Sunday, 22 July 2012

Alien 2 - On Earth

1980, Italy, Directed by Ciro Ippolito
Colour, Running Time: 84 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region A, Midnight Legacy; Video: 1.85:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: DTS-HD

A young girl goes wandering across the beach during a family holiday and foolishly attempts to satisfy piqued curiosity upon discovering some kind of pulsating ‘blob’. A short while later, after heading off to look for her, the mother is somewhat distraught to find the daughter whimpering with half of her face missing. Elsewhere a party of initially intrepid cave explorers is preparing for a mission to descend into a vast array of dangerous underground caverns when one of their number discovers a scattering of unusual rocks - he decides to keep one of them. Once beneath ground, and separated from the rest of mankind, not only do they become hopelessly lost but it’s not long before the rock turns out to be something of extraterrestrial origin and people start disappearing as they realise that there’s something inhuman down there with them, something decidedly alien, hostile, and unsympathetic towards human survival.
Long before The Descent there was Alien 2 - On Earth. Okay, they’re not identical twins (and fans of the former may consider the latter to simply be low budget trash) but neither are they a million miles apart. The original Italian title (Alien 2 Sulla Terra) would suggest a sly attempt to cash in on Alien. Plot is as straightforward as it gets: group of people explore caves and die one by one at the hands of an unearthly terror. Therein partly lies the problem - much of the first hour fundamentally focuses on the party endlessly meandering the admittedly striking caverns (these are no sets!) and it can drag a little. If you’re in the right mood it does have a fair amount of atmosphere (the quirky but typically Italian score sometimes adding to this) and there have been occasions when I’ve enjoyed this slow moving film. Aside from a fun appearance by the omnipresent Michele Soavi, there are a number of pretty bloody deaths punctuating the endless searching of underground passages but one thing that the film-makers seemed to have tapped into is the potential claustrophobic terror of being lost in a subterranean world, monstrous being in pursuit or no monstrous being in pursuit - when they realise they’re hopelessly lost there is a creeping feeling of genuine fear that the viewer can possibly identify with on a pure instinctive level (and surely that’s where fear itself largely has its roots?), even after never having been lost beneath the earth‘s surface for oneself! Where the boredom is really put to sleep, however, is when one of the characters finally manages to break free, only to find a deserted city above ground suggesting that the extraterrestrial threat has infiltrated Earth on a much more catastrophic level. It’s quite potent and almost epic, but the film unfortunately fails to take it much further, this perhaps being a remnant of features such as Zombi 2 (or the cash suddenly running out!), where the world is on the verge of the apocalypse just before the end credits interrupt. Nevertheless, in my opinion there are factors that prevent Alien 2 being simply consignable to the dustbin.

I picked this up in the late nineties on the old (early eighties, I think) VTC cassette, the feature here being entitled Alien Terror - once available separately, it was smartly paired up here with the classic (depending on your view…) Nightmare City, making a cool double bill. It was a large and chunky video box with OTT artwork emblazoned across the cover. In addition both films actually looked surprisingly clean and detailed, for the VHS format, especially considering the tape was a few decades old. While NC was definitely censored, AT was possibly uncut (though I can‘t be certain). One strange thing about the aspect ratio on the VTC release of AT: there is stock footage used throughout the earlier half of the film (kind of in the fashion of Ed Wood's approach of "use anything") but while the movie itself was letterboxed at about 1.66:1, the stock footage was pillarboxed fullscreen - this struck me as quite odd. Midnight Legacy kind of shocked people who knew anything about this film by announcing a Blu-ray release around 2010/11, and even more shocking is that the film looks blinking beautiful on this disc. Consistently framed at 1.85:1, and possibly containing a slightly different cut compared to the original UK tape, the image here is realistically colourful and highly detailed (for the main footage - the stock material looks very rough and it always will), occasionally looking almost as vivid as a more recent, higher budgeted film. Limited extras (a trailer and some stripped-out footage) aside, they've bravely taken the time to have a minimal-fanbase movie mastered in an extremely respectful manner, something which should have been a sign of things to come; alas, they seem to have vanished (hopefully not permanently) in times of very low returns. Real shame that people aren't open minded enough to pick this stuff up instead of (or as well as) big US films, though I guess the fact that not too many people like Alien 2 even in the cult world doesn't help! I think the film, despite being a little boring in places, has its merits, and for the fan of Italian horror this Blu-ray has to be on your shelf.

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