Friday, February 9, 2024

Alien Predator (1986)

... aka: Alien Predators
... aka: Cosmos mortal
... aka: Drapieżca z kosmosu (A Predator from Outer Space)
... aka: Falling, The
... aka: Mutant II
... aka: Uhka avaruudesta (Threat from Space)

Directed by:
Deran Sarafian

Interesting casting decision here to lead with Lynn-Holly Johnson and Martin Hewitt, not because both stars are any better or worse than others who'd probably be appearing in something like this, but because both had been mercilessly savaged by critics just prior to being cast. Hewitt bizarrely started out his career simultaneously on the top and on the bottom. While his breakout role in the teen romance Endless Love (1981) paired him up with a then-popular Brooke Shields, was made for major studio Universal under the guidance of respected Italian director Franco Zeffirelli and did well at the box office, both the film and the performances were absolutely savaged by most critics. Hewitt, who had to beat out over 5,000 other actors (including Tom Cruise) for the part, then ended up earning his first acting award nomination. Unfortunately, that award was the "Worst New Star" Razzie. After the one-two gut punch of Love and the all-star comedic misfire Yellowbeard (1983), he was pretty much done for in big budget Hollywood films and it was TV guest spots and B-movies from then on out. Hewitt capped things off by appearing in a number of erotic thrillers in the 90s before calling it a day as an actor. He now runs a home inspection business.

Unlike Hewitt, who basically face planted out of the gate, pretty blonde Johnson's career started out on a high note. She was a competitive figure skater, moved on to the Ice Capades and received a star vehicle soon after in the popular ice skating romantic drama Ice Castles (1978), which netted her some surprisingly good critical notices and a Golden Globe nomination. However, poorly-received roles in Disney's The Watcher in the Woods (1980) and the Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981) knocked her back a few pegs, and then a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie turn in the God awful Where the Boys Are (1984) knocked her down the rest of the way. Johnson's acting career was never able to recover and her film and TV appearances grew sparse starting around 1990. She's now also retired from film acting.

Completing the trio is Dennis Christopher, a former child actor whose career has also had ups and downs, though it's certainly more notable that the other two stars regardless. As a young teen he appeared in the sleazy drive-in horror film Blood and Lace (1971). By the end of the decade he landed the lead role in the Oscar-winning bicycling drama Breaking Away (1979). His performance earned him a BAFTA win and a Golden Globe nomination for "Most Promising Star" plus he was selected as one of twelve "Promising New Actors of 1979" in John Willis' Screen World. He then took on the lead role in the mediocre horror film Fade to Black (1980) and a supporting part in the Best Picture Oscar winner Chariots of Fire (1981).

Seeing how his career wasn't exactly in the toilet in 1984, I was initially perplexed as to how Christopher ended up in this thing. It wasn't until I connected a few dots that it all started to make sense. Director Sarafian, who was first employed doing uncredited jobs for Roger Corman's company, is the son of director Richard C. Sarafian (Vanishing Point) and Helen Joan Altman, the sister of acclaimed director Robert Altman. Christopher had appeared in Altman's ensemble comedy A Wedding back in 1978, so this looks like just another case of an aspiring young director simply having the right family connections to land an established actor. Similarly, Johnson was dating the director at the time, though I'm not sure if they were dating before this was made or started dating during filming.

The opening text scroll reads "May 14, 1973: NASA launched Skylab Space Station into orbit around Earth. Objective: To perform a series of highly classified experiments that could not take place on Earth. July 11, 1979: Skylab's orbit decays and re-enters the Earth's atmosphere." The film then cuts to flaming Skylab debris scattered in the deserts of Duarte, Spain. In reality, Skylab was an occupied space station for less than a year and, upon re-entry into Earth's orbit (which was a huge media event in '79), debris was scattered in the Indian Ocean and Western Australia, not Spain. But I suppose historical accuracy isn't a chief concern here so we'll just brush all that aside and get on with the movie...

Best friends Damon (Christopher) and Michael (Hewitt), along with gal pal tag-along Samantha (Johnson), are on a cross country trip through Europe in an RV when they cross over into Spain. As far as characterizations go, Sam has basically designated herself as den mother to the guys and has inadvertently been terrorizing them with her awful cooking (example: pork tartar), which the guys suffer through in silence because they're both smitten with her. Before you can say "I'm so hungry I could eat a..." we cut to bunch of wild dogs feasting on the guts of a disemboweled cow, which means they're not only going to be infected with whatever killed the cow but they're also still probably eating better than Damon and Michael. After stumbling upon the bloody scene, the trio basically shrug and then venture on to Duarte. Experiencing some car problems, they set up camp on the outskirts of the town.

