Is it possible to make a bad movie on purpose? No, not the kind of rip-roaring flops Tinsel Town tosses out, like so much desiccated carp, onto the mainstream market every year. We are discussing the true titleholders of bilious blunders, the grade-Z schlockmiesters that forged the unforgettable dreck we've all grown to love. Now, many of the classic examples of foul filmmaking are not the result of someone's clever conception or purposeful pointlessness. Indeed, most cinema de-farte is made with a super serious intent to foster something significant and/or saleable out of incredibly limited resources: financial, technical and personal.
Ed Wood, that weird wunderkind of the incoherent classic, never once thought he was making crap. Just listen to the cockamamie speeches he scripted for Bride of the Monster, Glen or Glenda or the penultimate Plan 9, and witness a man marveling in his own truncated thought process. Ray Dennis Steckler wasn't out to spoof specific genres when he turned gypsy curses and showgirls into The Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies. The fundamental flash found in his buffoonish Busby Berkeley dance numbers is enough to convince you of that.
No, most mindbendingly bad film comes out of a straight ahead desire on the part of a sincere simpleton to tell a tale, no matter how amateurishly or ineptly one goes about it. From Ted V. Mikels to Larry Buchanan, there is more of an artistic than autistic temperament careening through these lamentable unintentional laughfests. Amazingly, the talented team of Timothy (producer) and Patrick Johnson (writer), Daniel Jones (associate producer) and Howard Hassler (director) has done their precarious predecessors one better. They've managed to make a movie both deliberately and inadvertently bad, a combination of everything wonderful and wicked about pedestrian Saturday matinee fodder. It Came from Somewhere Else stands as an example of what can happen when misguided movies sink into your very soul. This isn't a labor of love - it's a crazy cry for cinematic help. And it's spectacular.
In the small town of Grand Bosh, near the Minnesota/Canadian border, life is rather laid back. The citizens go about their business, blissfully unaware of the interstellar threat all around them. When an alien spaceship lands on the outskirts of town, the quiet little burg starts experiencing all manner of unexplained phenomenon - well, more or less just ONE kind of phenomenon: spontaneous human combustion. The sheriff calls Washington for help, and they send an expert to investigate.
In the meantime, the local doctor just wants to x-ray everybody, some local girls are missing, and human hands are starting to sprout up from the ground. Eventually, NASA sends 'supplies' to help the populace deal with the fiery situation. As the identity of the extraterrestrials is slowly revealed, we are treated to such extraordinary elements as angry teens with potty mouths, city officials buying votes with Chicklets, and the most hated family in all of Grand Bosh - the Buckners. Truly, this is a panic of epic proportions. And the most amazing thing is that It Came from Somewhere Else.
It Came from Somewhere Else is brilliant - illogical, dopey, stupid, sloppy, strange and incredibly amateurish, but brilliant all the same. This lost nugget of nonsense from that era of direct to video variety known as the 1980s is quite possibly the most blatantly dumb movie ever created. It utilizes a style and sensibility made famous by people like Roger Corman, Bert I. Gordon and Ray Kellogg, and marries it to a humor style straight out of the upper Midwest to formulate one of those true cinematic rarities - the purposefully poor film. It's a testament to the filmmakers - a group of guys who got together to share their love of schlock - that they channeled their champions so flawlessly. No one will ever confuse It Came from Somewhere Else with a masterpiece of continuity, intelligence or narrative. But when it comes to comedy, in combination with a healthy homage to the craptacular cheese of independent moviemaking's past, you won't find a better, more bemusing offering.
In many ways, this is the 'movie of the mind' Mystery Science Theater 3000 was making every time they took on a terrible z-grade monstrosity. But instead of having robots and writers quipping and joking over the film, It Came from Somewhere Else actually incorporates such sentiments directly into the story. Idiotic and annoying characters are called out and comically criticized by others, as ancillary individuals add their own backhanded compliments about the plotline and proceedings. By purposefully retarding the movie's rationale we not only get the joke, but we get in on it as well. This allows our own inner Hodgson or Nelson to step in and feel comfortable working over what is obviously an intentionally awful abomination.
Aside from ridicule, the other basic form of humor here is contravention. When we imagine a sheriff, we expect him to look and act professional. But William Vanarsdale, who essays lawman Ed Munchinson, resembles a refugee from a passion play, not a police academy. Therefore, everything official he says just sounds...odd. Since he also loves to undercut the members of the community, he adds his own level of insult wit to the mix. This is the way all the characters are in It Came from Somewhere Else. Aliens are local kung fu instructors whose hampered English has to be subtitled. Women are played by men - and rather poorly. Good girls are given a super-slutty subtext (which we never see, by the way) and government agents are drunk, incoherent rubes (well, maybe the last one isn't such a comic stretch).
