Tag Archives: Alien

CAPSULE: THE SEED (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Sam Walker

FEATURING: Chelsea Edge, Lucy Martin, Sophie Vavasseur

PLOT: Three young women spend a weekend in a remote home for a photo shoot, but their plans are interrupted when a meteor shower delivers an alien.

Still from The Seed (2021)

COMMENTS:

  • Deidre: vapid; (conventionally) smokin’ hot; internet influencer.
  • Charlotte: geek-nerd; works at a pet store; has an old phone.
  • Heather: required because her father owns the remote house the three women are stranded in.

There are three other (human) characters, but here’s the thing: I’m talking about a low-budget science-fiction/horror thingy that is the kind of story horror filmmakers have been re-tooling since… (research pending). Gosh, if only I had Charlotte around to help me here—writer/director Sam Walker makes it obvious she reads books and knows things. Also made obvious is the fact that wherever these three pals are spending the weekend has no phone reception, or wi/fi, or even a land-line. (This last fact was deftly established by Charlotte’s line, “People don’t have land-lines any more”; this is patently a falsehood, as I assure you that I myself have a landline.)

The Seed spends the better part of an hour establishing their remoteness, their vehicleless-ness (though this assertion is later undermined), and the stinkiness of whatever it was that falls from the sky during a “once in a lifetime meteor shower.” I watched in vague impatience as the characters’ personalities were dictated, molded, established, reinforced, and etched in carbonite. An hour goes by, the vapid one vapids, the daughter of the homeowner freaks out about damaging the place, and the geek-nerd spares the life of a space entity and, in the one thing that kept me hopeful in the opening two-thirds, has an odd kiss with the odd boy who comes around to tend the lawn.

This capering, however, finally becomes interesting in the closing act. Elements from Eraserhead, and even Society, creep into the action. When Charlotte brings in the stinky baby-alien, its look and its swaddling (and its intermittent screeching) bring to mind Henry’s ordeal with the evil duck-fetus. And when Deidre attempts to kill the whats-it while Heather and Charlotte go off in the “buggy,” she instead partakes in something with a… shunting kind of look. And oh yes, there’s a bit of an Edward Blake-meets-2001: A Space Odyssey scene (with boobies). The final half hour ultimately makes The Seed worth watching, as the over-long opening setup allows a new personality for the two least interesting characters. Even Heather succumbs to the strange wiles of the alien entity and, in a stroke that emphasizes just how tedious she is as a person, transmogrifies into an unsettling facsimile of a chill young person.

This damning with faint praise (or, not even that I suppose) may suggest that I am not happy to have spent my time in this odd world of privilege, swish housing, and Chekhov’s mace. Somehow I was smiling by the end, even through the requisite “Oh-ho, you thought the problem may have been addressed, but you were wrong!” final shot. The Seed is effective B-movie fare, with sun-shiny pool scenes, fun creature effects, and just enough suspense in the finale to have me talking back to the television screen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a psychedelic interplanetary strain that’s like Society meets a Cosmopolitan photoshoot. Shudder’s latest original also brings to mind something akin to The Cleanse, in which an adorable puppet becomes something much worse. I don’t mention Critters or Gremlins because that denotes a bit more creature polish—The Seed has more in common with Brian Yuzna or Stuart Gordon weirdness.”–Matt Donato, Paste (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

aka Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror

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 DIRECTED BY: Bruce D. Clark

FEATURING: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, , Taaffe O’Connell, , , Bernard Behrens

PLOT: On a mission to investigate the disappearance of a lost spaceship, the crew of the Quest confronts an alien monster that hunts them by preying upon their worst fears.

Still from Galaxy of Terror (1981)

COMMENTS: No one ever accused Roger Corman of failing to capitalize upon someone else’s success. Having seen Alien reap box office gold, he and his mercenary studio New World Pictures quickly put together a film based upon a simple principle: an alien hunts a space crew one by one. Of course, what Corman and his cohorts never seemed to consider (or, more likely, could not be bothered to care) was that Alien was much more than merely a slasher film transplanted into outer space. The earlier film used foreboding and patience in a way that its imitator couldn’t even contemplate. Where Alien carefully developed the complex interpersonal relationships of the crew of the Nostromo, Galaxy of Terror just spits out one-line motivations and outsized character tics and hopes that will generate some empathy. We’ve got the blueprint here, but the only parts that carried over were the alien and the dead crew.

