In 1996, a horror film came out that represented a paradigm shift in horror films. That film was SCREAM, directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson. Prior to this, horror films were the domain of un-killable maniacs in hockey masks or sporting bladed gloves, and the un-killable maniac well was running dry.
Attempts had been made to revitalize it — Jason Voorhees visited New York City, while Wes Craven played with the metaphysical and meta-fictional nature of Freddy Krueger with NEW NIGHTMARE. However, it was SCREAM that changed the game — with it’s idea of “Rules” of horror films, and it’s quirky post-modern self-referential nature.
A group of teenagers — Skinny Nick and his strong-willed girlfriend Stacy; big dumb jock Jim and his excruciatingly blonde and hysterical girlfriend Doreen; nerdy David and his foreign exchange girlfriend Janet, who comes from a country that doesn’t have bras; and sarcastic, single, horror nerd Mike — head out into the woods, to the four-bedroom secluded house owned by Nick’s parents, right on the shore of a pond that screams “Skinny dip in me!”, to spend Spring Break partying.
Mike is slightly concerned by the location — you see, Mike has seen every horror movie ever released on video. Everything about this place makes the short hairs on the back of his neck stand up. This is the perfect place to be attacked by a masked killer, or a rampaging animal, or an alien invader. Everyone around him — particularly Stacy — is quickly exasperated with Mike’s movie-based paranoia. But when a pan full of chicken is mysteriously emptied and smeared with a strange green slime…will Mike’s vast wealth of trivia save their lives?
THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE is nothing short of ingenious. It’s plain to see that Kanefsky is as affectionate a horror nerd as we are, and I don’t doubt that hundreds of B-horror movies, above and beyond the ones explicitly referenced in NOTHING, went into the film’s genesis. Every element of the film is comfortably familiar, and yet at the same time Kanefsky plays off our expectations. A group of skinny-dipping punks show up in the pond, having been looking for the abandoned summer camp by the lake. Mike is immediately in paroxysms of terror, convinced that “those kids were born to be victims!” And yet…
If you haven’t guessed, Mike (Craig Peck, who according to IMDB has most recently appeared in THE EROTIC MISADVENTURES OF THE INVISIBLE MAN, which Kanefsky also directed) is our hero. And he is truly amazing. He’s my movie-doppleganger — a better-looking version of my sarcastic, trivia-laden self. As soon as he thinks there might be something lurking in the dark, he’s nailing doors shut and covering his delicate, tasty flesh in a thick jacket, hockey pads and goalie mask.
A particular favorite “Mike” moment of mine involves our hero stalking the basement in search of the monster, only to be surprised by a stray cat. As Stacy mocks Mike for thinking the cat was a monster, Mike can only stare upwards in disbelief, asking, “Where did the cat come from? There’s nothing up there but ceiling!” a question, I think, that all us horror nerds have asked a movie at some point or another.
All in all, THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE is one of the best horror-comedies I’ve ever seen, playfully riffing on over a decade of source material without losing the horror aspect. The special effects (particularly a melting face) are beautifully done, and 20 years later, Mike remains the Man. I give THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE five cans of shaving cream out of a possible five.
Rating:Tags: 1991, Alien, Craig Peck, Horror, Kevin Williamson, Rolfe Kanefsky, Scream, self-referential, There's Nothing Out There, Troma, Wes Craven