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Friday, March 11, 2016

Alien Beasts



Alien Beasts
1991
Carl J. Sukenick

At what point is a movie not a movie anymore? Does it need to be shot on film? Does it need a story? Actors? Opening credits? A tie-in brand of fruit pie? Alien Beasts manages to not only question whether it is a movie at all, but whether or not it was made on Earth by humans. This movie occupies a strange intersection between home movie, real/imagined horror, and schizophrenic rambling. It is skin-crawlingly strange in a completely different way to Science Crazed, although they are very much companion films.

Plot... well, let's see: Aliens from another dimension are appearing in storms of radiation and infiltrating a paramilitary base/some guy's basement. Enemy agents clash with our heroes, someone takes a shower, there is a purple faced guy who alternates between sneaking around and standing there leaking purple stuff out of his chest. There are also fights, lots of middle school quality fights. Lots of people die, there is some nudity. Roll credits.

An alternative title for this film was, The New York Grammar Massacre.

The director of Alien Beasts, Carl J. Sukenick,  provides the film's confusing narration, often over a black screen with white text that says the exact same thing he is saying, minus a number flubs and restarts. For some the reason, Carl needs to repeat phrases several times over. If there is one criticism you can't throw at Alien Beasts, it's a lack of action. It might be the same action over and over, but they still counts as action, right?

Where a film like Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984) or Things (1989) have a near instant charm to them, it took me a little longer to warm up to Alien Beasts. This happens in a large part because there are no real characters. People show up on screen, do their thing and exit. Black Devil Doll from Hell, Things, Sledgehammer (1983), and even Boardinghouse (1982) manage to offer some kind of characterizations to hook the viewer, despite technical limitations. Alien Beasts, by contrast, is a strange whirling device that remains at a distance.

Don't ever OD on Purplesaurus Rex.
Eventually,  it does begin to show a certain personality of its own. Between the constant radiation storms and prolonged fist fights, there are brief moments when we see the actors smiling and laughing while reading their lines. There is a glitchy lo-res love that begins to ooze out of the screen. That awkwardness becomes the mileu in which you can watch some very quirky people get together and tell a story with what they have on hand. This is the kind of film that Harmony Korine would make on purpose, while here it just arrived as a matter of course.

Beyond the bad sound and worse visuals it is enormously heartening to seeing this sort of movie exist. It not exists, it thrives. Alien Beasts emerged from a self-produced VHS tape to become a well curated and loved cult object. I like living in a world where a movie that is so unusual can flourish. Alien Beasts is a lumpy horrifying baby that refuses to play with you and is content to spit up all over your rug, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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