STUDIO: Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 81 Minutes
- New Anamorphic Widescreen transfer (1.78:1)
- New audio commentary with star Traci Lords and director Jim Wynorski
- Original DVD audio commentary with director Jim Wynorski
- New interview With Traci Lords
- Photo Gallery
- New World Trailers
Roger Corman’s 1957 alien invasion classic gets a very 80’s makeover. Cue lots of big hair and cleavage.
Director: Jim Wynorski
Writers: Jim Wynorski and R.J. Robertson (from a story by Charles B. Griffith & Mark Hanna)
Cast: Traci Lords, Arthur Roberts, Lenny Juliano, and Roger Lodge.
“And if you’ll look to your left on today’s tour of Mizara III, you’ll see a gigantic chas- actually, just look straight ahead. Trust me.”
When young nurse Nadine Story (Lords) is offered 2 grand a week to care for the poorly Mr. Johnson (Roberts) she’s understandably interested. However, her new employer is a curious fellow so she decides to do some bikini-clad investigating. Turns out Johnson’s a quasi-vampire alien assassin visiting Earth to see if we’re suitable for blood harvesting.
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If a movie studio polled the largest possible sample of 14 year old boys in an attempt to produce “the ultimate film”, the end result would be Not Of This Earth (1988). Barely a scene in its entire 81 minute duration passes without sex, a brutal murder, or a topless woman. There are quirky alien gizmos and absolutely no delusions of grandeur. This is 100% midnight movie-making and all the better for it. Oh, and there’s also a 19 year old Traci Lords in various states of undress. This review will now take a brief pause to allow you to complete your Amazon 1-Click transaction.
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Before being remade a second time in 1995 with Michael York, Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall, Deathstalker II) delivered a sci-fright-com which counts itself a grateful member of the same cinematic extended family as Phantasm (more on the film’s debt to Don Doscarelli’s cult series later.) Not enough genre films have a Raimiesque playfulness to them, but Not Of This Earth (1988) is more than happy to get very silly very quickly. Indeed, the opening sequence is rife with evidence of Wynorski’s genre affections. An alien craft comes to Earth swiftly followed by an ill-fated outdoor sex scene involving two teens, clear nods to Carpenter’s The Thing and Phantasm, respectively. Being a product of the less-accepting late 80’s, though, the film doesn’t suffer from the over-enthusiastic “knowingly nerdy” tone films like Severance and countless other post-Shaun fanboy movies do. The references and geek-out moments are just a little bonus for the initiated. Enjoying the movie isn’t dependent on identifying them, just the way it should be.
Malick’s experimental ‘guess the camera’ system delivered “naturalistic” results alright, just not the ones Terrence had in mind.
In true schlock fashion, things get off to a dutiful start. Lords’s affable nurse Nadine and Dr. Rochelle (the awesomely named Ace Mask) her boss from their clinic are introduced quickly, but not before the nefarious Mr. Johnson. Fitting, really, since Arthur Roberts is the undeniable star of this film. “Johnson” hails from Davanna, a planet of unspecified origin. Anyone still hoping to see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune will thrill to every glimpse of Davanna, a nebulous cross between H.R. Giger and Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s concept art for that famously unmade adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel and LV-426; the Aliens similarity is no coincidence, since James Cameron worked on much of the footage. More on that later as well.
Davanna’s population aren’t long for the cosmos, unless they can find enough blood to sustain themselves. Good thing we Earthlings are another humanoid race, eh? Their finest blood-hunter, Johnson, is tasked with assessing Earth’s similar inhabitants for suitability and, if necessary, pushing the genocide button. Johnson doesn’t have an actual genocide button, you understand, but he can kill humans just by looking at them with his death-eyes. Hence his ubiquitous shades. Johnson also boasts a Polaroid camera which makes a ZZ Top lookalike appear in his wardrobe to give him orders from beyond this world. There’s room in the horror pantheon for antagonists both taciturn and eloquent, but Johnson makes a solid argument to the contrary. The people of Davanna all speak telepathically, having long since moved beyond oral communication like that of us “sub-humans.” It’s an admittedly handy trick for manipulating inferior races. This results in some wonderful O.T.T. villainy as Johnson literally gets inside the heads of his victims:
These moments are the backbone of the film’s tongue-in-cheek tone. Without them, the tentative balance of cheese on display would crumble into mediocrity. Roberts is scintillating throughout, as the lanky alien who puts Dracula to shame. Rather than overplay the part and turn his intergalactic hitman into a flavourless automaton, Roberts lets every delicious morsel of alienspeak Wynorski and fellow scribe R.J. Robertson provide him with do the funny. He’s merely the vessel through which they pass. No-one in the film can touch him, both menacing and hilarious by turns. He’s Micheal Myers in the body of an uppity accountant. Seeing him chase the nubile young Lords through a darkened wood, his sunglasses on, barking “STOOOP RUNNIIIIIIIING!” directly into to her mind is a sight so brilliant it must be seen to be believed.
