Alien 2: On Earth
When it came to Italian horror in the seventies and eighties, you never knew what to expect. No matter how sexual, gory, graphic or depraved a concept, they all seemed to find their way into the spaghetti exploitation machine. They always kept you guessing. The same can be said for the titles of their movies, which many times tried to establish a tenuous relationship with a franchise it had no reason associating with. There’s of course Troll 2, featuring goblins and baring no similarities to the John Carl Buechler predecessor. But then there’s also Fulci’s Zombie, which advertised itself as a Dawn of the Dead sequel in Italy, or “Terminator II” by the great minds of Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso and so many more if you look on the alternate titles of any Italian film released during the timeframe. Another notable is Alien 2: On Earth, a 1980 non-sequel that cashed in on Alien after Fox sat on a follow up for seven years after Ridley Scott’s original. I guess that could be cool, right? Aliens landing on Earth. It’s something the Alien fans had always been asking for, and it was something Fox even batted around with Alien 3 when it had the teaser “On Earth, Everyone Can Hear You Scream”. So why not? The Italians always do exploitation with panache. Right? Right?
A space capsule is heading back to earth after a lengthy voyage in space. There’s a television crew covering it, and you’d think a crew of astronauts returning to earth after reaching contact with other planets would be newsworthy enough on its own, but the station opts to bring in a speleologist for an interview instead. This isn’t just your regular old cave scientist; Thelma Joyce (Belinda Mayne) is telepathic and is able to feel the presence of others even when they are away. That still doesn’t explain why the hell they’re interviewing her when international news is occurring with the emergency earth landing. “What is it that makes an attractive girl like you decide to go exploring underground?” asks the reporter. “Well, to begin with” says Joyce “there’s not so much traffic down there.” Really, Joyce…really? I guess she works as part of a team, but they couldn’t be there on national television because, get this, they have a bowling game. Seriously. In the middle of Joyce’s interview she gets a migraine and claims she could sense the astronauts. I guess they crashed into the ocean. Guess what, they weren’t alone.
We never really hear anything more about the whole space landing, but it appears as if odd charcoal rocks are littered around the coastline, and as we learn when a little girl goes to pick one up, they’re actually aliens that like to burrow within humans. This isn’t just a face hugger, though. These creatures decimate the entire face of the humans they inhabit. One bursts out of the little girls face, but that’s just a jump scare, so just forget about that. So Thelma’s team is now done bowling and ready to climb through some dark, dank, dangerous caves. The interesting rock that one of Thelma’s colleagues found starts to throb, and before they know it the alien is leaping from body to body and underground the rocks team has no way for escape. With their climbing lines lost and their flashlights running on empty, they’re forced to head for the ocean, which they believe to be some 300 miles away. Somehow, before the end of the movie they’ll end up back at the bowling alley, and so too will a disciple of The Green Slime.
Ultra-low budget, even for the penny pinching Italian standard, Alien 2: On Earth feels like a movie not made on concept, but one created out of available goodwill. It’s not so much a plot as a collection of sequences pieced together out of the locations and handouts the producers were able to obtain. The movie begins with a bunch of space station stock footage and then it looks as if they just shot in the editing suite for the whole TV interview. Then there are these recurring sequences at the bowling alley, which, if the rest of the film is any indication, was probably a place one of the actors worked at and let the crew in at off hours. I can’t think of any other location in any other movie that seems a less fitting locale. It’s like if the climax for Nosferatu were to take place on a rollercoaster. None of the scenes make sense in relation to the other, it’s more just like “what place was available to us today, or how the hell can this stock footage help tell a story?” Even the opening credit sequence, a monotonous couple of minutes of Thelma driving, signaling, turning, breaking, driving some more, and driving more after that to get to the TV interview looks as if it were some TV news traffic stock. That’s around three minutes, and the movie barely clocks in at 84. That’s the kind of movie Alien 2 is.
I seriously need to talk more about this bowling alley. It’s just this movie about space travel, underground exploration and control room hysteria, and then a round of ten pin. There’s just this bowling alley. For no reason. And somehow after the protagonists make it out of the cave not only is that the first place the survivors decide to investigate, but it’s also somehow already been taken over by aliens. They don’t ever explain or really elaborate on Thelma’s ESP – it’s more just the only way they could have her alert the rest of the crew that something is wrong without having to script their encounter with an alien early, but it’s like somehow the bowling alley has this nihilistic force that’s able to destroy life. Even the establishing shots of the pin machinery are foleyed with some abrasive sound effects and cast in ominous shadow. What the hell is this place and why the hell is it in a movie about aliens landing on earth?
Because the film is cobbled together from extraneous stock footage at the start and then bound by location necessity thereafter, it’s a really slow go for the first half. Like, really slow. There’s a pretty effective sequence with the little girl on the beach that feels oddly confident in drawing out suspense before a visceral payoff, but otherwise it’s a whole lot of nothing happening on screen. Even when they get into the caves, it’s pretty dull. The characters are dubbed over and paper thin to begin with, so the film can’t rely on the goodwill of the characters and their relationships like other dark, one location cave settings like The Strangeness or The Boogens (all shot right around the same time as Alien 2 to pretty much start and kill the cave chaser genre in one swoop). The film only really gets going during some of the graphic attacks underground, one of which features a mutilated head slowly oozing off a body and falling deep down into a crevice for the rest of the team to see. The gore can be good during fleeting moments, but at the same time the alien often just looks like a big piece of raw liver. Maybe they found a few extra pieces in the fridge at the bowling alley?
