MOVIE REVIEW: Killings at Outpost Zeta (1980)

I’ve watched a lot of low-end sci-fi movies in my time. There’s something fun about either finding a bit of gold in an otherwise forgettable movie, or coming across one so bad that it turns into an unintentional comedy. I get suggestions by reading the many movie review blogs that are out there (most notably The B-Masters Cabal). I cannot recall which of them mentioned the current subject to me, but suffice it to say that whoever it was didn’t have anything really good to say about it. Intrigued by their description, I went looking for it. And I found that someone had posted a crappy (but complete) print of it to YouTube….

Earth needs to put an outpost of some sort on a planet called “Zeta”, since a foothold there will open up an entire new sector of the galaxy for exploration and exploitation. Alas, the team sent there disappeared without a trace after setting up the main building, and the team sent to find out what happened also vanished before they could send back word of what happened. So now it’s up to a handpicked squad of experts in the sciences, exploration, and military tactics to have another go at it, because Earth really, really, needs an outpost there.

A significant portion of the movie is spent on assembling this “Mission: Impossible” team….

Zeta is an unforgiving piece of rock. The atmosphere is barely breathable, so suits and helmets are called for outside the base. A simple red filter on the camera with the careful placement of a few smoke pots make it look like Zeta is nothing but volcanic badlands. Cheap, but quite effective.

Inside the base, our team quickly finds the bodies of the previous teams. An autopsy reveals that they all had a weird stone-like object in them. Removed, the things look like large Scotch eggs. The logbooks of the prior expeditions are found, and along with other evidence, it looks pretty obvious that there is a creature in the area that doesn’t want the humans there….

I would call this a low budget Aliens knockoff, if it didn’t come out six years before that movie. But it is clearly at least “inspired” by Alien – which, as film buffs know, was a combination of Planet of the Vampires (1965) and It!: The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). The low budget is painfully obvious. The “logbooks” from the first expedition are literally spiral bound notebooks of the sort you might get from your local office supply shop’s copy center. I’m guessing that someone asked “We need notebooks for the cast to read through! Where can we get some?” “Well, we’ll let you borrow some from the supply cabinet – but don’t write on them; we want them back when you’re done!” And indeed, if you look closely at the scenes where they appear, there’s nothing written on the cover or on the inside!

I’d posit that the low budget actually helps in one important aspect, if only by accident. There are no clear shots of the monster! There are shots from the monster’s point of view, and a fleeting shadowy glimpse or two. But you never really see the complete creature in full light. It is left to your imagination – which is going to be better than whatever “guy in a suit” they could come up with.

I went in to this movie with low expectations. I found myself being surprised that I didn’t turn it off partway through out of boredom. Nor did I laugh much at any of the weaknesses or plot holes. The cast, while containing no one you’d ever heard of, is made of experienced professionals who kept my interest going. The script managed to avoid the usual cliches one might expect from the genre. I’d call this an acceptable “made for TV” movie – one made by an independent TV station. Despite the low budget, it is made with reasonable competence. There certainly are better movies out there, but if your curiosity is piqued and you’re bored, it might be worth seeking out.

And you can always turn it off and go do something else if you want.

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