Dark Angel/I Come in Peace (1990) Retrospective

SUMMARY
Houston police officer Jack Caine will not let police procedure prevent him from pursuing his mission to wipe out the White Boys, a gang of white collar drug dealers who killed his partner while Caine was stopping a convenience store robbery.

The White Boys disguise their narcotics trafficking behind rows of expensive luxury sports cars, executive level jobs, and flashy designer suits. Led by the vicious but urbane Victor Manning, the White Boys operate above accusation but not suspicion. When the White Boys steal a shipment of heroin from a federal evidence warehouse, they hide evidence of their involvement by blowing up the facility, killing or injuring numerous people. This brings in the FBI, and Caine is partnered with a by-the-book agent Arwood “Larry” Smith. They investigate the drug theft and the later murder of several key White Boys soldiers by a hyper fast spinning disk. At the same time, Caine is made aware – via his girlfriend, coroner Diane Pallone – of a series of drug-related deaths. The corpses are full of heroin, but the cause of death is a puncture wound to the forehead. Unknown to Caine and the police officers, the deaths are caused by an alien who is extracting something from the victims, but is being pursued by Azeck, a similar alien to himself.

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Azeck soon tracks Talec to a supermarket where a battle ensues. After being severely injured in the fight, Azeck is able to sneak into Caine’s car as Caine and Smith investigate the bloody scene left at the super market. After Cane and Smith are ordered off the investigation by their superiors, they discover the mortally wounded Azeck. Azeck explains that he is a police officer from his own home planet, and that Talec shoots his victims full of synthetic heroin and then uses alien technology to extract the resulting endorphins from their brains, synthesizing them into a drug called “Barsi” to be used by addicts on his home planet. He warns Caine and Smith that if Talec is not stopped, thousands of intergalactic drug dealers will start to come to Earth to slaughter its population, as Earth is a cheap source of Barsi which is extremely rare in the rest of the galaxy. Azeck dies and his body cremates itself – but Smith has retained Azeck’s powerful hand-gun and intends to pass it onto his FBI superior to prove that the aliens exist. Cain warns that Switzer should not be trusted and wants to give the gun to his own Chief Malone. The two disagree and separate.

Smith gives the weapon to Inspector Switzer, who reveals that they already know about the aliens and intend on opening dialogue with Talec in order to gain technological and weapon advantages. He then attempts to shoot Smith, but Caine saves him at the last moment. Thanks to information from Azeck, they track Talec down to an industrial complex but are waylaid by the White Boys who believe Caine to be behind the deaths of their soldiers. Talec arrives in the middle of the standoff and kills the remaining White Boys before being forced to retreat after Smith uses Azeck’s weapon against him.

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At the complex, Azeck’s weapon runs out of charge and Talec attempts to kill Caine using his drug harpoon. While fending off the harpoon Caine grabs a vial of the synthesized Barsi drug and the two engage in hand-to-hand combat over the vial, resulting in Talec being impaled on a steel spar. Cain retrieves Talecs gun – a similar weapon to Azeck’s – and shoots nearby drums of fuel, killing Talec in the resulting explosion.

With Talec dead, Caine and Smith realize that they have completed Azeck’s mission: Talec won’t return to his home planet, so no one from his home planet knows about Earth.

BEHIND THE SCENES
“When we wrap here, I’ll go back to New York for a couple of months, where I’m studying acting under Warren Robertson,” said Lundgren. “All I want to do is keep making enough movies so that I get to work with good people … not that I haven’t already.” How much acting talent Lundgren has remains to be seen, but he’s clearly extremely intelligent, and has already beaten the Arnold Schwarzenegger problem-though Swedish, he speaks accent less, vernacular English with no effort.

The final confrontation occurs in a deserted cement fac tory, filmed near Houston’s Ship Channel, with Caine pursuing Talec, who has kidnapped Dr. Pallone. Talec gets impaled on a rusty pipe and goes out with a bang, literally. His species doesn’t just expire. They melt and explode when they die.

Bruno Van Zeebroeck, DARK ANGEL’s special effects chief, was easily the most direct, un-Hollywood-like personality encountered on the set. He gave Lundgren, who was a European and Australian karate champion in the early 80s, high marks for his physical efforts. “He’s not lazy,” said Van Zeebroeck. “He likes to do his own stunts, and that makes the whole thing go easier, especially in special effects. Instead of having to shoot with tricky camera angles and stand-ins, we can go full-tilt.”

