Have you heard the one about the horror fan who, based on the movies he’s seen, constantly predicts the terrible things that are going to happen to his group of friends? No, I’m not referring to the famous 1996 Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson vehicle Scream. I’m talking about the little-known 1992 Rolfe Kanefsky vehicle There’s Nothing Out There. And to torture my sad little metaphor, if Scream were a Mack truck, There’s Nothing Out There is the Volkswagen Beetle that got run over in the collision.
Filmed in 1989 by a 20-year-old Kanefsky, There’s Nothing Out There served as his calling card to the film industry. As a long-time fan of scary movies, Kanefsky concocted a standard horror film, but brightened it with one clever conceit. He put a bunch of teenagers alone in a secluded location with a cheesy rubber monster, but one of the teens is just crazy enough to realize a setup when he sees it and tells his friends that they are in trouble. He then regularly predicts the events based on the horror flicks he loves so much. It’s one of those smart-alecky ideas that writers kick themselves for not inventing first (consider me duly kicked). Of course, I (like most other people) thought I was jealous of Kevin Williamson. Imagine my surprise to learn I was actually jealous of Kanefsky.
Truth be told, that’s pretty much where the resemblance between the two movies ends. There’s Nothing Out There is a creature feature, plain and simple. These teens are trapped at a lake house while an alien diminishes their number over the course of a weekend. It’s very much a movie of its time, filled with scared co-eds and gratuitous nudity. Cast with a troupe of unknowns, the performances are solid enough to be respectable, but none are interesting enough to announce the arrival of a star. While it’s a solid film, I think it’s most interesting when looked at as a first feature.
Kanefsky has given us a standard story, full of the usual tropes, but he tweaks it just enough to make you pay attention. You can tell he’s approaching it as a writer/director. He’s set it up to be filmed quickly and efficiently—a couple of locations, a little action and lots of dialogue. Luckily, his dialogue and set pieces are clever enough to keep the flick moving along nicely. The film is filled with subtle inside jokes and even breaks the fourth wall with a gag involving a boom mike. It’s a bold move for a neophyte filmmaker, but Kanefsky was no beginner. He’d been making movies for years as a kid. By the time he actually got to make his first “real” feature, Kanefsky knew what he was doing. There’s Nothing Out There is filled with several “look what I can do!” camera moves, but they never take you out of the film. It’s a common occurrence in first films and a bit charming to see in hindsight.
There’s Nothing Out There is a fun little flick. With it, Kanefsky announced himself to the filmmaking community and produced a film that got him noticed and allowed him to get more work. That’s essentially what a first film is supposed to do. Obviously, there was something there after all.