Archive for the Outer Space Category

The Reassessment Files Look at EVENT HORIZON (1997)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Compelling Cinema, Ghosts!, Outer Space, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files, Science Fiction, Space with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2013 by knifefighter

A Reassessment File
Review by: Paul McMahon

eh - poster two

There was a stretch of time after I got my own place that I reveled in free weekends. Such weekends didn’t happen often, but when they did I would celebrate by hitting the video store to load up on movies. Usually I crammed six movies between Friday night and Monday morning. I first saw EVENT HORIZON during the last of one of those marathons.

The movie didn’t stand out for me back then. It struck me as excessively weird and illogical in its execution. I’ve always regarded it as a broken film that should’ve been a whole lot better. The production values were impressive, however, and though at the time I wasn’t filtering my cinematic opinions through a ratings system, I imagine that if I had been, I’d have given it half a star. At the time, I walked away and didn’t give it another thought.

Fans of the movie exist, though. I’ve met a few of them. One or two were quite rabid in their defense of it, which made it a prime candidate for a reassessment. I toyed with the idea for a while, and recently stumbled across a copy buried in a $5.00 MOVIES box at the front of my grocery store. I took it as a sign that the time had come.

(Disclaimer: As with other Reassessment Files columns, this movie came out so long ago that I feel no need to avoid spoilers. If you haven’t seen it in the past fifteen years, I recommend you check it out before reading on.)

The movie kicks off with a text backstory detailing the history of the space ship EVENT HORIZON. She was launched in 2040 to “explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy,” but disappeared just beyond Neptune. We’re told it’s 2047.

Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill—star of one of last year’s Reassessment subjects, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, 1994) suffers a nightmare featuring the EVENT HORIZON and awakens surrounded by dozens of photos of the same woman. “I miss you,” he tells one of the pictures, and we know immediately his mental train’s running with at least a few wheels off the track. He boards a rescue ship, the Lewis and Clark, and the movie’s characters begin tucking themselves into stasis for the long trip to Neptune.

To float in stasis grav tanks, perchance to dream.

To float in stasis grav tanks…perchance to dream.

Once “the Clark” reaches its destination and the crew awakens from their grav tanks, Captain Miller (played by Laurence Fishburne, who recently completed a stint as Dr. Langston on CSI, and is cast as Perry White in the upcoming MAN OF STEEL, 2013) calls a meeting so Dr. Weir can fill the crew in on the real story behind the Event Horizon. “… it’s the culmination of a secret government project to create a spacecraft capable of faster-than-light flight.” Making this impossibility possible is Dr. Weir’s “Gravity Drive,” a device he himself designed and built. Problem was, when they activated it back in 2040, the Event Horizon disappeared without a trace. Now, apparently, it’s back and stuck in a decaying orbit around Neptune.

The Clark attaches to the Event Horizon and some of the rescue crew board to search for survivors. There are none. In some areas of the ship there are greenish blobs floating in the zero gravity. “There’s been a coolant leak,” says Justin (Jack Noseworthy, U-571, 2000) as he makes his way toward the engine to restore power. The Gravity Drive, a spinning gyroscope of metal plates, seems to liquefy and then sucks Justin inside. This causes an explosion that rips through the Lewis and Clark’s hull, compromising its atmosphere. The entire crew is ordered to suit up and board the Event Horizon. Meanwhile, Justin reappears from the gravity drive unconscious and unresponsive, though his vital signs remain stable.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you're in hell.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you’re in hell.

Work begins on trying to repair the Clark for the trip home, but when the gravity drive begins draining power from the Event Horizon, Dr. Weir climbs into the bowels of the machine to attempt a repair. As he tries to locate the problem, he hears a woman’s voice calling his name, and then the lights go out. “Captain Miller? I’ve got some problems here!” he yells. The lights blink back on and the woman from all the pictures at the beginning of the film is only inches away from Dr. Weir. “Be with me, Billy,” she says. “Forever!”

The cast is impressive. Laurence Fishburne is a former Oscar nominee for his portrayal of Ike Turner in 1993’s WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT. He gives a stellar performance here, as you would expect. Kathleen Quinlan (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, 2006) plays Med Tech Peters. She is also a former Oscar nominee for her work in 1995’s APOLLO 13. The rest of the cast includes Joely Richardson (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, 2011, as well as the TV show NIP/TUCK), Richard Jones (COLLATERAL, 2004 and SUPER 8, 2011), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER series), and Sean Pertwee (DOG SOLDIERS, 2002). All of them give great performances.

The movie is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson of RESIDENT EVIL and ALIEN VS PREDATOR fame. Apparently, Mr. Anderson turned down the opportunity to direct 2000’s X-MEN, opting instead for this “The Shining In Space” tale and the chance to deliver an R-rated horror movie. He handles the material very well, building suspense throughout while delivering subtle homages to popular haunted house movies, including THE HAUNTING (1963), Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980), and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979).

For my part, I accepted that re-watching the film with an eye toward glimpsing what people like about it would create the possibility that I would change my mind. I did not expect that my opinion would change as much as it did. I have completely re-written this column five times now. Every time I think it through, I find that I like the movie even more. I’ve watched it three times in the past week, letting other chores and expectations fall by the wayside.

I do recognize where EVENT HORIZON fell apart for me fifteen years ago. By the time Weir enters the workings of the Gravity Drive, other members of the crew have been reporting strange occurrences. Weir has scoffed at all of them, insisting that their experiences are imaginary. The moment fear enters his voice inside the Gravity Drive, we get that “Told You So” tingle because the skeptical fool is being confronted with the same phenomena he’s been discounting all along. In the very next scene, though, he’s back to insisting that nothing unusual is happening. Such an unexplained and illogical character turn leads to questions, such as: Has Weir been taken over by the ship? Has he been driven completely mad? Has he suffered such a traumatic shock that he’s blocked out the experience altogether? Or, remembering the nightmare that woke him in the opening shot, does he have some kind of psychic link with the ship? I think this psychic link is what the writer and the director were going for.

Also, with today’s technology it doesn’t take much to pause the film during the “glimpses of hell” montage so you can gape and squirm at the brilliant and intense practical make up effects that zip past the screen. Much of it betters horror images being released today.

This film surprised me completely. I remembered it as something very different, and I find myself wondering how I missed so much goodness back in the day. Maybe cramming so many films into a single weekend wasn’t the best choice after all. Be that as it may, I’m changing my rating of the film to an embarrassing degree.