Alien 2 is a cheap, but earnest attempt at cashing in on the Alien formula. It’s not made with the skill that usually befits an Italian production, but it certainly has those signature moments of depravity that nobody in the States would dare get away with. It’s not very good, and it’s not very bad in the Troll 2 sense, either. It certainly tries its hardest to be something, though, and you get the sense watching it that the story about how this film actually got made would be a hell of a lot more entertaining than the movie that’s up there on the screen now. Of minor interest to low budget creature feature fans, but most others will wonder what On Earth they were thinking with that bowling alley.
Aside: For those wondering what the un-translated “…Ora Puo Colpire Anche Te” means before the end credits, it means “…You Might Be Next”. I’d stay away from the bowl-o-rama tonight.
Considering this is Midnight Legacy’s inaugural release, I certainly wanted to pay close attention to the transfer. It didn’t look too good when the first scenes were blurry, scratched up and all grainy from what looks like an 8mm blow-up. After a minute or so of that, though, the film reveals the footage to be old stock footage, and then the real 35mm footage comes through. Considering this was a ultra-low budget affair, this might not be the best release to put forward first as a company just getting into HD production, but Midnight Legacy acquits themselves rather well. Other than the stock footage and optical titling sequences, it’s an impeccably clean transfer. Images are detailed without looking digitally sharpened, and color is timed consistently throughout. The timing is no small feat considering the use and reuse of locations and how each trip to the alley looks as it did before. Perhaps the best part of the transfer is the richness of the blacks. For a film of this vintage and quality, you’d expect to see some cloudy grain or some blue tinting to all those dark scenes underground, but surprisingly the blacks hold true throughout and are solid without resorting to a high contrast. Grain is minimal and colors for the most part have fortitude. I doubt this print could look much better even if the film itself could have really used a better cinematographer (or at least a tripod). It ain’t knockout source material, but Midnight Legacy has proven with this restoration that they could certainly handle bigger and better.
It should be noted that the back of the box advertises a 50GB dual layer disc, but the entire disc’s contents clock in at only 23.8GB. Not a big deal, since the film is encoded at a high bitrate (again, it’s only 84 minutes), but a misjudgment nonetheless.
Like Criterion, Midnight Legacy’s M.O. is to preserve their films with the “original audio mixes”. I guess it’s also convenient that the track for Alien 2 is a without frills mono track. Whether it’s just a matter of being cheaper to produce or more in line with the director’s intent, the reality is that the audio mix here isn’t quite as commendable as the image. There are a few noticeable instances of crackling to the sound elements, which are distracting considering the image has been cleaned up so well that you often forget you’re watching a thirty year old movie. Other than a few really noticeable bits of hiss, the audio is clean and generally without background noise. The overall track is fairly flat, and Oliver Onion’s (what a name!) repetitive score certainly doesn’t help the film sound any livelier. Still, the original track has been adequately preserved with a few blips, and should satisfy most.
While I wish Midnight Legacy would have taken more after Criterion when it came to extras compared to audio, there are still at least a couple extras on this Blu-ray. The first supplement, in 1080p is a “special effects outtakes” sequence. This includes some alternate takes from the film, like that alien-on-a-wire shot, special effects insert pieces like the walkie talkie screen, and some extended shots. I didn’t think it was possible for the almost minute-long tracking shot along the resting body before the alien burst could be any longer, but it actually is. It’s all silent and sometimes has the slate in front and runs eleven minutes all told. An English-spoken, Dutch-subtitled VHS trailer is also included for a few laughs. It has a disclaimer at the start and the director (Ciro Ippolito) is credited as Sam Cromwell. As much as I legitimately wanted to hear about the essence of this production from the filmmakers, this is sadly all she wrote. Hopefully Midnight will work to the eleventh hour to try and bring in more extras next time.
Midnight Legacy is going the collectable route with their releases, which means this release has a limited* pressing and a “1” affixed to the top spine to mark their first release. In truth, the “limited edition” isn’t all that limited at 30,000 copies for a niche title on a niche format, but it’s still exciting for those who enjoy collecting the numbered classics (Criterion) and not-so-classics (Code Red).
If when you think “aliens invading earth” you think of dark caves and bowling alleys, then Alien 2 is for you. All others should err on the side of caution, because this is a slow, shallow, piecemeal of a movie buoyed only by a few effective and gory alien attack sequences. Midnight Legacy is well on their way to carving a fine legacy for themselves with an exceptional visual transfer for their first effort. The sound is adequate and while the extras are thin at least they thought to include something. Did this need to be on Blu-ray versus DVD? Probably not, but if Midnight Legacy can continue to unearth oddities like On Earth, then paying the premium for the collectable HD upgrade should very well be worth it. When it comes to visuals, they’ve bowled this turkey a strike.
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The pics look great! I just wish Midnight Legacy would also release this on DVD since there are some people out there who still don't own a Blu-Ray.
Nice review Rhett. I really hope this comes down in price as I would love to add it to the library.
Yeah, another nice review rhett. I'd probably also buy it if the price was more reasonable.
Waiting for this to drop in price, but I definitely would like to have it. Looks like a shitty good time for sure.
Apparently though it ain't that difficult to see an interview of the director.
If anyone speaks italian... it's on Youtube!
Oh, and the french trailer kicks ass.
They could've pressed a few thousand on DVD since Blu-ray still hasn't taken over completely yet. It would still be over $30 anyway.
You know, the minute long scene scanning the body actually got a pop from me because I really, truthfully, thought nothing at all was going to happen like so many other shots in the film; so I loved it. The beach scene, gory beheading and the look of the caves is enough for me to get just enough enjoyment out of this one.
I'll never look at a bowling alley the same way again... but then again, look at the climax of Nightmare City!
I would not expect much :D
Just got the DVD from Amazon. Man that bowling ally....
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