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Species III (2004)

Following the law of diminishing returns, the straight-to-video Species III is the least effective entry in the trilogy. It features an absurd plot and shabby production values. Perhaps worst of all, Natasha Henstridge, who played the sexy alien in the first two films and is arguably the reason for their popularity, is reduced to a cameo here. Still, the film retains some of the bizarre conceptual designs created for the original by the inimitable Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (Alien). Also, by offering both a sex-starved, gorgeous female alien and plenty of graphic gore, Species III makes transparent the connection between porn and splatter flicks.

The DVD is loaded with extras as good and bad as the film itself. The audio commentary with director Brad Turner, screenwriter Ben Ripley, and actor Robin Dunne is superfluous at best, and often the speakers have nothing to say. More enlightening are the four extras that delve into the cinematography, production design, special effects, and alien designs. Still, it is perplexing that so many extra features are dedicated to this little film, which will be quickly forgotten.

Though the Species series was never a widely popular franchise, the third film presumes the viewer to be familiar with basic plot elements. Sp here they are: in the 1995 original, military scientists use alien DNA to create Sil (Henstridge), an alien-human hybrid. Subject to an uncontrollable need to procreate, Sil escapes the laboratory and goes in search of an adequate mate, killing any who try to stop her. In Species II (1998), astronaut Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard) transforms into a sex-driven monster after being infected with an alien virus on Mars. To fight this menace, the military uses the extraterrestrial DNA to create Eve (also played by Henstridge), with whom Ross tries repeatedly to mate. A common theme emerges: alien sexuality is severely repressed and punished on earth. One could argue that the films serve as AIDS parables, where infection, and therefore monstrosity, is passed exclusively through “aberrant” sexuality.

Species III traffics in similar ideas. The now-dead Eve has been impregnated by Ross and a baby girl is born from her corpse. Dr. Abbot (Robert Knepper), a university professor, kidnaps the child from the military and brings her to his home laboratory. He hopes to modify the alien DNA to make a creature less dangerous to human beings, and so recruits graduate student Dean (Robin Dunne).

Once again, the military is portrayed as incompetent and the scientists are a crew of Dr. Frankensteins. It is even difficult to sympathize with Dean, the nominal hero, as he agrees to steal equipment from the university, dispose of dead bodies, and even deal with a dangerous alien, as long as he is listed as co-author in all the publications resulting from this clandestine research. Such moral weakness drives the viewer to empathize with the aliens. Growing at an accelerated rate, Eve’s daughter Sara (Sunny Mabrey) reaches puberty within a few days. Like her precursors, she needs to procreate. However, this pure alien is unable, or maybe unwilling, to copulate with humans or the hybrids that survived the fiery finale of Species II.

One might think that Sara’s problem is really a kind of racism; only pure breeds are good enough for her. The film, however, presents her as a victim rather than a monster. When Dr. Abbot realizes she poses no particular threat (as she’s uninterested in humans per se), he allows her to leave the laboratory whenever she wants. But if she’s not locked in a glass cage like her mother, Sara can’t find a partner and so always returns “home” to the lab. Repeated shots of her wandering alone in town highlight her loneliness. Poor creature.

But as Sara is rendered harmless, the film’s evil is now borne by the hybrids, literally falling apart due to their genetic imperfections. (In one especially grotesque scene, a hybrid dies, erupting tentacles from his chest.) Though they’re all driven to want to rape Sara, one hybrid, the beautiful Amelia (Amelia Cooke), is the most relentless and vicious, as well as perfectly embodying the usual elements of a cheesy horror film: tentacles, violence, and big boobs.

Accordingly, Amelia quickly becomes the focus of Species III. Much like the creature in Alien, she symbolizes non-normative sexuality and male fears of castration and penetration. On the other hand, the unfortunate Sara, who keeps hiding in the basement lab, becomes assimilated.