Monday, 3 October 2011

Horror Season - Alien 2: On Earth


I should stop right there and save myself the effort, but it’s really bad... maybe not AvP: Requiem bad (read: unwatchable), but still, it’s awful. There will be spoilers up ahead, but chances are I’m doing you a favour. Can’t believe I picked this to kick off the month with...

But first, some history! For anyone who doesn’t already know, the Italian film industry throughout the 70s and 80s was a thing of beauty for horror fans. Well, kind of. While highly imaginative gore fests like Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery were being rolled out, there was a far less inspired side to the business – taking the form of many “unofficial sequels” to the more popular films of the time.

The most notable example of this would have to be Fulci’s own Zombie (known here in the UK as Zombie Flesh Eaters), which was conceived as the Italian sequel to George A. Romero’s zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, a film that was released in Italy under the title of Zombi. SO, if you’re still following this, Zombie was first released in Italy as Zombi 2 in an attempt to cash in on the massive success of Romero’s film.

Several further numerical sequels to Zombi followed in later years (even after Day of the Dead), and each of them has around a dozen alternate titles just to confuse today’s discussions on the internet. Other Italian sequels include the infamous Bruno Mattei’s Terminator 2 (in actuality an Aliens clone), and at least a couple of attempts at one last Jaws movie.

And yes, Alien 2: On Earth (or Alien 2: Sulla Terra, or Alien Terror and even Strangers) is indeed one of those unofficial sequels. There was a big gap between Ridley Scott’s Alien and its follow-up, so naturally someone had to jump in. But Alien 2 has a history of its own (bear with me!). Until this year, it had been languishing in VHS bootleg Hell, having never received a proper release in thirty years! So imagine the surprise when those lovely chaps over at Midnight Legacy announced a fully restored Blu-ray release for Alien 2 last year. Since I’m the kind of guy who wants his film collection to resemble the back shelves of your local video rental store (do they even exist anymore?), I had to get a copy.

In retrospect, however...     

So then, is there anything linking this film to the original sci-fi horror masterpiece? I WISH. As per usual with these Italian efforts, it’s a sequel in name only. So there’s no Ripley, and there certainly aren’t any colonial marines! Instead, the story is set on present day (1980) Earth and follows a group of doomed speleologists (nyah ha, I learned a word!) who encounter a decidedly inhuman force while exploring an underground cave system. There’s also something about a returning space module and its astronauts disappearing, and I think it’s important, but it’s barely even touched upon.

Which is the main problem with this movie – nothing adds up! Allow me to take you through it: the main character, Velma... or Selma... I’m not sure, but since IMDB is telling me it’s Thelma, we’ll go with that. Anyway, the film begins with Thelma going to be interviewed on a talk show about her team and their spelunking activities. Meanwhile, the same show is also using copious amounts of blurry stock footage to report on the returning space module... again, I’m guessing right now.

After only a couple of questions, Thelma suffers some kind of mental block and almost collapses, stopping the interview. Unbelievably, the host seems to think those three minutes are all they need, but whatever, they’ve presumably got stock footage for that too! Thelma’s boyfriend (whose name I neither know nor care for) runs over to comfort her and explain what’s going on to the host, which leads to this.

You know, Thelma’s telepathic and when something happens she senses it, even at a distance.

Oookaay then, sudden plot development... Now you’d think the host would respond with something along the lines of GET OUT OF MY STUDIO YOU CRAZY PEOPLE, but no, he just nods understandably and they say their goodbyes. Oh, I’m sorry, you were expecting logic?

After a quick talk with who I assume is her shrink (who happens to live on a small yacht out in the city bay – go figure) that solves absolutely nothing about her telepathic tendencies, Thelma and her boyfriend meet up with the rest of their team at a bowling alley. We then watch them bowl for a while. Th... There are aliens in this movie, right?

