An Ode to Kevin S. Tenney’s Endangered Species (2002)

Matty swings the bat for the Night of the Demons director’s forgotten ‘alien on the rampage’ flick. 

In the pantheon of American horror auteurs, a floor or so beneath the penthouse suites of legends such as Craven, Romero, Carpenter, and Hooper, and a few doors away from Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna et al, live the likes of David Schmoeller, William Malone, and Kevin S. Tenney. Personally, I think of it as a sort of Animal House (1979)-type frat scenario where Schmoeller and co. run riot in a communal, shared living arrangement, each of them responsible for one, maybe two creepy classics hailed by fans but not really known to those outside genre orbit. As for the rest of their CVs — well, that all depends on how deep you’re prepared to dive.

Tenney in particular is a consistently fascinating filmmaker. In addition to Witchboard (1986) and Night of the Demons (1988), his most famous work, Tenney is also responsible for: two charismatic Witchboard sequels, 1993’s The Devil’s Doorway, which he directed, and 1996’s The Possession, which he wrote; taking over the troubled production of The Cellar (1989) eight days into shooting and still turning in a solid, eminently watchable creepshow; and helming the excellent psychological hair-raiser Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996). His non-horror output is equally striking: Tick Tock (2000) is a tasty cut of neo-noir; Demolition U (1997) a sturdy time-killer; and Peacemaker (1990) a thrilling, action-oriented addition to the ‘alien on the rampage’ sci-fi cycle that was instigated by Jack Solder’s The Hidden (1987) and continued with Craig R. Baxley’s I Come in Peace (1990) and John McNaughton’s The Borrower (1991). Fittingly, it’s this mode where we find Tenney’s 2002 offering, ENDANGERED SPECIES.

Released in the UK as ‘Earth Alien’ and a once omnipresent title in DVD bargain bins the country over, Endangered Species is a lovely bit of late-night entertainment that deserves better than the Z-movie oblivion it sadly languishes in. Shot for buttons on digital video in Lithuania (its budget was €1.5million, allegedly), Eric Roberts stars as an affable detective on the tail of an extraterrestrial poacher (Saulias Siparis) who’s collecting human pelts and turning them into designer clobber for his home planet.

Murder and space fashion?! Yes, it sounds daft, admittedly. However, while there are plenty of humorous moments courtesy of Roberts’ interplay with Tenney regular James W. Quinn’s smart-arse pathologist, Endangered Species’ greatest pleasure is that the cast take Tenney’s crackpot premise seriously, exposing the weighty, pro-conservation message at the heart of his story.

Arnold Vosloo’s spooky character is the key. Playing a stoic intergalactic gamekeeper sent to stop Siparis, Vosloo is haunted by his kind’s past transgressions — specifically how he and his fellow aliens hunted the dinosaurs to death. Trading physical and verbal blows with Roberts before forming an uneasy, ‘we got a common enemy’ union, Vosloo’s soliloquy in which he talks of gorillas and food chain supremacy is electric and pays dividends in his quietly teary goodbye.

Sincere performances and environmentalism aside, like Peacemaker, the rest of Endangered Species’ strength lies in Tenney’s punctuative use of set pieces. He adheres to a solid tag in, tag out structure: for every scene of dialogue — a lot of which are good, a few of which are bad — Tenney unloads a fist-pumping burst of excitement straight after, be it a gunfight, a foot or car chase, a small FX gag, or a whopping explosion. And despite being hampered by the technical limitations of his inexperienced Lithuanian crew (at its worst during the corporate video photography of the gym massacre at the start), Tenney’s gung-ho attitude is infectious. He’s putting on a show that knows exactly what’s expected of it, something never more obvious than in his cheeky nods to the other films of Endangered Species’ ilk: first, in a gloriously ghoulish moment where Siparis has to reattach his severed arm, Predator 2 (1990)-style; and then in a sharply constructed police station siege which betrays a distinctive Terminator (1984) influence.

Bankrolled by German-based film financiers MBP NY 121 and made in tandem with Byron W. Thompson’s Warrior Angels (2002), which also featured Vosloo.

Germany/Lithuania ● 2002 ● Sci-Fi, Action ● 86mins

Eric Roberts, Arnold Vosloo, John Rhys-Davies, Tony Lo Bianco Wri./Dir. Kevin S. Tenney

Endangered Species (2002) - Poster

Endangered Species - Earth Alien (2002) - DVD
Top: Endangered Species’ US DVD art. Above: The film’s British sleeve. Released in the UK on 15th May 2006, distributor Third Millennium somehow managed to rip-off both Alien Resurrection (1997) AND Battlefield Earth (2000).

 

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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