Galaxy of Terror is cheap. After all, it’s a Roger Corman production. But amazingly, it doesn’t look cheap, and a great deal of credit goes to the production designer, a promising young fellow by the name of James Cameron. (He also served as second-unit director and took on other behind-the-scenes roles.) The spaceship milieu is rich and convincing – the set is allegedly supplemented with spray-painted McDonald’s containers – while a walk through the chambers of an alien pyramid is vividly unfamiliar. The visual style readily evokes Cameron’s future endeavors, such as The Terminator and Aliens, and it’s entertaining to see him deploying his talents early on.

The story is considerably less accomplished. That notion of an enemy that can exploit your worst nightmares is intriguing (and would later be explored extensively by co-star Englund), but is only haphazardly pursued here, usually by a character announcing their worst fear and promptly being confronted with it in the next scene. Moran is claustrophobic, but her particularly grim fate is sealed less by confined spaces than by the vicious tentacles that attack her. Haig’s demise at the hands of his own crystal throwing stars is one of the film’s most effective pieces of visual horror, but makes little sense when you realize his weakness isn’t fear, but faith. In most cases, one has to assume that what the victims fear most is a large-clawed, bloodsucking monster, because that’s what most consistently does them in.

Which leads us to the film’s most notorious sequence, in which Continue reading CAPSULE: GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

CAPSULE: ALIENS, CLOWNS, & GEEKS (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Richard Elfman

FEATURING: Bodhi Elfman, Rebecca Forsythe, Steve Agee, French Stewart

PLOT: Clown aliens, green aliens, Chinese gangsters, and government agents are all keen to get their hands on a mysterious obelisk that emerged from Eddy’s ass; Eddy would gladly be spared the bother.

Still from Aliens, Clowns & Geeks (2019)

COMMENTS: Depending upon your threshold for staggering silliness, Aliens, Clowns, & Geeks will either repel you right away, or draw you in like a frisky fly to a custard pie. The menu is baked in the title, and the chef of this mad meal is spray-painted in candy right there for all to see. This is an Elfman film. Oingo Boingo’s Richard Elfman wrote and directed it, Richard’s boy Bodhi stars in it, Bodhi’s uncle Danny composed the score, Danny’s sister-in-law Anastasia co-stars, and assorted B-movie luminaries flesh out the surrounding cast to deliver as non-stop an outing into fun-time idiocy as I’ve seen since the ’90s.

Overcoming the threat of further nostalgia, I’ll nip it in the bud with this: that innocent decade is where AC&G belongs. This film exists in a permeating atmosphere of un-thought-out nonsensicality and naïve whimsy, teetering along the slicked edge of guffaw and “Good God, why…?” Eddy Pine is a charmless actor and—scratch that, I’ll let him speak for himself: “My mother’s a junkie whore. My father’s an alien from outer space. Killer clowns are out to get me. My asshole’s the portal to the Sixth Dimension – and they cancelled my fucking series! Do you really think everything’s going to be ok?” The first part of Eddy’s lament summarizes the story. As for his question, I spoil no thinking-person’s anticipations by stating here and now: Yes, everything’s going to be okay. Because the Elfmans (Elfmen?) are in charge here.

There were innumerable moments where I half-conceived the thought, “Oh, just move on from this stup-”; but, by the time I had nearly formulated my kvetch, they had moved on. On the outside chance that the on-screen clowning, both literal and figurative, wasn’t enough to keep kicking the antics along, the score reliably schlepps the actors and audience into the next schtick. (Some quick math has just informed me that 83% of the proceedings have full-blown Elfman scoring, heightening the descent into Elfmania.)

Further reflection on ACG does summon hazy complaints about how very little of it actually works; but for this film, reflection is the enemy. While watching, one does not have time to think about what’s going on—such as why the two smokin’ hot Swedes fall for -lite Bodhi, or how Doctor von Scheisenberg (“sh*t mountain”) knows so much about the 18” plinth from Eddy’s posterior—and that is for the best. Just kick back and let the Elfman clan administer an invigorating seltzer-blast into your eyeball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Elfman’s Aliens, Clowns, & Geeks is 86 minutes of weird, strange silliness.” -Alan Ng, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 CAPSULE: FRIED BARRY (2020)

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Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

DIRECTED BY: Ryan Kruger

FEATURING: Gary Green

PLOT: Heroin addict Barry is possessed by a creature from outer space.

