3 out of 5 stars
Richard W. Haines’ 1989 B- flick ‘Alien Space Avenger’ has virtually fallen off of the map. Currently there is no region 1 dvd of the film in existence, which means that one’s best bet for seeing this schlocky classic is an old musty consignment shop’s VHS bin or ‘taped from TV’ versions that can be found online. But is ‘Alien Space Avenger’ worth seeking out? Of course it is.
Director Haines is somewhat of a ‘Troma’ veteran, creating such cult classics as ‘Splatter University (1984)’ and ‘Class Of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)’ and editing work on the infamous ‘The Toxic Avenger (1984).’ ‘Alien Space Avenger’ offers little variation from the over-the-top sensationalism of these other films and is a testament to campy, low budget fun. In fact one of the main characters, Robert Prichard playing the role of the fugitive alien leader, is no stranger to Troma productions either, starring in ‘Class of Nuke ‘Em High’ and ‘The Toxic Avenger.’ However what I found unexpected was Haines’ affiliation with Martin Scorsese, having done some archival work for him. Also a couple of the cast members went on to star in Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ (1990). Perhaps the most varied player in ‘Alien Space Avenger’ is Michael McCleery, who began his career with Peter Yates’ classic heist film, ‘The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973)’ alongside legend Robert Mitchum. Other notable films for McCleery include, ‘Harry And Tonto (1974)’ and ‘L.A. Confidential (1997)’. But none of this is to say that McCleery garnered the leading role in any of these memorable films. I think he just had a great face for loitering in the background of a frame. Another recognizable face in ‘Alien Space Avenger’ is that of Kirk Fogg, who would later go on to host Nickelodeon’s ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ from ’93 to ’95.
‘Alien Space Avenger,’ forgiving its sometimes lack of narrative cohesion, actually has a pretty decent plot. In the 1930s an alien spaceship transporting 4 fugitives that resemble tiny lizard like creatures escapes and crash lands on earth. The fugitive aliens immediately occupy the bodies of a group of dim-witted but curious youths out for a night on the town. Unable to avoid bloodshed with the local humans, the aliens quickly return to their spaceship to lay low (for 50 years) until human technology has advanced to a point allowing them the plutonium needed to repair their ship.
Unearthed during excavations, the four aliens, donning the gaudy 1930s garb head to late 1980s Greenwich Village; so beginning a period in the film that exists mostly as a series of jokes and gimmicks about the comical blunderings of the anachronistic aliens. Heeding the primal urges better befitting to the Stone Age (Food, shelter, weapons, etc), the aliens naturally find trouble, a lot of it. Between slaying countless innocent bystanders (So many people), hiding out from police and hunting a local comic book artist who they believe to be their agent (who is simultaneously tracking them down to bring them back to jail. Like Tommy Lee Jones’ character in ‘The Fugitive’), the group finds time to indulge in the earthly vices like sex or alcohol– a necessity in any campy B movie. Well the film concludes as anyone would expect it to, with the human race surviving to live another day.
‘Alien Space Avenger’ was filmed using vintage 3 strip Technicolor film, which seems a little odd. I will admit that I didn’t notice a huge difference from the quality of other low-grade B films of that era. It should be noted though, that director Haines published a book titled ‘Technicolor Movies’ in 1993.
To thoroughly enjoy film, one must indulge in a sampling of various styles and genres. One cannot be truly fulfilled sitting around taking in Resnais or Kurosawa classics all of the time. A subtle blend must occur. ‘Alien Space Avenger’ might not be the classic remembered for ages, but it’s already 2013 and we’re still watching and writing about this film, so something must’ve stuck.