Of all the worlds in all the galaxies, why did they pick this one?
Aliens have been a universal theme in movies for a long time. Sometimes they've been cute and cuddly, as in Spielberg's classics E.T. and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Other times they've been downright mean and nasty in movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Ridley Scott's Alien. And then there's instances where they've just been really, really weird (Martians Go Home!, Killer Klowns From Outer Space). In 1983 director Michael Laughlin and co-writer Bill Condon (Gods And Monsters) unleashed Strange Invaders, a movie about ugly looking aliens living in a small town since the 1950s. Starring Paul Le Mat (Melvin and Howard), Nancy Allen (Robocop), Michael Lerner (Barton Fink), and Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), Strange Invaders comes to DVD as part of MGM's "Midnite Movies" collection.
Facts of the Case
1958. It was a time of innocence and fun, an era of rock and roll, black and white TV, and invaders from outer space! Say what?
That's right, in 1958 a bunch of creepy aliens took over a Midwestern town and made it their own as an "experiment" on Planet Earth. Going ahead 25 years to 1983 we meet Professor Bigelow (Le Mat), a soft spoken boob who teaches entomology at a local college. After his ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid) sticks him with their daughter and goes home for her mother's funeral, Bigelow starts to get suspicious after he can't seem to reach her anywhere. After visiting Centerville, Illinois, Bigelow's suspicions are confirmed when he's attacked by alien beings that don't seem to understand the meaning of "down home hospitality." Fleeing back to New York City, Professor Bigelow enlists the help of Betty Walker (Allen), a journalist for a sleazy tabloid, and whacked out mental patient Willie (Learner) whose family was "supposedly" killed by the sinister aliens. It's now a race against time as the aliens prepare to head home…with Professor Bigelow's daughter in tow!
What do these aliens want? Will they be stopped? Can they be stopped?!?!
Strange Invaders is supposedly meant to be a "satire" of alien invader movies. If that's the case, then the filmmakers have undershot their intended target. Strange Invaders is not a very funny film, nor is it very scary, or shocking, or interesting. Instead Strange Invaders just IS. I have a sneaking suspicion that Strange Invaders will play best for people who saw it back when they were kids or teenagers. The movie resides in that realm of films that seemed really cool when you first saw it, but years later don't play quite as smoothly. Before I was sent this disc for review I had never heard of Strange Invaders. I'm guessing that it either tanked back in 1983 or was only a mild hit, then quickly made the rounds to video shelves across the nation.
I wasn't very impressed with Strange Invaders. Aside from it lacking any true comedy, Strange Invaders seemed to be a rip-off of any other sci-fi alien movie from the past 50 years. The characters were not very enticing, and the alien make-up is shown too little during the movie. The creatures look like a cross between a dried prune and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men. The cast is led by the very un-energetic Paul Le Mat as Professor Bigelow, and during the proceedings a bunch of semi-famous faces pop up here and there on-screen. Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With Andre, The Princess Bride) plays a wimpy landlord and Louise Fletcher is a hard edged UFO expert who knows more about the aliens than she lets on. One problem is that the script doesn't give these actors a whole lot to do. Director Michael Laughlin is not a bad director (he included a few cool shots from outer space), and I know that writer William Condon can pen a screenplay since he made the moving James Whale biography Gods and Monsters. It just feels as if this movie is lazy, as if the creators couldn't come up with anything original after thinking up the premise. The special effects aren't that special (unless you count a few aliens shooting blue lightning out of their fingers "special"), and the anti-climactic ending doesn't really satisfy. Here is Judge Patrick's Movie Tip # 277: If you're going to have malevolent alien beings come to earth, make sure there's a grand showdown at the end of the film. While the general public may not always hunger for inflated human vs. human violence, I think it's safe to say that we do like seeing the our race drop kick a few space aliens whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I'm feeling in a somewhat forgiving mood today, and I am going to let Strange Invaders off the hook because it was made back in 1983. Nostalgia is a funny thing—I will always have fond memories of the horror parody Saturday The 14th even though it's a pretty crappy movie (I just saw it again for the first time in about 12 years and boy, did it ever suck). For some poor guy out there Strange Invaders is their personal Saturday The 14th. Buddy, whoever you are…I can relate.
Strange Invaders is presented in 2.35: 1 anamorphic widescreen. All I can say is "wow, what a cruddy looking print this is!" I don't know if it's MGM's fault, or if it was just that the original source material was really very shoddy. Either way, I was very unimpressed with this transfer. The whole movie looks as if it were shot with a thin sheet of tissue paper over the lens. Images appear very soft and out of focus, and colors tend to have a bleeding effect that is very irritating. The print includes much grain and dirt, and edge enhancement pops up in a few key scenes. I'm sorry to report that this is one of the worst looking transfers from a major studio that I've seen in a long while.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono in English and doesn't fare much better. The bulk of the dialogue sounded very quite and soft, making much of it hard to hear. Overall there was a lack of fidelity and depth that was very disappointing. On the other hand, music and effects seemed to be generally clear with only the slightest amount of distortion present. Also included on this disc are Spanish and French subtitles.
Surprisingly, Strange Invaders sports an extra feature not found on most of the MGM "Midnite Movies." A Commentary with director Michael Laughlin and writer William Condon is included, and I think it's safe to way that this commentary is more interesting than the movie. Condon and Laughlin are both a bit dry, but they seem to have an extensive knowledge about extra terrestrials, sci-fi movies, and the production of the film. Also included on this disc is an original theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen.
You know, I have to give MGM credit for making sure that these "Midnite Movies" are priced right. You should be able to find Strange Invaders for around $10-15, and if you loved this as a kid then it might be worth the effort to pick it up at your local Best Buy. I can't say this was any great shakes of a movie for me, but to each his own. Fans will be happy to see the commentary track included on this disc, which makes the price tag even easier on your wallet.
Strange Invaders is guilty being only slightly entertaining fare. MGM is slapped with a large fine for such bad audio and video presentations, but acquitted for throwing a commentary track on this disc.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director Michael Laughlin and Writer William Condon
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