Saturday, September 25, 2021

Visitants, The (1987)

... aka: Die Nacht der Ausserirdischen
... aka: Les envahisseurs de l'espace (The Invaders from Space)
... aka: Night of the Extraterrestrials

Directed by:
Rick Sloane

I figured I'd hop from HOBGOBLINS (1988) right on over to this earlier Sloane film because, well, sometimes you just want to get all of the pain and suffering out of the way as soon as possible. The director has described this one as being "an homage to Plan 9 from Outer Space," which instantly triggered my auto-cringe reflex. It still floors me that so many wannabe "cult" filmmakers don't realize that if you intentionally make something stupid, inept and bad, it doesn't magically then make your film somehow good. It's still stupid, inept and bad, only it usually ends up even worse than the supposed bad movie you're trying to make fun of. An accidentally terrible film typically still has its earnest, likable and charming qualities, but a film that's purposely bad almost always comes off as arch, cynical and a huge waste of time. I mean, what's there to really like about a filmmaker who doesn't even care enough to attempt to make a good film? To me, that's far less admirable than a director with good intentions who winds up making a terrible film. At least that person tried.

One thing that's impressive about Sloane, and something I will give him endless kudos for, is the fact he just went out there and made his own movies regardless of what anyone had to say about it. He attended Los Angeles City College and was reputedly told by multiple professors that he had no talent and would never make it as a director. He ignored them and then turned around and directed a number of low budget 35mm films that were highly successful and profitable VHS releases. To date, Sloan has made a total of around 15 features at the cost of less than a million dollars. Let me rephrase that: The combined budgets of all fifteen of his films is less than a million dollars. And many of these went on to receive international distribution on home video and likely grossed tens of millions. Regardless of what you or I may think about his movies, that's certainly commendable, at least from a business standpoint.

The Visitants opens with a bickering, human-looking alien couple; Exeter ("Johanna Grika" / Jordana Capra) and Lubbock (Joel Hile), landing on Earth in the 1950s and immediately turning their ray guns on a young couple who've just returned from watching a monster movie at their local drive-in. That's followed by some cute opening credits spiced up with simple bits of animation. So far, so good. We then jump ahead thirty years as the alien couple, who haven't aged a day in their decades on Earth and have settled under-the-radar into suburban living, prepare to move on to the "final stage" of their mission. However, the flashing lights and loud noises coming from their home attract the attention of their next door neighbor: high school senior Eric (Marcus Vaughter).

Thanks to the frequent ruckus, Eric has been kept up all hours of the night and is starting to tire of it, both figuratively and literally. When he wakes up one morning, he finds that his alarm clock has been mysteriously cut in half, though none of the inner mechanisms has been damaged. He consults his science teacher, Professor Levelland ("Jeffrey Culver" / James R. Sweeney), about this, but he doesn't have a clue what's occurred. Eric begins to suspect that a toy laser gun he's seen his neighbors messing around with has something to do with it. Levelland then suggests he try to get his hands on the gun and bring it to him. Looking at this through contemporary eyes (at least by someone who doesn't live in the Deep South), it's downright comical to see a teacher suggest a student bring a gun into school.

Eric breaks into the alien's house, finds their laser gun and hides it in his backpack. When the aliens catch him there, they tell him they work as T. V. repairmen and hand him a convincing note signed by "Their Boss" that reads "Lubbock and Exeter are t.v. repairmen. Uh, that's right, t.v. repairmen." Lubbock accidentally uses his powers to close a drawer without touching it, which forces them to finally let cat out of the bag. They're aliens! But they're at least kind enough to give Eric a friendly warning. If he tells another soul about what he's just seen, they'll either be forced to kill him or take him back to their home planet when they do leave, which will be very soon.

Once they discover their gun missing, Exeter and Lubbock go after Eric at school, which ends with Eric stabbing Lubbock during a pumpkin carving demonstration, which doesn't even phase the alien. With their Earth evacuation date fast approaching (it's scheduled for Halloween night), the aliens then decide to just kill Eric after he reveals the whereabouts of their laser. He eavesdrops on their conversation and learns of their plans but is unable to convince his parents (Cliff Corder, Joan Tinei) not to go to Palm Springs for the weekend. With the folks away, his best friend Sherwin (William Thomas Dristas) decides to throw a Halloween party. The aliens, who we learn are able to change their appearance into whatever they want, crash the shindig and kidnap Eric, Sherwin and Eric's girlfriend Ellen (Nicole Rio).

Well, whatta ya know! Though I'm shocked to find myself saying this, and it may be because I had my expectations set at their lowest possible level prior to viewing, but I found Visitants (gasp!) somewhat enjoyable. Or, at least it all went down painlessly enough, especially when compared to most of the director's other films. Sure, it's still incredibly cheap, poorly made, written and acted at times, thinly plotted and filled with overly long, static camera set-ups, lame comic sound effects and peculiar dead end conversations that don't seem to have much to do with anything. However, it also manages to create a good-natured and enjoyably daft tone that partially makes up for the many areas where it's seriously lacking.

