The True ABCs of Death: S is for Sublunar

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Suggested Audio Candy:

 

[1] Jerry Goldsmith “Alien”

[2] Henry Mancini “Lifeforce”

[3] Richard Band “TerrorVision”

 

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In space no one can hear you scream. Funnily enough, while all the other kids in school harbored grand designs of becoming astronauts, I was never particularly interested. There was one man single-handedly responsible for keeping me grounded and his name was Ridley Scott. Had Alien have been released before Apollo 11 set off in 1969, then perhaps Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would have had second thoughts about their expedition. Conspiracy theorists have since suggested it was all an elaborate hoax to grab the initiative from the Russians but that sounds suspiciously like rotten eggs to me. Whether or not they actually touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, it certainly inspired film makers to go where no man had gone before and Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece provided a pitch perfect template for intergalactic terror which still holds up to close scrutiny nearly four decades later.

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We start with hapless Kane and he paid a princely sum for his over-inquisitive nature after peeking inside that discarded ovium. After receiving a persistent facehugger to his helmet for his troubles, the danger appeared to have passed for Kane and hours later he was tucking into his in-flight meal with the rest of his crew without a trouble in the world. However, the malignant bioform hadn’t even gotten started, and what began as a faint stomach cramp turned into something far more ominous before the ill-fated astronaut could grab his dessert spoon. The mess hall soon lived up to its name as it turned out that he had been used merely as an incubator and was about to become a parent. On the plus side, he didn’t have to suffer full-term and swollen ankles, but that was the only positive to be gleaned as the gestating xenomorph swiftly introduced itself via cesarean section and the proverbial shit hit the fan at its uppermost setting.

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If anyone was going to feel hard done by then Lieutenant Ellen Ripley could be forgiven for bearing a grudge as his inquisitive nature earned her a running feud which increasingly robbed her of her estrogen. By the time her escape pod crash landed on that ore refinery for David Fincher’s Alien³, she barely even resembled a woman any more and, after shaving her head and joining the inmates of this prison planet, any memories of her stripping down to change into her space suit aboard the Nostromo were distant and fading fast. Nevertheless, she still managed to get laid, and release some of those beans which had been pent-up ever since Hicks fell asleep just before their planned union. However, she should have read the rules and regulations before letting Clemens blast her barricade as, in paragraph 43, it clearly stated that xenomorphs are entitled to sloppy seconds. One in the oven swiftly followed and suddenly her priorities changed to dirty diapers and the worst kind of breast-feeding imaginable.

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Unwittingly, Kane had opened one helluva can of worms and numerous low-rent clones began to surface with increasing regularity. Roger Corman followed suit and his production line was responsible for some of the finest B-movie carbon copies of the epoch. Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror was perhaps the most memorable example of what you could do with a shoe-string budget. Those aliens are a randy bunch for sure as Dameia discovered after her revulsion for worms was exploited by a humongous sex-craved space maggot. If the xenomorphs were more the wham, bam, thank you ma’am variety then this lecherous larvae was more interested in a sound slathering. No impregnation this time and, instead, Dameia was left truly spent by the close of their revolting rendezvous.

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Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World also plopped off the same production line a year later and, while not quite as deranged as Clark’s high-flyer, got by on its breakneck pace and some wonderfully schlocky grue. Subject 20 proved particularly heinous as this experimental lifeform made short work of the research team in question. Interestingly, its design incorporated human DNA, and its process involved causing its subject to erode into a man-sized protein bar which it later chowed down upon. Kane had it easy with that chestburster as Subject 20 had no intention of a simple smash and grab. Holzman’s film did however and its lean 77 minute runtime was punchier than a queen alien on whack-a-mole and never once threatened to outstay its welcome. It even threw in a little interstellar lesbianism to pep things up further.

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Despite possessing a canny knack for turning profit, not everything Corman touched was golden. A decade later he set out to remake Holzman’s film and Fred Gallo’s Dead Space didn’t fare quite so well. It took everything which made Forbidden World work and dulled it down some making its ever leaner 72 minute duration something of a drag by all accounts. The sets lacked imagination, characters lacked pulses, and even the sex and gore was toned down. Even a lively turn from Bryan Cranston couldn’t save it from the doldrums although the alien itself was rather well designed. Having said that, it did appear to be running on tracks as attested by the moment it lost temporary control of its many limbs, shot past Marc Singer, and head butted a glass partition. That may well have been the film’s crowning moment.