Original assessment: half a star.
Reassessment: 3 and a half stars.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m going to watch this at least once more before I move on to the next film.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

eh - poster one


Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with JOSEPH BISHARA

Posted in 2013, 70s Horror, Aliens, Barry Dejasu Columns, Compelling Cinema, Demons, Evil Spirits, Indie Horror, Music for Film, Occult, Outer Space, Paranormal, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
By Barry Lee Dejasu

There’s a sound for everything, including fear.  Not everyone can hear those sounds, but for musical composers such as Joseph Bishara, it’s the very realm of inspiration.

Joseph Bishara

Joseph Bishara

A veteran of genre films since the late 1990s, Mr. Bishara’s work includes the scores to The Gravedancers (2006), the Night of the Demons remake (2009), and Darren Lynn Bousman’s 11-11-11 (2011).  He also served as producer on the soundtrack to REPO! The Genetic Opera (2008).

Mr. Bishara also made a bit of a splash in the horror scene with 2010’s Insidious, a tale of creeping menace from director James Wan (Saw, 2004 and Dead Silence, 2007).  With appropriately eerie musical touches, Mr. Bishara’s presence was heard—but he also took on another responsibility, namely acting, on-screen, as a scarlet-faced demon lurking in the shadows.


Something unique for you amongst other composers is that you’ve appeared on-screen in the very movie you were scoring.  How did that come about?

Basically, James just asked me to do it one day, hanging out on a friend’s film set.  For some reason, he seemed to think it’d be a good thing.  It was a good experience.  It definitely was a fun thing to do.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Will you be involved in the recently-announced sequel to Insidous?

Yes, I’ll be involved.

What do you think was the most influential film upon your work?

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was an early influence on me; I first saw it on Super 8 film; I was probably eight years old.  That really stuck in my head, that imagery always really got to me.  The visual and sonic and whatever (other) creative stuff bleeds together into something that can affect things musically.

What was your first instance of noticing sound and music in movies?

Hmm.  I don’t know if I can recall the first, but I can definitely think of some early instances where my mind was pretty blown.  Some of the first sounds that really compelled me were the early synth sounds; Tangerine Dream, that kind of stuff.  I remember seeing Liquid Sky (1982), and thinking that one really stood out as like, “Holy shit, this is different, this is…wow.”  (laughs)  It’s this kind of off-beat little… New-York-alien-drugs-synth-heroin movie.  It’s worth a look (if you haven’t seen it).  Some really interesting synth work in that.  It’s a really unique electronic sound.

LiquidSkyPosterWould you say there’s a sort of “signature” to your sound?

It’s probably more audible to others than myself; I don’t really think about it too much.  It’s more of a feeling-response for these kinds of things.  It’s not really a… I’m sure something comes up that someone else might be able to point to; you could probably tell that better than I could.

What are some older/classic movie scores you’re into, or were influenced by?

I love the Howard Shore score to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983); I think it’s fantastic, I love that, and Scanners (1981).  I loved that whole wave of Cronenberg films.  It’s just such a rich collaboration.

When you’re watching a movie that you’re working on, how does the score come to you?

I think I’m fortunate enough to get started on projects pretty early.  I’m usually thinking about projects from just talking about it or at script stage; it’s been pretty cool to work that way.  It can start anywhere.  Instrumentation is what seems to come to me first.  It can come off of anything in there; even a frequency range or a pitch; maybe it’s a way of the light that everything’ll grow out of.  The first exposure to the material you’ll get these splinters that stick (and) they grow into tumors, I guess, or something (laughs).

In a film like Insidious, so much silence is used to help set the mood or create tension.  How much input do you have about using silence?

That does come up, and I voice my opinion there with James; but we’re on the same page when it comes to being okay with a lot of quiet.  I like extreme dynamics; it sounds right to me.  I kind of like hearing things that are barely there.  It’s the kind of thing that the tendency is when something is quiet, (someone will want) to turn it up—but it’s like, “No-no-no, it’s quiet like that for a reason.”  It’s the finding attention to these little things that— It’s part of the palette, I guess, having the full range from barely-there to extremely loud.

This year also sees the release of Dark Skies, from director Scott Stewart (Priest, 2011 & Legion, 2009).  When you were watching the early cuts of Dark Skies, which musical/thematic approach did you have in mind, and what did you wind up creating? 

From the script, one overall idea that stood out was that of a stripping away of familiar context.  It became a fast process of getting into the energies and finding it, taking in the concepts and talking with Scott.  He was looking for a motivic, rather than thematic, approach, and that informed the composition process.

Unrecognizable sets of sounds comprise the palette, along with crystal bowls and an ensemble of viola, cello, and bassoon.

DarkSkiesPosterAnd how about with The Conjuring?

For whatever reason, I was hearing a brass clustering pretty early in response to the stuff.  Somehow, I just really wanted to hear this really quiet shimmering flutter-tongue brass effect.  For some reason, that’s what I was hearing; it started with that, and kind of grew from that.  It won’t be until (this) summer, but it’ll be out there soon.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

What are some other projects in the works for you?

(I’ll be) starting up Chapter 2 of The Devil’s Carnival (2012).  I’m not scoring, but I produce the music.  I did REPO! The Genetic Opera, and The Devil’s Carnival, so now there’s the second part of that.  I’m starting that very shortly here, so that’s going to probably (take up) the next little while.

What are some movies you’ve enjoyed recently?
Off the top of my head… There’s the Maniac remake (2012), A Serbian Film (2010), and Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012).

With any number of movies in various stages of production, if you had dibs on them all, which ones would you “jump at” the most?  For instance, there’s the new Star Wars movie…

I probably wouldn’t be a very good choice for that.  (laughs) I would make time for anything Lars von Trier was involved with, same for Gaspar Noé.  The Funhouse (1981) is a film I’ve always enjoyed, (and so) if a remake happens, I would be interested to see where it goes.

Would you use any unusual instruments or other approaches, if you had free range to do whatever you wanted, musically?

Probably.   I don’t think about it (in terms of) unusual instruments; there’s nothing really unusual in there to me, it’s just kind of whatever it is.  That said, I do enjoy experimenting with things, in finding the sounds that things make, whether (it’s their) intended purpose or not, or even with some more experimental art instruments.  There are some pretty radical electronics engineers out there with pretty neat art instruments that generate some pretty neat sounds.

If you had full freedom to do so, what are some already-existing movies you would want to newly score?
Wow, um…  Hmm.  That’s such an exercise to even think about.  As far as what I would bring to something, it would more be purely for enjoyment, I would think. It would be (less of) a creative thing, it would be more for fun.

