DARK ANGEL (1990) Blu-ray
Director: Craig R. Baxley
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Dolph Lundgren battles “drug dealers from outer space” in DARK ANGEL, out on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory as a Scream Factory special edition.

An alien crashes to Earth during the Christmas holidays and is seemingly only capable of uttering the phrase “I come in peace”; but this isn’t a family film: said alien (Matthias Hues, BLACKBELT) is seven-feet-tall and has a hankering for killing and heroin. When his partner is killed in a sting gone bad, Detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren, ARMY OF ONE) wants revenge against drug dealer Victor Manning (Sherman Howard, DAY OF THE DEAD) and his yuppie enforcers The White Boys headed by Warren (Sam Anderson, CRITTERS 2). Caine is also on Manning’s hit list because three of his men were mysteriously killed in the same sting, which leads him to believe the police have declared a drug war. The deaths are being investigated by the FBI since two of his men (ROBOCOP’s Kevin Page and BLIND FURY’s Robert Prentiss) rather excessively blew up the local federal warehouse while recovering heroin the evidence locker for the trade. Although his captain (Jim Haynie, SLEEPWALKERS) wants him as far away from the case as possible, Caine convinces Agent Switzer (David Ackroyd, THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME) to keep him on the case due to his knowledge of Manning. Caine is assigned a new partner in young FBI agent Larry Smith (Brian Benben, MORTAL SINS) whose methodical approach quickly wears thin. Caine begins to suspect that killer is not of this Earth when he finds the weapon that killed the three men: a razor-sharp CD-like projectile that is still very active and deadly. Seemingly related to the killings is a mounting series of heroin overdose deaths in the city (strange because the victims were not addicts and they all have holes in their foreheads). Meanwhile, another alien (Duke University basketball player Jay Bilas) has landed and is in hot pursuit of the first one; which might be a good thing but for the explosive destruction that comes with the chase. When his superiors will not believe him after he has a face-to-face encounter with both aliens, Caine has to rely on his equally skeptical partner whose divided loyalties might prove just as deadly for both of them.

Also known as I COME IN PEACE, DARK ANGEL features just about everything that is cheesy yet enjoyable about eighties action movies: Caine’s got a murdered black partner (Alex Morris, NIGHT GAME) – although thankfully he wasn’t just days away from retirement – as well as a long-suffering girlfriend, a ball-busting captain, and a new by-the-book partner, the human bad guys that are either cackling cokeheads or sociopathic yuppies (easily distracted when their flashy cars are threatened), the aliens look like oversized heavy metal rockers (partly to give Lundgren someone with which to engage in physical combat), and a climax in a moody-looking industrial complex. There’s also a rollicking Jan Hammer (TV’s MIAMI VICE) synthesizer score and a nonsensical-yet-catchy ending credits rock song Shooting Star’s “Touch Me Tonight” that starts over a triumphant freeze-frame shot of the protagonists. The film has a feeling of knowledgeably reveling in these clichés without looking down on them and alienating the audience. The death scenes appear to have lost some frames to the MPAA – the make-up effects were designed by Tony Gardner (ARMY OF DARKNESS) and also featured contributions from Gabe Bartalos (LEPRECHAUN) – but the action scenes are outstanding due to the director Craig Baxley’s (ACTION JACKSON) background as a stuntman and coordinator The film’s stunts team included his father Paul – also a prolific film/TV stunt coordinator – and his cousin Gary (who both worked on the driving stunts for the television show THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, and the special effects were supervised by Bruno Van Zeebroeck whose CV includes DIE HARD, PREDATOR).

Of the 1980s action heroes, Lundgren was always one of the better ones in terms of acting, but it’s Benben who carries the dramatic and comedic elements of the story. Lundgren and Hues are impressive in the fight scenes doing most of their own stunts, but Benben does get to fire the alien’s explosive weapon several times (a working pyrotechnic device that melted the firing pin each time it was fired). As Caine’s pathologist girlfriend, Betsy Brantley (THE FOURTH PROTOCOL) has little to do until the climax – where she does the screaming heroine bit while eluding the alien with Caine and Smith – and the same can be said for the effortlessly slimy Anderson (indeed the White Boys could have used some more screen time for a more satisfying “just desserts” from the alien). Jesse Vint (FORBIDDEN WORLD) has a bit part as a motorist who loses his Mercedes to the alien’s crash landing and Michael J. Pollard (BONNIE AND CLYDE) also appears briefly as reluctant informant “Boner”. Viewers might also recognize stuntman Al Leong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA’s lead hatchet man) in a small role.

Previously released on MGM’s Limited Edition (burn on demand) collection – as well as from MGM on DVD in a couple European territories – with the onscreen title DARK ANGEL, Shout’s “Scream Factory” Blu-ray features a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded widescreen (1.78:1) transfer that is satisfyingly grainy and detailed in the night sequences (the grayish shadows in some scenes appear to be an effect of THE FLY cinematographer Mark Irwin’s lighting attempting to strike a balance between the darkness and the frequent explosions without overexposure, as mentioned by the director in the disc’s featurette). The print source carries the I COME IN PEACE title onscreen (the original DARK ANGEL title card is on view in the featurette) and runs about twenty-odd seconds shorter than the Japanese DVD’s timing (presumably the earlier MGM master had opening and closing logos which are not present on the Blu-ray). Audio is available in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 upmix, but the additional 2.0 rendering of the Ultra Stereo mix was fine to begin with. Optional English subtitles are also included.

Although the back cover and bonus features menu screen list “A Look Back at DARK ANGEL” (24:18) as featuring the participation of Baxley and Lundgren, it also features an equal amount of input from co-star Benben. Baxley reveals that the screenwriter credit for Leonard Maas Jr. was actually a pseudonym for David Koepp (who has since written JURASSIC PARK and STIR OF ECHOES among other mainstream hits), and that he signed onto the project – mounted by actor Mark Damon’s company Vision p.d.g. (WILD ORCHID) – when it had a twenty-two million dollar budget only to then be informed that the budget would be five to seven million. Lundgren and Benben credit Baxley for what he was able to achieve with the low budget while Baxley credits special effects coordinator Van Zeebroeck, cinematographer Irwin, and the stunt team (as well as casting director Karen Rea). All three of the participants utter the over-familiar “this was all before CGI” line in discussing the effects; however, it’s more valid here since it is uttered in the context of how difficult it would have been to insert doubles into shots, the confidence the actors had in Baxley and his stunt coordinator father and stuntman brothers to keep them safe, and the enthusiasm of co-star Hues (an Olympic athlete) to do his own stuntwork (Baxley does reveal which shots were doubled and how one bit was photographed in reverse because he was worried Hues would hurt himself). All three are justifiably proud of the film without overrating it (Lundgren even chuckles over his cheesy final quip to the alien), recalling the unique experience and what they were able to achieve. The clips from the film may have been sourced from SD as they compare poorly to the feature transfer. Besides a poster and still gallery, the only other extra is the film’s theatrical trailer (2:42); however, the reverse cover art does feature the I COME IN PEACE title and poster art if viewers want the cover to match the title on the feature presentation. (Eric Cotenas)