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Stanley Donen’s Saturn 3 pitted interstellar lovers Alex and Adam against anally retentive technocrat Benson and his malignant droid HECTOR as their plans for copulation were forced onto the back burner for the foreseeable. Despite offering Benson a hero’s welcome, things didn’t go quite according to plan, and he began lusting over Alex in no time. Things grew decidedly more ominous as he programmed his robot by connecting it to his own cerebrum via data port implant and uploading it with every one of his sick puppy perversions. This was a cracking little movie, bolstered by fine performances from Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, and the wonderful Harvey Kietel. Indeed, no interstellar DVD collection would be quite complete without it.

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Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination caused a frenzy upon its release in 1980 as the censors took exception to all manner of grisly chest bursting effects and attempted to banish it from circulation. It turned out to be a flash in the pan and, thirty years on, it seems laughable that this would have caused such widespread panic. Alas, for Cozzi, his producer’s insistence that the film should focus more on James Bond-style elements, left us with a muddled affair which started and ended strongly but padded out its midsection with so much needless exposition that I almost felt my chest preparing to explode too. While not one of the better space bandits in existence, Contamination was also far from the worst.

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That dubious dishonor fell to Lance Lindsay’s woeful Star Crystal and this occupied the very bottom rung of Alien knock offs. The crew of the SC-37 seemed to be in dire straits as our resident evil commenced on its warpath and it appeared we were headed for another cheap carbon copy rip-off but then something totally unprecedented transpired. If that is sounding like a positive then, let me assure you, it ain’t. Even aliens are well within their rights to have a change of heart and, after perusing the ship’s bible and finding Jesus, their terrifying aggressor becomes the survivor’s new best friend. They engage in chess tournaments together and, while I have to give kudos to Lindsay for opting for a left field approach, texas hold ’em would have been far less laborious to watch. For a moment I thought I was watching Joe Dante’s Explorers but there was no sign of Ethan Hawke or anything resembling quality. Just stalemate.

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Ciro Ippolito’s Alien 2: On Earth had the gall to consider itself a sequel to Scott’s pièce de résistance although, all things considered, it was something of a bloody riot. In no way to be considered the fifth Beatle, this film almost cost Ippolito severely as 20th Century Fox filed a $10m law-suite for use of the title. It was later flagged up that they had no divine right to claim the word Alien, as a 1930 novel bore the same mantle, and eventually their case capitulated. The film itself was a long chalk from classic but the mine setting served it well, as did the magnanimous practical splatter. Fond recollections of the early eighties comprise low-rent gemstones such as Alien 2: On Earth and, if you can track it down, I recommend seeing how the Italians run shit. Fulci pulled a similar stunt with Zombi 2 and you didn’t see Romero wagging his gloriously elongated finger.

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The British got involved too and Norman J. Warren’s Inseminoid may not have reached the high standard of other space horrors doing the rounds at the time but it did possess one of the best film titles ever picked out of the hat. It will come as no great surprise that insemination played a part and its technique for seeding was perhaps the most grotesque of the lot as it was all about the ejaculate. Semen is traditionally an off-whitish color but surely warning signs should have been chiming for Sandy as the dubious green fluid filled up its glass member and made its way to the eye of her storm. Needless to say, her impregnation was to every other living soul’s detriment as she embarked on an opportunist spree, becoming the true villain of the piece. Poorly paced, confused, and utterly preposterous, Warren’s oddity was still worthy of a certain degree of merit, if only for that glorious seeding.

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William Malone’s Titan Find fared better than most and a solid cast made the absolute utmost from the material they were provided. Perhaps the most fascinating character was Hans Rudy Hofner played by flamboyant genius Klaus Kinski. The perverse German engineer was only a bit player but his constant attempts to cop a quick grope of po-faced Bryce were predictably a pleasure to witness. He even managed the astounding feat of making a simple sandwich eating exercise bizarrely compelling and that was no small feat. Kinski was notoriously cantankerous and his very presence on set was enough to incite embolisms for weaker minded associates but he made up for that every time he heard the word “action!” I endorse this hidden treasure fairly whole-heartily.