I’ve been drawn to making a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari score; that wouldn’t really be replacing a score, since it was silent.  That was something I always wanted to do one day.

Nosferatu (1922), that would be cool. Any of the striking-visual stuff, just because that’s fun stuff. Santa Sangre (1989) definitely. How could you look at something like that and not have something to throw out (musically)? Häxan (1922) I could get into. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) definitely.

What music is out there now, be it popular or underground, that you enjoy (and may or may not influence your work)?

I like constantly listening to new stuff.  It really kind of comes and goes in waves.  It can be an electronic wave, which’ll go into a black metal wave, which’ll go into…some other weird genre metal stuff wave, and then back into ambient, and there’ll be a lot of variety.  These days, there’s a band called Crossover, they do some pretty cool stuff.  This guy Daniel Knox, a singer-songwriter, amazing.  I did just pick up this thing recently called Botanist; it’s basically black metal with a hammered dulcimer; pretty interesting sound.

What is it about horror, and genre films in general, that you’re so drawn to?

I don’t know if I can really answer that.  It’s just kind of…  It’s where I’m drawn, it’s what feels right.  It holds my interest.  I’m generally drawn to darker material.  It’s what I like.  I’ve always enjoyed horror and more extreme cinemas; that’s just what I like to watch.  That’s kind of the world I like to live in.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Dark Skies opens February 22nd.

The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter Two open this summer.

And to learn more about Joseph Bishara, go to his site.

Interview © Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: HEAVY METAL (1981)

Posted in 2012, 80s Movies, Aliens, Animated Films, Anthology Films, Based on Comic Book, Cartoons for Adults, Gore!, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Outer Space, Soft-core, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Sword & Sorcery with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 57:
A Universe of Aliens, Dragons, and Boobs…
By Nick Cato

While most young men got their kicks by swiping a copy of Playboy from their dad’s secret stash in the closet, nothing brought me more joy than an issue of HEAVY METAL, the illustrated fantasy magazine that has been going strong since its first issue in 1977. And in 1977 or ‘78 (when I was in the fifth grade) I managed to obtain an issue and was instantly hooked. But it wasn’t just the sex and violence that grabbed my attention; many of the stories were just so much better than what you found in “regular” comic books, and I was familiar with some of the artists and writers whose work appeared within its pages, even at my young age.

Needless to say, I was beyond psyched when I learned HEAVY METAL was going to be adapting several of its more popular stories into an animated film. After what seemed like an eternity, August of 1981 arrived, and a Saturday afternoon trip to the (now defunct) Hylan Twin Cinema left my buddies and me a bit nervous: sure, this was an animated film, but it was rated R and we weren’t sure if the Hylan would let us in (this was one month before I started the 7th grade!). But the space gods shined their light upon us and we walked right in…apparently they were too busy turning people away from their other feature, Blake Edwards’ S.O.B.  Go figure.

The film opens with an astronaut returning to earth via intergalactic sports car in a segment titled ‘Soft Landing.’ The blaring soundtrack (that’s not all heavy metal bands) kicks into high gear with the song ‘Radar Rider’ by some band called Riggs, who to this day I’m still in the dark on who they are. The whole look and feel of the animation brought several stories from the magazine to life, and my blood was pumping like crazy. The man then walks into his house, and the film’s inter-locking story, ‘Grimaldi,’ begins. Grimaldi has brought his daughter home a green sphere, which then proceeds to melt him to the bone before introducing itself to the terrified girl as “The Sum of all Evils.” The sphere then goes on to show the girl several stories of good vs. evil throughout the universe, with itself involved in each one.

The first tale, ‘Harry Canyon,’ is a neo-noir tale set in a distant Manhattan about a cabbie-anti-hero who gets involved with protecting a famous scientist’s daughter from criminals. I think this is the first time I saw animated sex on the big screen, and at the time it was a real hoot! Kudos for the gore level here, too. (NOTE: to this day I am convinced the screenwriters of THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) robbed this hook, line, and sinker). A great opening story and one of the best in the film.

A scene from the “Harry Canyon” sequence in HEAVY METAL.

Next up is ‘Den,’ based on Richard Corben’s famous character, who is a nerdy teenager, transported to another world where he becomes a bald-headed, muscle-bound hero. The film does a great job bringing Den to life, and John Candy’s voice works well as both versions of the quirky character. As soon as Den lands on this strange new world, he witness a sacrifice to a Cthulhu-like creature, and before long he’s battling crazed religious zealots and having sex with big-breasted women. Yeah…they pretty much nailed the magazine with this one!

I was all too happy to see one of my favorite Bernie Wrightson stories from the magazine make the film: ‘Captain Stern’ is a short but sweet tale of a corrupt starship captain in a courtroom full of weird aliens as all kinds of charges are brought to him. The green sphere happens to be in the hands of the court ship’s janitor, turning him into a Hulk-like maniac who then goes after Stern (and kills most of the ship’s occupants). Crazy little segment, highlighted by Cheap Trick’s great, seldom-heard song ‘Reach Out.’ The crowd loved this one, too.

Next up is a genuinely creepy EC-comics type of tale titled  ‘B-17.’ A B-17 bomber is taking heavy damage from enemies (in space!) but the crew manages to get through. When the co-pilot goes to check his men, he finds them all dead and notices the green sphere following the plane. The sphere turns the dead crew members into zombies, and only the main pilot escapes onto a plane-graveyard island. But what awaits him is anything but safety. It was nice to see one horror-oriented story here, even if it didn’t have the best plot.

So Beautiful and so Dangerous’ is the weirdest piece here, about a scientist trying to talk to the Pentagon about a series of strange mutations that have been showing up across the United States. He goes crazy when he notices the green sphere attached to the cute stenographer’s necklace. But just as he attempts to rape her in front of the entire Pentagon personnel, a huge space ship lowers a tube into the room and sucks the two of them upward. The scientist’s body explodes while the stenographer, Gloria, loses her clothes and soon has sex with the ship’s mini-robot. Meanwhile, two Cheech and Chong-like alien pilots are sniffing more cocaine than you’ve even seen before and partying like maniacs as they attempt to land aboard a humongous space station. I still don’t know what the point of this one was, but it’s hysterical and ridiculously entertaining.

Sexy Pentagon stenographer Gloria meets two Cheech and Chong-like aliens in one of HEAVY METAL’s stranger segments.