Still from Fried Barry (2020)

COMMENTS: Looking like a pre-mortem Crypt Keeper but with a glorious goatee, Gary Green’s gaunt visage may be Fried Barry‘s greatest asset. It’s not surprising that someone would want to build a film around that face, even if for most of the movie it does nothing but stare blankly. Balding, but with long stringy hair (and thin, but with a surprisingly cut physique), Green looks the part of a deteriorating addict under constant threat of eviction. I enjoyed looking at that face even when the attached film dragged it into shaggy, often improvised vignettes.

The movie begins with “adults only and no one else!” content disclaimer promising (er, I mean, warning of) “explicit language, nudity, and strong scenes of high impact sexual violence…” The explicit language box is simple enough to check off. There is nudity—and some awkward fully-clothed sex—because, apparently, bedraggled aliens with bug-eyed stares attract the ladies like flies. There is also plenty of violence, but not really any “high impact” sexual violence (it’s indirect, homophobic sexual violence). There is, on the other hand, a lot of senseless non-sexual violence—including an uncharacteristic detour into torture porn that ends in a chainsaw battle—if that counts for anything. What the presenter in the opening didn’t warn about was the public toilet sex, hospital corridor pooping, or adult breastfeeding. Or the hard drug porn: whether it be old-fashioned shooting up, complementary club ecstasy, or random junk smoked out of a light bulb, all of Barry’s friends (and about half of the random strangers he meets on the street) want to get him high for free. And what the presenter especially doesn’t warn you about is the insta-birth alien conception scene…

In other words, Fried Barry‘s exploitation credentials check out. There are also decent dollops of weirdness in its nearly structureless runtime. Ten minutes into the movie Barry shoots up, finds himself submerged underwater, has flashbacks, sees colored lights, and levitates into the heavens. Then, some weird stuff happens in what we assume is an alien spacecraft. After returning to Earth, he takes a few more psychedelic trips, becomes a dad, uses his eyelids as remote controls, has visions of an old guy singing in tongues while doing a soft-shoe routine, and makes a highly illogical escape from the loony bin. These snatches of madness break up his odd encounters with various prostitutes, lowlifes, and eerily cheerful cheese-sample pushers.

Fried Barry is part of a mini-tradition of movies about mute or verbally challenged outsiders/aliens wandering about urban areas, holding up mirror to society. There’s more than a little Bad Boy Bubby (1993) here: Barry speaks no dialogue save what he repeats, and his son is even named “Bubby,” in what surely must be a tribute. Barry also can heal like the Brother from Another Planet (1984); at least, he does so once. There’s a touch of Under the Skin (2013), too, and maybe even a drop of Liquid Sky (1982). For all the nods, Fried Barry brings nothing new to this particular table. What it especially doesn’t bring is any kind of visible ideas. Barry’s ordeal is most naturally viewed as one long, drug-induced psychosis. If you take the story at face value, it’s a sci-fi film about aliens who travel across the inky blackness of space to South Africa so they can possess heroin addicts and… who don’t have much of a plan beyond that. Fried Barry won’t give you any great sociological or existential insights, but if it’s a mindbending trip to the outer limits of consciousness you’re after, it’s a lot safer than sticking a needle in your arm—or being beamed up by saucers.

Giles Edwards adds: Fried Barry left me feeling that pleasantly odd, detached sensation I get when I watch a weird movie, and so I make this pitch on its behalf for Apocryphizing. The lead’s performance alone is a continuous oddity–almost 100 minutes of jittery reactions. Gary Green is always interesting to look at, and observing his “Barry” go through four drug overdoses (that I could count) was impressive. With virtually no dialogue for his character, it was like watching the half-awake facsimile of Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks: the Return stumble, dance, and twitch through two jam-packed days full of run-ins with thugs, unlikely escapes, and even the daring rescue of a dozen kidnapped children.