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John Carpenter’s The Thing was hands-down one of the best sci-fi movies of all time and pitted a gaggle of alphas against each other as their remote Antarctic outpost became compromised in no uncertain terms. I often recall the infamous blood test scene but feel like shooting from a different hip for a change and wax a little about Clark’s prize huskies. I like dogs, they’re swell, and I have nothing but canine love on most occasions, but these mangy mutts were perhaps a little too off-the-leash for my liking and the moment when husky #1 opened wide and revealed its flailing tendrils was enough to swing me over to cats.

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Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce was something of a flop and critically mauled upon its landing in 1985. Sure it was overly ambitious, mildly preposterous, and a mess of gargantuan proportions, but it was also more fun than a sack of inebriated meerkats, and introduced the world to the irrepressible Mathilda May. After a space shuttle returned from Halley’s Comet with unexpected cargo and Space Girl woke from her cyber sleep, feeling like a little lip service, merry hell broke loose and she kissed and told in a manner far less than hospitable. Goddamn this woman was put together by the gods and, had I been offered a little tonsil tickle, then I’d have been a sun-dried raisin in picoseconds just like her other sorry quarry. However, I’d still have a smile on my face as my cheeks caved in and both eyeballs retracted into my hemorrhaged brain.

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William Sachs’ The Incredible Melting Man also tackled the topic of ill-fated space voyage as Steve West discovered what really happens when you look at the sun through the rings of Saturn. Upon his return to earth he started liquefy and it was no surprise that nobody was lining up to pucker up as he set off in search of a smooch. The film itself may have been slight but time has been kind, particularly with regards to the schlock. Making The Toxic Avenger resemble Cary Grant is no small feat but there was nothing north or northwest about Harry Woolman’s glorious FX as everything went south for our fast-reducing astronaut.

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It’s that time again Grueheads. It has become customary for me to mention Harry Bromley Davenport’s E.T. antithesis, Xtro, at least once in every calendar month and I feel well within my right on this occasion as, while all extraterrestrials may not be friendly, they do all deserve their moment to shine or, in the case of Xtro, an infinite number of moments. I’ll keep this one brief and say simply this: watch Xtro. Should you be French then montre Xtro is the correct term I believe and, Hebrew, Xtro צפה. Basically I’m out of ways of spunking my space jelly about this marvellous maverick of a movie. However, I shall battle on regardless, and here it is in a nutshell. Clown shoes, bogus birth-plans, life-sized action figures, crabby panthers, tiny tanks with small tank complex, wall-mounted Pez dispensers, embittered yo-yos, floppy hammers, father-son alien love-bites, and a naked Maryam D’Abo. Do I really need say any more?

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Fred Dekker’s Night of The Creeps deserves a mention as it introduced us to parasitic skin suckers delivered by way of an alien crash site and then commenced to throw everything, including kitchen sink and latrine, at the screen. Part slasher, part zombie apocalypse, part slacker comedy…all good. Not only was this one of the best space invasions of the entire epoch but it was one of the decade’s best horror movies…period! The icing on the cake was the incalculable Tom Atkins as nonchalant detective Ray Cameron and there isn’t a film in our solar system, or any other come to think of it, that wouldn’t benefit from this man’s beautifully pitted features. “Thrill me!” Dekker happily abided and the result is a movie affectionately remembered amongst horror circles to this very day.

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Speaking of cherished memories, Jack Sholder’s The Hidden arrived a year later and became an instant rental classic. Again, an alien parasite was responsible for the carnage, only this time it had a penchant for engaging in a spot of grand theft auto before locating its next unwitting host. It remains one of life’s greatest mysteries to me that more people aren’t aware of The Hidden. Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri shared great chemistry, it had fast cars, loose women, and enough forced oral transference to provide gag reflex. Still not sold? Then allow me to wrap up with its tagline. “It killed 37 people, robbed 6 banks, 2 liquor stores, a record shop and stole 2 Ferraris. Now the fun starts. It just took over a police station”. Now tell me you’re not up for a little deep throat.

