized. Similarly, Species pegs Helgenberger in the ‘love interest’ role for Madsen’s sensitive ‘tough guy’. As for Madsen himself, he’s on cruise control playing a role he could do in his sleep, but having fun with it.

There’s a nervous energy to everything Whitaker does in the movie, and Species benefits from these breezy performances.

Like Madsen, Molina and Whitaker are having fun, bringing levity to the material. In particularly, Whitaker’s empath, Dan Smithson, is a quirky and instantly endearing character. In what’s a pretty light movie, Whitaker is probably the only actor that makes you worried for his character’s survival. There’s a nervous energy to everything Whitaker does in the movie, and Species benefits from these breezy performances. And Natasha Henstridge, making her big screen debut, does manage to impress. Feldman’s screenplay gives her little with which to work, but Henstridge has a screen presence. Too bad her character suffers the same problem as every other character – underwritten tropes present to just advance things to the next plot point.

Species a Passable Sci-Fi Thriller for Genre Fans

Nearly 25 years have passed since Species invaded theatres and it hasn’t aged particularly well. With merely passable special effects, Giger’s admittedly ‘familiar’ creature design, and fairly tame sci-fi/horror violence, Species is pretty middle-of-the-road stuff. Arguably, this alien invasion movie is best remembered for Natasha Henstridge’s nude scenes. But a likable cast, decent pacing, and occasional sense of humour go a long way. While there’s not much here to recommend to casual fans, die-hard genre fans will likely share a nostalgic appreciation for this 90’s effort.

FINAL VERDICT: RE-VISIT SPECIES

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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