The film ends with a serious (and its longest) segment titled, ‘Taarna.’ The green sphere has now become gigantic and crashes into a volcano, where it mutates a bunch of outcast workers into a vengeful gang, bent on taking over a nearby peaceful city. They kill everyone inside…but the elders manage to summon the last of a warrior race (the Taarakians) to come help them. Taarna (a beautiful but tough-as-nails swordswoman who doesn’t waste time talking) arrives too late to save the city, but goes on a bloody course of Conan-style revenge with her pet dragon. (The sequel, HEAVY METAL 2000, was basically a 90-minute remake of ‘Taarna’ with heavier music). The scene of the workers being swallowed by green lava while Black Sabbath’s ‘E5150/Mob Rules’ plays in the background is a real site to see/hear. Taarna is standard sword and sorcery fare, but well done, and with great animation.

‘Taarna’ and her flying dragon from HEAVY METAL.

In the brief epilogue, the young girl from earlier in the film witnesses the green sphere (or “Loc Nar”) explode and destroy her home. She then goes outside and finds a dragon similar to Taarna’s, and takes off into the moonlight.

HEAVY METAL still holds up well all these years later, and while I’ve enjoyed it on cable and VHS (and DVD), this is one film that truly needs to be seen on the big screen to enjoy all its nuances, and with the proper sound system to appreciate it’s killer soundtrack (the soundtrack album still sells well today). The packed theater I witnessed this with featured countless cheering teenagers, moms dumb enough to take their young kids (uncomfortable giggling was heard at each and every sex scene), and fans of the magazine like myself who went back the next day for a second viewing. Too bad the long-awaited sequel was so sub-par; I wish they would’ve done another anthology film like this, with other tales that had appeared in the magazine.

As far as animated cult films go, I’ll take HEAVY METAL over FRITZ THE CAT (1972) any day.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Transmissions to Earth: ZONTAR: THE THING FROM VENUS (1966)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 60s Movies, Aliens, Based on a True Story, Campy Movies, Cult Movies, Larry Buchanan Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Outer Space, Science Fiction, Trasmissions to Earth, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Welcome to the world of low-budget schlockmeister Larry Buchanan. Nick Cato recently reviewed one of his theatrical films, THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981), for his “Suburban Grindhouse Memories” column, but that was just a warm-up for ZONTAR: THE THING FROM VENUS (1966), one of several TV-movies that Buchanan made in the 60s, ZONTAR has gone on to become a notorious cult movie.

In fact, it was inevitable that I would review this movie here, since the name of this column, “Transmissions to Earth,” was originally inspired by ZONTAR (you’ll see why in a minute).

A remake of Roger Corman’s IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), with several scenes that are almost duplicates (but with different actors, of course), ZONTAR has no mention of the previous movie in its credits, in fact crediting the script to Buchanan and Hillman Taylor. So I’ll mention here that IT CONQUERED THE WORLD was written by Lou Rusoff and Charles B. Griffith.

ZONTAR begins in a NASA installation that looks like it’s made of cardboard, with doors that don’t shut properly, and oversized 50s computers that flash a lot of lights and beep a lot. Is this an Ed Wood production? Nope, but Buchanan is certainly in the same class as Mr. Wood. The men (and one woman) in the installation are overseeing the launching of a rocket bearing a “laser-satellite,” one of the first to be shot into space. Dr. Curt Taylor (John Agar) is in charge of the operation, and as they begin the countdown, his close friend and fellow scientist Keith Ritchie (Anthony Huston) arrives to beg him to stop the launch. Keith is certain that aliens are watching Earth and are concerned about mankind reaching for the stars. It seems that they don’t think we’re ready yet to leave our planet, and there might be dire circumstances if we put that satellite into Earth’s orbit. How he knows all this is anyone’s guess. Curt, despite being Keith’s friend, thinks that his friend is delusional (“How do we even know there’s any other life on other planets?”) and refuses to stop anything. Not only because he knows the powers that be would be furious if anything went wrong with the launch, but also because Dr. Taylor himself doesn’t believe anything that Keith is saying.

If this appears on your television screen – be very afraid!!

When next we see them, Keith and Curt are sitting at a dinner table with their wives at Keith’s house. There is a portrait of Keith’s wife, Martha, on the wall with no eyes! (Even the little details in a Larry Buchanan movie are strange). The two couples have been friends for a long time, and Keith admits that maybe he overreacted before when he tried to stop the launch. When Curt asks what changed his mind, Keith says that he has a secret he can’t hide anymore. He has to tell someone. And he brings Curt into his living room, where, behind a curtain, is a computer/radio device that looks like three air conditioners stacked one on top of another. Keith says this is how he communicates with someone on another world. He claims he has been “in communications for two months now, without the use of a satellite.” He plays some weird noises and Curt laughs at him. Keith says it is the voice of a being on Venus that has sent a transmission to Earth. Somehow, he is able to understand it via “hyperspace hypnotism.”

When Curt asks if this alien being has a name, Keith says “Although his name is untranslatable through any known Earth language, it would sound something like…Zontar.”

Meanwhile, the satellite that was launched months ago disappears. The scientists cannot locate it and are concerned that it has malfunctioned. Then, an hour later it reappears, and resumes its orbit. When the scientists try to bring it back to earth to examine what went wrong, the object takes control of itself and disappears again from the radar. This time, it has flown down to Earth on its own power. What is happening here?

Keith knows. He says that Zontar “diverted the satellite for a vehicle” so that it could get to Earth.

When Zontar lands on Earth, everything stops running, from all machines and power sources, to cars, trains..and even clocks. However, if you’re “in” with Zontar, as Keith is, your stuff works just fine. He’s the only one with a running car for awhile.

The first order of business for Zontar’s domination of Earth is the unleashing of the injectapods. These are ugly bat-like creatures (actually more like giant bugs) that Zontar grows on his body and then they separate on command. Their job is to bite someone, injecting them with some weird metal spike which takes control of their mind. The first thing a controlled human does is dispose of the body, since injectapods die after biting someone. The person they bite then becomes “a part of Zontar.”

We learn that Zontar (now holed up in a deep cave over a hot spring, which is supposed to “approximate the conditions on Venus”) can only grow eight injectapods at a time. The first batch are for the General, the Mayor, the Sheriff and Curt, and the men’s wives (it makes things go easier!). Keith and Zontar figure, with these people under their control, they can control the town.

Not sure where else to go, Curt and Anne go back to Keith’s house, where they resume their dinner party. When Keith goes on about how Zontar has come in peace to save us from ourselves, we get some good dialogue from the ladies:

Anne: Keith, you talk as if this “thing” is a personal friend of yours.