“I keep tellin’ ya, mistah, I didn’t intercept any transmissions! I dunno what you’re *choke* talkin’ about!”
Johnson’s professionalism is all the more remarkable considering something only skimmed over in the movie, but undeniably important nonetheless. Our alien foe is going through a tough break-up. No, I’m not kidding. The Medusa vampire-man from beyond the Moon who’s plotting our collective demise has a broken heart (maybe that’s why he’s so unflinching in his work?) Even though no evidence exists to support this wish on the DVD, part of me hopes there’s deleted footage out there expanding on this teasing sub-plot. Perhaps, a scene or two of a gloomy Johnson remembering the good times back on Davanna? Before the darkness, before the blood ran out. Skipping through starfountains off the shoulder of Ronara, Johnson would stroke his unnamed sweetheart’s astral locks and tell her he’d love her forever. He’s traveled across the universe to save his ailing people – to save her – and she goes and gets herself killed in a civil war. WOMEN!
1988 was a big year for the Miss Transylvania Pageant.
The second act loses much of the film’s early momentum. Nadine isn’t the grooviest chainsaw-hand in the workshed so her “sleuthing” amounts to leisurely snooping about and leaving personal objects behind at the site of her investigation; Batman she ain’t. Obligingly, Wynorski papers over these cracks with nudity and lots of it. If Nadine’s going to take her sweet time unraveling this case, we might as well see her unravel whatever she’s got left on as well. Responsibility for bulking up the meager story also falls to Mr. Johnson’s plucky assistant Jeremy (Juliano) who spends most of his time trying to sleep with Nadine and slagging off her cop boyfriend, Harry (a fine Roger Lodge.) Thankfully, Juliano’s up to the challenge, grasping every brief line he gets with all the roguish vigor Jeremy would clench Nadine’s chest. Chuck Cirino’s score distills everything that’s great about 80’s music into the picture’s secret weapon. Every time trouble erupts (often) his retro-futuristic game-show theme kicks in, giving the action a serious adrenaline charge. Pulsating with comic dread, it’s the soundtrack to the best SNES game never made.
Manson Heating Systems: pushing the boundaries of fossil fuels.
If you’ll pardon a metaphor dangerously close to Empire territory, the lifeblood of Not Of This Earth is geek culture in the broadest sense. It literally runs on tropes and ideas absorbed from better films (what is Mr. Johnson if not the hybrid of The Tall Man and Medusa?) There are so many meta moments, in fact, it could arguably be the ultimate homage to “B’ movies. Of all its influences, Not Of This Earth’s debt to Phantasm is biggest. Like Angus Scrimm, Roberts is a towering gentleman. Both his stern countenance and cavernous abode scream “undertaker.” The Tall Man sought human drones to do his otherworldly bidding; Mr. Johnson seeks our blood, but the principle is the same. This film would still exist without Coscarelli’s series – after all, the original predates Phantasm by a few decades – but probably not like this. Unlike some modern fanboy genre movies which reek of “cash in”, Not Of This Earth diffuses criticism by catering to the audience’s most base desires throughout. Clunky line make you cringe? Here’s a boob flash. Dodgy make-up? Sex scene. Convenient plot device? BOOBIES!
This is as good a time as any to announce Not Of This Earth’s Top 3 double entendres!
- “Come right in, young man. I should be glad to see your machine in operation.”
- “I have something to show you… below… in the cellar.”
- “There is activity within me.”
