28 June 2010

Alien Terminator

United States – 1995
Director – Dave Payne
New Horizons Home Video, 1995, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 35 minutes

The first thing that occurred to me as I began to watch Alien Terminator was its total intellectual poverty. But let’s be honest, the decade that spawned it, the 1990’s, science fiction-wise was little more stimulating cinematically than this, and Alien Terminator gives a beautiful cross-section of the aesthetic wasteland that was capped off with two of its most popular films, Star Wars: Episode 1 and The Matrix. Despite their pretty digital images and absolutely brilliant dialogue though, both are blatantly pro-Christian narratives masquerading behind aliens and black vinyl.

These films were a product of the decade that spawned them, a time of exasperated posturing as the dominant culture was beginning to eat itself for lack of source material, combining totally ad-hoc elements in the hope that somehow they could magically become cool. Consider the phenomena of goatees, page-boy haircuts and single strapped overalls in combination with the flash-in-the-pan awesomeness that was computer hacking and virtual reality. Such awkward and dissonant combinations are surely a symptom of the terrifying possibility that we were culturally bankrupt. But let’s be perfectly honest here, in the thick of all this profound self analysis, who among us could tell that we were all full of shit?

I would argue that environmentalism, the hottest new marketing trend of the 90’s was a perfect example of this because at its root was a deep personal introspection combined with pop marketing techniques. The popularity of toxic waste themes in television, cinema, toys and even music of the time is demonstrative. We could spend a lot of money consuming environmentally progressive products while ignoring the fact that mass-consumerism was the problem. (Still working on that one last time I checked.) Just such a greenwashed publicity stunt serves as the inspiration for Alien Terminator which conjures the still fresh carcass of Biosphere 2 for a “set” and a perfect metaphor for the sublime vanity of self-analysis as conspicuous consumption. To study the effects of human isolation a group of people (don’t ask me how the logic behind that one works) have been locked in the Earthtek BioCom facility. It is here, on the last day of their two year “isolation” that we meet our intrepid protagonists, frozen so to speak like butterflies in a bell jar, dusty specimens from a puzzling premillennial age.

Newton is a Corey Feldman look-alike geneticist who uses some cutting-edgy virtual reality to accidentally invent killer viruses between bong rips. On this particular day, the final one, he accidentally invents a virus which he ceremoniously names the Alien Intruder Virus which “increases strength, decreases moral inhibition and triggers a state of perpetual violence.” It makes perfect sense then to inject it into his pet rat Galileo. For the rest of the film Galileo, violently uninhibited and horribly mutated into something resembling a guy in hairy sweatpants, will menace the actors whose response to lifethreatening peril is repeated arguments about self-identity. It is wonderfully appropriate that Corman stable regulars Maria Ford and Emile Levisetti both appear here (they doubled up again in '96 for Strip for Action). Wearing a totally appropriate science outfit, Ford goes head to head with Billy-Ray Cyrus look alike Taylor who’s trying to get in her pants by repeatedly insulting her. We'll see how that works. Ford’s usual eagerness to reveal her perky acting talents is subdued in Alien Terminator to allow Levisetti to wallow in the unnatural bouancy of his girlfriend Rachel (Lisa Boyle). It’s nice to see Levisetti in action again, the throat-stab inducing smugness and assholery he brings to his performances really endears him as a sympathetic protagonist in Alien Terminator. As if all the snappy pacing of defending ones ego against hirsute suitors or suckling your sutured silicone sweetheart on the last-day in the bunker scenario wasn't enough to keep us entertained, a cataclysmic computer shutdown set-up will surely  keep it entertaining.

Whether or not I’m generalizing my own experience of the decade, you have to admit, all of these people flawlessly capture the bluster and pure snottyness of the time. If the decade and its cinematic output could be thrown in a big pot and boiled for several hours, Alien Terminator would be a healthy portion of the head-cheese that resulted. Even if it does resort to a cheap millennium-bug gag to forward the plot, at least it's not a gazillion dollar Bible story with assault rifles.

This awesome Japanese VHS cover comes courtesy of the excellent Japanese VHS Hell, go there.

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