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Stephen Herek gave us Critters and I’m not sure he should be thanked for that one. Actually, it was pretty harmless fun and the furry vengeance provoked made for a mildly diverting 82 minutes, plus three increasingly inane sequels. Leonardo DiCaprio popped up for the third, while Rupert Harvey’s Critters 4 finally saw these fuzzy fuckwits back where they belonged…in space…where nobody could hear them scream. It was fun while it lasted and, from what I hear, they relocated to Enemy Mine, date-raped Dennis Quaid and have been lying in wait for E.T. to come back from his intergalactic tour, to punish him for borrowing $30 back in 1982 and never coming good on his payment plan. In all fairness, E.T. had every intention of coughing up the monies until he received his quarterly phone bill. Pay the man E.T. or we may just see Critters 5 and, from what I hear, Henry Thomas is next on their hit list.

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Stephen Chiodo’s Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Ted Nicolaou’s lesser TerrorVision kept us stocked up on space spoof candies and did so with different levels of success. The latter relied solely on parody and never quite hit the spot frequently enough, despite enthusiastic turns from bug-eyed Gerrit Graham, long-faced MILF, Mary Woronov, and perhaps the most beautiful woman God ever got around to crafting from the nectar of angels, Diane Franklin. Having said that, if knowing lunacy is your bag, then you’ll find plenty of reasons to swing with the Puttermans.

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Killer Klowns From Outer Space was far more aware of its equilibrium and chose wisely to play things straight, despite being every bit as unhinged, and then some. Chiodo’s secret weapon was the klowns themselves as there was something decidedly sinister about the way they paraded about that big top, balloon animals snapping away at their ankles. Every bit as mean-spirited as they were taught back at Klown 101, they chose black comedy over out-and-out slapstick, leaving TerrorVision wearing the klown shoes.

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Kenneth Johnson’s TV mini-series V from 1983 was beyond majestic and way ahead of its time. This time the visiting Martians kept their identity shrouded until which time as Roddy Piper got his shades patented and it was left to a ragtag allied force to save the world from its imminent destruction. Jane Badler’s Diane and June Chadwick’s Lydia became the two women I most desired to watch mud wrestling in their bikinis and the whole affair was ship-shape from stem to stern. I could blather on all day and half of tomorrow about how good V was but I’m too busy filling my sand pit with top soil.

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I’m running low on oxygen right now so, alas, it looks like we won’t be heading to Riddick or the Event Horizon as planned. However, I cannot finish without making mention of Greydon Clark’s Without Warning from 1980. This time a pair of randy teenage backpackers were at threat, not only from airborne jellyfish, but also Martin Landau’s Fred ‘Sarge’ Dobbs. The deranged Vietnamese war veteran was convinced the pair were concealing their extraterrestrial identities while fellow eccentric, Jack Palance’s Joe Taylor, fought their corner. The pair were soon to be reunited for Alone in The Dark, directed by Sholder of The Hidden fame, but bizarrely this curate’s piece disappeared almost entirely without trace.

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This has been one helluva mission to Mars and I could easily rattle further but there’s a Ferrari Testarossa which I’ve been positively itching to test drive and I need to suss out how to walk in these damned heels. I’m glad that no one can hear you scream in space as we all have to let out a little frustration from time to time and its preferable when there’s not an audience. Howard Wolowitz made it to space so why shouldn’t I hold onto such faint aspiration? Should I bag myself a shuttle, then I’m heading straight to Space Girl’s home planet and bagging myself some Mathildas.

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Click here to read S is for Sisterhood

 

 

Things That Make You Go Eurgh!

 

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GREY KEEPER FRAME

2 Comments

  1. Great article. The Hidden is an underrated gem, though it’s sequel companion The Hidden 2 didn’t quite measure up.

    I’m a firm believe we do need more The Thing in our lives. Space is some scary shit and, as the last frontier, can be explored even more to find more scary shit.

    1. Thank you for your kind feedback. You’re right, space is the perfect playground for fear and I love nothing more than a rampaging alien or two in some tight quarters. Crawl or Die is a film I would heartily recommend if you haven’t seen it. Forgot to mention that in this article but have appraised it and you can find it in the Film Appraisal archives on the home page.

      You’re right about The Hidden by the way. Woefully overlooked film.

      Great to make your acquaintance and I hope you enjoy the site.

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