BR: Strange Invaders (1983)

October 10, 2016 | By

StrangeInvaders1983_BRFilm: Good

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: October 13, 2015

Genre: Science-Fiction

Synopsis: A professor’s search for his missing wife uncovers a small town inhabited by aliens with connections to the U.S. Government.

Special Features:  2001 Audio Commentary with director-writer Michael Laughlin and co-writer William Condon / Isolated Stereo Music Track / Original Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and





Before writing & directing Gods and Monsters (1998), Bill (William) Condon started his career by penning two cult films directed by producer-turned-director Michael Laughlin: the teen slasher Strange Behavior (1981), and Strange Invaders (1983), an affectionate homage to tales of small, insular townships being infiltrated by alien creatures.

With a more substantive budget for this EMI-Orion Pictures co-production, Laughlin also assembled an able cast for this extremely odd & quirky tale of a university bug professor Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) who stumbles upon a weird town packed with reptilian aliens while tracking down his missing ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid), who left their daughter in his care.

Everything ultimately converges in Centerville, Illinois, a locale that’s trapped in 1958 from cars, clothes, to happy smiling vanilla folks, headed by Artheur Newman, played by the venerable 50s sci-fi icon Kenneth Tobey (It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Thing from Another World).

Mysterious passages reside under the local church, and the café’s waitress (creepy Fiona Lewis, also from Strange Behavior, and Brian De Palma’s The Fury) is part of an alien group that follows Bigelow back to New York and tracks him down to find his hybrid daughter, the product of an actual human-alien union.

As director Laughlin recounts in the hybrid commentary track (intercut with separately recorded comments by Condon for MGM’s 2001 DVD), it takes a while before the film’s secondary character of tabloid reporter Betty Walker (Nancy Allen) pops into the picture; she’s the de facto love interest and vital companion that joins Bigelow on his trek via a cross-country Hitchcockian adventure car, cab, train, and foot chase, but doesn’t join the narrative until Bigelow’s chance glance at her paper’s alien cover story triggers a memory.

Condon and Laughlin’s script is extremely odd, and it’s not unfair to brand the work a diamond in the rough that’s hindered by Laughlin’s use of wide master shots and his inability to extract more than bare minimum emotions from the cast. Décor, clothes, locations, dialogue, and shots evoke the paranoid small town / alien invasion tales of the 50s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and It Came from Outer Space (1953), but Invaders lacks the brisk pacing and economy of those classics; the reverence and nostalgia that bleeds from every scene contributes to the film’s peculiar tone, but for the first half, the script has a spastic nature, especially when the aliens arrive in New York and start peeling off their faces in scenes that make no sense (Are they hot? Why not take a cold shower? Does the human suit re-grow, or once torn off, they’re trapped in their natural lizard form?).

Bigelow’s wife Margaret is an alien, but we don’t know how they met nor whether he ever suspected anything odd with her, nor whether any oddness materialized in their daughter. Most of the film is packed with visual material that harkens back to genre classics, but it’s assembled in an almost scattershot manner, especially the developing romance between Bigelow and Betty who have a few encounters before a very abrupt passionate kissing scene. Maybe it’s the Hitchcockian elements that cause the script to run astray – the North by Northwest (1959) train chase / interlude is just a diversion and nostalgic indulgence – or the fact the characters never develop into anything beyond stark genre archetypes.

Condon and Laughlin’s film somewhat preceded the equally nostalgic trips of Joe Dante, but Dante’s films – The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984), Matinee (1993) – are propelled by humour rooted in Warner Bros. cartoons, and pacing from both cartoons and Dante’s years cutting trailers for producer Roger Corman. Laughlin’s approach is more reverent than animated, but his sense of story organization and pacing isn’t as proficient.

It’s the same issues that make Behavior an uneven slasher film, and yet whether it stemmed from himself or Condon, the two ‘Strange’ films are essentially stories about insular communities affected by dangerous forces that have been seething from within their respective boundaries; Dante’s films often feel like elaborate Frank Tashlin tales that end with a smack-down set of punchlines.

Among the cast are some veteran character actors, including prolific Charles Lane, June Lockhart and Mark Goddard from TV’s Lost in Space (1965-1968), Behavior’s Dan Shor and Dey Young as not-quite teen lovers, a tiny role for Wallace Shawn, and a peculiar supporting role for Michael Lerner. Part of the film’s interiors were shot in Toronto, and the score by John Addison – massively evoking 50s genre classics, including homages to Bernard Herrmann (The Day the Earth Stood Still) – is one of his best.

The soft yet Technicolor-hued cinematography by Louis Horvath is quite lovely, and lensing of Laughlin’s three directorial efforts were rare mainstream treats after a career making exploitation & sexploitation films for the likes of Al Adamson (Brain of Blood, Angel’s Wild Women, Cinderella 2000).

Twilight Time lovely Blu-ray also features Addison’s score in vibrant stereo, and Julie Kirgo’s essay provides a concise appreciation of the film’s deep nostalgic elements, quirks, and unusual deadpan style.

Alongside his ‘Strange’ diptych, Laughlin also directed and co-wrote My Letter with George (1985), and produced several classics: The Whisperers (1967), Joanna (1968), and Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). Bill Condon would make his own directing debut with the moody, southern gothic tale Sister, Sister (1987), and would also write Chicago (2002) and the superb Kinsey (2004).



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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