Stunting the science fiction: the film's car chase through a
shopping mall, shot on location in Houston last year by ACTION
JACKSON director Craig Baxley
Jay Bilas as Azeck, an extraterrestrial cop who joins the hunt.
Lundgren as Caine, the maverick Houston detective trailing the
alien drug lord known as the DARK ANGEL.
Dispatching Matthias Hues as Talec, the film's alien drug dealer,
impaled on a rusty pipe.
Action Jackson Meets Science
by Rory Harper, Cinefantastique,
vol.21 n°1, July 1990
Muscleman Dolph Lundgren
in stunt action as a cop after a drug dealer from outer space.
DARK ANGEL is an action adventure
with the accent on science fiction, starring Dolph Lundgren as
a cop on the trail of alien drug dealers. 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), and director
Craig Baxley, who also directed ACTION JACKSON, didn't want to
talk at all. Triumph Releasing, a division of Columbia Pictures,
plans to open the Vision International Production nationwide
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.
From a cursory examination of the film's plot outline, however,
it doesn't look like the script by David Koepp and John Kamps
will hold too many surprises for an alert viewer. Stripped of
upbeat assertions by cast and crew, DARK ANGEL has all the earmarks
of a low-budget quickie. Lundgren plays Jack Caine, a maverick
(tough-but-sensitive, of course) narcotics cop who comes across
a puzzling series of murders. Druggies are being killed and mutilated,
but no money is taken from the scene, as it would be if they
were being hijacked. Caine's ladyfriend, County Coroner Dr. Diane
Pallone, played by Betsy Brantley of TOUR OF DUTY, puts him on
the trail when she autopsies the bodies of the victims.
"What attracted me to DARK ANGEL," said Lundgren, "is
that I get to do more than just action. There's some romance,
some comedy, some drama. I actually have some clever dialogue
in this one. I get to act." Lundgren, whose RED SCORPION
opened nationwide to lukewarm reviews during his last week of
shooting in Houston, was obviously tired and seemed restless,
ready to move on. Nevertheless, Lundgren remained professionally
amiable when interviewed, admitting that he's pressing to get
out of the Aryan superman action hero mold that threatens to
put him in a corner. "My next movie is straight," he
said. "No superheroes or aliens. "
Lundgren claimed he was not distancing himself from RED SCORPION,
which caught media flack for filming in South Africa, but said
he wouldn't do public relations for it, "except in Japan,
where I'm trying to get my connections stronger." In DARK
ANGEL and THE PUNISHER, the New World comic book adaptation consigned
to the shelf, Lundgren plays dark-haired Americans, and has lost
25 pounds since his debut as the Russian boxer in ROCKY IV.
"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
accentless, vernacular English with no effort.
As Caine, Lundgren gradually discovers that the perpetrator of
the drug deaths is an alien drug dealer named Talec, played by
Matthias Hues, a 6'5" German body-builder whose first movie
role was as a lion tamer in BIG TOP PEE WEE. Talec has come to
Earth for a drug only humans can supply. When injected with heroin,
humans manufacture endorphins, the narcotic Talec steals from
the bodies of his victims.
Caine is assigned to work with a straight-and-narrow FBI agent
named Laurence Smith, played by Brian Benben, last seen in CLEAN
AND SOBER. True to the film's buddy picture formula, opposites
Caine and Smith gradually come to understand and respect each
other. Galactic cop Azeck, played by Jay Bilas, tracks Talec
to Earth, but gets killed, leaving it up to Caine and Smith to
hunt down Talec. Along the way, Smith acquires an alien weapon
that shoots explosive disks, wreaking havoc on the scenery.
The final confrontation occurs in a deserted cement factory,
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.
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.
Rigging the body, elevating Hues behind a false front.