Saturday, February 10, 2024

STRANGE INVADERS (1983) (MGM Blu-ray Review)


Label: MGM 
Region Code: Region Free
Duration: 93 Minutes 40 Seconds 
Rating: PG
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Michael Laughlin
Cast: Paul Le Mat, Nancy Allen, Diana Scarwid, Michael Lerner, Louise Fletcher, Wallace Shawn, Fiona Lewis

I remember watching Strange Invaders (1983) on TV as a kid in the eighties, probably on WPIX, and I was quite absorbed by it, a straight-faced homage to the alien invasion movies of the fifties, stuff like the paranoid sci-fi of Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatcherswhich I was already a fan of. These flicks made me think that just maybe my neighbors were possibly aliens from another planet... at least I hoped so. Ovid, New York was (is) a quaint sort of nowhere place, which is probably why I enjoyed Strange Invaders so much, as most of the action takes place in Centerville, Illinois which was analog to where I found myself living most of my young life in Upstate New York, a place also seemingly trapped in the Cold War-era 1950s.

In the film university professor Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat, Grave Secrets) understandably becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid, Pretty Baby), whom had left their young daughter Elizabeth (Lulu Sylbert, Strange Behavior) with Charles so she could return to her hometown of Centerville to attend her mother's funeral. When Margaret doesn't return in a reasonable amount of time he heads to Centerville to get to the bottom of his ex-wife's whereabouts. Arriving there he discovers that the small town is straight out of the '50s (it;s set in the early 80's), the teens drive around in vintage Chevy cars, and the styles are that 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 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 Out) after seeing 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, The Fury), who locks herself in the bathroom and zaps Betty's landlord (Shawn Wallace, The Princess Bride) with an energy beam before disappearing herself. After the encounter she and Charles approach a shady government agent, played by the wild-eyed Louise Fletcher (Invaders from Mars) 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 nineteen fifties.

Regardless, Charles, Betty and the young Elizabeth 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. I love this sort of stuff. The performances are played intentionally 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 do think that you have to have an awareness of what the movie makers are sending up here to appreciate it to the fullest.

While I grew up with not only this movie, but movies that it's clearly riffing on, my kids did not, and as such I don't think they had the appreciation for it I do, but they tolerated it well-enough. 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 Invaders from Mars had, that feeling that something is not quite right here, a disconnect, a wry, antiseptic paranoia about it, and that's totally by sci-fi jam. The movie does have some cool sci-fi special effects, including a cylindrical mother ship, classic saucer-shaped UFOs, 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. Also, be on the lookout for familiar faces by way of prolific character actors Michael Lerner (Barton Fink), Kenneth Tobey (Gremlins), Charles Lane (Karate Kids USA) and Jack Kehler (The Big Lebowski).

Audio/Video: Strange Invaders (1983) made it's Blu-ray debut from the now defunct Twilight Time, that limited edition of 3000 is now long OOP, so in steps MGM with a new barebones edition. 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 quite strong, skin tones look good and the image is about as crisp as you could hope for considering the soft-focus cinematography.

Special Features:

- None 

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. Now that the Twilight Time Blu-ray is out-of-print it's great to see this back in circulation on Blu-ray from MGM, the lack of extras is disappointing, they don't port over the Trailer, Commentary or Isolated Music Track that the 2015 Twilight Time disc had, but just having it widely available again on-disc for fans and newcomers is pretty cool. 

Screenshots from the MGM Blu-ray:

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