The lighting and score of Fried Barry supplement Green’s spastic tics, rendering his forty-eight-hour (?) journey somewhere between reality and unreality, further rendering the unreal somewhere between an exalted and sinister dream. In particular, Barry’s abduction comes across as an unsettling fusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey and a H.R. Geiger-saturated nightmare. The pulsing electro-score and violently-hued color schemes add a shining varnish to Barry’s jerking physical flow. When the ominous “Intermission” sequence spooled on-screen, I finally gave up on trying to guess where the heck this movie was going and let myself sit back to enjoy the wild fried.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a trippy exploration of mankind.”–Norman Gidney, Horror Buzz

346. LIQUID SKY (1982)

” I’ll tell you something, too, that’s starting to annoy me about UFOs: the fact that they cross galaxies or universes to visit us, and always end up in places like … Alabama. Maybe these aren’t super-intelligent beings, you know what I mean? ‘Don’t you wanna go to New York or LA?’ ‘Nah, we just had a long trip, we’re gonna kick back and whittle some.'”–Bill Hicks

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Anne Carlisle, Otto von Wernherr, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Bob Brady

PLOT: A tiny alien flying saucer lands on top of the Empire State Building, directly across from the penthouse where drug-scarfing New Wave fashion model Margaret spends her nights bedding partners of both sexes. A German UFO scientist who has tracked this manifestation takes up residence in an apartment across from Margaret, spying on her through a telescope. Margaret’s sex partners begin to die off as the aliens harvest the endorphins released during their orgasms.

Still from Liquid Sky (1982)

BACKGROUND:

  • Slava Tsukerman was a Russian Jew who trained as an engineer before switching to filmmaking. He made a mostly documentaries in the Soviet Union and Israel before emigrating to the U.S. to make features. He began developing Liquid Sky after funding for a sci-fi film that would have starred and fell through.
  • Co-writer Anne Carlisle, who starts as a fashion model in the film, was a fashion model in real life. Most of the actors were art-scene punks drawn from bohemian casting director Bob Brady’s acting classes, and most played some version of themselves.
  • Many repeat the claim that Liquid Sky was chosen as the title of the film because it was slang for heroin, but according to Tsukerman he encountered the term as a metaphor for euphoria in his research, and junkies only began to refer to the drug as “liquid sky” after the movie became a cult hit.
  • Made with an estimated budget of half a million dollars, Liquid Sky grossed more than $1.7 million in 1983.
  • In a 2014 interview Tsukerman announced his intentions to make Liquid Sky 2, but no news has emerged on that front since.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: New Wave fashion shows? Neon sculptures? Flying saucers hovering in front of the Empire State Building? Margaret’s fluorescent face paint under a blacklight? All excellent choices. But we had to go with alien-eye-vision, rendered through technology that looks like a cross between malfunctioning army ranger night-vision goggles and News at 11’s stormtracker radarscope, but with a Day-Glo color scheme, and often looking like it’s peering through a microscope aimed at a dividing zygote.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: UFO/heroin connection; spontaneous hateful beat eulogy; prayer to the Empire State Building

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Liquid Sky is like an alien’s attempt at making a film set in the No-Wave Greenwich Village art scene in 1982, if their only previous exposure to movies was the works of , , and Rinse Dream. Neon, nasty, and occasionally tedious, but there’s nothing else quite like it.


Original trailer for Liquid Sky

COMMENTS: Liquid Sky is about aliens, and it might as well have Continue reading 346. LIQUID SKY (1982)

CAPSULE: HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES (2018)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alex Sharp, , Tom Brooke,

PLOT: An aspiring teenage punk in 1970s London meets a cute girl; only catch is, she’s an alien.

Still from How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This light-hearted artistic fling between the offbeat talents of director John Cameron Mitchell and writer meets its quota of whimsical sweetness, but falls short in terms of weirdness.

COMMENTS: I was completely alone in the theater on a Monday night screening of How to Talk to Girls at Parties. When I bought my ticket the high school cashier on a summer job assumed I was asking to see Life of the Party (ouch!). Hopefully, the empty seats were just a sign of distributor A24’s compromising to commercial realities—better to suck it up and slot this curio’s release in the heat of summer up against Han Solo and the Avengers than to let it slink off to video unscreened—and not a sign of total lack of public interest in the project. While Girls is not a must-see cult hit, it’s not a waste of time, either; at the very least, it’s an unconventional offering that could find a future Netflix audience of adventurous youngsters.