Martha: Oh yeah, they’re real chums.”

General Matt Young (Neil Fletcher) is the first to be bitten by an injectapod. He later shows up at the NASA installation, claiming that those damned communists have caused the power outage, and he declares Martial Law.

There are two soldiers who provide comic relief. They guard the installation, until the General tells them to round up some guys and go on a march into the woods (we have no idea why).  When one of the soldiers sees an injectapod flying around, he says, “I saw a funny-looking boid.”

Meanwhile, Sheriff Brad Crenshaw (Bill Thursman) is evacuating the town. When the newspaper editor refuses to leave, the Sheriff shoots him. (“We don’t need newspapers anymore, anyway!”) Curt witnesses this and gets in a scuffle with Crenshaw, who strangely lets him get away (no doubt because he knows an injectapod will be attacking him soon).

When Curt’s wife, Anne, is bitten and controlled, she lets an injectapod loose in their living room and leaves. Curt fights the thing off and kills it with a fireplace poker (a close-up shows up that the injectapods are just silly-looking puppets!). When she returns, he pretends to be controlled, then shoots her when she gets close. How horrible! Can’t he even try to remove the metal spike in the back of her neck and see if that works before he kills his own dear wife?

Showing no sign of grief about Anne, Curt then goes back to Keith’s place (again). With all of the cars not running, Curt sure does a lot of walking in this movie!

Curt: Okay, I believe you now. And I also believe you are an accessory to murder!

Keith: Is that the way you greet an old friend?

It turns out Zontar’s mission isn’t so peaceful after all. He’s actually part of an advanced race that can only live if they can control other creatures with their parasitic injectapods. All of the creatures they controlled on Venus have died out. In order to survive, they have to find new species to infect and control.

When I saw this movie as a kid, I remember John Agar was my favorite character, and it’s true that this is one of Agar’s more memorable roles. But watching it again now, my favorite character is easily Pat Delaney as Martha Ritchie, Keith’s wife. Throughout the movie, she continually mocks Keith and ridicules what he says about the great Zontar. For some reason, Zontar does not try to silence her (I guess because she’s a woman, and in the 60s women weren’t seen as much of a threat). She is also the only one with guts enough to face the monster from Venus. She steals Keith’s gun and takes one of their working cars to the caves to confront the creature who has manipulated her husband.

Martha (talking to Zontar on the radio unit): I hate your living guts…and I’m going to kill you.

When she gets there, Zontar looks like a guy wrapped in a black garbage bag, or covered in papier mache, with lots of fake eyeballs glued to him and giant, cloth wings.

Martha: So that’s what you look like, Zontar. You’re slimey. Horrible!”

Behold ZONTAR – the true face of horror!!

When Keith hears Zontar kill Martha over the radio, only then does he come to his senses and agree to help Curt get rid of the menace. Curt and Keith then head to the caves to save the Earth from the evil Zontar!

As you can see, this movie is incredibly silly and doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense. But that’s precisely why it has become such a cult favorite over the years. If you get a chance to see this one, check it out. It might just be Larry Buchanan’s crowning achievement as a bad filmmaker.


© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

The DVD version of Zontar comes with another Larry Buchanan feature, THE EYE CREATURES!

In the Spooklight: ALIEN (1979)

Posted in 2006, 70s Horror, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Classic Films, Cult Movies, Horror, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Outer Space, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2012 by knifefighter

Since we just reviewed PROMETHEUS (2012), here’s an IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on ALIEN (1979), first published in the HWA NEWSLETTER in January 2006. It will also be appearing—shameless plug! —in my new IN THE SPOOKLIGHT ebook, set to come out later this year by NECON EBooks!

—Michael Arruda, 6/13/12

In The Spooklight: ALIEN (1979)
By Michael Arruda

When I first saw ALIEN (1979) at the movies in the summer of ’79, as a 15-year-old kid and budding movie critic, I remember leaving the theater disappointed. I thought the scares were too few and far between, and it simply wasn’t as gross and disgusting as I had been led to believe. See, in those days, there was nothing like the thrill of being grossed out at the movies ah, youth!

But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthoodALIEN grew scarier.

ALIEN is a film that, in spite of its reputation as an all-out-stomach-churning-gross-fest back in 1979, really draws its strength from a combination of strong acting performances and taut direction.

The alien itself isn’t really on screen that much, but when it is, it scares the you-know-what out of you. Watching the alien in ALIEN reminds me of watching Christopher Lee as Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). Both menaces are so scary they trick you into believing they’re on screen more, because when they’re off screen, you’re still frightened and carry that fright with you, similar to the way a flash bulb remains in your vision after it’s flashed, only longer.

ALIEN sports an outstanding cast, led by Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt, as the leaders on the spaceship, The Nostromo, which answers a distress call in deep space from a mysterious derelict spaceship on an equally mysterious planet. The strong cast also includes John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, and Veronica Cartwright, all playing crew members of The Nostromo.

The trek along the alien landscape towards the derelict ship is weird and creepy, and is another reason why ALIEN works so well. It gets under your skin long before the titled alien even appears.

A strange squid-like creature attaches itself to the head of one of the crew (John Hurt) and lays an egg inside his body, which leads to the most famous scene from the movie, where the baby alien bursts through the chest of actor John Hurt. This scene is gross, and still packs a punch. Thus the alien is born, and now the fun really begins. Of course, for the rest of the film, the crew has to fight for their lives against a seemingly unstoppable creature. (Too bad the makers of the recent ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) forgot this and reduced the aliens in that film to target practice.).

The direction by Ridley Scott is right on the money. He makes ALIEN a nail-biter and fills the film with suspense scenes that make you very uncomfortable. My favorite is crew member Dallas’s (Tom Skerritt) search for the alien inside the air ducts, which, suffice to say, doesn’t end in the man’s favor.

There’s a great music score by Jerry Goldsmith, which also adds to the mood, and the sets are dark and grim. They give the film a real gritty feel. You get the sense this is the way a spaceship of the future would look, as opposed to the fantasy images from say, STAR WARS. The special effects won an Oscar.

Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay is full of realistic dialogue, and the crew members seem like real people, even griping about low pay.

ALIEN is a fine example of how some films get better with age. Today, years after its initial release, it’s scarier than ever. “In space no one can you hear scream,” warned the tagline in 1979, but in your living room they sure can, so to be safe, when you watch ALIEN, you might want to warn your neighbors.


