In 1996, the late, great Wes Craven re-energized the fledgling horror genre with his smart, self-referential classic Scream. Craven found his inspiration two years earlier when, in 1994, he pulled back the curtain on filmmaking with the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel/reboot Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Both of these movies recognized and reflected upon the workings of the horror movie genre as part of their overall makeup. Well, when it comes to self-aware horror movies, the 1991 Troma-distributed, micro-budget horror comedy There’s Nothing Out There beat Craven to the punch by a few years.
There’s Nothing Out There Is about a group of kids who travel out to a secluded rural cabin for spring break. The setup is very much a typical horror movie scenario, and that fact is pointed out to the gang by one of their pals, fright flick fan Mike (Craig Peck from The Erotic Misadventures of the Invisible Man). As the trip goes on, Mike observes more and more things happening around the house that make him think that he and his friends are trapped in a horror-movie type of a situation, and he takes every opportunity to try and warn the others. Unfortunately for the kids, Mike is right; there is a frog-like alien monster on the prowl in the woods who is searching for unwitting victims to kill, possess…or worse. After a few of their friends disappear, Mike is able to convince one of the others, a girl named Stacy (Bonnie Bowers, who ended up having a pretty good music career as a world music bass player), that there is, in fact, something out there, and the two must devise a plan to defeat it before it does any more harm.
There’s Nothing Out There is the first movie from writer/director Rolfe Kanefsky, who would go on to make other horror comedies like Nightmare Man and Corpses, but is way better known for his work on the Emmanuelle series of soft-core porn movies (which may explain the gratuitous T&A in There’s Nothing Out There). The movie itself is an archetypical horror movie, but that’s the point; it’s too archetypical, giving Mike plenty of ammunition to make his references and allowing the movie to be meta, even before being meta was a thing. It’s more comedy than horror, but its heart is definitely in the gooeyest right place.
Essentially, the character of Mike in There’s Nothing Out There is the equivalent of the character of Randy in the Scream movies, with an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and the willingness to show it off (he is, as Stacy puts it, “a walking, talking horror film”). But there are more references to cinematic history than just his blabbering. Some sight gags are in the set decoration; there’s an opening scene that takes place in a video store which lovingly glosses over movie posters and VHS covers from years gone by, showing glimpses of classic artwork from Grizzly to The Mutilator and everything in between. Cinematographer Ed Hershberger (The Prowler) also pays tribute to The Evil Dead with his running-through-the-woods POV camera work. It’s not just horror movies, either, as the special effects department pulls off an homage to the Raiders of the Lost Ark face-melting scene. There’s Nothing Out There is a love letter to geek cinema, and the more movies that the viewer has seen, the more fun it will be for him or her to pick out the references.
As mentioned earlier, There’s Nothing Out There is more of a comedy than a horror film. The humor is not really slapstick, but it is pretty silly. Much of the comedy comes from poking fun at the predictability of horror movies – at one point, when the gang catches another group of vacationers swimming in their pond, the swimmers say “isn’t this the camp by the lake?” to which the kids reply “no, this is the house by the pond!” Then there are the wacky sections, such as when Mike discovers that the best way to combat the monster is to shoot shaving cream in its eyes and mouth (“we don’t know anything about this creature other than it, like everyone else, hates a mouthful of shaving cream!”). There are even laughs that come from breaking the fourth wall of filmmaking, such as when a character uses a mic boom that wanders into the shot to swing to safety (accompanied, of course, by a snippet of the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark). Yeah, the humor is kind of stupid, but in the smartest way possible.
Of course, a creature feature is only as good as its monster, and There’s Nothing Out There has got an awesome one. Actually, he’s exactly what one would expect from a movie of this caliber. There’s no attempt whatsoever to make the beast look lifelike – it’s an obvious rubber puppet that looks like it came from the wrong side of Sesame Street. His methods of conquering the world are fun, too; he shoots lasers from his eyes that allow him to possess and take control of the minds and actions of his victims when the lasers hit their eyes. His plan isn’t fool-proof, as his lasers can be deflected by the target simply putting an arm in front of them, but that just adds to the corniness of the creature; did you expect total dominance from a monster whose big weakness is a face full of shaving cream? Like the rest of the movie, the monster in There’s Nothing Out There is more comical than horrific, but that’s the idea.
The music in There’s Nothing Out There is fun, too. Half of the soundtrack is typical synthesized horror movie score (composed by Christopher Thomas, whose only other IMDB credit is as the voice of the creature in the movie). The other half is made up of rocking songs by bands with names like Fabulous Mascarenes, Appollinaires, and Sizzle that are half background music, half montage-motivating anthems. The full-band stuff is all new wave and hard rock, and very eighties sounding, considering that There’s Nothing Out There is a nineties movie. Basically, the music rocks just as hard as the rest of the movie.
In a way, There’s Nothing Out There was just ahead of its time, as the Scream franchise and, later, The Cabin in the Woods would make meta-horror cool. As it stands, There’s Nothing Out There is just a campy horror comedy…but it’s a great one.