Alien 2: On Earth (aka, Alien Terror) (Ciro Ippolito, as Sam Cromwell, 1980)
A shuttlecraft returning from a deep space mission crashes back to Earth with not only its crew missing but something very strange aboard (that is, as far as we can gather from the stock footage of a standard sea landing and the overdubbed faux NASA dialogue), while at exactly the same time a psychic woman (Belinda Mayne) on a television talk show discussing caves exploration is suddenly hit with a horrible vision… all leading, eventually, to a group of enthusiastic spelunkers (including our intrepid hot psychic chick, who we’re kindly granted a view of her naked breasts after a bout of below ground sex with her boy toy, as well as a young Michele Soavi, who would go on to direct such memorable 90’s Italian genre fare as The Church and Dellamorte Dellamore) who are unexpectedly trapped in the blackness below the Earth, picked off by deadly creatures that explode out of the pulsating blue rocks that, I can only assume, travelled back from outer space with that empty spacecraft.
You gotta admire those shameless Italians and their quick-leaping opportunistic cash grabbing at any genre film that made an international financial splash; case in point, just a year after Ridley Scott’s space monster masterpiece Alien came this entirely pretend-sequel (and there’s many more where this came, with a bunch on the docket for upcoming viewing, that myself and my eager viewing compadres can’t wait to get to, as we can continue our plunge into all-things-“Alien”), in this case able to attach a number to the titular moniker itself, because the negligent studio hadn’t yet trademarked the franchise.
Doing their best to pad the film into a decent running time, man, do they let some of these scenes go long (including a few endless driving ones). The filmmakers don’t bother much about narratively putting all the pieces together, leaving such chasms of logic to jump, you could almost argue it’s experimental (even if the reality is it’s much more likely a consequence of a rushed production).
There’s zero explanation of how these creatures – which are either hidden in, or transforming from, the pulsating rocks – are so quickly reproducing. Of how they’re travelling around… Of what they’re plan is. Or how exactly our female psychic’s supernatural abilities (revealed as a goofy greenish light whenever it ‘comes on’) are affecting the creatures (if at all). And what exactly is that living orifice creature (which is shot in really fun POV style) in the bowling alley is…
Saying that, even with the languid pacing and lack of concern for narrative coherence, Alien 2 rises above, dare I say managing a place in the pantheon of really good… well… low rent rip-offs. There’s effort being put out, a dedication by the makers, that leads to (as do the best of so many of the Italian genre rip-off films) our willing acquiescence into a strange, yet consistent world of illogic. Filmmaking chutzpah carries the day.
The electronic score by uber-prolific brothers Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (operating under one of their many pseudonyms, in this case the amusingly obvious Oliver Onions) is properly moody and evocative, making even the longest of scenes where nothing really happening somehow… intriguing. The underground cave setting where much of the film takes place is impressively captured (right from the opening descent, with the pure darkness pockmarked by helmet lights travelling down far distances), with director Ippolito managing to create a nicely claustrophobic atmosphere amongst the massively looming stalactites and stalagmites, twenty five years before The Descent would be much more celebrated for the very same thing (though I’d argue Alien 2 is better – it certainly avoids all the uptight moralizing of that film!).
The gore gags initially come slow (though effectively when they do, including the aftermath on the young child on the beach that left me appreciating yet again how go-for-broke these Italian filmmakers once were), but once we hit the caves, start occurring with charming frequency. As little seen as the creatures are, they work really well within the mise-en-scène created.
The real piece-de-resistance of the film, however — the moment that validates all of the padding we’ve come to accept – would be worth the price of admission alone if it didn’t require the audience to have been tricked into acclimating to the earlier unhurried pacing for its full impact; it begins with an incredibly slow dolly shot along a barely conscious human body, in which we’ve been trained as we watch to believe is likely not going to lead to much… and instead ends with an eye-opening, entirely wonderful violent transformation. While it may not be as celebrated, or as perfectly executed, as the chestburster sequence in Alien (which it’s clearly working to replicate), it does manage, on its own less slick terms, to be a wonderfully inspired moment to relish – a rip-off moment, of course, but an inspired one!
And those odd nightmarish last moments, with our final survivors arising from the Earth out into the blazing desert sun to try and uncover what has happened to the rest of the world, might provide little in the way of tangible explanation… yet somehow, in the spirit of the rest of the film, manages to be effective.
Alien 2: On Earth proves, as did the original Xtro, and I’m hoping some more of these on the viewing list, that there’s gold to be found in these here Alien rip-offs… and I’m determined to sift it.