Z-grade sci-fi movie asks, “When is a spoof not a spoof?”
Directed by R.W. Goodwin
Cast: Eric McCormack, Jenni Baird, Robert Patrick
Masquerading as a long-lost film rescued from a dusty studio vault after 50 years, Alien Trespass keeps a straight face while replicating—to the letter—its creatively and financially impoverished drive-in movie predecessors. Though virtually the same gag was pulled off in 2001’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, Alien Trespass still qualifies as a treat for those with a nostalgic taste for Z-grade Hollywood movies.
The plot of Alien Trespass will be familiar to anyone who’s ever logged time at a drive-in theater, watched a late-night movie, or digested his or her fair share of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” A “meteor” streaks across the California sky and crash-lands in the Mojave Desert. Among the small-town witnesses is noted astronomer Ted Lewis (secret geek-at-heart Eric McCormack from “Will & Grace”). Turns out, of course, that the meteor is actually an alien spaceship. On board is the friendly silver alien Urp, a sort of interstellar federal marshal. In order to locate his now missing cargo—a murderous purple blob called the Ghota—Urp “borrows” Ted’s body. Ted/Urp stumbles around town with an alien ray gun and a poor sense of Earthly culture, confusing his sexpot wife (Jody Thompson, “The 4400”) and every other local he bumps into.
Among those dealing with Ted’s suddenly strange behavior and the fact that various locals are disappearing and being replaced by piles of gooey sludge are a blowhard sheriff’s deputy (Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick, adding some weighty sci-fi cred) and a hardheaded waitress (Jenni Baird, also from “The 4400”). Throw in the requisite clueless teenagers and you’ve got the exact recipe for a ’50s sci-fi film.
Given the campy script, the two-dimensional characters and the appropriately cheesy special effects, audiences are probably expecting some jokey, lowbrow spoofery along the lines of “MST3K.” The audience I saw this film with did its utmost to find humor in every corny line and every rubbery tentacle. But there are no actual jokes to be found in Alien Trespass. The film isn’t played for laughs. The only laughs generated here are the same ones that would have accompanied an actual ’50s B movie—guffaws over the wooden acting or the papier-mâché sets. It sounds weird, but Alien Trespass tries to be the best bad movie it can be.
Instead of Scary Movie-style mockery, this is a lovingly faithful (perhaps too faithful) version of a cheap science-fiction movie from the ’50s. Like Rob Zombie’s original House of 1,000 Corpses—which aped ’70s splatter flicks so reverently it was practically a shot-for-shot remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre—Alien Trespass is nearly scene-for-scene 1958’s The Blob. There’s a tiny bit of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still thrown in for good measure. (Urp is Michael Rennie’s pacifist alien Klaatu and his towering robot servant Gort all rolled into one.) Plus, the monstrous Ghota is clearly modeled after the creature from 1956’s It Conquered the World. In other words: If you’re the sort of audience this film is aimed at, you’ve seen it all before.
But in attempting to mirror the past too precisely, director R.W. Goodwin (a longtime producer on “The X-Files”) and screenwriter Steven P. Fisher (a newbie, apparently) inevitably come up short. No one would ever mistake this for an actual ’50s film—even with the fake newsreel footage tacked to the front. Movies from the ’50s had no product placement. They weren’t self-referential. Men and women (even married ones) didn’t have sex. And flying saucers were constructed in pie plates and fishing line—not Adobe After Effects.
With the alien menace defeated (but for how long?) and the credits rolling, you can’t say Alien Trespass isn’t sincere. Goodwin and his crew clearly love the material they’re covering. But it’s not like there’s a lack of actual bad sci-fi movies from the ’50s. Heck, there’s not even a lack of bad sci-fi movies today, to which the recent remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still starring Keanu Reeves will clearly attest.