A film with hot nurses, pirates and zombies in space should be a guaranteed winner, but Plaguers ends up being less a low budget action spectacular and more a warmed over serving of mediocrity.
The story has a familiar ring to it. (Director Brad Sykes admits to paying homage to any number of previous science fiction horror films.) The Pandora is a freighter wending its way through the vasty nothingness of space, carrying a strange alien power source called Thanatos, which they acquired in sketchy circumstances and plan to smuggle past customs on to earch. They hear a distress call, and pick up a group of attractive young nurses from the Diana, which had been raided by pirates and left to drift. Unfortunately for everyone, the sexy nurses turn out to be the pirates that raided the Diana to begin with, and they quickly seduce and kill their way into control of the Pandora. Also unfortunately, one of their number accidentally damages Thanatos during the takeover, and is sprayed with a green fluid that quickly mutates her into a nearly impossible to kill zombie.
Quite swiftly, the zombified pirate babe infects others, both among the other pirates and in the crew of the Pandora. Tensions flare as the two sides have to band together to have any hope of defeating the zombie menace in their midst. To add to their problems, they are running out of oxygen, and are nearing earth, which may lead to the zombie plague spreading to the entire planet. The Pandora's captain Holloway (Alexis Zibolis), along with the ships synthoid Tarver (Steve Railsback) and the leader of the pirates Kyra (Noelle Perris) do what they can to battle the creatures and ensure the safety of their home planet.
There are a lot of problems with Plaguers, though it does have some merit. The performances are mediocre, sometimes effective (most often in the case of long time B movie workhorse Railsback) but often enough hammy or overwrought. The dialogue ranges from moderate to awful, which surely doesn't help the actors any. The story itself is a bit listless, and elicits a few head scratching questions. Why do several of the people on the ship use old fashioned revolvers as weapons, which presumably even in the future fire small metal projectiles that have a pesky tendency to breach the hull and let in the vacuum of space, thus killing everyone on board? Also, there is a fairly important plot point that involves Tarver crawling through a (conveniently people sized) ventilation duct into the airlock. The viewer is left confused as to why anyone would have an air vent in an airlock, thus defeating the purpose of the airlock, until we realize that when the characters say "airlock" they are really referring to a sort of storage anteroom to the actual airlock.
On the other hand, there are occasional scattered moments of actual tension, and a few effective jump scares. And the makeup effects are for the most part lots of fun, with the pus covered, slime oozing plaguers looking pretty cool. The blood spattering, chest ripping and face eating is all achieved with delightful abandon. This is in sharp contrast to the digital effects, which are universally shoddy and cheap looking. Most of the sets, many of which were existing and which the story was written around, look pretty good as well. However, these moments of quality are not enough to pull Plaguers out of the morass of mediocrity that the plodding story and slight characterizations create. This film is worth a rental for fans of splatter and gore, but not much else.
The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen enhanced, and looks good for the most part. There are occasional moments of graininess or posterization, but these are easily overlooked. The action is clear and visible.
The sound is Dolby digital 5.1 channel, but is not put to very effective use. The sound is clear, and highlights the incidental music well, but is mostly spread out over all of the channels. The dialogue is always clearly audible. Subtitles are available in Spanish and English.
There are a couple of moderately interesting extras included on the disc. They are:
Scares in Space: Creating the World of Plaguers
This featurette clocks in at just under 34 minutes, and features interviews with writer / director Brad Sykes, producer Josephina Sykes (Brad's wife), and various others of the cast and crew. They discuss the challenges of shooting on a low budget, the origin and influences of the story, and working with B movie legend Steve Railsback. This is all fairly interesting.
The trailer, coming in at 1:12, is uninspired and standard.
Commentary with Director Brad Sykes, Producer Josephina Sykes and Actor Steve Railsback
The commentary is the most substantial extra on the disc, and is also moderately compelling. The three commentators discuss the filmmaking process, casting, editing, post production, etc. Director Sykes discusses how he wanted to hearken back to earlier films, such as Planet of the Vampires, Life Force and Battle Beyond the Stars, and for the music to be reminiscent of Italian group Goblin, who scored many of Argento's films. Several humorous stories are related, such as the fact that actor Paige LaPierre couldn't whistle, so a scene in which she is shown whistling had to be overdubbed. Lots of insight in the process of making low budget horror films is included here.
Plaguers has its good points: bombastic makeup effects, a few genuine thrills and the presence of Steve Railsback and some better than average looking space pirates. However, the portions of the good are too meager to overcome the much larger portions of bad. The acting is at best acceptable, and never rises above this level. The story is unoriginal, and has a few rather large plot holes. At a deep level, it isn't very engaging. A rental with low expectations is the best that can be expected here.