© Copyright 2006 by Michael Arruda


Posted in 2012, Aliens, Based on a Board Game, Cinema Knife Fights, Outer Space with tags , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A beach. On the ocean in the distance, a massive battleship is battling an even more massive alien spaceship. On the beach, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES sit across from each other on beach chairs, with a table between them, playing the board game BATTLESHIP. They seem oblivious to the commotion on the sea behind them.)

MA:  A-1.

LS:  Steak Sauce!

MA:  This isn’t a quiz!  A-1.

LS:  Miss.

MA:  Miss?  Where the hell are your ships?  I haven’t hit one yet!  Are you cheating?

LS:  I never cheat!  You’re just not very good at this game.

MA: What’s to be good at?  You just call out letters and numbers, and eventually you’ll hit some ships.

LS:  That’s why you’re losing. You don’t have any strategy.

MA:  Really?  What’s your strategy?

LS:  I hide my ships well.

MA:  Yeah, like off the board!  (There is a massive explosion on the ocean, and for a moment MA & LS turn their attention to the sea battle.)

LS:  Those guys are still going at it.

MA: It gets boring after a while, doesn’t it?  Kinda like this week’s movie.

LS:  I take it you didn’t like it?

MA:  No.

LS:  Care to tell us about it?

MA:  Not really, but since I’m losing this game, anyway, I might as well.

Today we’re reviewing BATTLESHIP (2012), the new movie based on the Hasbro game BATTLESHIP. There’s been a lot of joking about this one for months now, since its plot—a story about the navy battling aliens from outer space—has nothing to do with the board game.

LS:  As you folks can see, there are just battleships on this board. No space ships.

MA:  Not yet anyway. I kept thinking during the movie that the marketing department will come out with a new version of the game which will include alien spaceships.

LS:  That’s not so far-fetched. If this movie is a hit, I bet that new version of the game will be coming out next week!

MA: All joking aside, I had hoped that this one wouldn’t be bad. After all, it’s about battleships battling alien space ships. How bad can it be?  Very bad, as it turns out. But I’ll get to that in a moment, maybe even in half a moment, since the plot synopsis isn’t going to take long.

BATTLESHIP is about Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a young man with no direction, unlike his older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) who is very responsible and in the Navy and looks out for his younger brother. When Alex tries to impress a sexy woman at a bar, in a comedic sequence that is embarrassingly awkward and out of place, he ends up afoul of the law and hits rock bottom. Stone put his foot down and tells Alex—in order to pull his life together—he has to join the Navy.

LS (shouting): Chicken Burrito!

MA: That’s not funny.

LS: I dunno, I saw Liam Neeson crack a smile at it in this movie.


(Suddenly, a loud Disco beat can be heard getting louder, and someone is chanting “The Navy, The Navy, The Navy.” Suddenly, the VILLAGE PEOPLE appear on the beach, in costume and dancing around on the sand)




MA: No, no, no! Reviewing this movie is bad enough. I will not be subjected to disco music as well!

LS: I kinda like it.

MA: Go away! Now! All of you!

(The VILLAGE PEOPLE look dejected as they stop singing and dancing and walk away)

LS: Spoil sport.

MA: We have a review to do. We don’t have time for that stuff. Anyway, where was I?

Of course, it turns out that the woman in the bar, Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson)… who is, of course, a big wig in The Navy…

(The VILLAGE PEOPLE come back, singing and dancing)




MA: No, no! Go away! Go away!

(The VILLAGE PEOPLE skulk off)

MA:   Samantha, of course, immediately falls madly in love with Alex—why?  I don’t know—and they want to get married, but first he has to ask permission from her father, the hard-assed Admiral. Again, we have to suffer through some awkward cliché comedic moments.

Meanwhile, scientists have built a communication network to communicate with other earth-like planets in the universe. Suddenly, the signal is answered as NASA tracks a group of ships descending towards Earth. These ships get here in a few minutes. They must have some pretty fast ships!

As you already know, ships land, aliens emerge with more fighting machines, and it’s up to the Navy to protect the Earth. More specifically, it’s up to Lieutenant Alex Hopper to prove that he really is a good officer, because it’s his ship that has to battle it out with the aliens, and it’s Alex who suddenly finds himself in command. Well, that’s believable!

Unfortunately, the good Admiral Shane and the rest of the Navy are blocked from the action by a gigantic wall of energy that prevents them from getting through to the battle, which means Liam Neeson disappears for the bulk of this movie.

LS: Lucky for him! I bet that was in his contract! “I’ll appear in this huge piece of dog crap if you give me lots of money and I get to disappear for most of the movie!”

MA: Not only does Alex get to save the world, but he has to worry about his girlfriend, because Samantha is also in harm’s way, in another dull clichéd storyline that I won’t even get into here.

LS: Yeah, it is pretty dull. I didn’t care about her storyline at all. But I guess I did kind of like Gregory D. Gadson as Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, who appears in her part of the movie. Gadson was a real-life soldier and a double amputee. His role isn’t very well written and he’s not a great actor, but the man does have charisma on a movie screen. I just wish they’d done something more interesting with him

MA: So, how does it all end?  Let’s put it this way: “Aliens from outer space, we hardly knew ye!”

There is so much wrong with this movie, I don’t know where to start. I hated this movie. I was bored within the first ten minutes, and this is a two hour and ten minute movie. It was a long night at the theater.

By far, the worst part is the writing. It’s so obvious that the screenplay by Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber was thrown together for the sole purpose of marketing a movie based on the game BATTLESHIP. It’s not like they had a real story to tell and set out to tell it. They had a script to write based on a game. There’s a HUGE difference. There’s nothing stimulating or moving about this story. It doesn’t connect at any level. It’s an insult to our intelligence as moviegoers.

This movie is so full of clichés it’s nauseating. The loser hero who must make good, who has to prove to his potential father–in-law that he’s good enough for his daughter, who has to set aside all his doubts and prove that he can lead. There’s more, but why go on?

I didn’t like any of the characters. The performances for the most part are fine, but everyone’s stuck in this dreadful story, and so none of the players come close to saving this one. The only guy who could have saved this movie is Liam Neeson, but his character is off-screen for the bulk of the action. Had this film pitted Neeson’s Admiral against the aliens, I’m sure I would have liked it better. It would have at least given me a character to root for.

LS: I agree. Neeson as the movie’s hero would have probably improved things a lot.

MA: Taylor Kitsch plays Alex Hopper. Kitsch, as you might remember, played John Carter in JOHN CARTER (2012). I didn’t like him in that movie much, and I didn’t really like him here, either. A big part of the problem is Kitsch comes off as so laid back, as if he should be carrying a surfboard on a beach like this. I didn’t really buy him as a Navy officer.

