Thursday, 13 October 2016

Alien 2 - On Earth

Come On Alien

Alien 2 - On Earth
(aka Alien 2 Sulla Terra)

Italy 1980 Directed by Ciro Ippolito 
88 Films Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Yeah, this sort of has some mild spoilers but I don’t think you’ll mind them. It’s not that kind of movie.

Oh dearie me. Where do I even begin with a movie like Alien 2 - On Earth?

The Italians, along with a few other countries I could name, seem to have a reputation (and sometimes a knack) for jumping on the bandwagon when a film, or series of films, hits big. And then they capitalise on/exploit that craze for as long as they can while the money still comes in. When Argento repopularised the giallo format with his movie The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, for example, there were suddenly gazillions of gialli being made. When the Americans were using Italian studios to film their various biblical epics like the Charlton Heston version of Ben Hur, there was suddenly a slew of peplum (sword and sandals movies) again with heroes such as Hercules and Maciste heading the bills (I suspect the leftover sets and props would also have played a part). When Sergio Leone hit big with the first real Spaghetti Western, his remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, called A Fistful Of Dollars, there were suddenly hundreds, if not thousands, of similarly styled Italian Westerns being produced. They even bandwagoned their own bandwagons in some cases. For instance, when Sergio Corbucci had a hit with the Spaghetti Western Django, there were almost “too many to count” numbers of westerns made which had Django mentioned in the title of the movie, whether he appeared in the film or not (a trend which Tarantino played on a few years ago when he mentioned the famous character in the title of his movie but then, despite having Franco Nero in an unrelated cameo in the film, having a totally different character called Django as the main lead).

So yeah, in Italy, a really successful movie made sometime between, at least, the 1950s and the 1980s, was going to spur production on a large number of 'cinematic delights' cashing in on this film... quite often without any of the qualities that made the original template any good, actually being carried through into the next batch.

And that’s how it was when Ridley Scott’s A L I E N hit cinema screens back in 1979.

Young ‘uns these days possibly don’t realise just how big Scott’s A L I E N was when it came out. Star Wars was still very fresh in everyone’s mind and, despite a classic run of adult oriented science fiction films produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the post Star Wars consumer market was very excited to see an adult oriented, science fiction/horror movie once more. At 11 years of age, I was unable to see the film at the cinema on its first run due to its X certificate rating, but I remember being impressed that my mum and dad, for the first time I could ever remember in my life, went out to see the movie without me. But I had the big photonovel of the film and also, the far more violently expressed graphic novel, which also included scenes not seen in the movie until the much later ‘director’s cut’ and which, believe me, was way more gorily drawn than anything seen in the actual film.

So, the point is, A L I E N was pretty big and so, as far as the Italians were concerned, I guess, it was fair game for them to produce their very own sequel. Don’t forget that the film’s first official sequel, ALIENS, didn’t come out until 1986. So I don’t really blame the Italians for doing that. After all, the similarities between A L I E N and certain sections of Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires were pretty obvious and so... I guess they felt they could just steal their stuff back.

Having watched this ‘sequel’ now, I have to say it’s one of the most unbelievably mind numbing and tedious movies I’ve ever seen... even for a dodgy, Italian, rip off exploitation movie. The film actually, in no way, shape or form other than in the title, mentions or refers to anything specifically in Ridley Scott’s A L I E N other than a few echoes which I’ll get into in a minute.

My first clue that I would have to take the film’s sequel status with more than an oversized pinch of salt was the fact that it’s set in the present day... or that is to say, contemporary to when it was filmed. As opposed to being set in the far future like the original A L I E N. If I was being kind, I’d say certain elements of content have been inspired by Scott’s film but, even so, there are other Italian exploitation films from around the same time nicking bits from A L I E N which are still bad but which have a flair for fun and are quite watchable. Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (sometimes retitled Alien Contamination for some territories) springs to mind in this capacity as a fun, schlocky, so bad it’s good stab at something which maybe couldn’t have quite existed without films like A L I E N leading the way. However, Alien 2 - On Earth is not schlocky fun... it’s just interminably dull, to be fair.

The film has, presumably, hardly any budget and that would suggest why the film takes place solely in a TV studio (for one scene), a beach (for a couple of scenes), a bowling alley (for a few sequences including an over long finale) and, mostly, in a series of caves. Yes, it’s like a poor man’s The Descent we have here and instead of the crew of the Nostromo we have a bunch of people who like to explore caves and a writer/director who is trying to convince the audience that a bunch of 'cave scientists' can actually make a decent living poking around investigating rock forms. The background to this story is of a capsule returning from space with no astronauts aboard (I don’t think we actually ever see it) and a bunch of blue rocks turning up which, when one kid finds it, does something off camera and leaves her without a face. Of course, one of our 'Team Cave Explorers' protagonists finds one of these rocks next to the toilets at a gas station (there you go, I knew there was another location I was forgetting) and puts it in his ruck sack. The team then go underground for the majority of the rest of the movie, with everyone looking out for the character Thelma (played by Belinda Mayne) because she keeps having her telepathic flashes that something dark is going to happen.

