Monday, October 26, 2015

STRANGE INVADERS (1983)

STRANGE INVADERS (1983) 
Label: Twilight Time 
Region Code: Region Free (A/B/C)
Duration: 93 Minutes
Rating: PG
Video: 1080p High Definition / 2.35:1 / Color
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles 

Director: Michael Laughlin
Cast: Paul Le Mat, Nancy Allen, Diana Scarwid, Michael Lerner, Louise Fletcher, Wallace Shawn, Fiona Lewis

Synopsis Michael Laughlin directs Strange Invaders (1983), an affectionate homage to science fiction/alien takeover films of the 1950s that stars Paul Le Mat as a university professor searching for his ex-wife (Diana Scarwid), who seems to have disappeared while visiting her hometown of Centerville, Illinois. In fact, the place turns out to be a hotbed of aliens, in place since the Fifties and weirdly unaware of how the outside world has changed. Also starring Nancy Allen as a helpful journalist, and a lively supporting cast including Michael Lerner, Louise Fletcher, Wallace Shawn, Fiona Lewis, and period icon June Lockhart.

I remember watching this on TV in the eighties and I was completely absorbed by it, a straight-faced homage to the alien invasion movies of the fifties, movies which at that young age I had already watched, particularly Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Movies I loved, movies that made be think that just maybe my neighbors were aliens from anotherpanet... at least I hoped so. Ovid, New York was a sort of nowhere place, which is probably why I enjoyed Strange Invaders so much, most of the action takes place in Centerville, Illinois which was analog to where I found myself most of my young life in boring Upstate New York, a place also seemingly trapped in the Cold War-era 1950s. 


In the film university professor Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat, American Graffiti) becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid), whom had left their young daughter Elizabeth (Lulu Sylbert) with her Charles so she could return to her hometown of Centerville to attend her mother's funeral. When Margaret doesn't return in a matter of days Charles heads to Centerville ot get to the bottom of his ex-wife's whereabouts. Arriving he discovers that the small town is straight out of the '50s, the teens drive around in vintage Chevy cars, and the styles are of the June and Ward Cleaver variety. Contrary to the idyllic appearances no one is welcoming to strangers from out of town, in fact Charles just barely escapes the town with his life intact when he encounters an alien who zaps his car with a beam of pure energy which comes straight from the creatures own mind. 


Returning to the city he seeks the help of tabloid journalist Betty Walker (Nancy Allen, Blow Up) after he sees a picture on the cover of the tabloid which looks exactly like the alien he saw in Centerville. The sassy, chain-smoking reporter nearly laughs him out of the office when he confides to her what happened to him, that is until she is visited by a strange Avon lady (Fiona Lewis) at her apartment,  who locks herself in the bathroom and zaps Betty's landlord (Shawn Wallace, The Princess Bride) before disappearing herself. After the encounter she and Charles approach a shady government agent, played by the wild-eyed Louise Fletcher (the Invaders from Mars remake) as Mrs. Benjamin, who tells them that there are no aliens and there is no town of Centerville, that it was destroyed by a tornado in the fifties.


Regardless, Charles, Betty and the young Elizabth head back to Centerville, and not surprisingly what they find is that the town is has been populated by a race of alien creatures since the fifties, taking on the appearance of the humans they've zapped thirty years ago. What does all this have to do with the missing ex-wife is at the heart of the story, in this fun straight-faced send up of vintage science fiction movies, I love this sort of stuff.  The performances are played flat, which might not go over well with a younger audience who did not grow up watching vintage science fiction tales of alien paranoia like myself, I think you have to have an awareness of what the movie makers are sending up here to appreciate it. 


While I grew up with not only this movie, but the movies that it is clearly riffing on, my teen kids did not, and as such I don't think they had the appreciation for it I do, but they tolerated it. I can understand their perspective, it's a bit on the dry side, it's not played for laughs, it has that same strange sense of weirdness that the Invaders from Mars had, that feeling that something is not quite right here, a disconnect, a wry, antiseptic paranoia about it. The movie does have some fun sci-fi special effects, including a cylindrical mother ship, classic flying saucers, cool alien designs by James Cummins (John Carpenter's The Thing) and retro-styled laser beams! There's a little something for most sci-fi and horror fans to enjoy on some level, even a saccharine nod to Stephen Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind with a happy reunion at the end. 


Audio/Video: Strange Invaders (1983) arrives on Blu-ray for the very first time courtesy of twilight Time who have released the slice of retro sci-fi as part of their Limited Edition Series limited to just 3000 copies, so you had best act fast before it goes out of print and fetch high prices on the secondary market. The transfer is quite good, the eighties film stock used for these cheapies tend not to look great in HD in my opinion, but the image holds up surprisingly well, considering the soft-focus cinematography, which tends not to come across as very crisp, but does lend a retro air of authenticity to the proceeding. Colors are strong, skin tones look good and the image is about as crisp as you could hope for considering the soft-focus cinematography. 


Bonus content includes an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Laughlin and Writer William Condon recorded in separate sessions and stitched together seamlessly to provide a fun, anecdotal and well-rounded track that is sure to please fans of the movie. There's also a trailer for the movie and an isolated score highlighting the fun sci-fi score from John Addison, who scored Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966). Additionally there's an 8 pg. booklet with new writing on the film from Twilight Time staff writer Julie Kirgo, who is always a wealth of insight and perspective.  


Special Features: 
- Isolated Score Track 
- Audio Commentary with Director Michael Laughlin and Writer William Condon
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- 8 Page Booklet with new writing on the film from Julie Kirgo 

Director Michael Laughlin also directed the equally bizarre retro-horror shocker Strange Behavior (a.k.a Dead Kids), a movie that also falls into a weird '50s style sense of place and atmosphere, he had intended a third movie in a series of "Strange" movies, but after this one tanked at the cinema that failed to come to fruition, which is unfortunate, I love these movies, they're strange and I am not at all surprised they failed to draw a large audience, but in retrospect I think these have found a home in the annals of cinema as proper cult-classics, and I would have loved to have a third and final installment in his planned trilogy of "strange" movies.3/5

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