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STUDIO: Vivendi Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
• An un-bleached James Marsters.
Aliens invade the Old West searching for Uranium and a place to hang out.
James Marsters, Cindy Sampson and Sebastian Knapp.
Train robber Sam Danville (James Marsters) is about to be hung for his many crimes, the last of which was a robbery gone awry that resulted in the accidental deaths of the passengers. Fortunately for Sam this is when the aliens decide to land and wreak havoc, in their search for natural minerals such as Uranium. Spared from the lynch mob he joins forces with the remaining populace to help fend off the creatures.
What you need to know about High Plains Invaders is that it was produced by RHI Entertainment under their Maneater banner, which is to say it was made-for-TV… specifically the SyFy channel.
The Maneater label produces films of various topics, such as Vipers, Shark Swarm and Grizzly Rage, All of these share a similar theme: what RHI calls “natural horror”. By that they refer to creatures found in nature becoming enraged and attacking the humans.
They’ve sort of veered off from the “natural” aspect lately, with some of the entries including the Yeti, werewolves and with the one we have today, aliens. These films know what they are – crappy horror flicks made on the cheap for quick profit, with little thought to artistic value. Whenever I see one of these things I can’t help but think “that money could have been used to feed the poor, or clothe the homeless”. Instead it’s used to fund pictures about aliens invading the Old West. Or hateful swamp monsters. Or evil ants.
The devil with the poor!
For High Plains Invaders the producers felt they’d save a ton of money by filming in Romania, and have James Marsters be the only “name” associated with the movie. That’s fine, as Marsters is great and is the only member of the cast to exude any form of screen presence. What this film needed were aliens, and plenty of them – and that’s the pot where the producers decided to throw most of their Canadian dollars into.
For all the talk of invasion, really all the audience gets to see for the majority of the picture are a handful of space bugs roaming around the town looking for some action. Later on, the money shot of an alien craft delivering more outer spacers is nice for a film of this size and a few more creatures join the fray, but for the main cast all they’re really dealing with is one or two aliens at a time.
The effects aren’t all that terrible for being funded with Canadian dollars, and in some scenes even quite passable. The closeups especially look decent, when an alien screams at people by opening its fan-like Predator mouth. The trouble occurs when there are wide shots involving more than one beast, the lack of budget and/or skill starts to show. The sound design fares much better, as the aliens sort of purr whenever they wander around. It’s a nice touch and shows how they were trying to create a tense atmosphere, although they never quite achieved it!
The acting isn’t all that special, although Marsters, and to a lesser extent Sebastian Knapp, manage to deliver good ones. While the film is definitely an ensemble piece, Jim Marsters stands above everyone else in terms of performance quality and screen presence, playing a character haunted by his past decisions. The rest of the actors are also mostly TV veterans, and of the crew only Knapp turns in a better-than-expected performance. He plays a geologist who’s been
working with the local uranium deposits that come into play later in the film. His role as the mousy scientist is a nice contrast to the typical tough-ass cowboys that generically inhabit the movie.
Comparisons to other films, such as Tremors and War of the Worlds have been made, and both deservedly so. The H. G. Wells’ classic The War of the Worlds for obvious reasons, as it deals with an alien invasion. The Tremors aspect is due to the burrowing nature of the aliens, who are doing so to access the uranium underneath the town – instead of trying to devour Fred Ward. Neither comparisons are unfair, though both do a better job with their material than High Plains Invaders did with its.
“That’s no Old West moon…”
Other than Marsters and Knapp, the film itself is a very forgettable experience. There are nice touches here and there; Romania doubles surprisingly well as a gloomy Old West mining town, and the music is erratic in terms of effectiveness but isn’t distracting. Other than that it’s an average TV movie that offers a sort-of interesting story idea but seems a bit uninspired when dealing with it.
You’d be best to skip it.
The only thing special about this disc is that it’s round, has has an animated menu and scene selections. The wonders of technology!