The film is laughable right from the start due to an interesting but wildly inappropriate score by Oliver Onions (more well known to many as Guido and Maurizio De Angelis... who scored gazillions of Italian movies... including one of my favourites as a kid, Watch Out We’re Mad, reviewed here). However, despite some nice ‘spaced out’ synthesizer sounds running in the background, overlaying it on a free and easy guitar melody and with occasional vocals and, furthermore, bringing it in at completely inappropriate moments throughout the movie, does nothing to add to a sense of mystery or horror, believe me. It might make you laugh and also, perhaps, be quite listenable away from the movie but, in terms of supporting this story... it's completely out of it.

Aside from the dullness, there are also some great continuity errors too. When our heroine Thelma goes to the beach to meet her psychiatrist, he arrives on a boat and sits with her for a few minutes to establish for the audience that she has a darkness and a kind of sixth sense when something bad is happening (even from a ludicrous distance, which makes you wonder why she isn’t sensing every other bad thing going on in the world which isn’t pertinent to this hastily cobbled together plot), with the excuse of putting his boots on, which he waves at the camera. However, when the two go back to long shot after their talk, there are no boots or even spare shoes to be seen... they’ve just vanished completely. Good stuff.

Now, to be fair to the director, there are some nice moments of beautiful cinematography on show here... a scene where the little girl near the start of the movie finds the pulsating alien rock thing on the beach and she’s silhouetted against the sea by the light, comes to mind. However, moments like this are few and far between and, it has to be said, they can’t save this movie.

Now, the only things I could find on show that might be inspired by Scott’s A L I E N, apart from some gory scenes, is the atmosphere and costumes, As they go into the caves, they are full of stalactites and stalagmites and I can only think that maybe the film’s producers and designers were thinking that these natural formations might somehow pass for something that, if you half closed your eyes, might look like they came from the mind of H. R. Giger. That’s my best guess anyway. Coupled with the caving suits and the helmets with the lights on, I can only assume they were going for a similar look to the early, planet exploration scenes of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic. However, it has to be said that the scenes in the caves are among the dullest and unwatchable in the movie which... is a pity when you realise that at least 90% of the movie takes place in them.

The bizarre flying, almost unseen alien creature is badly handled but, to be fair, some of the goriness is imaginatively inspired. The life cycle of the alien in this film kinda means it jumps out of the rock and takes someones face off... until they are found with their face in tact somehow, which I suspect is due to a hasty script rewrite halfway through shooting when they realised that a faceless woman is not someone the rest of the cavers were going to bother about trying to administer medical aid to, after she is attacked. So in this movie we have a face ripper rather than a face hugger and it then somehow lives inside the host’s head before popping out of the front of their pulsating, rubbery face (pushing an eyeball or two out in the process) and attacking the next person. The next person attacked in this case is hooked to a rope at the edge of a precipice, for reasons really not worth bothering about going into here and, as he’s left dangling over the side of the edge above his companions, his head suddenly drops off for some bizarrely inexplicable reason.

And the majority of the rest of the movie is spent with the rest of the gang of spelunkers as they run around the caves trying to get out while being picked off one by one by a very dodgy special effect. There’s a brief moment of respite when one of the crew is taken over by the alien creature and Thelma tries to communicate telepathically... I know that’s what she’s trying because, for some strange reason, her eyes are glowing green when she’s doing this. It doesn’t do much, though, and when she and another survivor finally get out of the caves they find, just as you kinda know they would, the rest of the world abandoned... although there are no dead bodies around, to speak of. So, of course, they try and find out where everybody has gone by going back to their favourite bowling alley (because, why wouldn't you, I guess?) and it’s here that the climax of the movie is set because... of course an alien life form would be so interested in bowling. Must have been a very cheap location, I suppose.

Alien 2 - On Earth ends exactly as you think it might, scotching any chances of this being somehow even a prequel to A L I E N, rather than the advertised sequel. And, despite how fun it probably sounds, I can honestly say that it most certainly isn’t. The film’s only other noteworthy feature apart from the very occasionally nice cinematography is the inclusion of future giallo and horror director Michele Soavi in the cast... but he’s hardly a notable actor here so... well, he fits right in with all the others then. I’m really glad I saw this ‘lost gem’ finally and am grateful to 88 Films for releasing a restored Blu Ray of it but, even after recommending loads of terrible but fun Italian exploitation movies to people in my time, the only thing I can say about this one is, keep clear. It’s truly dreadful... just not in a good way.

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