Review: Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #714

Also known as Alien Terror
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 11, 1980
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Survival Horror
Country of Origin: Italy, United States, United Kingdom
Budget: $200,000
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Ciro Ippolito, Biagio Proietti (uncredited)
Producers: Ciro Ippolito, Angiolo Stella
Screenplay: Ciro Ippolito
Special Effects: Ciro Ippolito
Cinematography: Silvio Fraschetti
Score: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis
Editing: Carlo Broglio
Studio: GPS
Distributors: Cinema Shares International Distribution, Fiesta Films
Stars: Belinda Mayne, Mark Bodin, Roberto Barrese, Benedetta Fantoli, Michele Soavi, Judy Perrin, Danilo Micheli, Claudio Falanga, Claudio Falanga, Donald Hodson, Ciro Ippolito

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Domenico Modugno “Meraviglioso”
[2] Amen “Down Human”
[3] Oliver Onions “Sulla Terra”

You’ve got to admire the Italians. If there’s one word that springs instantly to mind when considering the short order chefs of spaghetti cinema, then it would have to be “ballsy”. When George. A. Romero’s Dawn of The Dead was presented to Italian audiences under the guise of Zombi thanks to his dear friend Dario Argento, fellow countryman Lucio Fulci swiftly sniffed the opportunity to make a quick buck and the result was Zombi 2.

Credit where it’s due, Fulci’s effort stood more than proudly on its own merit and is now considered something of a timeless classic of zombie cinema. But it had precious little to do with Romero’s original, and instead, was content just to ride on the coat-tails of its illustrious forerunner. Back then it was all about suckering unsuspecting dupes into buying into your product by fair means or, more often than not, foul. Say what you will about Fulci but there can be absolutely no questioning that the man possessed some fairly spicy meatballs and wasn’t afraid to ladle on the marinara either.

Speaking of which, Ciro Ippolito had himself quite the pair too as he pulled a similar scam after Ridley Scott’s Alien burst into the multiplexes. The film was a worldwide theatrical success, prompting Ippolito to offer his own spin on this fresh folklore, although given that his production boasted a mere fraction of the funds required to replicate such an ambitious set-up, he opted for a D.I.Y. approach instead. Cheekily “borrowing” the brand name of the movie it was looking to emulate, Alien 2: On Earth appeared on the scene in 1980, attempting to hoodwink the unwary into believing it was a bona fide sequel.

20th Century Fox sprang swiftly into action, filing a $10 million lawsuit, but this ultimately amounted to squat as there also existed a thirties novel by the same name, denying them exclusivity rights. Hilariously, British filmmaker Scott remained completely oblivious to his intellectual bounty being plundered and has never so much as acknowledged its existence. Regrettably the film failed to travel well overseas and vanished without trace soon afterwards.

My primary introduction to Ippolito’s oddity came when it appeared in the UK bundled with Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City on the VTC label, parading under the alternative title Alien Terror. Virtually the entire cast and crew used pseudonyms, with Ippolito listed as Sam Cromwell and co-star Michele Soavi credited as Michael Shaw in an attempt to stymie audiences into thinking it an American production. In addition, character names included Burt, Roy, Bill and Maureen meaning there wasn’t a whiff of Italian about it. This became a popular ruse during the eighties; whatever it took to secure that all-important rental was considered fair game. Needless to say, it pretty much had this particular viewer hook, line and sinker with its gloriously grisly cover art alone and I lapped it up like a mutt does feces.

Just to make it abundantly clear from the get-go, this is not some rare undiscovered gemstone I’m speaking of here. Indeed, unless you harbor a deep-seated appreciation for the era like myself, then chances are, you’ll have switched off barely ten minutes into the matinée. Poorly plotted and sluggishly paced, it gets by on a solitary sweetener and that’s charm alone. That said, the Italians happen to be known for their silver tongues and there is more than enough here to seduce the less discerning amongst us into submission, present company very much inclusive.

You see, the flaws that would once have stood against Ippolito’s film now positively enrich it, and you have to give the man his dues for the guerilla approach he adopted when getting his shots. Permits were considered superfluous to budgetary requirements, thus he took to the streets of California in as low-key a manner as possible, shooting ream upon ream of raw footage to assist in padding out the running time. This turned out to be a shrewd move on the director’s part as there was a long stretch before we get to the meat ‘n’ man gravy, and any distractions to the tedium were gratefully received. With the film now fully remastered, these scenes stick out like a whore in a prayer group and serve only to make the experience feel all the more intimate.

