Monday, March 7, 2011

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Alien 2 On Earth (1980)

ALIEN 2 ON EARTH (1980) Blu-ray
Release Date: March 22nd 2011

Label: Midnight Legacy
Region Code: All Region
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 84 Mins
Director: Ciro Ippolito
Cast: Belinda Mayne, Mark Bodin, Roberto Barrese, Benny Aldrich, Michele Soavi

Plot: A group of cave explorers are confronted in an underground cavern by a mysterious living rock. Little do they know that it bears home to deadly, flesh-eating creatures, intent on wiping out the entire human population. Can they survive and ultimately prevent Earth's total annihilation?

Film: The upstart niche film label Midnight Legacy have chosen director Ciro Ippolito's fairly obscure ALIEN 2 ON EARTH (1980) as their initial Blu-ray/DVD release. There's not too many niche labels emerging in today's trying marketplace. In fact the only one comes immediately to mind, Intervision Picture Corp. who've  just recently unleashed a salvo of Jess Franco titles. Alien 2 On Earth is one of those crazy unauthorized pseudo-sequels that came out of Italy in the 1970's and 1980's. Not all were atrocious, and many were quite good such as Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 2 (1979) which was marketed as a sequel to George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). It features a zombie battling a shark, 'nuff said. Like many Italian films of the era Alien 2 on Earth is nearly incomprehensible at times, shrouded by a thick fog of surreality and has little to do with the film it lifts from, Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979). Looking back it's no wonder there was such a glut of ALIEN knock-offs in the 80's as the studio delayed a sequel to Ridley Scott's horror-stunner until 1986. The world wanted more and Italy was only too happy to oblige legions of ravenous fans.

This slab of Italian b-movie madness begins as a manned space capsule is set to splash down off the coast of California. The Navy have assembled a recovery team and we are treated to a confusing montage of grainy 8mm stock footage of space capsules and Navy fleet maneuvers - it's nearly unwatchable but it does set-up that the spacecraft was mysteriously found to be empty upon splashdown. We are then introduced to Thelma (Belinda Mayne, of KRULL) the leader of a team of spelunking speleologists and her boyfriend Roy (Mark Bodin of ANTHROPOPHAGUS) as she make an appearance on a television program to comment on the returning space mission. What qualifies her for such commentary eludes me, but I'll allow it.  While on air Thelma suffers a psychic breakdown of sorts which renders her unable to carry-on the interview. It's an odd occurrence and not explained to my satisfaction but throw reason to the wind for it will not be needed here or elsewhere in this film. Next thing we know Thelma and her team are gearing-up for a weekend of cave exploration when Burt (played by actor turned director Michelle Soavi, CEMETERY MAN) discovers a peculiar blue rock and promptly tosses it in his backpack for examination later. Turns out this is no rock at all but the egg of a parasitic alien organism that was somehow scattered throughout the coastal during the arrival of the unmanned space capsule. Again, no explanation, just go with it. Once below ground things are what some might generously call deliberately paced, not that the first 20 minutes were screaming with action though. Adding to the sleepy time hypnotic pace of the film is an alternately sleepy and creepy score from Guido and Maurizo De Angelis. Mercifully at about the forty-five minute mark the blue meteorite/alien egg shows signs of life. It begins to pulsate and hatches a beasty that looks like a bloody pile of loose meat. Entering through the mouth the parasite incubates and then explodes not from the chest, but from the victims head, completely decimating the face in a spew of bloody viscera. The facial eruptions are by the far the most enjoyable parts of the film and in true Fulci-gore style there are several instances of grotesque eyeball mutilation. Once the creature makes itself known the spelunkers are forced deeper into the cave looking for an alternate exit.

 While most of the remaining team have their faces popped like blood filled zits Thelma and Roy escape the cave and the finale of the film plays out in a bowling alley, WTF right? There they are confronted by the barely-seen and apparently much larger creature.   Unfortunately the films seemingly meager budget seems to have been spent on the face decimating eruptions and what we get here are rather disappointing POV shots from inside the creatures mouth, again looking like a pile of bloody shredded meat. Thelma again escapes the creature and runs through the now abandoned streets of San Diego implying an apocalyptic ending wherein that the creatures have taken over the city, perhaps even the world. .

DVD: Midnight Legacy's inaugural release of Alien 2 On Earth is surely the definitive version of film, transferred from the original 35mm negative, its uncut and  runs longer than any other version available. This perfectly compliments Midnight Legacy's Mission Statement of releasing films uncut in their original aspect ratios/audio in spine-numbered, limited edition collectible pressings. The film is presented in a 16:9 enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio in wonderful 1080p and looks surprising good, it's crisp, clear and offers a good amount of fine detail. The colors are vibrant and the natural grain is not overwhelming. The depth of the black levels are quite good, inky and deep. The image is a bit soft but after watching a unrestored trailer from the film's Dutch VHS release it's quite clear how stunning the blu-ray truly is, great job on Midnight Legacy's part for the brilliant transfer. I would have to assume this is far superior to even the initial theatrical release of the film. Audio options consist solely of a DTS-MA 2.0 stereo mix, there are some occasional hiss and pops but nothing overly distracting. Far more concerning is the fact that the film was entirely dubbed in post-production as most Italian films of era were but this is no fault of Midnight Legacy. No subtitle options are included.  The special features are kept to a minimum with only the aforementioned Dutch trailer and a 11 minute special effects outtake reel, not outstanding but given the obscure nature of the film there's probably not much available. I would've loved subtitles and a Ippolito commentary or a brief featurette speaking to the many ALIEN knock-offs of the era but the fine transfer is appreciated.

Special Features:
- Dutch VHS Trailer (3:10)
- Special Effects Outtakes (11:27) [1080p]

Verdict: ALIEN 2 ON EARTH is an occasionally interesting spaghetti exploitation flick and if you're a connoisseur of ALIEN knock-offs there's definitely something to enjoy here if only a few choice moments of gore. While it's not essential cinema it is definitely an obscure curiosity and an interesting first-step for this young company.  If they're are able to sustain the high standards set forth here and keep the obscure treasures coming they could easily  join the ranks of Synapse, Severin and Code Red as a force to be reckoned with in the niche home entertainment market. 3 outta 5