LS: See, this is where I start to disagree with you. I like Kitsch a lot. He’s no Liam Neeson—-.

MA:  I’ll say!  He’s more like Ashton Kutcher.  Ugh!

LS:  NO FRIGGIN WAY!  Aside from one awful performance in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009), where he adopted a horrendous Cajun accent to play Remy LeBeau (aka Gambit), in a role he was completely miscast for, I’m actually a big fan of Kitsch. I was a big fan of his long-running TV show, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHT (2006 – 2011), where he played high school football star Tim Riggins. And I still say that JOHN CARTER was one of the best movies of this year so far. I was really bummed out when Disney proclaimed the movie a flop and even fired a few executives who had greenlit it. I think the movie is terrific and I bet it goes on to become a full-fledged cult movie.

In BATTLESHIP, however, I just felt sorry for him. The guy has charisma, and can actually carry a movie, but this is a completely thankless role. I just hope that if TRANSFORMERS—er, I mean, BATTLESHIP—is a flop, Kitsch won’t get part of the blame again, because he does the best he can with a completely horrible script.

MA:   I dunno.  I didn’t like JOHN CARTER all that much, and I certainly didn’t like BATTLESHIP, so as far as I’m concerned, in recent movies, the guy’s 0 for 2.

LS:  What do you know?  I really hope he gets a chance to redeem himself in the upcoming Oliver Stone movie, SAVAGES.

MA: Okay, that one looks good, so maybe he’ll win me over yet.

Brooklyn Decker is beautiful as Samantha Shane, and she’s okay for the most part, but again, she’s stuck in a role that we’ve seen countless times before. The rest of the cast is the same. No one is able to lift this movie to a better place.

LS: That’s true. I actually liked a lot of people in this cast, but nobody could have saved this flounder. By the way, Brooklyn Decker was okay, but I wasn’t sure what the fuss was all about. She’s a model-turned-actress, and she’s not horrible here. And she is pretty. But she’s no Megan Fox!

MA: She’s pretty close.

LS:  Not really.

MA:  Yeah, I thought she was pretty hot.

LS: She’s hot, but she’s no Megan Fox. And I didn’t care all that much for her character. I was much more interested in singer Rihanna as Petty Officer Cora “Weps” Raikes. She was one tough cookie, and she fought right alongside the men. Sure, she her role was a complete cliché, just like every other role here, but the lady has more charisma onscreen than Decker.

MA:  Nah!  She kinda annoyed me.  I thought she was a Michelle Rodriguez wannabe.

LS:  Hey, I like Michelle Rodriguez, too!

I also liked Alexander Skarsgard as Alex’s older brother, Stone Hopper. Actually, “liked” is the wrong word, since I don’t think his character amounted to much, either. More like it was cool to see Skarsgard in this movie, even if he was just filling space. Fans of the HBO series TRUE BLOOD will recognize Skarsgard as the vampire Eric Northman. He is one of the best things on TRUE BLOOD, but his movie career hasn’t been too impressive so far. Roles in that awful remake of STRAW DOGS (2011) and this pile of dog crap don’t help. But it’s still good to see him. Someone give this man a decent movie role already!

Fans of Taylor Kitsch’s TV show, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, will also be happy to see Kitsch reunited with another actor from that show, Jesse Plemmons, who played Landry Clarke on FNL. Here he plays “Boatswain Mate Seaman Jimmy “Ordy” Ord.” Who the hell came up with these names?? Plemmons is good at playing comic relief-type characters, and he does what he can here with, once again, an underwritten character. There sure are a lot of those in this movie!

MA: Director Peter Berg includes lots of CGI battle scenes, but why was I bored throughout?  Because I’ve seen scenes like this a hundred times before—take your pick, from WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) to BATTLE L.A. (2011).

LS: I actually like Peter Berg, too. He started out as an actor on the TV series CHICAGO HOPE (1995 – 1999), and then went on to direct the funny but flawed VERY BAD THINGS (1998). Since then, he’s directed more high-profile movies like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2004) —he was also the Executive Producer of the TV series version, see a pattern here? —THE KINGDOM (2007) and HANCOCK (2008). Needless to say, not everything he’s done has been great, but I like him, and I think this movie was a waste of his talents.

But you’re right; BATTLESHIP is an awful lot like BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. There’s nothing new here at all.

MA: Yep, BATTLESHIP offers nothing new.

This one plays like a Roland Emmerich movie, but worse!  His stories are actually better! What this movie really reminded me of was the dreadful G.I. JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA (2009) movie, another film based on a toy. That was another movie with tons of action and adventure, with a plot thrown in as an afterthought. Please, stop making movies based on games and toys!!  They’re horrible!  Unless, of course, you actually have a decent story to tell.

And how about those aliens?  We know nothing about them. They’ve come here to invade, obviously. I guess so, anyway. They just land and start shooting at us. But maybe they’re not invading. Maybe they just want us to stop playing our music so loud. Or perhaps they worship chickens on their planet and are horrified at the way we treat the fowls. I don’t know, because the movie doesn’t tell us!!  Even the alien ships are disappointing, as they look like TRANSFORMERS.


MA: I know that. I was making a comparison.

LS: Oh…I don’t know. I didn’t think the aliens in BATTLESHIP were all that amazing, but I didn’t completely hate them, either. With their weird, oversized hands and human-like faces, I thought they were at least interesting to look at.

MA:  For about ten seconds, yeah, but as soon as it became apparent that they weren’t actually going to do anything, I lost interest.

LS:  But the ships, yeah. These aliens definitely went to their local TRANSFORMERS dealership.

MA: BATTLESHIP is so fake, phony, forced and contrived, it’s painful. It also has a cookie-cutter ending that will amaze you in its simplicity. If we can dispose of bad-ass aliens this easily, no one’s ever going to invade us again!

LS: Yep, I have to agree. The ending is sappy as hell and completely lame.

MA: BATTLESHIP is a horrible movie. Stay away from this one so the powers that be will get the hint that turning board games into movies is a bad idea.

I give it 0 knives.

LS: Wow, you really hated this one. I can’t say I blame you. It’s dumb, the script is awful, there are big chunks that are boring, the CGI seems like a retread of TRANSFORMERS, and the entire concept of a movie based on a board game is kind of insulting to people plunking down ten bucks for a movie ticket.

