Welcome to Freaks of Nature, a monthly column devoted to creature features of all shapes and sizes. This includes eco-horrors, kaijū, cryptids, and everything else in between. If a film features a beast who strikes terror in the heart of man, I’ll be there, bestiary in hand and ready to bask in all that monster glory.
Rolfe Kanefsky was only in high school when he conceived one of horror’s most unsung parodies. And after his time as a P.A. at Troma, the then-twenty-one-year-old, budding filmmaker got the chance to turn There’s Nothing Out There into a flesh-and-blood movie in 1989. Unfortunately, the horror boom of the eighties was quickly coming to an end, and there was zero chance of getting Kanefsky’s passion project off the shelf and into theaters after studios endured so many failures in 1990.
Once There’s Nothing Out There finally saw the light of day, though, viewers and critics alike were generally pleased. This little indie was the breath of fresh air the genre needed. It’s true everything in the flick is inspired by something else, but that is exactly what Kanefsky was after — he wanted to pay respect to the kind of movies he enjoyed or enjoyed laughing at.
Like any respectable horror sendup, you have to put “teenagers” in peril. A group of high schoolers — the movie is already off to a satirical start as the cast as a whole is clearly pushing thirty — are en route to a getaway at a secluded house in the woods. Mind you, this is after an unrelated young woman is killed by an unseen assailant; she first dreams of being slaughtered in a video shop before succumbing to fate in reality. The main characters later spy the aftermath of the stranger’s attack on the way to the house, but a little death doesn’t faze them enough to turn around and go home.
Ads are Scary
Nightmare on Film Street is independently owned and operated. We rely on your donations to cover our operating expenses and to compensate our team of 30+ Contributors.
If you enjoy Nightmare on Film Street, consider Buying us a coffee!
The supporting players are all outshone by the resident horror buff played by Craig Peck. His character Mike perks things up with snappy dialogue, energetic physical acting, and a total commitment to the part. Peck, who landed the role only after the original actor bailed because he found the nudity distasteful and tut-tutted the director for making the movie in the first place, is so charming it’s hard to imagine the movie without him.
Despite the obvious fact something sinister is going on, the others rest assure to Mike “there’s nothing out there.” Their blissful ignorance fades as soon as the mysterious spree killer shows up, picks off the less-important characters, and then zeroes in on the women because it’s sex-crazed, of course. The non-human identity of the villain might put off some viewers — the killer is a tadpole-like alien whose eye lasers stun its prey — but the monster is a nod to all the cheesy creature features of yesteryear. The extraterrestrial amphibian comes off crude, and watching the puppeteer paw at characters with spindly, rubber arms will no doubt summon up some big laughs. You just have to go with the flow and forgive the movie as it was saddled with a paltry budget.
There’s Nothing Out There subverts a very few of the more notable horror tropes — the shower scenes cut away rather than expose — but the astute audiences of today will see the movie intentionally incorporates other clichés as a way to honor rather than undo them. You eventually have random female nudity for the male gaze, oversexed teens subjected to fatal intimacy, and the flagrant portent at the beginning that could have saved everyone’s lives had they heeded it. While the little-known 1981 slasher comedy Student Bodies picked up on a couple of the same chestnuts a good ten years earlier, Kanefsky isn’t out to lampoon horror. There is still an ample amount of reverence here, and its timing was crucial given the genre’s uncertainty at this point. So many others had lost faith around then, yet Kanefsky was loyal to a fault.
And without someone like Mike, would we have the likes of Randy Meeks in the Scream franchise? Or any other horror know-it-all who believes pointing out tropes somehow guarantees them immunity. Although the former character’s cognizance is an aid in survival, it doesn’t become his hubris. Mike understands he’s still in the game, and he can die at any time despite knowing the supposed rules. In all fairness, Mike isn’t being pursued by a killer who knows horror equally as well. Characters like Randy have the misfortune of being exceptional to a small degree; there are others who are just as passionate, if not more so. As horror becomes more prolific, reaching, and less impenetrable, it only makes sense we as fans are now more like Randy than Mike. We are no longer alone.
It’s possible a good plenty of fans of Kanefsky’s movie saw it after seeing Wes Craven’s 1996 hit and its sequels. Both films are far and apart in multiple regards, but it’s eerie how on the same page they are under a microscope. Neither is looking to roast the genre; they offer levity to build community and remind audiences why they fell in love with horror in the first place.
If there is one genre that enjoys poking at itself, it’s horror. The inside jokes, the cutting observations, the complete self-awareness — we kid out of love rather than hate. Meta humor is widespread and celebrated today, but in the early nineties, Rolfe Kanefsky struggled to even find a distributor for his first feature film. Studios didn’t quite understand what There’s Nothing Out There was going for, and despite all the positive reviews, they made it even more difficult for the movie to reach a wider audience. Had those bigwigs been more open-minded, they would have realized they had their hands on one of the most ingenious movies of the decade.
Share your thoughts on There’s Nothing Out There! with the Nightmare on Film Street community over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.