2/1/10

CT009 The Alien Factor

(1978, SciFi/Horror, color)

Dude, your urine is haunted!

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:

The inmates of an alien zoo ship get loose near Baltimore.

Summary:

Perhaps the only film in which standing still and squealing is the appropriate response to a monster attack.Elaborately crafted credits lead us past the moon to Planet Earth, eventually landing in a field near Baltimore. An alien monster attacks drunken make-out teens, dragging the boy from the car for a slow, messy death while the girl stumbles away screaming.

Later, the Sheriff and his deputy (the only two law enforcement officers in town) cart the remains back to the coroner and her son (the only two medical professionals in town), who examine the body and declaim their laughably written version of This Was No Boating Accident™. The sheriff wants to warn the populace and bring in outside help, but the mayor has concerns that bad press might scare away potential investors away from a planned amusement park. He warns the sheriff to Keep the Beaches Open™.

But you can’t keep a lid on this kind of thing for long. A trio of teens and their shrill girlfriend get liquored up and stumble into the woods with guns. Unfortunately, Their Weapons Are Useless Against It™. Only the shrill girlfriend survives. The sheriff carts the bodies back to the coroner, and we go through the No Boating Accident™/Keep the Beaches Open™ loop again.

A hairy, lumpy and mysterious stranger rolls into town. Ben Zachary—astronomer, adventurer, monster hunter, bon vivant—has heard about their problems and offers to help. Eager to keep things quiet, the mayor escorts him out into the woods where they’ve been having most of their monster problems. They find a crashed alien spacecraft and a dying alien pilot, who beams his alien knowledge directly into Zachary’s brain via crayon sparkles. They run away just before the spacecraft explodes.

In a sheriff’s office meeting of all the important characters, Zachary explains the plot to this point. Three monsters are wandering the countryside. They are alien zoo animals escaped from a transport ship that crashed en route to another planet. Zachary can hunt them down, but he must do so alone. The mayor agrees over the sheriff’s objections.

Get 'im, stilt-wookiee!Intrepid Girl Reporter was at the meeting for some reason, and she decides to follow Mr. Zachary on the sly. Mostly, this involves hiking precariously through the snow for hours on end. Eventually she’s joined by the Coroner’s Son—also suspicious; also spying on Zachary. They’re attacked by a chitinous venom monster, which falls over and dies when Zachary appears with an amp playing loud, high-pitched noises. He berates them for almost spoiling his monster trap and warns them to stay away in the future.

Meanwhile the Mayor is attacked and killed in his own back yard by a wookiee-esque creature on stilts. A young girl (Make-Out Girl from the opening scene) happens to be walking by and runs away screaming. The sheriff rescues her, but his car gets stuck in the snow. They retreat to the mayor’s house until the rest of the cast arrives. Once again, Their Weapons Are Useless™, but Zachary arrives last with a dart gun full of alien venom extracted from his first kill. The second monster goes down.

One monster remains, and Intrepid Girl Reporter wanders out into the snow to witness its demise. The life-sucking, stop motion ghost iguana puts up a fight, but eventually a wounded Zachary brings it down with a large stick. Realizing that he has an audience, he steps into the shadows and warns Girl Reporter to stay away. You see, he’s not really an astronomer/adventurer/etc. He’s actually an alien peacekeeper, and the fight with the ghost iguana has ruined his disguise. Girl Reporter sees his hideous true form and shrieks in terror.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has made calls to the local observatory, disproving Zachary’s astronomer claims. He comes out into the woods after him, hears Girl Reporter’s screams and shoots Alien Zachary dead.

Thoughts:

Alien bon vivant, extraordinaire.Snow is really hard to walk on, even if you’re used to it. Between the inherent slipperiness and the way it shifts under your feet, you don’t generally go on to the next step until you’re really sure about the one you just took. This makes walking any distance over it a slow and tedious process. In The Alien Factor, it’s a slow and tedious process filmed repeatedly for excruciating lengths of time. By the end, you will no longer have to surmise, but have actual, certain knowledge that The Mayor, Mr. Zachary, Coroner’s Son, and especially Girl Reporter all know how to walk on snow. Hopefully this knowledge will enrich your life in some way. I’m still waiting for it to enrich mine.

That’s the main strike against the film, and it’s a pretty significant strike. In the plus column, it has a halfway decent premise pushed into a reasonably engaging story. In a column of an even more positive nature, the monsters look pretty good, especially for a no-budget seventies horror. My favorite thing about the movie, however, is that the acting, writing and sets/cinematography are all awful. And by “awful” I mean, “transcendently, gloriously, hilariously awful.” Walking scenes or no, The Alien Factor is one of those wonderful, cosmic accidents that happen only occasionally when an amateur filmmaker’s enthusiasm pushes him to reach far, far beyond his grasp. Even real professionals attempting bona fide badness cannot match this level of entertainment value. This movie’s so much fun it’s actually Ed Wood-esque.

The endless walking scenes are boring and remain so, but the riffers (mainly Joel) fill these silences with a variety of patter-based routines, taking most of the bite out of the tedium. When the plot swings back into action, though, the movie’s pretty much made for riffing. Upon seeing the obviously fake sheriff vehicle, Trace wants to know, “Has there ever been a two-door cop car?” The oddly slow, vaguely musical siren prompts Frank to call it, “The most depressing ice cream truck ever.” Odd sound effects accompany our first introduction to the Girl Reporter, and Joel asks, “Is she typing on the head of a snare drum?” The town in general is so drab, J. Elvis says, “It’s like telling a clinically depressed person to draw how they feel.” Strange Casio noises follow the movie every step of the way, leading Mary Jo to ask, “What is the difference between music and sound effects in this movie?” With the riffing, The Alien Factor is often amusing, often hilarious, and only rarely dull.