Sci Fi Pictures, well… Sci Fi Films… er… the Sci Fi Channel has recently branched out from buying their "Sci Fi Pictures Originals" from such luminary production companies as Unified Film Organization (Because you can't have Unmitigated Fucking Offal without U.F.O. Films) to making their own crap films for broadcast on Sci Fi Friday's.
Effectively producing their own Grade-Z bug eyed monster movies in league, no doubt, with the good folks at Dmitry Badfilmova's Film Production Company and Borscht Manufacturing Cooperative to unleash atrocious films on an innocent audience waiting for the next installment of Battlestar Galactica without having to pay the middle man. Which, with regard to Bulgarian film production, equates to five McDonalds Gift Certificates and two cases of non-radioactive Stolichnaya Vokda.
Still, any savings is a savings. (Thrift my American friends! Thirft!)
What separates Alien Apocalypse from the whole slew of other grade-F flicks of Sci Fi Fridays is the presence of Bruce Campbell in the lead role. Saint Bruce can make even the worst movie at least remotely watchable, and like his tour de force in Moontrap, he transcends the horrifically stupid material to deliver a half decent performance. In Alien Apocalypse he plays Dr. Ivan Hood, both a chiropractor and mission member of a cryosleep mission where four astronauts return to Earth 40 years after placing a deep space probe somewhere in the solar system.
The Earth though, has changed. Humanity as the crew remembers it is gone, replaced by a Bulgarian Renaissance Faire and some CGI bugs. The bugs, for what it's worth, are effectively logging the Earth for their favorite delicacy, trees, and continuing their ages old war against the dreaded Spotted Owl (OK I made that part up).
The astronauts led by soon-to-be-dead black captain Chuck Burkes (Michael Cory Davis), the aforementioned Ivan Hood, Kelly (Renee O'Connor), and Some Bulgarian Chick (the other astronaut. Don't blame me, neither Josh nor Bruce remember her name in the commentary track) are captured by human bounty hunters and brought, in chains, back to the sawmill that makes up the bulk of remaining human civilization. They also kill Some Bulgarian Chick because she can't keep up with the line of captured and shackled slaves due to a broken leg).
The sawmill allows the audience to witness the creation of four-by-eights, which compared to knocking down drywall as the slaves in Battlefield Earth are ordered to do or put on display by the super intelligent Apes of Planet of the Apes, seems like a sort of cushy job.
The astronauts don't want to mill wood, and considering their strange attire (stolen from the astronaut suits of Planet of the Apes) don't fit in with the rest of the Society for Creative Anachronism milling around in the mill. This draws the curiosity of the bug monsters who kill the captain and eat his head, then force Ivan and Kelly back to work.
There, with the cast stripped down to its essence we begin on a combination, Braveheart, Battlefield Earth, Planet of the Apes knock off where Ivan and Kelly escape, gather a group of rebels, arm them with bows and arrows, and begin cleaning out the bug infestation.
The scant script allows for a few minor sub plots about the residents of Peace Valley, where a small group of free humans live and the belief that the mythical President Demsky is raising an army to retake Earth from the wood eating alien menace. Of course, he isn't. In fact everyone from Washington DC is struggling on in a secluded bunker in the High Sierras.
Bruce Campbell, Remington Franklin, and Renee O'Connor make up virtually the entire native English-speaking cast (Michael Cory Davis is eaten before he can say much) with the rest of the cast overdubbed in post-production. So the acting from everyone except Bruce, and Renee sucks. They try to play this material as straight as they can, but really, an astronaut chiropractor and his band of merry men battling interstellar bugs doesn't make for really serious cinema. Still, they try. But, much of the sincerity is lost in the post production which takes away a little from the film (not that there is a lot to take away). The key to a successful B-picture is presenting it with absolute sincerity and post production dubbing doesn't really make that possible. At least not here.
The special effects by Gary Jones span rubber monster puppets and CGI, and for what they spent, look just fine for a made for TV film. One of the hallmarks of B-films is lots of monster screen time, which I appreciated, and the bugs are cool enough to look at so they don't wear out their welcome until the very end. There is a more than unusual amount of blood for a made for TV film, much of it green.
The score by Joseph LoDuca, a longtime collaborator with Josh Becker, is effective but never becomes either obtrusive or memorable. I dunno, synth-symphonies are just really boring.
Cinematographer David Worth does an admirable job of capturing Bulgaria… er, Portland in all its verdant glory.
The box for this DVD announces "The Highest Rated Si Fi Pictures Original Film Of All Time!" which is like announcing "There are peanuts in my shit!" considering the plethora of crap that airs on that network as a feature.
Still, negative comments aside, there is a place for F-grade monster schlock, and it's kind of nice that at least one basic cable channel is both showing them and treating them with the sort of begrudging respect they deserve. I mean, making these films can't be super easy or everyone would be making them (even outside Bulgaria) and it's nice to turn your brain off and think about other things while the TV drones on about aliens in another room. You know, thinking of things like why would Josh Becker carry this script around for 15 years before getting it made? Why did it get made? Who wants to see this? Is it possible to flush myself down the toilet? Where do babies come from?
The DVD comes stacked with a funny commentary track from Bruce Campbell and Josh Becker, a nice 16x9 transfer for widescreen Tvs, a Bruce Campbell bio and a making of featurette.