A Movie A Day: Quint sees STRANGE INVADERS (1983) Who takes the train? (Five minutes later) They took the train!
Published at: July 14, 2008, 10:39 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
We jump from yesterday’s early ‘70s exploitation Canadian Film Grant movie VENGEANCE IS MINE (aka SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY) to today’s early ‘80s sci-fi thriller STRANGE INVADERS via Ken Brooke, who did make-up effects for both flicks.
An interesting factoid about this piece of early ‘80s cheese is that Academy Award winning writer/director Bill Condon wrote the script for Michael Laughlin to direct. I saw another flick they teamed up, their first film (Strange Invaders being their second) called STRANGE BEHAVIOR aka DEAD KIDS (about an evil scientist turning a small town's youth population into homicidal maniacs).
Those two flicks have a lot in common. Both are bizarre, both are very much trying to do different things and both over-reach, showing the seams… either on the talent (at the time) or the low budget and both have a certain charm to them.
I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment, something you’d say about an ugly girl your friends set you up on a blind date with, but I mean it in a good way. Neither STRANGE movie (Behavior and Invaders) fully works, but they both have an earnestness about them that you can’t help but smile as they attempt to pull of a flick that’s out of their reach.
STRANGE INVADERS opens in the ‘50s as a bunch of ‘50s people do ‘50s things, like get a soda at the diner or make out in a truck or cook dinner. A giant cock-shaped spaceship shows up, deposting some off-camera aliens and people start to disappear.
Cut head 25 years to the big city as we follow a teacher (Paul Le Mat, Melvin from Melvin & Howard and John Milner from AMERICAN GRAFFITI) as his really odd ex-wife drops of their kid before disappearing.
I say odd because this lady, Diana Scarwid, is really a horrible actress in this flick. She was nominated for INSIDE MOVES in 1981, but good God she’s terrible here. I understand what she’s going for… She’s supposed to be a bit off (spoiler! She’s really an alien! Spoiler!), but she just didn’t work for me.
Anyway, after a few days Le Mat gets worried and leaves his daughter with his mom (June Lockhart, in a nod to her sci-fi origins) while he goes to investigate his ex’s disappearance, leading him back to the small mid-western town she grew up in.
The interesting twist of the flick is it’s not an alien invasion film. These guys are essentially researching the planet and have no desire to stay, just to finish their job and leave unnoticed. They’ve even made contact with the government and shared knowledge for the ability to have this small town all to themselves.
Of course that doesn’t stop them from doing some fucked up shit.
The effects work on this film is what makes it fun. The practical work on the aliens (who wear human faces and rip them off V style from time to time) is actually really good.
And when they deem you trouble or a threat they’l just hold their hands up in front of your face and suddenly your body shrivels up and you turn into a floating blue glowing orb.
They do this to a little boy at one point in the movie and it really is a freaky effect, like watching the Wicked Witch’s feet shrivel up when Dorothy’s house lands on her, except if it left her skin instead of stockings.
There’s an impressive supporting cast, with recognizable faces like Wallace Shawn (inconceivable!) as a landlord, Louise Fletcher as a government agent who is trying to keep the peace between the aliens and the citizens who stumble into the town, Michael Lerner (who the cool kids will have seen in a great ‘80s cult flick called ANGUISH, co-starring Zelda Rubinstein), Jack Kehler (The Dude’s landlord in Big Lebowski) and Nancy Allen (Murphy… it’s you!) as an editor of a National Enquirer-type rag.
Of them all, only Wallace Shawn and Michael Lerner give good performances, Lerner especially. He plays a cigar-chomping inmate at an insane asylum who has previously stumbled across the small town and watched his kids shriveled up. He tried and failed to expose the town and is now recruited when Le Mat’s daughter is taken.
There are large plot holes (you’ll be scratching your head as to how Wallace Shawn seemingly comes back to life after being shocked to death in the first half of the movie), some horrendous acting, but those are partially off-set by some great effects work and at least an attempt by Condon and Laughlin to add a different twist to the sci-fi thriller genre.
John Addison’s score is big, but clunky. At least it’s fun, though. Addison has scored at least a half-dozen AMADS (past and future, including TORN CURTAIN) and we’ll be hearing more of his work tomorrow.
Final thoughts: It’s a harmless movie that anybody with a soft spot for ‘80s effects or cinematography (Louis Horvath, who shot some ‘70s cheese like Black Samurai and Blazing Stewardesses, seems to have gotten ahold of the same lense that Wes Craven would later use to film A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET… giving everything a milky-white haze) can get some enjoyment out of. But if this type of movie already isn’t your thing, you’ll probably want to punch the screen.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Tuesday, July 15th: SLEUTH (1972)
Wednesday, July 16th: FRENZY (1972)
Thursday, July 17th: KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2005)
Friday, July 18th: CADILLAC MAN (1990)
Saturday, July 19th: THE SURE THING (1985)
Sunday, July 20th: MOVING VIOLATIONS (1985)
Monday, July 21st: MEATBALLS (1979)
Holy shit! How could I never have seen that?!? How dare I call myself a film critic!
There, I got it over and done with so you don’t have to bother. In my defense, I watched Meatballs II like 400 times as a kid, it was the one that was on constant rotation on cable, not this one. It was one of those titles that I almost forgot I hadn’t seen it until I started pulling movies for this list. But dammit, it will be seen now!
Tomorrow we hit 1972’s SLEUTH starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier (not the remake with Jude Law, although I didn’t see that either… wanting to watch this version first) via composer John Addison! See you folks then!