Though the acting is generally bad, I enjoyed the amusingly dispassionate performances from Hile and (especially) Capra as the emotionless aliens. Vaughter is decently likable as the male lead, as well, though the poor guy didn't have much of a career thanks to always getting typecast. He appeared in just four other films and since I've actually now seen all of them I can confirm that he got stuck playing a nerd / geek in ALL FIVE of these movies! I don't even know if Eddie Deezen had it so bad. Vaughter, Dristas and Sweeney can all be seen in NIGHTMARE SISTERS (1988) and Vaughter and Rio were both in the slasher flick SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986).

The production values and special effects are basically non-existent here. And when you don't have any money for sets and props, you have to whip out the colored gel lights and fog machines, make a living room look "alien" with a strategically placed lava lamp and use a regular ole satellite dish as the alien's means of communication back to their home planet. There's also an alien monster (seen only at the beginning and end) which is basically just a guy in a rubber mask and an even less impressive puppet monster which is seen for all of 5 seconds. Sloane also plugs his earlier film BLOOD THEATRE (1984) and throws in a nightmare sequence where Eric is tied down to his bed and cut open with an electric hedge trimmer (!?)

Fred Olen Ray is thanked in the end credits, the cast also includes Ralph Lucas (Beverly Hills Vamp) as a janitor and Kelley Palmer (one of the stars of Hobgoblins) and it was shot in 9 days on a budget of just 8,500 dollars. This is (I believe falsely) listed as a 1986 release on most websites, which conflicts with both the 1987 copyright date in the end credits and the initial 1987 VHS release from TransWorld Entertainment. It was reissued on video just three years later by Star Classics and, in 2018, received a DVD and Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome.

Hobgoblins (1988)

... aka: A koboldok éjszakája (The Night of the Goblins)
... aka: Goblins
... aka: Hobgoblins - La stirpe da estirpare (Hobgoblins - The Lineage to be Eradicated) (?!)
... aka: Hobgoblins - Seres de fantasía (Hobgoblins: Fantasy Beings)

Directed by:
Rick Sloane

According to director Sloane himself (in a 2009 interview with Dread Central), Hobgoblins was an immediate financial success upon release. Distribution rights were sold to more than 50 countries, it was dubbed into numerous languages and was a worldwide video store staple in the late 80s through the 90s. Not only that, but the film enjoyed frequent late night TV airings, most notably being featured on the much-missed USA Up All Night. In 1998, the film was given an additional boost after being lampooned on the ninth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which became one of the most popular episodes of the entire series. Since then, its reputation as a bad movie classic has soared. It got to the point where Sloane eventually had to clap back with the 20-years-later sequel Hobgoblins 2 (2009; also his last feature to date) and the retrospective documentary Hobgoblins: The Making of a DisasterPiece (released that same year).

Hobgoblins has had a seemingly permanent place on the IMDb Bottom 100; currently sitting pretty comfortably at #30, though it's been as high as #2 on the list before. Just about every website and blog and online review outlet that covers bad movies has discussed this at one point or another. It's not only received multiple releases (starting with Retromedia's DVD back in 2002 all the way up to a Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in 2016), but the MST3K episode was released itself by both Rhino and Shout! Factory and this was later included on numerous DVDs hosted by the likes of Elvira (as part of the "13 Days of Elvira" series) and Elvira knock-off Morella (as part of the "Morella Presents Graveyard Theater" series). In 2021, it was the subject of a Rifftrax Live episode. So quite a lot of attention has been bestowed upon this little film over the years. Let's see just how bad this thing truly is, shall we...

Irresponsible young security guard Dennis (Kevin Kildow), who's too busy jamming to his Walkman to pay much attention to anything else going on at the film studio where he's employed, ignores his superior Mr. McCreedy's (Jeffrey Culver) warnings to stay out of the film vault. Next thing he knows he's living out his fantasy as a rock singer and then falling off the stage to his death. Turns out he's the third guard at this studio to disappear within just a few weeks of hiring which is doubly peculiar because this particular film studio has been closed down for decades. Young guard #4 aka Kevin (Tom Barlett) is brought in to take the last guy's place. Unlike the slackers they usually get in there, Kevin is mature, studious ("I'm ready to take notes!") and grateful for the job.

Kevin is dating the conservative Amy (Paige Sullivan), who is spoiled, insensitive and so uptight she refuses to watch any videos with sex or violence. Kevin's friends are an eclectic bunch that includes the Madonna-on-steroids-dressed, "kooky" and always-horny Daphne (Kelley Palmer) and dateless, phone sex addicted nerd Kyle (Steven Boggs), who frequently calls up "976-SCAG" and bills it to Kevin. Daphne's cocky, gung ho boyfriend Nick (Billy Frank), who's just returned from two months of army basic training, forces Kevin into a rake vs. hoe duel on the front lawn that seems to go on forever and ends with Kevin keeling over in pain on the ground. His caring and supportive girlfriend then turns to him and says, "You looked really pathetic!" If the director's intention was to make us hate all of the main characters in the shortest amount of time, he has succeeded admirably!