The following day, after having a truly embarrassing "comic" encounter with an Indian couple and their young daughter talking about diarrhea, they head into Duarte and discover there's something seriously wrong going on. Not only is the village almost completely uninhabited, but those who remain are all behaving in a Body Snatchers-style manor. After a zombie-like café waitress shows up with huge hair, a bloody nose and a decided lack of both professionalism and basic hygiene, they split and are then almost run over by someone in a van on their way out. They return to their campsite and Sam, angered by a blowjob joke (!?), runs back into town all by herself to do some grocery shopping. Yes, this is in spite of the fact they'd just been attacked there. To no one's surprise but her own, she finds herself getting attacked yet again and eventually kidnapped.

We also meet a few other characters along the way. Investigator Wells (J.O. Bosso, who's dubbed over by the director's father) shows up to inquire about a series of other Americans who've disappeared there after coming to check up on surviving scientist Dr. Tracer (Luis Prendes). The two analyze a bloated corpse of another scientist in a hotel before heading out to the "NASA Research Center" (in BFE Spain?), which is run out of a huge castle (!) with five underground levels (!!) Curiously, every other staff member who's been working there has vanished.

What's eventually revealed is that Skylab wasn't just doing regular old space experiments, but instead analyzing alien microbes that were found on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission. Alan Shepard, what were you hiding from us all that time? Said microbes were then unleashed on Earth after the Skylab debris returned. A five year period of dormancy followed but now we've reached the end result: infection, madness and death just 48 hours after exposure. The microbes feast on human DNA, which enables them to rapid-grow into small alien creatures that leave the host body after being fully formed.

As a creature feature, this has some mild pluses, namely a budget sufficient enough to have passable production values, scout for good locations, create a few sets, throw in a few explosions and car chases and include a couple of gory special effects by Mark Shostrom. Otherwise, this is a great example of what happens when any bit of good you have going in your favor gets squandered because of a terrible screenplay and poor direction that allows the film to come to an almost complete halt during the final half hour. You know, when it should be exciting. There's also major anticlimactic disappointment that the actual formed alien is only visible in a single scene and all we get of it are very brief flashes. I couldn't even get a clear screen grab of the damn thing!

Not only is the pacing awful and the plot not particularly interesting, but this tries so aggressively hard to make its protagonists witty and personable that the exact opposite ends up happening and everyone comes off obnoxious and annoying as hell. The dialogue is consistently awkward, the friendly competition for the chick shtick grows tiresome after a short while and the casting is also bizarre, with the geeky Christopher cast as the studly, popular, outgoing ladies man and the hunky Hewitt playing the "homier" one filled with self doubt. After sitting through all kinds of dumb nonsense, this then expects us to actually care about their friendship, and find it all charming and heartwarming. No sir. That did not hit at all.

As for Johnson, she's perky and cute at times but her line deliveries are even more stilted and awkward than the guys' forced banter. I could go into the numerous illogical moments and stupid plot points in more detail here, but there's really no point. The only other thing really worth mentioning is the large quantity of blatant Twilight Zone jokes / references littered throughout, which are here because Sarafian Sr. had directed the famous "Living Doll" episode of the series back in 1963.

Filmed under the title The Falling in Spain in 1984, this was made at the same time as Monster Dog (1984) for the same production company, Continental Motion Pictures, which was founded by Eduard Sarlui and his sister Helen Szabo. The two would later go on to produce better genre films like Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) and I, Madman (1989). Carlos Aured was another producer and did not have very nice things to say about the filmmakers nor the experience in general. In fact, the film pushed him into early retirement!

After completion, this was shelved for several years before finally being released. Given a very limited theatrical run, it first turned up on home video in the UK with the bogus sequel title Mutant II. Here in the U.S., eventual distributor TransWorld re-titled it Alien Predator to obviously cash in on two popular big budget sci-fi blockbusters: Ridley Scott's ALIEN and John McTiernan's PREDATOR. The latter was getting a lot of press beforehand and was still in post production whenever this hit video stores. Strangely, TransWorld used the plural Predators on the advertising materials and video box, yet the singular Predator for the title screen. Scream Factory released the film on Blu-ray in 2018, which comes with a director commentary.

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