Saturday, September 13, 2014

#190: Alienator (Fred Olen Ray, 1990)

I reviewed Fred Olen Ray's second film The Alien Dead back in June and called it an "accidental masterpiece of delusional amateurism." That film was shot in '79 and released in 1980. In the ensuing decade, Ray made more than a dozen films, and I'm happy to report he barely learned anything about crafting a coherent, professional cinematographic experience. Alienator, shot in '89 and released in '90, is Ray's shlocky take on The Terminator, starring a passel of B-movie veterans, including Jan-Michael Vincent, P.J. Soles, Joseph Pilato, John Phillip Law, Ross Hagen, Leo Gordon, Robert Quarry, Hoke Howell, and Fox Harris in one of his last roles, as well as professional bodybuilder Teagan as the Alienator. This movie is terrible and I am happy to recommend it.
Alienator begins on an unnamed outer space prison colony tasked with executing the baddest space criminals out there. A visibly drunk, slurring Jan-Michael Vincent is the warden of the colony, and P.J. Soles (in bizarrely inappropriate work attire) makes sure the equipment is functioning. (Poor P.J. Soles, who spent the '70s and early '80s acting in Carrie, Halloween, Rock'n'Roll High School, and Stripes, was seventh-billed in a Fred Olen Ray film by 1990.) No one has ever escaped from the colony, as Vincent is happy to point out, but his foolproof plan of having two guys hold the prisoner while he waits for execution finally goes awry when Kol (Ross Hagen) punches them and steals their space lasers. Who could have seen this coming?
After a lengthy space laser shootout, in which Kol also shoves a paper sack full of face-eating space slugs in the face of a prison guard, the escaped prisoner steals a spaceship and makes his way to Earth, where he crosses paths with an RV full of dumbass young people on a camping trip. Sample scene: (Driver of the RV chugs a beer, crumples the can, and immediately opens and chugs a second beer.) Girlfriend: "Don't you think you've had enough?" Driver: "I drive better after a couple of brews."
Our intrepid gang of morons clip the space criminal with their camper and take the injured man to the game warden's cabin. Unfortunately for everybody, Kol is wearing a tracking device around his neck he can't remove, which also constantly chokes him, and the prison colony picks up his signal. Vincent sends the unstoppable killing machine Alienator (Teagan) to Earth to waste Kol and anyone else obstructing the mission. Teagan, whose dayjob is professional bodybuilding, doesn't have to do much but look like an unstoppable killing machine and shoot at anyone who gets in her way while wearing a leotard and space hardware.
Soon, the game warden, the four RV idiots, a couple of hillbilly rabbit poachers, Kol, and a retired colonel who will take no shit from space killers and whose cabin is stocked with AK-47s and landmines are on the defensive against the mighty Alienator. She seems indestructible. She's hit with bullets, a crossbow, and spikes and shrugs it off, occasionally losing a bit of the yellow ooze that is her equivalent of blood, earning the grudging respect of the retired colonel. "That's some woman, on any planet," he says. He's also enamored of the space lasers. "I wish I had one of those babies on Porkchop Hill," he wistfully pines. And that's pretty much our movie.
The production quality is slightly better for Alienator than The Alien Dead, and this film is closer to most '80s VHS/USA Up All Night schlock than the earlier film's inept weirdness. This is more Z-movie-by-the-numbers, but it's thoroughly enjoyable if you're up for cheesy effects, hilariously awful dialogue, inconsistent performances, and the stable of classic B-movie actors.
Ray even snagged cinematographer Gary Graver for this one. Graver, who died in 2006, had one of the most bizarre film careers ever. He began his career by directing porno movies under the name Robert McCallum and went legit by working as a cinematographer on low-budget horror movies. In 1970, Graver worked up the nerve to contact his hero, Orson Welles, and offer his services. Welles liked Graver, and the two men worked together on every subsequent Welles project. Even after Welles' death in 1985, Graver continued working on Welles' unfinished, unreleased films until his own death 21 years later. Graver supplemented the low-salaried labor-of-love independent work for Welles with whatever jobs he could get, including Z-grade schlock, TV commercials, Gary Coleman TV movies, and music videos. Life is rarely a straight line, and Graver's life, in which he worked for porn stars, Orson Welles, Gary Coleman, and Kool & the Gang, certainly wasn't. 

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