Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Your proprietor was smitten with this film as soon as Stacie Ponder posted the above image during the stellar Shocktober list-o-rama last year. The name rang a bell from my (now-ended) years of MST3K viewing, but some research showed that it was based on a story by Theodore Sturgeon (an accomplished science fiction writer, and author of some fine episodes of OG Star Trek). And it was not available on video. But some stalwart soul grabbed it on the SciFi Channel back in the day, and put it up on YouTube in eight parts. And so tonight, recovering from an illness, I finally went through the thing chapter by chapter.
And the thing just moves, briskly introducing an otherworldly menace that sets down among a half dozen American construction workers on a Pacific island, infecting one of their vehicles with malevolent life, and then setting murderously upon them one after another. At 75 minutes it's a novella-length film, suffering from none of the padding or dead spots that plague similar made-for-cable productions today and benefiting from richly (if economically) written characters, salt of the earth men played by salt of the earth actors. Each actor makes the most of the morsels given him, including some downright Hemingwayesque philosophizing.
Which plays into one of the film's strengths: these characters behave in completely logical ways given the bizarre circumstances they're in. They're stunned with disbelief. They mourn. They bicker. They drink. They confiscate alcohol. They fight. They joke. They share their darkest, deepest thoughts. In one devastating moment, one resignedly closes his eyes as mechanized death bears down upon him. And in the last minutes, the survivors scramble to make a last, desperate grab for life.
The film's joke-status notwithstanding, there's much to be appreciated here, even (especially) from a non-ironic perspective. The movie doesn't try to live down its low budget, but delivers an economical and thrilling little story that it's smart enough to reach. If The Criterion Collection decided to release this on disc, complete with the Sturgeon story in a booklet (like they did with Patriotism or Mr. Arkadin) and maybe (just spitballing here) an optional new audio track by someone like, say, Robin Rimbaud, I'd pre-order that sucker immediately.