Was Gelatinous Ooze Clean-Up In Aisle Three Taken? [Part 3]

And so, Alien Raiders, the film with the sleep-inducing title which was recommended lightly to me by my erstwhile cinematic doppelganger, The Working Dead, turned out to be… merely "good."

Merely good, with parts that verged on, as The Working Dead put it, "interesting," and then I would add that a handful of those parts were “pretty good.” By my qualifying it as "good" is no call for the average American zombie to rush out and partake of it, because it is likely that your mind will only flash on the words "low-budget" and "B Movie" and shuffle it straight away to the nearest video internment camp. Agreed, and sad to report, Alien Raiders is no instant genre classic on the level of that which I spoke earlier, and nothing even to write home about (but, apparently, there is still plenty about which some random blogger may gush thousands of squishy words on his ill-visited site, if only tangentially speaking of the film for the bulk of it).

But for those prone to delve in these things, Alien Raiders is mildly satisfying, though ultimately disappointing for the areas in which it pulls back, most likely due to budgetary reasons. It has a slam-bang opening section, and the set-up would point to this film, properly plotted and designed, to just missing out on a potential Michael Mann-style version of From Dusk Till Dawn, only with alien invaders instead of vampire grotesques. A crime-horror mash-up in much the same mode. But it doesn't, and it probably plays its hand far too early on the revelation front. Regardless, I found myself settling into the story, and the premise (a group pulls an armed robbery on a supermarket in the middle of nowhere, but is clearly not there to actually rob the place – they are searching into everyone’s eyes to seek out something possibly otherworldly) is well-presented and believable through much of the film. Perhaps because of the minuscule budget, excellent use is (and had to be) made of the limited locale of a single supermarket and its parking lot, and the largely unknown cast seems committed to the material, though they are, in line with the film itself, merely good. No standouts, just solid, even if a couple were a little too much the amateur for my tastes.

The truth is, for certain small sections of the film, I was truly wrapped up in what was happening. But then, just as swiftly, things would fall apart. Logical, or even inventively illogical, follow-ups would not happen, and there are times everyone is sitting around waiting for the next idea to pop up in the script, as if the filmmakers had only three decent ideas, and then they slammed a bunch of filler pages in-between each actual idea to round out the running time. I have not said very much in the way of characters or so-called spoilers (which is unusual, because I really don’t give a rat’s ass if I spoil a film for you), but it will come as no surprise that there are (please sit down if you aren’t already)… here, let me whisper it… aliens… in this film.

And here lies problem the first: they are nothing interesting. Just blindly raging monsters once exposed, completely at odds with the fact that they can hide, thrive and survive so long, so cunningly and as so convincingly human when not pitching a bitch through the aisles of a supermarket. Once the film reached the point where they were rampaging off and on in the latter parts of the film, I began to peel away from the film. And I began to consider where they could have gone with this film; the depths to which they should have sunk.

There are moments about 2/3 of the way through many of my favorite genre offerings where the train leaves the tracks. It doesn't matter how great the beginning of the film, or how much I have already invested in the characters or the scenario. At the 2/3 point, you are already sold (for the most part) on the film, and enjoying it. But then that moment comes -- I believe Harlan Ellison would use the phrase "wild-eyed bugfuck crazy" to describe such a situation -- where your bowels evacuate in disbelief. The filmmakers do something that just astounds you -- it might be gory or absurdly sexual, it can be low-key and creepy, or it just might be that they amp the action up to a level with which you were just not ready to deal or believe -- and a feeling overtakes you that tells you "this one is a keeper... THIS is why I watch movies... THIS is why I watch THESE movies."

Any rolling off of the great horror/sci-fi titles will bring to the minds of most fans the sort of moments of which I am speaking. It's not necessarily what happens when the monsters are revealed, or when a particularly gruesome moment occurs- -- it's what happens on top of that; the next step. Chainsaw, Night of the Living Dead, Cronenberg's version of The Fly, Halloween, Re-Animator, Dawn of the Dead, The Evil Dead -- all of these genre classics have these moments, and true, we may be in the hands of the masters of the genre, but they all had to start somewhere. They all have early films that touch on moments like these (sometimes these movies are those early films). Even Night of the Hunter, which I consider a genre effort even if some others don't, captures the mood of which I speak once the kids climb into the boat in their attempt to escape down the river. The film, along with the boat, drifts into a dream-like state, and also drifted into my list of favorite films, all because it managed to capture this feeling for me, this sense of the "next level" that encapsulates and summarizes the whole purpose of the film in the first place. For the most part, though, where horror and sci-fi are concerned,these moments are a catalog of "I can't believe they did that!" moments that are so astounding that you know you will never part with the film for life.

It is perhaps too much pressure to put on a mild little sci-fi thriller like Alien Raiders, to expect a young filmmaker to be able to pull off a trick that very few young filmmakers can do, but I truly feel that the opportunity was missed here. The moment arrives where director Ben Rock can shake the excrement out of us, and it passes with our pants unscathed. Yes, the film is a little truncated, and they try to settle for a "shock" ending, but the less said about that astoundingly obvious attempt the better. The problem is that the filmmakers had a moment in their hands where they could hit us with yet another reveal, perhaps a major twist in the storyline, or perhaps the next step in the evolution of these creatures, whatever they are... but they don't. It becomes "rampage, rampage, shoot, shoot" and then an ending we are fully expecting because the film doesn't do a very good job of disguising their set-up for that ending.

But while I found myself disappointed in the end -- meant both ways -- I still enjoyed watching those first two-thirds. Future viewings, though, are likely to reveal nothing more to me but a large gash through that spot in the film, where the film could have truly taken off -- and taken me with it. As I said, it is a lot to expect of a young director, just as it is a lot to expect that every recommendation that someone gives you is actually going to suit your tastes. Pick and choose those from whom you formulate your interests and opinions. Not every "critic" criticizes -- most of the ones that get quoted on TV ads and posters are posers of the Nth degree. As for your friends, you know best. You know who knows you best, and whose opinion to discount. If I am so lucky to be counted amongst those whose opinions you cherish, then so be it.

All I know is that The Working Dead is one of the few on my list. Sure, the film only turned out "good," but he never led me to believe it would be anything beyond that. That, and "interesting," which it certainly was. But his sense of whether or not to recommend a film to me, and how to phrase it, was dead on. You can't get that from just anyone.

Comments

I'm glad you enjoyed it, if even in the end you were disappointed. I think when it comes to horror movies of this type, I usually am satisfied by the mere attempt to try something different. They sure did miss out on a lot here, you were right on about that(and that annoyingly obvious ending, which I probably forgave a bit more than you), but I like the basic feel of the movie, particularly the beginning, which is akin to being thrust into the last reel of John Carpenter's The Thing where the paranoia is at it's peak, but you have no idea why everyone is acting that way.

A lot of the times I actually like these films for the thoughts they inspire in me, even if the filmmakers don't capitalize on that.

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