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Van Zeebroeck has a rich history in special effects, having worked in various capacities in television and on films including DIE HARD, PREDATOR, DUNE, and RETURN OF THE JEDI. DARK ANGEL is his first feature film as special effects supervisor. Van Zeebroeck said he has been pleased with the effects they have achieved. “We did a lot of spectacular pyrotechnics,” he said. “This is going to be a good special effects movie. In the abandoned cement factory, we set off 14 fireball explosions in sequence. One mistake, and somebody would have fried. But we haven’t had a single injury on this movie. I’m proud of that.”

Another major effect was filmed when the crew blew up Houston’s condemned Franklin Bank Building, doubling for the film’s Federal Building. “My department would be exactly on budget except for that one,” said Van Zeebroeck. Normally, a building scheduled for demolition would be stripped of reusable materials. For movie purposes, however, the building had to stay intact, at least on the outside. “When it came down,” said Van Zeebroeck, “I got charged $47,000 for the glass alone.’

Van Zeebroeck’s crew of eight was enthusiastic about working with him. “He’s a good guy,” one said, while Van Zeebroeck was out of earshot. “He treats you right and he teaches you stuff. You’re not just a flunky to him.”

This was important to the crew, since half were Houston locals, aspiring to the big time while learning their craft in Houston’s gradually growing film industry. ROBOCOP 2 began shooting in Houston two months after DARK ANGEL wrapped. Young said that producing Hemdale’s COHEN AND TATE in Houston is what brought him back for DARK ANGEL. “The city is incredibly cooperative, you can make a movie for much less here, and the technical help is thoroughly professional.” There do seem to be limits, though. About half the crew of 160 were locals, but all the crew supervisors were imported from Los Angeles.

Most of the special FX were of the on-set variety. “There were a lot of second unit effects.” Irwin adds. “that involved this weird tube that extracted endorphins from unsuspecting human heads, but as far as opticals go, there were very few. It was mostly explosions, gunfire, a lot of exciting car chases. I don’t think anyone is disappointed-it’s like Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, another test-tube adventure. Put all the ingredients in, shake it up, and hey, it explodes, makes millions.”

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Craig Baxley, the director of I Come in Peace, was put together with Irwin by Baxley’s father, stunt coordinator Paul Baxley. Irwin had a good time working with “Bax,” whose only previous film was Action Jackson. The director Irwin claims, “has a good visual style toward action, and I have a good visual style toward lighting, and we just clicked on that script.”

Irwin has a realistic view of his craft. “The mechanics of filmmaking have nothing to do with art. You’re given a call sheet, and see the call time is 6:30, first setup is by 7. and the sun goes down by 7:45, and you have to do this many shots because we’re not coming back here, and so on. It’s funny to stand back and say, ‘Well, artistically here. we intended to… It’s impossible. You have to think on your feet and go.

“That was the great thing about Craig. He would go on a technical scout of all the locations, get a floor plan of the location or a constructed set, and would map out all the angles and all the coverage. He gave everyone a shot list and this floor plan, with all the numbered angles. He had it written down two weeks in advance, and it was great.”

Pre-planning is a big help for the cinematographer, because it enables him and his crew of focus pullers, grips and gaffers to get the lights, camera tracks, cables, etc. laid more quickly. There are even directors who are very specific about such things, but those aren’t necessarily the kind Irwin likes. “I prefer,” he explains. “to work with a director who says, ‘Here’s what I want to feel when I’m watching this footage after we’ve shot it,’ instead of the guy who says, 35 mil [lens] right here, [camera] 2 feet off the deck.’ Then I’m just filling in the blanks, and there aren’t that many blanks.”

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But, says Irwin, he can work with directors who are very rigid about their technical demands, because that gives him more time to light the set. David Cronenberg is quite the opposite. “He will not prep anything,” Irwin remarks. “He doesn’t want storyboards, doesn’t want to rehearse in empty rehearsal halls, or anything like that. He wants to be on the set and work it out with the actors, and the blocking comes from there. I’ve gotten used to that.”

