I recently broke out a pair of childhood favorites I’d not seen since the mid-1980’s to share with my wife, thinking I’d expose her to some of the prized nuggets from my formative years. The first film I showed her was Tapeheads, a comedy starring John Cusack and Tim Robbins that I’d once considered the funniest film I’d ever seen. Fifteen minutes into the feature, I found myself staring at the television as though I were looking at the charred remains of a good friend, aghast at how awful the film truly was. Sure, jokes about old white guys rapping about fried chicken were probably hilarious back in the film’s day, but the humor’s held up about as well as a pair of cardboard boots on an Everest ascent. I quickly (and apologetically) removed the DVD from the player and replaced it with Strange Invaders, a slice of B-movie cheese from 1983. I remember loving this one when I was a pre-pubescent , and was certain that, in this case, my warm fuzzy memories would be validated.
Strange Invaders opens up promisingly enough, detailing a quiet and brief alien invasion of a small mid-western town during the 1950’s. Even the special effects still looked decent, and I nodded to myself, confident that this film would make up for the embarrassing Tapeheads debacle. Mere seconds later, as a wooden and horribly written dialogue exchange between Charles Bigelow (Paul LeMat) and his ex-wife, Margaret (Diana Scarwid) ended, I felt a cold sweat break out on my forehead. My wife gave me one of those “uh huh” looks, and picked up the latest Charlaine Harris novel off of the coffee table.
“What, you’re going to read?” I asked.
“Well, I’m certainly not going to watch this crap,” she replied.
“Your loss,” I said, my voice filled with false self-assurance.
A few minutes after that, a puppet alien guy shot a lightning bolt at a car, and I suddenly wished I had a book to read, too.
Margaret informs Charles that she needs to go home to Centerville, Illinois, to attend her mother’s funeral, and that she needs Charles to watch their daughter, Elizabeth. After a week passes with no word from Margaret, Charles decides to go to Centerville, himself, and see if he can find her. When he arrives, the town looks like something out of a 1950’s time capsule. Charles and his dog check into the local rooming house, and then decides to snoop around, leaving his dog behind. Charles gets about as far as the local church before he hears his dog howling in pain, and returns to discover that the animal has been turned into a floating ball of light , although we don’t actually see said blue ball of light until later in the film. Instead, we just see LeMat staring into a whining camera that drifts back and forth in front of him, while the actor says the dog’s name. This is important, however, as Charles then goes looking for his dog, completely discounting the fact that, merely seconds earlier, he was talking to a blue energy sphere that contained his dog’s essence. A lot of stuff like this happens in Strange Invaders, and it only gets worse.
Charles eventually gives up on trying to find his dog, and, just as he prepares to leave Centerville, his car breaks down. He pulls into the local service station to have it repaired, and decides to wait it out at the nearby diner. Charles mentions his missing dog, and the diners file out, one by one, until he finds himself alone. When he looks out the window, however, he sees an assortment of local weirdoes surrounding his vehicle, followed by a lightning bolt that blows his car to smithereens. Charles runs from the diner, steals another car, and burns rubber out of Centerville, narrowly avoiding a reptilian beastie with laser-shooting hands along the way!
Charles returns to New York, where his story falls on deaf ears until he meets Betty (Nancy Allen), a tabloid writer who comes to believe him. Margaret returns, as well, and tells Charles what we already know; she’s an alien, and her fellow aliens are coming to take her and their human/alien hybrid daughter, Elizabeth, back to their homeworld. Charles attempts to stop them, but he’s too late, so he and Betty must race against time (and the government) and return to Centerville to rescue his daughter from the strange invaders!
Strange Invaders is one of the most schizophrenic films I’ve ever seen. On the one hand, the film occasionally looks spectacular, with some really nifty camera tricks that really do recall the look and feel of ‘50’s era B-movie schlock. On the other hand, the film seems to have been edited by an over caffeinated baboon with a rusty straight razor, as there’s literally zero sense of continuity or the passage of time. We see people briefly walk into buildings in broad daylight only to emerge under the cover of darkness. Furniture and props shift around, hairstyles change, weapons and objects jump from one hand to another at random. There are moments where dialogue exchanges fade out into another scene before people are actually done saying what it is they had to say, and others in which the characters just stand there staring at each other stonefaced, as if waiting for director, Michael Laughlin, to yell cut. I can forgive the shoddy dialogue and cigar store Indian acting, as, to me, that seems to be precisely what Laughlin was going for in this homage to the genre, but it’s all so random and sloppily put together, with too many plot threads left dangling. It's a shame seeing as how the special effects are actually quite good, and the play on the Body Snatchers motif is pretty intriguing. Apparently there are things a twelve year old is willing to overlook, but, alas, I’m a jaded old man, now, and not nearly as forgiving.
The DVD reviewed here is MGM's barebones Midnight Movies presentation. It's got a decent, if not grainy, transfer, and a mono soundtrack. It also features...um...a plastic case. It's now long out of print, but I know a store where you'll be able to buy a used copy real soon.
If these were the kinds of films I considered good as kid, I can only imagine what my ex-girlfriends looked like. Eat a dick, nostalgia. Eat a whole bag of 'em.