A homage to 1950s era science fiction movies, Michael Laughlin’s STRANGE INVADERS is a fun anomaly from the early 1980s (complete with an in-joke about Steven Spielberg) which now makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Twilight Time.
In 1958 in the fictional town of Centerville, Illinois, a flying saucer lands to disrupt the peaceful inhabitants there. The aliens convert the townspeople's souls into glowing blue spheres while taking the guise of their human personas. Flash ahead 25 years later and we're introduced to Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, in a role originally intended for Michael Murphy), a professor of entomology at Columbia University. One evening, Charles' ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid, PSYCHO III) arrives at his apartment to drop off their daughter Elizabeth (Lulu Sylbert, STRANGE BEHAVIOR). Margaret has to leave for Centerville to attend her mother's funeral, and after several days of not hearing from her, Charles leaves his daughter at his mother's apartment and takes a flight to the small town. Renting a room with his husky (who soon goes missing), he finds the citizens to be very strange, and no one has seen or knows Margaret. After several tumultuous incidents, Charles crosses paths with a bug-eyed extraterrestrial being that attacks his car with ferocious lightning rays. He manages to flee the town with his life.
Back in Manhattan, Charles spots a picture of a supposed alien — identical to the one he encountered — on the cover of a newsstand tabloid. He meets Betty Walker (Nancy Allen, DRESSED TO KILL) a journalist who penned the article, but she laughs at him when he explains the circumstances. It's only after a chance alien encounter in her apartment that she believes Charles, and it's now evident that a number of these creatures are roaming the city. Now having to contend with a U.F.O government cover-up headed by sneaky government agent Mrs. Benjamin (Oscar Winner Louise Fletcher, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST), Charles must rescue his daughter who is at risk of being abducted aboard the large spacecraft.
Never taking itself too seriously but far from an all-out spoof, STRANGE INVADERS is basically a reworking of 1950s alien invasion movies, suitably updated for 1980s audiences, though the film was largely a box office flop. The creatures are pretty scary, tearing off their human disguises to reveal ugly insect-like heads, and when special effects are on display, they’re fairly dazzling. Movie fans will enjoy the great cast which also includes British cult favorite Fiona Lewis (THE FURY) as an alien pretending to be an Avon lady and Oscar nominee Michael Lerner (BARTON FINK) as a man whose family was turned into spheres by the aliens. Also in smaller roles are science fiction film legend Kenneth Tobey (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD), June Lockhart and Mark Goddard (both from "Lost and Space"), Wallace Shawn (THE PRINCESS BRIDE), Charles Lane (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) and a tiny bit by Bobby "Boris" Pickett ("The Monster Mash") as an editor. The familiar faces are a delight to watch (Lerner’s role as the sane yet committed mental patient Willy and his flashback to when his family was abducted is a highlight), though some of the acting will indeed be right in place in a no-budget early Roger Corman effort (Scarwid earned a Razzie Award nomination for "Worst Supporting Actress" for this film, to give you an idea). The Scope cinematography is by Louis Horvath, who also photographed a number of Al Adamson cheapies including BRAIN OF BLOOD and CINDERELLA 2000.
Released theatrically by Orion, STRANGE INVADERS was released on DVD back in 2001 as part of MGM’s “Midnite Movies” line, and Twilight Time now unleashes the pesky aliens on Blu-ray, maintaining the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD. MGM’s new transfer is noticeably improved over the old standard-def one, as it’s much cleaner and doesn’t suffer from the dull-looking hues. The image is consistently very good, with colors being nicely saturated and blacks appear accurate and true. A few scenes have a diffused look to them, stemming from the original cinematography, and the transfer handles these scenes very well, while filmic grain appears handsomely natural, and detail and resolution are also fine. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, and the mix is appealing, with crisp dialogue, distinct sound effects and John Addison’s score come through triumphantly. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
Carried over from the 2001 DVD is an audio commentary with director Michael Laughlin and co-writer Bill Condon (who later received critical acclaim for GODS AND MONSTERS, and more recently helmed two entries in the popular “Twilight Saga” series). Laughlin and Condon had previously did STRANGE BEHAVIOR (aka DEAD KIDS), so this film was the second in a proposed "strange" trilogy that was never completed. Both gentlemen's conversations were recorded separately, but it's smoothly edited in a way that would have you believe otherwise. Condon is obviously more the sci-fi buff, but both give a very interesting talk, with Laughlin telling how the film was a co-financed by Orion and EMI costing around $5 million with a 30-day shooting schedule, and he discusses different aspects of the production and independent filmmaking in general. Also included is the original Orion theatrical trailer, and the insert booklet contains liner notes by Julie Kirgo. (George R. Reis)
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