Like most folk, I’m a sucker for alien invasion films; I’m also down with conspiracy flicks, and I love seeing beautiful photography in foreign lands. If only there was a horror film that combines these somewhat disparate elements into a cohesive, satisfying whole. I honestly can’t think of one; but there is Alien Predators (1985), a pretty damn fun and nonsensical trip through Spain.
Filmed in ’84 and released on video in the U.K. in August of ’85, Alien Predators (AKA Alien Predator, AKA The Falling, it’s original title) saw a very brief theatrical U.S. run in February of ’87 before being dumped onto video shelves for curious horror fans…like myself; as that’s when I first saw it, and I remember digging its pleasant nature and sparse but effective effects. A recent revisit however disclosed its greatest asset: a make-it-up-as-we-go willingness on the part of writer/director Deran Sarafian (Terminal Velocity) that results in a freewheeling travelogue with NASA espionage, dune buggy chases, demented store clerks and waitresses, chest burstings and quite quippy dialogue. Alien Predators is a strange brew that works despite itself.
We open with a space scroll about Skylab being sent up in 1973 and crashing down to earth in ’79, where it is recovered by NASA in Duarte, Spain. Cut to five years later, and a diseased cow roams the Spanish countryside; it collapses and dies in the middle of a darkened highway, splits wide open, and stray dogs feast on its splayed innards - except for the one poor pooch who gets sucked in to its stomach, of course. Along come a trio of American tourists, Damon (Dennis Christopher – Fade to Black), Sam (Lynn-Holly Johnson – For Your Eyes Only), and Michael (Martin Hewitt – Endless Love) travelling in a rented RV and pulling a dune buggy. The slaughtered heifer provides an inconvenient speed bump for our travelers so they head to the nearest town for repairs, where they are greeted with shuttered doors and flying beer bottles.
Meanwhile in the same sleepy town, Captain Wells (J.O. Bosso) shows Dr. Tracer (Luis Mendes – Devil’s Exorcist) of NASA a hotel room corpse with a mutated face which Tracer promptly cuts open, causing blood to spray on Wells’ chest and ruining a perfectly good $3 shirt from the actor’s own closet. As Tracer is quick to explain, NASA set up shop in an abandoned Spanish castle to study Skylab’s experiments after the crash and found it brought back an alien virus that turns people into raving lunatics, as well as causing acute alien indigestion within 48 hours. Our unlucky threesome teams up with the good doctor to put an end to the virus, or at the very least make it out of Spain alive.
Alien Predators is as laid back as a summer drive with no destination in mind; it’s really about the stops along the way, and this one has some pretty interesting detours, including a crazed shop owner wearing what looks like a porcelain Leatherface mask, a waitress who ran directly from auditions for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a dusty dump truck that tries to run over our heroes and anyone else that gets in its way. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the creepy Talky Tina doll, the sentient tricycle, or the entirely offensive “tribute” to Peter Sellers’ Bakshi character, fellow tourist Mr. Bodi. (Harmless in intent, I’m sure, but that stuff just doesn’t play anymore.)
What other shards of bizarre does the film possess? Well, I think NASA holing up in a castle in the middle of an open field to do secret studies may have been a necessity of budget on Sarafian’s part; the film is very low budget, and was made with leftover film stock. The inner NASA compounds are the only sets, and everything else is location, location, location, adding a sense of scope to Alien Predators well above its pay grade.
There are some downsides though, including a lot of forced humor that just doesn’t work, and while Christopher and Johnson are engaging, Hewitt comes across as rather bland, and Mendes is shall we say…relaxed in his performance. Bosso’s one and only film appearance is voice dubbed by Sarafian’s dad Richard, who should have made a career out of it except he was too busy directing films such as The Bear (’84) and Eye of the Tiger (’86).
As for his son, Deran would go on to helm vampire flick To Die For (’88), JCVD’s Death Warrant (1990), and more before moving on to a continuing lucrative TV career, including helming episodes of Buffy, The Twilight Zone, House, CSI, The Exorcist, and beyond. He clearly knows his way around a camera, as the film is expertly shot and paced well enough that before you can question what that was about, the next question is right around the cobbled village street corner.
Alien Predators is messy in intent, sure; it wants to be part An American Werewolf in London, a dash of Race with the Devil, a sprinkle of every cold war conspiracy movie from the ‘70s, and a sometimes splattery take (or takeoff) on Alien and The Thing. If that sounds like an ungodly mélange, you’d be right; but I’ll always support a first timer who puts up what he wants to see on the screen, and while it’s not a completely smooth ride, it is so amiable that you can’t help but roll down the window and enjoy its warm breeze.Next: Class of 88: Drive-In Dust Offs: THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)