But I didn’t hate it as much as you did. Mainly, because there were a few people in the cast who I liked, who kept me from nodding off completely. And I still say Taylor Kitsch has a lot of potential to become a big movie star. He’s just had awful luck so far. JOHN CARTER was a great movie that got a bad rap. And BATTLESHIP is just plain bad.

For the cast alone, I’ve got to give this one ~ one and a half knives.

But that’s not to say I like this movie at all, or that I’m recommending that anyone go see it. If you want to see this thing, wait until it comes out on DVD and rent it. Like Michael said, we do not want to encourage Hollywood to keep making bad movies based on board games! Hasbro, go back to the toy store!

You know what really makes me angry? I reviewed the trailer for this movie back in August 2011 in my TRASHING TRAILERS column, and even back then I could see it was a complete dog. I’m angry that I had to actually sit through this movie. I could have reviewed it based on the trailer alone and saved myself ten bucks and over 2 hours of my life!

MA: There you have it, folks. It looks like this BATTLESHIP is dead in the water.

LS: You know my other big problem with this movie? When I saw it, there was a commercial for The Navy beforehand, and I swear, there were times in BATTLESHIP when I couldn’t tell the difference. I thought I was watching the commercial all over again. And I’m sorry, THAT’S NOT ENTERTAINMENT!

MA:  You’re right.  This movie was a lot like a bad commercial, one that unfortunately lasted 2 hours and 10 minutes!  (LS and MA both groan really loud)

(VOICE from off-screen shouts)

VOICE: What did you say it was a commercial for?

LS: The Navy!

(The VILLAGE PEOPLE suddenly reappear on the beach, singing and dancing to a loud disco beat)

MA: Oh my God, not this again!! I’m getting out of here.

LS: Suit yourself. (He gets up and dances along with them)


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives BATTLESHIP~ ZERO knives!

LL Soares gives BATTLESHIP ~ ONE AND A HALF knives!

ALTERED (2006)

Posted in 2012, Aliens, DVD Review, Outer Space, Paranormal, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on May 2, 2012 by knifefighter

ALTERED (2006)
DVD Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic

It’s the same old story. Boy and his friends are abducted by aliens, Boy and his friends are returned with one of them dead, Boy and friends are ridiculed, suspected and shunned by society, Boy’s friends turn up on his doorstep in the middle of the night with an alien bound in small grade galvanized chain and duct tape, looking to exact some hillbilly revenge.

The concept catches your attention because there’s a lot there that—if done well—could make the film stand out and be mentioned in conversations that include films like ALIEN (1979) and JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982). At the same time, there’s just as much there that—if done poorly—could make the film stand out and be mentioned in conversations that include rubber-suited camp-fests like ROBOT MONSTER (1953) and IT CONQUORED THE WORLD (1956).  Since the original concept for the film was a horror-comedy called “Probed,” you’d expect it to fall into the latter category.

Duke, Cody and Otis are the friends who infiltrate the woods as the film opens, heavily armed with rifles, pistols and a spear gun. They crash through the underbrush and “whisper” to each other louder than leaf blowers. It’s enough to make you smell the beer on their breath and the sweat in their clothes.  These clowns couldn’t succeed in bagging a sloth, even if it were deaf and half dead already. And yet….

They chain it, bag it and bring it to their friend Wyatt’s garage, where they duct tape it to a table. We find out that the aliens kept Wyatt and Cody’s brother Timmy five days longer than the rest of them, and when they were finally returned, Timmy was dead. Wyatt prevents them from killing the alien they’ve captured, though, saying that if they do, “…the rest of them are gonna come and put us down.” There is some intense dialogue as Wyatt tries to make them bring it back to the forest, tries to convince them to leave his home, tries to keep them quiet so they won’t wake his girlfriend, Hope, and tries to persuade Cody (who’s hell-bent on avenging his brother) that killing the creature would mean the end of the human race.

Wyatt (in the blue tee shirt) contemplates the gift alien Otis, Cody and Duke have wrapped up and brought him.

ALTERED was directed by Eduardo Sanchez of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) fame. He has constructed a clever and intense story with some memorable horror scenes. The screenplay was written by Jamie Nash, who, with Sanchez, wrote the upcoming ghost movie, LOVELY MOLLY. That ALTERED isn’t more well-known is disappointing, but understandable. Its release date (2006) coincided with a time when seemingly everyone was bashing BLAIR WITCH for one thing or another. But with ALTERED, gone is the shaky cam, gone is the faux documentary style, gone is the ad-libbed dialogue that takes forever to make its point. ALTERED is straight up and unflinching and showcases a director who knows how to construct a memorable and compelling film.

The cast isn’t very well known, except for James Gammon (THE NEW DAUGHTER, 2009) in a small role as the town sheriff. Paul McCarthy-Boyington (Cody), Brad William Henke (Duke) and Adam Kaufman (Wyatt), are character actors you’ve seen guest-starring on shows like CSI:MIAMI, WITHOUT A TRACE, DEXTER and LOST, among others. Otis is played by Michael C. Williams, who looks nothing like he did in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. He’s almost unrecognizable in this role and his crappy goatee couldn’t account for all that. He does an impressive job inhabiting this character.

The mechanics of the film are top-notch. The alien looks menacing, kind of a hybrid of ALIEN and PREDATOR, and it’s quite a stretch of time before we get a really good look at it, adding to the suspense. There’s also very little music. Most of the scenes play to silence or sound effects of scraping metal that fit the action well enough that I didn’t notice the sound couldn’t have come from what was happening on the screen. I only realized the music was there when I went back specifically to look for it.

A few things come up in almost every film that shake your suspension of belief. In ALTERED, there’s a character who steps in a bear trap, gets freed, and then walks on it with barely a limp for the rest of the film. I’ve seen this in CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL (1993) and SILVER BULLET (1985), that I can remember, and I’m sure one or two more times that I can’t. One of these days Adam Savage of (the TV show) MYTHBUSTERS will have to step in a bear trap and see if this is “Plausible.”

There’s a disappointing plot development later on that utilizes some Spielberg-inspired “alien magic.” It’s hinted at enough that the event doesn’t come out of left field, but it still feels out of place against the pent-up intensity of the rest of the film. In fact, it wasn’t until then that my first itch to walk away hit me. Which is not to say they screwed up the ending. Far from it.

ALTERED is a solid little alien movie, one for that deserves to be more well-known than it is. Though it might not be good enough to be listed alongside ALIEN, it’s a hell of a lot closer to that than ROBOT MONSTER.

I give it three stars, with two time-outs.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon