Friday, 20 February 2015
Raiders Of The
Directed by Alan Bridges
Network DVD Region 2
Invasion is actually not a film I’d heard of before Network handily brought it out on DVD at the tail end of 2014... which is kind of surprising given its pedigree. Everything about it seems so comfortable and, well, British... and I find it hard to fathom that I’d never caught a showing of it on TV sometime in the 1970s or 1980s to be honest.
It’s a curious film and perhaps one of the reasons why the plot set up seems so familiar is that the screenplay is based on a story idea by Robert Holmes, who would later go on to be a regular contributor to Doctor Who. Many have said there are similarities between the main concept of Invasion and the first of his Jon Pertwee stories, Spearhead From Space (reviewed here), for instance. However, I think Invasion has less in common with that serial and more in common with the historical story legacy of Doctor Who long after Holmes death. Indeed, the David Tennant episode Smith and Jones and the first full Matt Smith story The Eleventh Hour, seem to me to have much more in common with this film than the earlier Holmes episodes. Those two, in particular, look like they’ve been extensively cribbed from this movie.
So Invasion is, basically, a black and white British B-movie science fiction film and, frankly, it’s one of the more entertaining ones I’ve seen. I really don’t understand why this film is not better known. The film starts with a military radar monitoring outpost and the low budget arrival of a spaceship on Earth... you don’t see anything but air being tracked by the camera against eerie noise and the “impression” left in the ground from where the spaceship came down initially (until the final couple of minutes of the movie when some real footage of rockets have been spliced in with the footage... although a smaller escape capsule is seen at one point). A man and his secret lover return from a party and accidentally knock down a figure in the road. After some argument they take the Asian looking figure to the local hospital and it’s here that things start to go really wrong for everyone.
The figure in the road is a being from, as far as can be gathered, a matriarchal society on another world. He feeds the doctors and nurses lies about his reasons for being there when actually he is an escaped prisoner and the aliens who are looking for him, both females of the species, have been transferring him from their world to a prison colony on another planet before they crashed on Earth. For some reason, all three aliens are played by actors or actresses of Chinese, Japanese or Korean extraction... and this is badly addressed in the script when one of the characters asks an Asian nurse if the patient is Chinese or Japanese... to which she replies in the negative. Oh, right, so must be aliens then and we’re certainly not picking on any specific racial stereotypes to identify the aliens for the audience then, are we?
Actually, while I’m on the subject, the aliens in this story are from the planet Lister and are referred to at one point as Listerines. Hmmm... quite apart from the fact that the aliens don’t seem to realise they are going around under the name of a famous antiseptic mouthwash that’s been going since 1879, the clothes they are wearing may seem vaguely familiar to any fans of kaiju eiga. That is to say, the Asian actors in this are wearing tight fitting latex jumpsuit style outfits which aren’t exactly a million miles away from the clothes the Asian aliens in such Gojira films as Invasion Of The Astro Monster (aka Godzilla VS Monster Zero, also from 1965) were wearing... so I'm wondering if their was any direct influence or borrowing going on from the costume department here as an exercise in visual short hand?
Anyway, the guy who knocked the alien over goes home and, in a nice “jump scare” moment involving some okay photography and suspenseful build up through editing, is startled by looking up at a cat on the roof of his porch and, when he looks down, there are the alien ladies standing before him. They nobble him, apparently by accident as it’s eluded by one of them that he has had a heart attack, in search of the alien’s identifying mechanism thingy which he pulled out of his car after taking the original alien to hospital... although they don’t seem to be able to find it in its carefully hidden resting place of... 'just been thrown on the nearest table'. I’ll come back to this 'thingy' in a minute. There’s a terribly big plot hole forming here, I’m afraid.
It’s not long before one of the aliens goes undercover in the hospital by disguising herself as the Japanese nurse and really being very convincing at not being spotted as an imposter by the other staff and patients in the hospital. Meanwhile, a force field is raised around the building and now that the leading characters Doctor Mike Vernon (played by Edward Judd), Doctor Claire Harland (played by Valerie Gearon) and their new military friends are kind of aware of, and totally believing in, what is occurring... the air is slowly running out in the hospital and grounds. There’s actually a really nicely done and completely unexpected shock effect moment in this where one of the Hospital staff goes to fetch help and is killed as his car crashes into the invisible force field, revealed for the first time here, as he goes through the window of the crumpled car. The music is non existent during this, and many other scenes, but the low key atmosphere really works well within this kind of claustrophobic setting, I think.
After this, Mike goes on a mission to retrieve the 'alien thingy' at the original driver’s house by going through the sewers. When he returns with the device he is confronted by the alien lady in the hospital who, it seems, couldn’t care less about the device and just wants to be taken to the prisoner so she can take him back into custody... which is where the plot gets really odd actually because, she’s known where he is all along, actually helping the other nurses look after him. This makes no sense people!
The fun and games continue with the original alien taking Mike’s sweetheart Claire hostage as he tries to make his way to his crashed escape capsule, including a very unsatisfactory deus ex machina kind of ending which just seems tagged on for a quick resolution. Now, to be fair, the main factors which make the initial and promising idea of the premise of a hospital under siege by aliens are totally ridiculous and unworkable in terms of the way the story works... or doesn’t work in this case. That being said though, I don’t want this fact to detract that the film is actually a great little gem of a movie which I wish I’d known about sooner. It moves along at its own rate and there’s a very British lack of emotion and acceptance inherent in the main characters but... although I suspect some people might find the lack of over emoting a trifle unsettling, I really didn’t mind it and felt kind of “at home” with the characters.
There are some truly nice compositions in the shot design, with a lot of diagonally perspective walls and hospital screens offset on either side to bring characters in to the middle area of a shot, for example, in a way that must have been really great to see on a big screen on this film’s initial cinematic release. The acting is very good, for the most part, with no real “theatricals” from anyone... even the token human obstacle at the hospital, the one who has a terminally unfortunate accident with the force field, seems to be acting from his own viewpoint of common sense and doesn’t throw up his oppositional ideas without sound reasoning... so that’s all good.
The music is something else again. I’d not heard of the composer Bernard Ebbinghouse before but his score is not very prominent in the film for the most part and, during those parts, it’s quite effective, slightly jazzy in style and low key, in keeping with the rest of the atmosphere of the film. There was at least one moment, however, towards the end, when the music went into full overkill on something that really didn’t warrant it and it had me scratching my head as to why it was used and mixed into the foreground of the foley like this when it was blatantly inappropriate for the scene in question... which makes me wonder if the cue had been composed for that part of the movie at all or maybe just tracked in by the sound people trying to fix something else in the mix, maybe. For the most part, though, the film is very minimally spotted in terms of the music and it tends to work quite well for a lot of the time.
All in all, then, I think Invasion is a great little find and something I’d be quite happy to see on a semi-regular basis (once every five or six years)... maybe as the first half of a double bill with The Earth Dies Screaming, perhaps, which has a similar atmosphere to it, is also almost forgotten and which is even more amazing than this film. The new Network DVD is a really nice print although, much as I hate censorship (and I do, don’t get me started) I was surprised to find that a film with a shot of a photo in a... ahem... gentleman’s magazine (no, ladies, not trying to be sexist here, just talking about it in the context of the time) and a scene where blood is visible after a man has been stabbed in the gut, managed to get a PG rating. I’m not complaining and I don’t think it would do most kids any harm whatsoever... but it does seem to be a bit of a contradiction when pitched against other, more hair raising and angering decisions by the BBFC where they've sliced out or given films higher certification for far less than even this small amount of nudity and bloodshed.
Seriously though, Invasion is a real little treasure of B movie nonsense if you are into science fiction and much thanks to Network for making this available finally to, what I imagine, is a fairly unsuspecting public. Take a look at this one if you are a lover of British sci-fi and appreciate some well lit, black and white photography.