How Irwin chooses to set up and light his shots is often dictated by the location-literally. “As soon as I see a location, it tells me, ‘Here’s how I’m waiting to be lit. If there’s a window, that becomes a light source; if I have neon lights, I have to light it like that.” In the case of an opening nightclub scene in I Come in Peace, when the bad alien smashes it up in his search for drugs, “the street outside was kind of seedy and run-down. Inside the nightclub, it was all very slick and colorful in a different way. The counterpoint there was great for me. It took two days to light and shoot it. There were neon lights hidden in walls”-much of it purple-“and valance lights and strip lights everywhere.”

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Okay, but then you got cast in Dark Angel, which is probably your biggest role. How did that role come about? Did you audition, or did Dolph Lundgren recommend you?
Matthias Hues: I auditioned. I got a call saying that the producers were looking for a basketball player, or track and field champion. I was track and field, so I walked into the production office and saw all these massive basketball players and professional athletes. I walked in to meet the director, Craig R. Baxley, and he took one look at me and said, “This is your job, but you’re going to have to do everything I say. You’re going to have to be willing to die for it. You’ll have to do every stunt because I want to see your face. That’s why we need an athlete, because we need someone that can actually do what the character can do.’ I said, ‘No worries! I’ll do anything!’

Did Dolph remember you at all from when you first moved to Los Angeles?
Matthias Hues: He was the first person in Hollywood that I walked up to and asked for a job. At the time, he just made fun of me and put me down, but I was just one of the many people who come up to him every day, so he didn’t take me seriously.

Was there any on-set payback?
Matthias Hues: I didn’t have to say anything, because Dolph came up to the director and said he wanted to take his shirt off in the final fight scene with me. The director said, ‘No Dolph. If anyone’s taking their shirt off, it’s Matthias, not you!’

I had more then one challenge on a daily basis, mainly to stay alive where the explosive team and stunt coordinator argued with the director if it be smart to have me to this or that as it might kill me. All I kept overhearing is the director saying, he just has to be faster or jump higher. No worries he can outrun all explosions. Mind you I was nearly blind in the film, more or less. Wearing the white contacts I only could see shadows, I was let around the set most of the time by an assistant once I had the contacts in so I wouldn’t run into things. Once we ran through the shot, I simply remembered the steps I had to take, like running over the cars. I rehearsed this all morning and when the take came I put on the contacts and did it all by memory while the last thing I overheard is the explosive guy saying that if I miss this or that car or stand still on them while running I will be blown up. But the race wasn’t over there. I needed to clear a jump through the window, on fire and land on a small rig built 70 feet in the air, which was packed with a camera and someone to catch me. I arrived with so much speed it was a miracle I didn’t take us all down. Your adrenaline is so high, but if I would look at it now and have someone explain it to me and say this is now what you are going to do, I would say, do it yourself..!

Azeck and Talec (the good and the bad aliens, respectively; they’re both the ugly, what with white eyes and Twisted Sister hair and weird viscous blood-“cream of snot,” says special effects man Tony Gardner, come to Planet Earth armed to the teeth, and everyone on the production is sure their lethal frisbee will be an audience pleaser. “It’s about the size of a compact disk,” says Van Zeebroeck. “It’s ejected from a gauntlet the alien wears on his hand and goes right for the throat. It can slice through steel beams and everything.

“The idea of doing something different with the weaponry intrigued me,” continues Baxley, “but we were working from the knowledge that everything has been done. All you can do is put a new twist on things. So we looked for a different photographic treatment; what we wound up with was a point-of-view that puts you right on board as it flies.”

Like Phantasm’s flying spheres, the disks were a technical challenge. “There was a scene where it slices through a wall,” explains Van Zeebroeck, “and Craig was looking for an effect like what you get when you take a power saw and draw it across the wall-sparking, fire, chunks of stuff being torn out. We tried about eight different ways of doing it-sparklers, igniters, primer cord; you name it, we tried it-before coming up with the solution.

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We used these teeny, tiny bullet hits called D-80 quarter loads. We stacked them side by side it took 54 hits-cut them into this wall, set up the disk and the result was great.”