Girls is a period teen romantic comedy with the slightest tinge of punk and sci-fi flavor, more Earth Girls Are Easy (or even Splash) than Liquid Sky. Around the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977), a trio of socially inept teenage punks stumble into the wrong party in Croydon while on the prowl for girls. While the fat kid and the self-appointed pick-up artist wander around scoping out the shapely bodies in tight latex unitards doing Cirque du Soleil acrobatic routines to whalesong electronica, the sweetest and most talented, Enn, stumbles upon a newly “manifested” alien Zan (Elle Fanning, who, God love her, is still seeking out the weirdest roles she can find rather than settling for a part as a minor X-Man character). After Enn explains the basics of his punk philosophy to the girl, Zan seeks, and is reluctantly granted, a dispensation to experience human life for 48 hours (“do more punk to me,” she croons to Enn). The remainder of the plot arc is easy to guess: the mismatched pair court, with the normal teenage social awkwardness amplified by an alien culture clash, while Zan’s “colony” (whom Enn and friends believe to be a cannibalistic California cult) pressure her to get her back into the fold. There’s some mild weirdness along the way: an out-of-place (and not-too-effective) psychedelic music video when Zan improvises a punk number onstage (“we must have been dosed,” Enn reasons); perverse alien sex practices better left undescribed; a conception scene with eggs like yellow party balloons and sperm that looks like a 3D model of a rhinovirus; Nicole Kidman as bitchy aging punk godmother Boadicea; and an underwhelming punks vs. aliens showdown that might have been huge if given a proper B-movie treatment. Overall, the movie has a good-natured, unthreatening-yet-rebellious spirit, and some eye candy in the costuming (each of the alien colonies sports its own sartorial theme). Still, the reveal of the ultimate nature of the alien cult(s) suggests many potentially more interesting stories than the John Hughes-y tale that actually unfolds here.

Multiple reviewers have complained that Girls is trying “too hard” to be a cult movie. This criticism comes from a perspective I’m not quite able to grasp; it’s probably a variation on the old “weird for weirdness’ sake” saw. I suppose the complaint is based on the premise that cult movies can only arise by happy accident when the director was actually trying to do something “more authentic”; this can be easily disproven by dozens of examples (including, I’d argue, one from this very same director). Whether you think it succeeds or not, Girls isn’t trying too hard; it’s just trying to be what it is, which just happens to be something a bit different from what critics and audiences expect.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s fully invested in exploring the weird, but not always the funny.”–Chris Hewitt, Empire (contemporaneous)

303. UNDER THE SKIN (2013)

“We wanted to create a space that felt alien, but in the knowledge that you’re limited by the fact that you’re doing it using human imagination… So then you’re kind of in dream space, or nightmare… You’re trying to get to places that are more felt than thought.”–Jonathan Glazer

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Jeremy McWilliams, Michael Moreland,

PLOT: An alien comes to Earth and assumes the form of a human woman. She drives around Scotland in a van, picking up unattached single men with no families and taking them back to her lair, where she performs a bizarre ritual that eventually consumes them. After an encounter with a deformed man, she decides to go rogue and flees to the countryside, pursued by an overseer on a motorcycle.

Still from Under the Skin (2013)

BACKGROUND:

  • Under the Skin was based on a novel of the same name by Michel Faber, although the screen treatment does not follow the original very closely.
  • The movie was in development for more than a decade.
  • Many of the scenes were filmed documentary style, with Johansson (unrecognizable in a wig with sunglasses) walking around Scottish streets and shopping malls. Some of the men who entered the van were not actors, but were being filmed without their knowledge. It’s been reported that the team shot over 270 hours of total footage.
  • Included in Steven Schneider’s “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”
  • Selected by 366 Weird Movies readers as one of two winners of our penultimate readers’ choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The black goo, especially seen from the victim’s submerged perspective. (We wouldn’t want to spoil it too much).

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Discarded skin; gore sluice; neurofibromatic empathy

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Under the Skin‘s structure is almost skeletal. But as an experience, the film is all about its own weirdness: humanity as seen in a newly formed alien eye.


Original trailer for Under the Skin

COMMENTS: The black room where Scarlet Johansson’s alien takes Continue reading 303. UNDER THE SKIN (2013)