There’s a school of thought that a guilty pleasure shouldn’t know it’s a guilty pleasure. It should think it’s the dog’s balls, like a 12 year old boy who just overused his fist tub of hair gel. If a mostly bad film has one or two good moments, they should be accidental and so on. While I think these are useful rules of thumb, I don’t believe they’re all encompassing. Not Of This Earth supports this notion. Here’s a film which transcends its barely $300 thousand dollar budget, still looking decent 22 years on. A film with barely an original idea in it, even by a remake’s standards (entire lines and shots are recreated wholesale from Corman’s original.) A film where nurses wear fetish outfits regardless of attractiveness, yet somehow it works as a comedy horror and schlocky sci-fi movie all at once. Jim Wynorski is no Tommy Wiseau; he knows how to structure a film to be more than a feature-length punchline, how to shoot dialogue and action scenes, and his grasp of comedy allows shaky writing and performances to pass muster against considerable odds. I suspect there was enough talent involved to make a “legitimately” good take on the material (played “straight.”) That talent chose to make a wry and, ultimately, fun B movie instead. Obviously, having such a modest budget impacts a decision like that but, with results this endearing, it’s easy to see why.
“There’s nothing like a cold Hiroshima-Colada after a hard day at the office.”
Not Of This Earth is the kind of film that features a montage of alien carnage from other films over its opening credits. An unashamed collection of cool scenes (from other Corman productions like Forbidden World and Galaxy of Terror, the trailer for which is on this disc) mostly influenced by various sci-fi classics, to be precise. A girl running down a dark corridor while klaxons blare. A head auditioning for a Scanners remake. A phallic star-beast owing a huge debt to Giger’s eponymous Alien chomping its way through space. Another penis-monster breaking free of a pregnant woman’s belly in the delivery room (a bumpburster, anyone?) At first, I was mildly annoyed none of these moments belonged to larger scenes in the film, but the manner in which they’ve been thrown in here to keep the credits interesting speaks to me in a very primitive way. Why NOT include them? Just because there’s no space for these adopted scenes in THIS narrative doesn’t mean they can’t be fitted in somehow. At least, it’s all entertaining filler (take heed, Ghost In The Shell.) It’s cheeky, oddly creative, and pure “B.” I love every second of it. If Reservoir Dogs and Robot Jox are neighbours on your DVD shelf, you will too.
Both commentaries are great fun, offering an above-average insight into the film’s fascinating production. The all-new one is very Lords-centric, but she’s engaging throughout, whether cringing at Nadine’s dated wardrobe or discussing her new family life and career. The original DVD audio track is delightful. Jim “I put the, uh, mole on her butt myself” Wynorski explains how every corner was cut, much to Lenny Juliano’s amusement. Why footage was borrowed from this film (to pad the running time, usually) or that girl was plucked from obscurity for a scene… as with the best commentaries, it feels like sitting beside the film’s director, having them talk you through the picture over a few cans. And what better director to share that experience with than the kind willing to admit when a table is visibly shaking in a finished shot because it had to be moved during filming? Amazing.
“When I said ‘a little to the left’, I meant MY left.”
“Nadine’s Story” is a brief new memoir of Traci Lords’s rise to legitimacy. Refreshingly candid about her “first printable credit”, the Cry-Baby star’s refusal to become an exploitation staple (this was Lords’s last onscreen exposure, to date) even as a 19 year old belies a remarkably ambitious nature and her production anecdotes are often witty, a far cry from so many token DVD interviews; Wynorski bet Corman he could make his version faster than him, hence the production’s urgent feel.
Trailers for the film, Corman’s ’57 original, as well as Starcrash (check out our very own Thomas Treasure’s charming review of this fellow Roger Corman’s Cult Classics DVD here) and Galaxy of Terror will likely appeal to fans of the feature presentation. It’s touches like these that make this such a wonderfully realized DVD. A/V quality is pleasing, too. The film’s new digital transfer, like just about everything else about this package, lives up to the high standard expected of a Shout! Factory release. Authentic “grindhouse” scratches, splices, and crackles are preserved in new, crisper form, and the attention to detail bestowed upon the packaging itself is usually reserved for online forum wish lists. There’s also a little photo gallery of promo shots and behind the scenes pics, mostly of Lords lounging around in something slinky which just about everyone can appreciate. Thanks to this wonderful release, Not Of This Earth might be the first B-Movie ever to actually exceed the promise of its sublime cover art. Not bad for a film made in “11 and a half days” so the director could win a Cadillac.