That’s another thing I don’t like about Alien 2. It’s BORING. In order to pad out the already short running time, it loves showing us unimportant scenes for as long a time as possible. We had to wait an eternity for Thelma’s doctor to make the rowing boat trip from his yacht to the shore. One of the earliest shots is of Thelma’s garage door opening up, and even that took forever! As if all that weren’t tedious enough, we also spend a fair amount of the first half watching the team drive from destination to destination, first to a seaside store to pick something up, I’m not sure what, and then a garage so they can change into their spelunking gear.

Although somewhere in between stops, this little girl’s face does apparently get ripped off after she gets too close to a pulsating rock, but that’s not what I’m watching this shlock for. Back to the nameless characters!

In all unenthusiastic seriousness, though, this is when things get a bit more interesting. While peeing against a wall, the only other notable character in the film (a budding novelist who takes his typewriter down into the cave with him for a candle-lit work session, I’m not kidding) finds a strange looking stone lying on the ground and gives it to Thelma. With that charming gift tucked in her backpack, they descend into the cave.

Long story short, nothing happens for the next twenty minutes. They walk around admiring and snapping shots of the (admittedly pretty) stalactites/mites before settling in for the night. But brace yourself, as there’s yet another excruciatingly drawn out sequence where they rappel down into the lower levels. Again, it looks nice and all – the beams from their torches make them resemble falling stars amidst the darkness ohgodwhatamiwriting?

We’re almost there. All that’s left is a shameless Alien rip-off or two. One of the other women notices how the rock in Thelma’s bag has begun to pulse. Like the girl from earlier, she gets too close and we’re treated to Alien 2’s version of the classic “Facehugger” sequence. In this case, it’s a red blob shooting out of the stone and toward the camera... after which the film immediately cuts to another cast member taking a picture of a rock formation.

While I’m trying to make sense of what the hell just happened, the characters are fussing over what to do with the now unconscious lady. They fix her to a stretcher and lift her up to a higher position, whereupon we are treated to the single longest tracking shot OF ALL TIME. The camera sloooowly crawls across the ground for around a minute until eventually reaching her feet. Then I reckon another minute, if not more, is spent on her legs, and I shudder to think how much longer it took to reach her face. Three or four minutes may not sound like too much, but in an 84 minute movie of this calibre, Every. Second. Counts.

I swear it’s like the film has been taunting me this entire time. But believe it or not, my patience is about to pay off. After witnessing almost an hour of virtual nothingness... an indescribable alien globule breaks through the woman’s face, pushing her entire eyeball clean out of the way in a torrent of gore. Certainly makes a change from chestbursting, right?

All is suddenly forgiven! Alien 2 is finally delivering the goods! Slow pace aside, the next few scenes pack in a gory decapitation, a couple of extra torn up faces, gloopy dollops of red paint, large rocks with tongues (I don’t know either), and a psychic staring contest that results in an exploding head. There’s also a rat with glowing red eyes which literally flies right out of nowhere and attacks one of the cavers before never being mentioned again. Wonderful!

Aaaand then the fun’s over and we’re back on the surface driving around with our only remaining survivors – Thelma and the boyfriend. Colour me shocked. Naturally, they take the time to stop off at the bowling alley (WHY?) for a gloomy apocalyptic ending, by which point I’m trying not to fall asleep.

By the way, if you were hoping for impossibly biomechanical nightmares for aliens, then you’re gonna be disappointed. Remember the red blob I mentioned? Yeah, well, that’s more or less it as far as creature design goes here. Far as I can tell, the one which exits through the eye socket does get bigger, but we only ever see it as a messy collection of bloody tentacles. Couple that with how dark the underground setting is and you’ve got a recipe for what the hell am I looking at?    

There’s really not much left to add, save for some wild speculation. Like, how did the alien rock even end up outside the garage? I guess lots of the stuff could have been entering Earth’s atmosphere along with the space module, but it’s never brought up. And was there only one alien down in the cave, or were there several? Am I right in thinking Thelma and the aliens share a psychic link? Should I be commending the film for letting me use my imagination rather than spelling everything out? Is this the original spelunking horror? Does anyone even care?

... Do I care?   

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