Friday, December 13, 2013

December to Dismember: ALIEN RAIDERS (2008)

A few days back, Tom reviewed the Christmas set sci-fi flick THE BLACKOUT (2009) and was left wondering why exactly the filmmakers opted to place the events of the film during the holidays. After all, it wasn’t integral to the action or any of the character motivations.  Instead, it just seemed to be there.  Well, I think I figured out why they set it on Christmas Eve – the filmmakers watched ALIEN RAIDERS (2008), another sci-fi flick set during the Yuletide season for no apparent reason.

Back in the 2000s, it seemed like every DVD company was creating some kind of horror imprint label.  Lionsgate teamed up with the After Dark Horrorfest people to release a bunch of stuff on DVD; Sam Raimi’s pockets swallowed the souls/cash of viewers with his Ghost House Underground label; and the Weinsteins, naturally, jumped in with their Dimension Extreme (oooooh!) sub-label.  Not wanting to be left out in the cold, Warner Bros. set up the subsidiary label Raw Feed in order to release horror themed direct-to-video titles.  First up was their redneck-are-bad title REST STOP (2006) and over the next two years they released 7 more titles.  The final one to date was the ridiculously titled (more on that in a bit) ALIEN RAIDERS (2008).

The film opens with a heavily edited credit sequence full of clich├ęs.  We get freeze frames, oversaturated colors, guns, handheld video footage, drugs, bad rock music, criminals. Thankfully, this is a bit of misdirection on director Ben Rock’s part. The six criminals are in Buck Lake, Arizona and heading to a local grocery store just around closing time.  Before they arrive, we meet the principals at the store – thieving manager Tarkey (Joel McCrary), bagger Benny (Jeffrey Licon), his sweetheart Whitney (Samantha Streets) and her mean stepdad Seth (Mathew St. Patrick), a cop who leaves as the hoods arrives and just happens to be a former big city hostage negotiator *sigh*.  The criminals enter and seal the place off, but start making some odd moves.  One of them, Spooky (Philip Newby), begins grabbing hostages by the head and staring into their eyes before declaring that they are “clear.” Unfortunately for the robbers, another cop was in the store and has called for backup. In an ensuing shootout, both the cop and Spooky are killed.  Ritter (Carlos Bernard), the team’s leader, says they need to send for another “spotter.”  Just what is going on here? Viewers might be wondering…had the film not been titled ALIEN RAIDERS.

Yes, the “criminals” here are actually a well-armed scientific group searching for an alien beast that is hiding inside humans.  Their “spotters” are previously infected humans who the aliens could not survive in due to their drug habits, so now they can see them (a nice twist). Outside of the supermarket, the cops arrive and, naturally, Seth is in charge.  They locate the group’s truck and find out it is registered to one Aaron Ritter, a former worker at Jet Propulsions Laboratories.  Even more interesting are the videos inside the van, which seem to show Ritter and his accomplices discovering and fighting an alien being.  When contact with the police is established, Ritter demands that they bring him Charlotte (Bonita Friedericy), another spotter locked up in Phoenix for drunk and disorderly charges.  Meanwhile, the team begins to do their own decidedly non-scientific test to find out which of their six hostages is the alien.  The hostages, meanwhile, are plotting their own escape, unaware of the alien threat in their midst.

Unfolding like a mix of THE THING (1982) meets THE MIST (2007), ALIEN RAIDERS is an admirable attempt at a straight faced horror/sci-fi hybrid. Unfortunately, that makes its missteps all the more painful.  Obviously the biggest one is something I don’t think I can lay at the feet of the filmmakers.  The title ALIEN RAIDERS is just horrible.  Not only does it reek of some generic SyFy Channel movie and something slapped on by a Raw Feed exec, but it completely gives away the film’s mystery.  It would be like if FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1995) was called VAMPIRE STRIPPERS or THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) called CONVERSATIONS WITH A DEAD GUY. The film apparently shot under the title SUPERMARKET and toyed with the idea of being called INHUMAN at one point. Any of those are all bad, so it appears it was in a hard sell situation from the get go.  Of course, I would have just called it THE HIDDEN.  Haha.  The other obvious problem is director Ben Rock’s inability to go all the way. This is obviously a low budget effort, but I’m sure fans would have appreciated more in the gooey alien department.  How do you make an alien-in-human film and not have a nod to the chestburster?  Also, Rock barely captures the film’s prosthetic work thanks to a deadly combination of dark cinematography and dreaded shaky cam.

How the main monster looks in publicity shots:

How the main monster looks in the film:

Finally, there is the head scratching decision to set this during the Christmas season. There is no real reason it is done so (only one character moans about the holidays) and ultimately the filmmakers wasted some of their budget on Xmas decorations for no reason whatsoever. Hell, have someone pick up one of those big ass candy canes you have laying around at the very least.  In the end, ALIEN RAIDERS would get a recommendation from me.  It earns credit for trying something new and being mostly serious in its effort. Unfortunately, it is still called ALIEN RAIDERS.

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