Late one night, a knife-armed burglar (Ken Abraham) breaks into the film studio, giving Kevin the opportunity to try to impress Amy by capturing him. Kevin hears a noise coming from the off-limits film vault, opens it up and accidentally unleashes four little hobgoblin mini-monsters in the process. These alien creatures came down to Earth in a tiny spaceship thirty years earlier and quickly proved to be little hellraisers with the ability to tap into a victim's mind, make their wildest dreams come true and then make those fantasies come crashing down, resulting in death. After they killed many at the studio (which was closed as a result), McCreedy hid them safely away in the dark vault and has been guarding over them ever since. Seeing how they're attracted to light and much more powerful the brighter it is, they must be rounded up and captured before daybreak.

The hobgoblins immediately go to Kevin's house and attack his friends. For Kyle, they deliver Fantazia ("Tami Bakke" / Tamara Clatterbuck), the phone sex operator he's been constantly calling, to his doorstep. She then lures him to the town's make-out point and tries to push his car over a cliff... with him it. Thankfully Kevin shows up just in the nick of time to save him. However, when they return home, they realize Amy has run off to a punk / biker bar called Club Scum to live out her secret fantasy of becoming a "rock video slut."

While at Club Scum, we meet some other colorful characters like horny doorman Roadrash (Duane Whitaker), beehive-sporting 60s-style waitress Pixie (Kari French), a flamboyant MC in a red sequin jacket (Daran Norris) and Nick's commanding officer (James Mayberry), who shows up and attempts to coerce Daphne into gang banging a truck full of soldiers out in the parking lot (?!) I would say that's all fine and dandy, though little of it is actually funny, but the creatures of the title disappear for such a long period of time while all that nonsense is going on that we all but forget about them. They do use their "powers" to make Amy do a G-rated striptease for the audience and allow Nick to start throwing grenades around everywhere and live out his Rambo fantasies, but other than that they're basically shoved onto the back burner for the entire remainder of the film.

So, first things first. Yes, this is a truly terrible movie, and it's terrible in ways that have little to do with the lack of budget or the lack of effort. Most of the performances are adequate, there's decent music from a band called The Fontanelles and some low budget energy to be found in here, but the writing is abysmal. The characters are incredibly annoying, most of the jokes fall flat and there's just something curiously and genuinely unpleasant about this whole thing that keeps it from ever being fun. A crude, perverse and rather mean-spirited undercurrent is felt throughout, but Sloane (a self-proclaimed John Waters fan) keeps pulling back from that and refuses to ever commit (something Waters could seldom ever be accused of). At other times he tries to be more flippant and even shoots for lightweight and heartwarming a few times. None of it works. Reviews usually cite the moronic sound effects ("Boing!") and cheap-looking doll monsters (designed by Kenneth J. Hall) getting tossed around by the cast as two of the worst issues, but they're actually the least of this film's problems!

One of the bright spots is the performance from veteran character actor Culver; a familiar face from Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau and other Sloane movies. His IMDb page has just 17 films listed. However, there's an additional 41 credits for this actor to be found on IMDb under another name he used: James R. Sweeney, which appears to be his actual name. This guy was able to land roles on mainstream soap operas and TV shows like Saved by the Bell and Seinfeld while also (likely unbeknownst to casting agents!) appearing in all manner of sexploitation drive-in flicks, schlock horror and even hardcore porn films. Seeing how he hasn't been in anything since 2002, it's likely he's passed away by now, but he gives a pretty charming performance here under the circumstances. Some of the other actors (namely Whitaker, Clatterbuck and Norris) can also be very funny with the right material. This just isn't good material.

Filmed in just one week for 15,000 dollars, Sloane says part of the problem with the film was that the puppets "were operated by a woman who just got out of a mental hospital" (!) and that the studio scenes were filmed in a parking lot "right next to a crack house" (!!) This is also strangely similar to DeCoteau's SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA in a number of ways. Both contain little creatures who grant wishes that then backfire and an elderly guardian who's been tasked with keeping guard over the creatures for decades prior to them / it being released. However, Sorority is a lot better because it establishes its campy, exploitative tone right out of the gate and sticks with it (having Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Brinke Stevens and Buck Flower in the cast certainly doesn't hurt matters either), while this movie doesn't seem to know what in the hell it wants to be.

Sloane also made the absolutely awful slasher flick MOVIE HOUSE MASSACRE (1984), the sci-fi comedy The Visitants (1986), the Satanic cult film Mind, Body & Soul (1992), as well as a handful of comedies, most notably Vice Academy (1988), which was an even bigger hit than Hobgoblins and followed by five sequels.

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