Although the basic alien make-ups were straightforward-little more than contact lenses and hair extensions—their death throes kept Gardner busy. “When the aliens die, their whole bodies kind of internally combust like flash paper,” he says. “Azeck dies in the back seat of Caine’s car, and we did some appliances on the actor (Jay Bilas), making his face look as though it was splitting open. We lined the cracks with tiny, rice-sized bulbs, about 15 per crack, so it looked as though light was escaping. We also made a mouth plate with a bunch of larger bulbs emitting red light. As Jay’s lips part, it looks as though something is building up inside.

“He reaches up, as though he wants to tell Caine something or give him something, and we built a false arm rigged on a rheostat so we could control the intensity of light, gradually increasing it. All of this happens within seconds, then you cut to outside the car and see this huge, red fireball engulf it. When we cut back to the interior, all you see are the police officers scrambling to get out of the front seat of the car and some smoldering clothes in the back.” Talec’s demise is even nastier. “He gets blasted repeatedly by a shotgun in an old factory building. The blast knocks him backwards and he’s impaled on a pipe; the director compared the effect he wanted to a spider pinned to a card, writhing and unable to get away. Once he’s impaled he drops his own weapon; Caine picks it up, shoots him, and he explodes.

“The first rig we used was designed so we could show Talec being propelled backwards and up into the air. It was kind of like a teeter-totter on wheels. In effect, we had Matthias Hues on a large, mobile slant board with a false body extending from waist to neck. Inside that false chest there was a ram with a length of pipe about three feet long on it. The whole platform was moved backwards as the shotgun hits went off, and on the last hit the ram released so you get the sense he had been slammed into the pipe with tremendous force. It was also rigged with tubes that oozed alien blood. Once Talec was impaled, Matthias was slung in a harness.

“For the explosion we did a full-body cast; the head and hands were detailed, but the body was cast in non-fire-resistant, rigid foam dyed a kind of pinkish-white. The clothing covered it and it was wrapped in detonation cord. The idea was for the body to explode into a cloud of pinkish whitish dust, but what’s nice is that because it isn’t flame resistant it actually turns into a fireball. When audiences see that, they’ll know Talec is really dead he’s not coming back.”

Van Zeebroeck’s expertise was in nonstop demand. “This was a very heavy pyrotechnics show,” he comments. “We’re doing some of the most complicated stuff I’ve ever seen. Lots of stuntmen, lots of actors, cars exploding and flipping over, fireballs everywhere. In one scene we have Talec running over the hoods of cars while explosions go off in the cars, around the cars, parts of the cars fly off… it’s quite something.

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“We did an explosion at the Franklin Bank, a historical building that’s 80 years old,” he relates. “Craig wanted to see a wall of fire six stories high all across this six-lane boulevard and that’s what I gave him. It was awesome. We built fire hoods around the windows to hold the initial source of the explosion. We used napthaline bombs inside the building and put gasoline borders outside so that the fire would progress from inside to outside. We had mortars behind cars blowing gas on the fire at ground level and the whole thing climbed about ten stories high. There were 29 different explosions, 29 different wires to multiple detonators at the other end, and they had to be fired in sequence. It took eight of us about 12 hours to rig that effect. I like to see things blow up right—it’s a science.”

The film wrapped its principal photography in Houston the last week of April 1989, two weeks over schedule and over budget by an undisclosed amount. Producer Jeff Young was unwilling to reveal the budget figures (the Houston Chronicle pegged it at $8 million).

Several cast and crew members gave Baxley credit for maintaining an amiable work atmosphere despite setbacks and a grueling dusk-to-dawn night shooting schedule. “Usually, by now, everybody would be growling and snapping at each other,” said one crew member. “But he’s not a yeller. He stays calm even when everything is coming apart. That helps a lot.” Perhaps helping former stuntman Baxley stay relaxed was the fact that DARK ANGEL is a high-action, stunt laden film, and the stunt coordinator was his father, Paul Baxley Jr., an experienced director himself.

Dark Angel/I Come in Peace (1990) Soundtrack/Score

CAST/CREW
Directed
Craig R. Baxley

Produced
Jeff Young
Jon Turtle
Rafael Eisenman

Written
Jonathan Tydor
David Koepp

Starring
Dolph Lundgren
Brian Benben
Betsy Brantley
Matthias Hues
Jay Bilas

Music
Jan Hammer

Cinematography
Mark Irwin

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
thewitteringnerd
Cinefantastique v21n01
Fangoria#97
Horrorfan#04

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