The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering Species II was Written by Eric Walkuski, Narrated and Edited by Tyler Nichols, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
If you were a movie fan hanging around in 1995 – hell, if you were just a living being – you can’t forget the summer of Species. Unapologetic in its cheesiness and sleaziness, it was a like a big-budget version of the movies Joe Bob Briggs used to show during his late night marathons on The Movie Channel. In other words, it was pure heaven. Gory and sexy in equal measure, it made a splash thanks to its irresistible premise – an alien-human hybrid mega babe screws guys to death while an eccentric group attempts to stop her before she bangs humanity into extinction. Yep, pure heaven. The movie made over $113 million at the worldwide box office; considering its $35 million budget, that meant it was a modest hit – and that’s not counting the home video market, where the film did blockbuster numbers… Easy to see why: that movie probably wore out a lot of pause buttons… Obviously, this success meant a sequel was in order, and while it took three years to get to the big screen, Species II (watch it HERE) came packing even more gore and extraterrestrial madness than the first. When the smoke cleared, the sequel definitely didn’t have quite the same impact as its predecessor, obtaining more disdain than praise from critics and the general audience. While not a box office hit, it has accumulated a sturdy cult following since its release in the spring of ’98, despite the fact that it’s rather icky and, if we’re being honest, pretty rapey. So how did this hybrid come together in the lab? Get your ass back from Mars and let’s find out WTF Happened to Species II.
As mentioned, the first film was a success, but producer Frank Mancuso – of Friday the 13th fame – didn’t wait until the final grosses were in to decide a sequel was needed. In fact, Mancuso and MGM started plotting a sequel only a few weeks after Species was released in July of ’95. Mancuso actually didn’t view this as a sequel; he was looking at it as another entry in a franchise in the vein of Indiana Jones. Yes, seriously… The studio commissioned two different scripts at the same time: one was a straightforward sequel to the first film, while the other was going to be a bit more ambitious in its scope. Screenwriter Chris Brancato, who had written sci-fi horror for television shows like The X-Files and The Outer Limits, was hired to work on the more ambitious vision. Initially, his script involved two female hybrids, one to be played by returning star Natasha Henstridge, the other another gorgeous model-turned-actress in the Cindy Crawford mold. The latter hottie would escape the lab and create havoc in the city while the Henstridge character would have to play hero and track her down. Mancuso didn’t dig the idea, thought it was too similar to the first film, and wanted Brancato to go darker and weirder with the concept. So the writer hatched the idea of a mission to Mars that results in the alien species hitching a ride back to Earth and infecting superstar astronaut Patrick Ross, who then starts knocking up half the female population of D.C. with very ugly results. Henstridge returns as Eve, something of a clone of the first film’s “Sil” without the evil gene. At least, that’s what the scientists hope.
Whether or not Henstridge would return was a pressing question at the start. Mancuso was prepared to make the sequel without the actress if need be, but felt it was wise to approach her and ask if she was interested. Henstridge agreed to return, and the script was shaped to revolve around her as a result. For her part, Henstridge was glad to be asked back into the fold, but worried the script was too gory and sex-crazed… as opposed to the, uhh, subtle classiness of the original.
Another key member from the first film to return was Steve Johnson, the makeup and special effects maestro known for splattering the screen with incredible horrors of all shapes and sizes. Bringing Johnson aboard meant Species II was going to have a bevy of practical effects – in fact, the goal was to use as little CGI as possible. Johnson was so important to the success of the movie that he ended up working on the script with Brancato in order to better serve the effects of the film.
Naturally, a director was needed to oversee all this mayhem. Mancuso claimed a ton of directors approached him about working on the film after getting a look at Brancato’s screenplay, but he went with a very unconventional choice: Peter Medak. The filmmaking vet had been working in the business for 30-plus years, but had never tackled a sci-fi movie such as this one. His best known movie, The Changeling, is a bona fide horror classic, and Mancuso was a big fan of his gritty crime thrillers The Krays and Romeo is Bleeding. Species II was to be Medak’s biggest budget movie ever, though when you listen to his commentary track on the Blu-ray he says doing Species II was something of a vacation from the types of movies he was used to making, plus he was grateful to finally get to work with special effects and CGI on this level. Medak, Mancuso, Brancato and Johnson all toiled on the script together during pre-production in order to get this freakshow firing on all cylinders.
One of the bigger names associated with the first film also returned, albeit in a somewhat diminished role. H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist best known for creating the Alien monster, as well as the extraterrestrial version of “Sil” in Species, was asked to bring new sinister visions to the follow-up, but a little later in the game than he was happy with. At this stage in pre-production, Steve Johnson was already working on bringing his own ideas to life, and would ask Giger to refine his drawings and give them that special something the artist was known for. This was a reverse of how the first film worked, where Giger was the main designer for the alien creature and everyone else followed his lead. Known for being a perfectionist, Giger was game to collaborate on the sequel with Johnson – but ultimately admitted that he wished he had been brought onto the movie earlier in pre-production, as he thought the creatures would have been better served if he’d been allowed to create his own designs first, instead of jumping off Johnson’s ideas. In a 1998 interview, he stated making someone else’s designs look “Giger-esque” – as opposed to coming up with his own stuff – was not what he did best.
Giger also frequently butted heads with producer Frank Mancuso, and when he didn’t get what he wanted, or felt like he wasn’t being respected by the producer, Giger would send multiple grotesque drawings of Sil tearing a man to shreds to the production offices – the man in the drawings clearly meant to represent Mancuso.
