Review Date: April 2, 2010
Released by: Vivendi
Release date: 4/6/2010
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Part of the problem with todayís attempts at updating all the atomic-era alien attack movies is that thereís just too much reverence for the kitsch. When watched back in the 50s with the chance of the Atom bomb dropping at any time due to Cold War calamity, those films were terrifying. It was a still new technology with such frightening ramifications that it was impossible not to be frightened the kind of harm it could have on people or the environment around them. After the scare subsided in the decades following, though, those same films were viewed with the kind of camp that would breed stuff like Mystery Science Theater
to lampoon the sheer outlandishness of most of those giant-beast-attacks-city kinds of films. And today, with films like Eight Legged Freaks
, Wild Wild West
or Men in Black
, thereís the tendency to make these films tacky or knowingly outlandish. To have fun with them at the genreís expense. High Plains Invaders
, with aliens ravaging the Wild West, certainly doesnít have a concept that demands discretion, so do we have yet another exhibit of modern sci-fi done wrong? Letís get High.
Who needs the Gold Rush when thereís Uranium aplenty scattered across the old west? Those black little radioactive chunks are making a mint for entrepreneur excavator Jules Arning (Sebastian Knapp
) as he hires the bulk of a small little county to do his digging. Unfortunately, the miners seem to have dug up more than just the elements Ė theyíve also dug up giant spider-like aliens from the depths of the earth. Apparently theyíre addicted to the radioactive high of the U element, and come out from hiding just for that extra hit. Hey, who said humans were the only kind of drug addicts?
Meanwhile, gruff train-robber Sam Danville (James Marsters
) is about to be hanged for his wrongs in front of townsfolk that include a smitten former fling, the good nurse Abigail Pixley (Cindy Sampson
). They get nary a few longing looks before heís brought to the gallows, but before itís off with his head one of the alien creates decides to off half of main street. Thereís more where that came from, too, as an entire ship of aliens lands not far off in search of Julesí stash of uranium. With the sheriff injured, and most of the town decimated, itís up to Sam, Abigail, Jules and a no nonsense bounty huntress, Rose Hilridge (Sanny Van Heteren
), to take them all down. How do you take them down, though, when they keep coming in waves from the sky?
High Plains Invaders
is the kind of film John Carpenter would enjoy. Itís lean and economical, taking old Western traditions and infusing them with newer genres and stylings, and itís got a defined cast of characters anchored by a strong, sharp Hawksian woman. Hell, replace the desert with L.A. and the aliens with mulato gang members and youíve got yourself an Assault on Precinct 13
. Thatís not to say that High Plains Invaders
is anywhere in the same league that or anything Carpenter would make Ė heís much more skilled, subversive and classical than anything on display here. But even Shakespeare probably enjoyed the odd trip to the peanut gallery, and in aiming for little else than to entertain, High Plains Invaders
is a lite little genre flick that should please the bulk of horror connoisseurs out there.
The writing, by Richard Beattie, who also wrote the similarly lean and underrated Prom Night IV
, has a good sense of the fast western wordplay and a tight sense of pacing. On top of that, High Plains Invaders
is never afraid to goop up the blood, with a few noteworthy alien attacks. By the same token, though, the alien CG effects range from overly simplistic to noticeably artificial. What helps keep the film grounded in reality, even when the effects certainly arenít, is the solid consortium of actors who relish their roles. The German Sanny Van Heteren is the standout as the scrappy salooner Rose, grinning her way through the film with an effervesce comparable to Karen Black in the Indiana Jones movies. Sheís been in only a few movies over the past two decades, hopefully this serves as a wakeup call to give her some more tough girl meat. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
staple, James Marsters, is also good as the lead, playing his unlikely hero with the kind of understated brawn of Clint Eastwood. The rest of the cast contribute a diverse enough range of characters that keep the film moving during the barred off interior sequences.
Thatís not to say the film needs very much kick as it is. High Plains Invaders
is refreshingly brisk, jumping right into alien attack action and letting up for little else in between. The camera work is accomplished and dynamic, with long lens focus pulls in the Fulcian vein and the story rolls out like those featured swarms of alien invaders. The man-mining-the-earth-for-evil message has already been done to death, so thankfully the makers hang up their soapbox and instead focus on delivering basic genre thrills. When the credits come after a short 87-minutes with an even shorter resolve, one might say itís even a bit too lean, but you canít fault a film that tries for nothing else than to entertain. In that respect High Plains Invaders
is a success; a Romanian-Canadian co-production that does the American genre film a lot better than most American genre films these days.
High Plains Invaders
is a good looking movie, and this is a good looking DVD. Progressive and 1.78:1 anamorphic, this transfer is completely without aberration. Not a single spec to be found, and the grain is kept to a minimum. Edges look sharp without being enhanced, and the grain patterns look natural. The passable effects shots have a noticeably duller contrast and detail, but considering the sky is always a non-descript grey, itís not all the noticeable. The whole film has an almost black and white aesthetic, comprised of mostly greys and browns in order to make the crimson blood stand out all the more. No complaints here.
Thereís a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix presented here, and it sounds like your usual made for cable movie. There is decent surround ambiance, although dialogue and major effects are all kept locked in the front. The subwoofer gets pretty active at times, which is a nice surprise, but envelopment is strained due to the front-heavy nature of the mix. The alien effects certainly could have used a lot more oomph. Overall, itís clean and serves the skinny story well.
As barren as the wild west.
In its brevity and commitment to action and character, High Plains Invaders
eschews the usual modern camp slant on sci-fi to deliver a genre flick thatís refreshingly lean. A fiery performance by Sanny Van Heteren, a taut brass tacks script and some dynamic cinematography help buoy the film above what weíve come to expect from science fiction these days. The image quality is clean and solid, and while nothing overly active, the sound gets solid marks as well. Extras would have been nice, but considering how most extras on any current release are just trying to sell you the film youíve already got, maybe itís better that thereís nothing here. Keeps with the lean feel of the story. Thereís nothing quite plain about it Ė high marks for this overachieving made for cable genre flick!
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B-
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour 27 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1