Beyond the Slimy Wall: Alien Apocalypse
By Stephanie Star Smith
October 26, 2005
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Some actors just have a gift for camp. And Bruce Campbell is one of them.
Over the years, camp has gotten a bit of a bad name. Once upon a time, back before the Earth cooled, camp was a semi-respected comedic form; it was the American equivalent of an English farce, and is a genre that includes such notable films as Kentucky Fried Movie and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But camp is rarely done any more, or at least not intentionally, and it has come to be viewed as a sort of red-headed stepchild of the more mainstream subdivisions of the broad genre that is comedy. One of the reasons for this is the fact that good camp isn't easy to pull off; it requires the script and the actors to walk a fine line between inspired silliness and sophomoric jokes. The humor has to be broad, but not too broad; it's not slapstick, but neither is it subtle. If the mix isn't just so, you're not laughing but instead glancing at your watch, wondering how much longer the picture has to run. It's a tightrope, and some of the best purveyors of humor have fallen off it and into the precipice of the dreaded Unfunny Comedy.
But Bruce Campbell knows how to pull off camp, and do so with panache and style. One shining example, of course, is a favorite of Campbell fans: Army of Darkness, which took the Evil Dead series someplace none of us could have imagined when the first film appeared in 1981. Indeed, while Evil Dead II: Dead Before Dawn flirted with camp, Army of Darkness embraced it, resulting in a film that has become a classic of the genre.
Which brings us to Alien Apocalypse. Another film from the Sci-Fi Originals production house, Alien Apocalypse tells the story of four astronauts who return to Earth after a long voyage only to find that their planet has been invaded by aliens. Giant insectoid aliens, which have killed - and eaten - the majority of the Earth's population, and enslaved the majority of the remaining humans. Bruce Campbell plays Dr Ivan Hood, the ship's physician, whose dream upon returning to terra firma is to become known as The Great Healer. We know this because Hood tells us, and pretty much everybody else he meets, of this dream every chance he gets. Our intrepid space explorers first discover something isn't quite right on Mother Earth when, walking from the desolate area where their spaceship landed, they're attacked and ultimately captured by what looks like a passel extras from a Mad Max film, only less clean. They're hauled off to a very convincing replica of a 19th-century Old West fort, where they learn the basics of what has happened.
Their captors are collaborators, helping the insectoids hunt down and capture escaped slaves and keep the enslaved humans in line. In return, they are treated slightly less barbarically than their brethren, although no one's getting fat and happy in this nightmare world. Humans aren't allowed to speak when they are out working, and wear gag-like contraptions to prevent communication. When not at work turning logs into lumber to build the insectoids giant hives, they are kept in underground warrens. Those who try to escape are punished by having a finger cut off; those who are too old or ill to work are taken to the insectoids for lunch. And I don't mean they break bread with their insect overlords.
After losing one of their number early on, in a scene where we learn how the insectoids begin a meal, Hood and Kelly, the lone female astronaut - cause it's just not a film from Sci-Fi Originals without a love interest somewhere - begin to settle uneasily into their new reality. But as has often been observed in dystopic films where humans are made to serve alien masters, Homo sapiens don't make for good slaves, and Hood and Kelly, having missed the displays of power that have cowed their fellow Terrans, keep alert for any opportunity to escape. Their chance comes when Hood intervenes in the punishment of an older man by one of the insectoids; after quite an engrossing fight scene, Hood kills the insectoid, something none of the humans believed could be done. This causes a general revolt, and in the resulting confusion, Hood and Kelly make a run for it, accompanied by one of their fellow slaves and with a posse of collaborators hot on their heels. Kelly is recaptured, but Hood and the slave makes good their escape via a route that convinces the collaborators both must be dead.
And from here the meat of the film begins, as Hood enlists the slave's help to track down the President of the United States, who is rumored to be hiding out in some mountains somewhere, and organize a revolt, with the PotUS as its leader.
There are a lot of cool bits to Alien Apocalypse to delight the viewer. The script is a cut above your usual Sci-Fi Originals, and your run-of-the-mill B SF pic, too. A lot of the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek and there is just a bit of satire to the proceedings, but the actors play it straight enough that you become engrossed in the plot while still appreciating the touches of humor. The special effects are pretty good, too, as it seems that the folks at Sci-Fi Originals has finally learned that if you're going to make F/X-heavy pictures, you really ought to set the F/X budget quite a ways north of the $1.98 mark. The insectoid invaders are particularly noteworthy in this area; unlike a lot of CGI these days, they are rendered in such a fashion that you can actually suspend your disbelief sufficiently to buy that you're watching giant bugs walk around on your screen (the sequences showing them eating are particularly squick-worthy). And the acting is a notch above the norm for these films, with all of the actors turning journeyman work at the very least.
But of course the best thing about this film, and the main reason I recommend it, is Bruce Campbell. Campbell has perfected a persona that is sarcastic, ironic, cynical, just camp enough to be fun but serious enough to carry the plot points through so the viewer can enjoy the film without being hit over the head that This. Isn't. Serious. Campbell is an actor of greater skill than he is often given credit for, and while he is quite capable of handling any role, his bread-and-butter is the sardonic anti-hero whom you'd never expect to be much help in a crisis, but who somehow still manages to come through for you at crunch-time. It's more than probable that without Bruce Campbell in the lead, this film would have amounted to little more than the filler that typifies the majority of the product put out by Sci-Fi Originals; with Campbell, though, what results is a film with heart and a sense of humor that still blows things up real good.
Oh, and Campbell's Hood realizes his dream at the end of the film. Sort of. You're just going to have to watch it to find out.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.