by Sean McTiernan
There’s only one reason to write about “There’s Nothing Out There”: Mike. Because Mike, the man who inexplicably escorts three couples he doesn’t get on with to a cabin in the woods, is such a hypnotically bad-ass dude that he renders anything else of note in the movie (of which there isn’t much of anyway) completely irrelevant. Mike knows he’s in a bad horror movie and he’s not happy about it. At all.
The real shame about Mike as an aware horror character is that post-”Scream,” the conversation stopped being about how excellent his character is and instead became almost solely concerned with how he was first. I don’t need to tell you how the “firsties” phenom is killing all that is fun and cool about everything. If you do need help with that, here’s a drummer trying to get over his nerves by swearing a lot and also kind of covering that point. Not only does the “Mike Was First” argument stop people from just plain discussing how great Mike is, it also misses the crucial difference between “Scream” and “There’s Nothing Out There.” Everything that happened in “Scream” was a sly joke on the horror genre, artfully made by one of the architects of what it so effectively satirized. “Scream” is an entire fourth-wall breaking, carefully and cleverly constructed entity. “There’s Nothing Out There” is, apart from Mike, a below-average horror movie. Just a bad movie, actually. Without Mike, this would have been forgotten immediately. In fact the film’s low quality makes the genius of it seem all the more obvious: like Mike has wandered onto a set and started verbally abusing people.
The film begins in the middle of an action sequence with a girl being attacked in a video store. “It’s cool, film nerds will be psyched to see if they can recognise all the horror posters” is what I imagine the director said. Really the effect is to create confusion in the viewer. I should mention the credit sequence that follows the cold-open-dream-car-crash sequence. It’s fucking insane. The names of the cast and crew scroll over a weird tunnel of bad green bad graphics. This tunnel moves in a disorienting manner reminiscent of a poorly designed Rez level. And this whole thing is set to a terrible half-arsed electro song with quotes from “There’s Something Out There” dropped in over it, Batdance style. Even better, they obviously didn’t want to spoil any of Mike’s punchlines so the quotes are things like “look out!” and “don’t worry.” You should mentally prepare yourself for this as it happens early in the movie and if you’re not expecting it you’ll probably be overwhelmed.
In case I haven’t mentioned it, Mike’s the best. He doesn’t even bother making any concession to mocking people the way normal people mock other people, he just talks to the other characters as if they were on the movie screen.
The Nerdy Non-Mike: “Really Mike, it’s logically stupid for you to be worried about this.”
Mike: “Logically stupid? Is that what you said? ‘Logically stupid’? Is this really the person representing brilliance on our trip?”
Mike continues to question all around him and point out danger whenever he can. One of the great things about him is not only is he aware he’s in a horror movie, he’s also all about self-preservation. He only really hectors people when they’re putting him in danger and never seems to feel any great pressure to use his horror wisdom to help others.
Jock Non-Mike: “Oh there’s a noise in the kitchen, I’ll investigate.”
Other dude Non-Mikes: “We’ll go with you.”
Mike: “I’ll just stay here with the girls.”
All female Non-Mikes: “In that case, we’re going too.”
That’s the other thing. The only person really dealing with the monster for most of the early part of the movie is Mike because he’s the only one to realize it exists. So naturally all the Non-Mikes-yes, everyone who is not Mike-treat him as if he were an insane dickhead bent on ruining their holiday. Then he mistakes one of the Non-Mike couples for the monster and attacks them somewhat over-zealously while they are about to bone down. They fail to see the bigger picture and recognise Mike was trying to protect them. Instead they beat him up and lock in the cellar. With the monster. Of course, Mike makes easy work of the monster but not without flooding the basement and breaking the window. Not that this would bother him in the slightest. One gets the impression Mike’s not too worried about gaining the respect and friendship of others.
Mike: “Why don’t you put a sign on your chest that says ‘victim’? Come on, use your brains for a second. David and Janet haven’t made it back yet!”
Non-Mike: “They’ve been gone 10 minutes and they can take care of themselves.”
Mike: “Oh, sure, I’d call a penlight enough protection against anything.”
I don’t think there’s a second of dialogue from Mike in the first part of the movie that isn’t about how something he sees is an obvious sign everyone’s about to be murdered. Even the arrival of a weirdly relaxed group of metalheads (most of whom seem to be dressed like black panthers for some reason?) in the lake outside our heroes’ cabin manages to chill Mike to his very core. While Leaderish Non-Mike makes some “those crazy metallers”-style remark, Mike shakes his head and utters “foreshadowing.” When Leaderish Non-Mike tells Mike to relax, it’s clear Mike’s preoccupation with grisly death isn’t a humorous affectation:
“Oh good, thank you, I’ll remember that when I’m getting my face ripped off. Look, don’t you know what just happened? Those kids were born to be murder victims. Us seeing them was a sign!”
A hallmark of 80s horror is the nudity. Seriously, if you’re looking at any non-Mike, expect their clothes to spring off at a moment’s notice, with no context. In this case, they seem to not get some of the nude fundamentals. For instance, a male non-Mike gets surprised early in the film by his naked girl friend who wants to have some sex. He vehemently refuses and insists, non-euphemistically, that it is dinner time. This is a man who, minutes before, demanded this woman show her “titties” to a car full of people she barely knew. This seems odd to me.
Later we see a Non-Mike couple, both nude in a bedroom. Surely they cannot make a hash of things when they’re in this advanced stage, can they? They most certainly can. They should, of course, have begun engaging in the kind of Skinemax, carefully-arranged nude heavy-petting that 80s schlock movies thrived upon. Instead, before we cut away, the dude jumps in bed beside the girl and they both lie side-by-side, face down. Worse still, his “move” is to put his arm around her, like she is his male grandchild and he is bequeathing her the family hockey rink (though hopefully that scenario would involve more clothes). Nothing is sadder than seeing two non-Mikes attempting to be salacious and instead entering into some sort of bizarre pseudo-illicit Christian Side Hug.
This poor understanding of nudity continues. The aforementioned group of metallers all strip off when before swimming in the pool in front of the cottage. If “Dirt” didn’t lie to me, and by God I doubt it did, 80s metallers only get naked to get their blood replaced or to have unwieldy orgies of presumable questionable hygiene. But these heshers do neither. Instead, they splash each other. Like young, boring, children in a television advertisement. It’s startling.
Even the skinny dipping scene is a disaster, with the non-Mikes attempting to get together in water so cold their skin becomes translucent and they begin shivering with obvious discomfort. I think there’s an episode of “Seinfeld” about why this isn’t a good idea.
Eventually when about half of the Non-Mikes die or go missing, the rest are attacked by the monster frequently enough to realise they’re in mortal danger. Surely that now he’s with a group of people willing to fight for survival, Mike now becomes a fearless leader of an unstoppable crew, right? Nope, sadly the living Non-Mikes are still complete morons and the only real purpose they serve is for him to let off some steam by abusing them.
Harried Female Non-Mike: “This floor feels like mud!”
Mike: “That’s because it is mud. Dirt and water make mud, you learn something new every day, don’t you?”
Oh also the monster in the movie is a bit rubbish and has nonsensical powers. For instance, it shoots mind control rays from its eyes. This puts half of the cast under its control at various points in the movie. Mike? Mike puts on sunglasses and is fine, like a goddamn adult would do.
Sean Mc Tiernan has a blog and a twitter. So does everyone, though. He also has a podcast on which he has a nervous breakdown once an episode, minimum. You should totally email him with your questions / insults/ offers of tax-free monetary gifts.