That said, with Johnson and Giger coming up with otherworldly horrors together, there was sure to be a lot of work cut out for the FX team. At one point, Johnson had as many as 130 people working for him to bring the extensive practical effects to life, and he stated that the sequel had three times the work as the first one, with less than half the time to accomplish it in. About ten weeks of prep in all, which may sound like plenty of time to you and I, but evidently not quite enough when dealing with as many practical creatures and gore FX as this movie contains. Often it would take up to a dozen operators to work on the movie’s bevy of disgusting scenes, most of which revolve around a hideous creature bursting forth from an unfortunate woman’s stomach.
There is, of course, some CGI in the film, but most of it is used to help correct issues in the practical FX department, such as erasing puppeteers from sequences involving the large alien monsters. Much of the CGI is relegated to the Mars sequence at the beginning, digital tentacles strewn throughout the movie, and a vivid sequence in which the main character blows his head off with a shotgun – only to have it regenerate. The shotgun blast was done practically, and beautifully so, but the regeneration was necessarily done using computers. Completing this rather brief FX sequence apparently took three months at a cost of $120,000.
Filming took place in Baltimore, Maryland, near the film’s Washington D.C. setting. Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger returned from the first film, and acting vets such as George Dzundza, Mykelti Williamson and James Cromwell were enlisted to bring some swagger to the proceedings.
Cast in the crucial role of Patrick Ross, the infected astronaut who goes on a catastrophic sex spree, Medak went with an unknown in the form of Justin Lazard. Apparently seen only a day into the auditioning process, Lazard had the exact face Medak was looking for, being capable of looking like a typical all-American hero one minute and a psychotic monster the nex. Evidently, there were five actors being looked at for the part, but Medak and Mancuso agreed Lazard was the guy to play the doomed astronaut. Intriguingly, it’s Ross who gets naked a lot as a parallel to Sil’s many nude scenes in the first film, but the overt sexualization of the character was cut from the original version. Apparently, the studio didn’t want to turn off the dudes in the audience…
The finale sees Patrick and Eve finally get together, mate, and then go to war with each other, a complicated sequence that took a long time to complete. Henstridge recalled that they’d watch several days go by without shooting anything because the FX crew was busy wrangling with the massive creatures they’d built. There are two versions of the alien Patrick: a more human-looking hybrid in the vein of Sil, and a hulking monstrosity straight of a nightmare. The two Patricks came as a result of a disagreement between H.R. Giger and Steve Johnson; the former always wanted alien-Patrick to look like a male version of Sil, but Johnson saw an opportunity to go for the jugular with a creature not seen on the big screen before. As a compromise, both versions of the transformed Patrick can be seen in the third act.
The monstrous Patrick was a behemoth that stood six feet when on all fours, twelve feet tall when standing straight up, and it was brought to life by having a man on stilts inside the suit combined with a rig on the ceiling that aided in keeping it upright. Apparently, Peter Medak didn’t even see the final creation until about two days before they shot the sequence, and he ultimately considered working with this monstrosity the most difficult part of making Species II.
Not exactly proud is writer Chris Brancato of the movie’s ridiculous final moments. Spoiler alert: Eve dies during her fight with Patrick and is carted off in an ambulance after the chaos is over. While she lays there, a tiny cat inexplicably jumps on top of her before the camera cuts to a small child – one of Patrick’s offspring – sitting off in the corner of the truck. Then Eve’s stomach begins to heave, indicating a newborn alien is about to burst forth. This series of shots is the definition of a Frankenstein’s monster: Brancato had originally conceived of the final shot involving Eve’s stomach bulging, but the new head of MGM was apparently unsatisfied with that – he thought one of the human-alien hybrid children should be in the ambulance. Brancato hated that idea and brought it to Frank Mancuso, who similarly thought it was idiotic. But Mancuso had a novel concept of his own: a cat should jump out of nowhere onto Eve’s corpse in order to startle the audience. Where the cat comes from? No one knows, but because a cat-related jump scare worked so well in one of the Friday the 13th movies, Mancuso seemed enamored with the idea of having a similar jump scare in this film. Logic be damned.
Brancato, Mancuso and the MGM head went back and forth on this issue until it became obvious all parties involved wanted their pet idea shoehorned into the last moments of the movie – which is why we get a weird little kid off to the side of the ambulance, a cat pouncing from in from out of nowhere, and a belly carrying an alien baby about to burst. It’s a far cry from the original ending envisioned, which would have shown Patrick Ross’ military funeral where he’s buried a hero, the world completely unaware he was a horny alien monster for a few days.
Editing this beast was not an easy task. On the commentary track, director Peter Medak says they had about two months of pre-production, three months of shooting, and over seven months of editing on the picture. The result is a movie that never really finds its footing outside of its various scenes of brutal violence, which are undoubtedly effective, if not a little unpleasant. But the goofy fun of the first film is missing, leaving us with a product that often seems half-baked, mean-spirited, and unlikable. Still, there’s no debating the fact that those gruesome scenes leave quite an impression. An ooey, gooey impression.
Audiences and critics certainly weren’t impressed when the film came out on April 10, 1998. It made $7 million out of the gate, on its way to a U.S. total of $19 million, not nearly matching its budget, which was in the $30-35 million range. Critics trashed the film, with Variety calling it “unsavory and unsatisfying,” while the Austin Chronicle labeled it “unimaginative, inane, slapdash.” And those were among the kinder reviews…
But the film does have its defenders, mostly among the hardcore horror hounds who appreciate the film’s modest goals and copious bloodshed. The film received a lavish Blu-ray release from Scream Factory, which includes a bevy of extras no fan of the film can find fault with. This is the kind of movie only a mother could love – if that mother is a slimy, scaly she-beast.
A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/species-ii-wtf/