The plot is as perfunctory as it gets. A young psychic girl named Thelma (Belinda Mayne), her boyfriend Roy (Mark Bodin) and six close friends are about to embark on a spot of spelunking in some nearby caves, when one of the group discovers a strange blue rock outside a roadside café and decides to cram it into his backpack to take along on the expedition.

Meanwhile, other similar rocks are showing up unannounced elsewhere and appear to be connected to a recent deep space mission which has returned to Earth minus its crew. Oblivious to the threat this curious stone poses, the amateur speleologists venture deep into the underground cave network and it isn’t long before the rock reveals itself to be an alien ovium containing a flesh-eating parasite that has designs on whittling down the numbers.

The first 45 minutes or so of Alien 2: On Earth are largely bereft of incident and it is here that the budgetary constraints are most evident. However, once our lambs abseil down into the slaughter pit, things soon pick up considerably. The second half of the film was shot on location at the Castellana Caves in Apulia, Italy and they’re a stunning sight to behold.

Decked out with all manner of contorted rock formations and stalagmites that hang ominously all around us, this sprawling network feels every bit the inhospitable sanctum our parasitic predator requires to make its presence felt. Ippolito successfully instills a genuine level of creeping dread to proceedings and deserves tremendous credit for making the very most of his chosen environment.

As for the interstellar terror itself, well funds don’t stretch quite far enough for our peacock to fully reveal its tail feathers but that’s not so say that we aren’t provided for to the tune of every last dollar of what such meagre funds can afford. Sporting touchy-feely tendrils and a set of chomp-charged gnashers that The Deadly Spawn would be proud of, the titular alien teases us consistently, right up to a final showdown that wisely chooses to view the battleground of an abandoned bowling alley through its one sphincter-like eye, demonstrating just how much it has super-sized during the interim.

Meanwhile, the conclusion is simply magnifico and calls to mind the finale of Zombi 2 as the extent of the outbreak is scaled up considerably. The amount of dedication involved in securing these closing shots alone is staggering and Ippolito’s film could never be accused of not sending its audience out on a nosebleed inducing high.

Also worthy of great note is the doom-laden score from brothers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis (collectively known as Oliver Onions) that lends massive weight to certain key scenes, gradually building to a throbbing and almost unbearable crescendo before each grisly pay-off. Alongside the claustrophobic confines of the underground cavern, the sound design works an absolute treat and adds a layer of suspense that a cheap skate production such as this so desperately needs. Granted, the dialogue is pure spam and the leaps of logic it requests from its audience boggle the mind, but after a slothful start, Alien 2: On Earth winds up a rather outrageous amount of low-rent fun. Forget the slothful front end as genre fans are in for a shlock-filled treat provided they embrace its ridiculousness.

One more amusing fact while we’re on the topic of audacious Italians. You see, it turns out that Ippolito tried (and woefully failed) to sue Lions Gate Films in 2005, claiming that they had poached his spelunking idea for Neil Marshall’s insular cave-dwelling nightmare, The Descent. Nice try Ciro but that’s kind of like the leper calling the amputee stumpy don’t cha think? Never mind fella, I still love you for making Alien 2: On Earth and will be at the very front of the queue if Ridley Scott ever decides to get his own back. Until that time arrives, your glorious little slice of forgotten Eurotrash will do me just fine.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Kudos to Ippolito for placing some wonderfully icky practical splatter on the platter and, needless to say, it’s of the deepest red variety. Rogue eyeballs dangle from sockets, faces are torn wide open, and the crowning moment comes courtesy of an upside down decapitation, complete with oozing innards. All in all, job is very much a good ‘un.

For the Pelt-Nuzzlers: The real burning question here is whether or not the delectable Belinda Mayne possesses the perfect pair of breasts and, in the interest of scientific research, I have managed to locate conclusive photographic evidence proving I’m very much astute with my theory that she damn well does. 

Read Zombi 2 Appraisal
Read Contamination Appraisal
Read Alien Appraisal
Read The Descent Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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