First Man on Mars is a love letter to classic sci-fi horror B-movies from writer/director/producer/set designer/cinematographer Mike T. Lyddon. Judging by just how many roles Lyddon takes on here , it was clearly a project he deeply invested himself in, and it pays off with a film that has no doubts about what it is and revels in its schlocky goodness.
The film opens to a scene straight out of Plan 9 from Outer Space, with an introduction from the coroner of Black Bayou, Louisiana. He warns us this film is not a work of fiction, but is based upon factual evidence of what may happen in the future, and is of grave importance to all living creatures. First Man on Mars centers around astronaut Eli Cologne, the first man to be sent to Mars. While the mission is later revealed to have taken place in 2004, the film seamlessly blends its grindhouse-inspired visuals with classic space program b-roll and practical effects that manage to be surprisingly effective while still retaining their no-budget charm. The sound work also feels remarkably authentic with appropriately clumsy balancing and overdubbing, and a soundtrack that blends downright jaunty folk themes with pulsing ambience to drive home the mood of the scene.
Everything is initially going to plan as Eli successfully makes his journey to the red planet, but he begins to grow tired of aimlessly wandering the barren expanses and finding none of the mineral riches he was promised would make him into a trllionaire. It’s at this point he makes a fateful discovery of what appears to be a sizable gold deposit, but alas, proves to be something more sinister, as his flesh is torn open upon touching the shiny, unknown space rock. Fearing he will bring back some sort of terrible space disease, mission control attempts to stop him from returning to Earth, but he overrides their attempts and brings the ship back anyway. The ship crashes in Black Bayou, Louisiana, and is found by two of the locals, one of whom is quickly and violently disemboweled by Eli, who has been transformed into a terrifying creature by the bacteria he was exposed to, complete with some rather gross and gory makeup work.
All roads lead to Black Bayou as the local police make their way to the site to investigate the murder, the team responsible for sending Eli to Mars tracks down his location using his tracking beacon, and a crew from the magazine “Bullets and Bimbos” looks to use the spot as the site of their next photo-shoot. What follows is a diverse set of characters, each with their own motivations and reservations about coming to this place, are picked off one by one by this terrible abomination in wonderfully campy, bloody fashion. While there is some use of CG that can at times be distracting, most of the effects work is practical and possesses the sort of visceral realness you can only get from something that is physically present, even if its obvious when makeup and the use of scale models are being used to create a certain effect.
First Man on Mars isn’t entirely successful, it can occasionally feel aimless as there is little plot or character development, and while it oozes charm there aren’t a lot of moments that I would consider particularly funny, though it seemed this was the tone they were aiming for at times. Still, it’s an incredibly faithful effort to capture the spirit of those vintage sci-fi thrillers that every fan of the genre owes it to themselves to see. The film stars Benjamin J. Wood, Marcelle Shaneyfelt, Sam Cobean, Kelly Murtagh, Kirk Jordan, Gavin Ferrara, and Jeffrey Estiverne. For more information or to purchase the DVD, visit their official site.