Alien Trespass: A sexy, skillful, sci-fi surprise spoof
By Bruce Bellingham
Alien Trespass, the new movie from director R.W. Goodwin, is a delightful, good-natured homage to those wonderfully zany science fiction flicks from the 1950s.
Goodwin, who produced and directed The X-Files on television, knows his stuff. In fact, he’s nailed it. If Goodwin didn’t truly love those scary films that always take place in the desert, and always tell a panicky tale that’s cooked up amid the pervasive Cold War fear that missiles with nuclear warheads would be launched any minute by the nefarious, godless Russians, Alien Trespass would not be half as good as it is.
Throughout the Cold War, creatures from outer space, crashing to the desert landscape in saucers, carried the metaphor for a Commie invasion.
The film starts with black and white newsreels from 1957 – really authentic-looking stuff. Suddenly, we are catapulted to the Saturday matinee 50 years ago in a movie house in Anywhere, USA.
Goodwin took pains to capture the details of the ’50s sci-fi flicks (he even used the same filters for his cameras) – the nerdy, distracted astronomer, Dr. Ted Lewis (played by Eric McCormack, of Will & Grace fame); the naive but devoted wife, Lana (Jody Thompson); and the maltreated, misunderstood waitress, Tammy, who knows much more than anyone knew (Jenni Baird). Tammy’s dreams are too big for this isolated desert town of Mojave. She longs to be an artist in – who knows – maybe Sausalito one day. The gals show a little more cleavage than the ’50s might have permitted. But the sexual tension produced by this repressive time is exploited skillfully. Having no lust in scary movies is like having eggs without salt. Salt, by the way, plays a role in the story.
There are the clueless cops, and the obligatory discontented teenagers, who are chronically dismissed as mere adolescent troublemakers. They, of course, really know what’s going on out there in the desert where a meteor crashed, setting off really weird events all over town.
The best part of Alien Trespass, aside from how good it looks (it’s in color, which is where it departs from the ’50s grade-B classics), is the snappy, clever writing. The film is very funny. The score, by Louis Febre, is uncommonly good – much better than most movies back then. Febre makes good use, of course, of the ever-present theremin, a necessary element in movies with flying saucers, alien beings, and monsters from the beyond.
To the trained eye, the seasoned fan of sci-fi, the tributes to the great movies of the past are evident. The patio with the barbeque (and steaks the size of Rhode Island) evokes Plan 9 from Outer Space. Cinema aficionados will be delighted to see touches of It Conquered the World, Killers from Space, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman, Them, and, I’m guessing, Goodwin’s favorite film, The Blob.
Say, where is Steve McQueen now that we need him?
Goodwin has gone where no director of this genre has gone before. Alien Trespass actually transcends satire. None of that frothiness as in Earth Girls Are Easy. We laugh at the characters, but begin to have sympathy for them. The essential speech at the end of all sci-fi films (the message is always a warning for us Earthlings because we have let things get out of control) in Alien Trespass is actually moving, sweet, human.
And isn’t that what the great science fiction and horror films are all about? They give us a little introspection into ourselves between martinis on the patio and steaks the size of Rhode Island.
Alien Trespass is just what we need right now. With the country undergoing great turbulence, let’s reach back to another time, and allow ourselves to laugh a bit in a good-natured way.
Before you rush down to the car dealership to check out the new Edsels, get to the Embarcadero Cinema, and check out Alien Trespass. It’s 88 minutes long, and opens on April 3.