Similarly, situations defy convention. Instead of the typical alien invasion, we get an unclear mission based on making people go boom. The spontaneous human combustion angle is hilarious, as are the less than special effects used to showcase it (frankly, all the F/X here are frighteningly hokey). When that hated human, Mr. Buckner, is accidentally shot by the sheriff, he manages to stay alive. Even better, his wound spouts a current of claret from then on. From a doctor whose main diagnostic tool is the x-ray - THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of x-rays - to the lawyer who charges an arm, leg, house cleaning and other "special personalized services" for his advice, It Came from Somewhere Else is packed with peculiar propositions. That the film manages to follow through successfully on each and every one of them is its main glory.
Kudos then to director Howard Hassler for keeping all this craziness together. Obviously a student of the schlock fest creature features of his youth, Hassler captures the corrupt incompetence of a 50s/60s drive-in monster movie perfectly. The film has the same feel in framing and compositions, and while the acting is all contemporary and modern, there is still a nicely ridiculous retro feel to all the performances. By mimicking the movies of the past, Hassler runs the risk of creating something self-conscious and snore-inducing (like the horribly overwrought and obvious The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra). But wisely, the filmmaker follows the mandates of the script and his actors, imposing his own self-referential realities to the direction. That is why random shots are repeated, scenes play on longer than they need to, and costuming can be complicated (realistic police uniforms) or cruddy (the local bartender wears some manner of woolen mitten muttonchops).
Together, we get the perfect implausible B-movie, a film that knows it's bad and wallows in its own cinematic waste. There is no attempt at social commentary here, no desire to lampoon or spoof the sci-fi flotsam from the past. Instead, It Came from Somewhere Else merely uses its references as a stepping stone to dizzier, more delicious heights. Had the film tried too hard, it would be unbearable. If it didn't try hard enough, audiences would be yawning in missed opportunity disapproval. But somehow, the creative team involved in this production found a happy medium between humor and homage, dumb and direct, and created the perfect combination. You'll laugh hysterically at this amazingly archaic film, wondering how in the world it ever got made. Frankly the answer is as obvious as the title itself. Something this surreally sublime obviously came from another realm. Thank goodness it was one rich in wit and intelligence.
Shot in black and white, with the occasional color sequence (usually during the nudity or gore - yeah!) the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is interesting, but far from perfect. The lack of major contrasts between darkness and light gives everything a washed out gray appearance. Even when the screen goes all pigmented, the lack of corrected hues underlines the film's financial limitations. Still, for an unknown title that looks like an artifact from another time, Xenon's transfer is acceptable and somewhat professional.
Sadly, the sole technical drawback to this disc is the rather ratty audio elements. The Dolby Digital Stereo is thin, flat, reedy and very unpredictable. Sometimes, conversations are clear and concise. Other times, dialogue gets lost in a wash of music and effects. Since the balance is so schizophrenic and the flaws frequent, it's hard to call the sonic situation here adequate. It is really maddening at times. Still, you can catch most of the jokes, and the lackluster decibel landscape is highly reminiscent of the movies being mimicked, so perhaps it can be forgiven.
Xenon supplements this film with a plethora of pleasing bonus features. On the nominal side, we get a Behind the Scenes featurette which is only a slide show of photos from the production, a trivia quiz, some joke biographies of the cast and crew, and a section called "Declassified" which consists of memos, letters, news clippings and production notes from the making of the movie.
Far better for their contextual (and comic) possibilities are the "Memorial" to actor Richard Speeter. Whether or not this eulogy to the man who played the hated Mr. Buckner is a joke or not (he supposedly jumped from a plane without a parachute, all in the name of a movie) it is still incredibly clever and crafty. Besides, it gives us a chance to put faces to the names we read in the credits. Equally entertaining is the commentary track featuring director Howard Hassler, actor William Vanarsdale (the sheriff) and some dufus known as Wilson Max Norris. In an obvious nod to the Coen Brothers (who used a similar 'fake' narrator for their Fargo release) It Came from Somewhere Else gets a droll deconstruction at the hands - and humor - of the trio. While some actual production facts would have been nice, this comical look at the film is really a great deal of fun.
The best bits here though are the Deleted Scenes and Lost Footage. Of the sequences proper, we get two fantastic bits with our radiation-obsessed doctor (whose a stitch whenever he's onscreen). With a running time of barely over an hour, why hilarious moments like these were cut is a quandary. The Lost Footage is material that was never given proper editing. As a result, some of the better ideas here (the sheriff and his deputy doing an impromptu dance - one of the aliens breaking into a version of the show tune "Bye, Bye Birdie") are underdeveloped. Still, they prove that this group of individuals really understood what 'funny' was, and had a wealth of material to choose from.
It seems strange recommending a movie that tries so hard to be horrible. Indeed, in the grand scheme of schlock, a purposeful piece of crap shouldn't shine - just stink. But somehow, the creators of It Came from Somewhere Else manufactured one of the funniest, freshest films you'll ever marvel at in slack-jawed disbelief. Even as it thwarts convention and tempts filmic fate, you won't find a more thrilling tribute to the bygone days of pie-plate spaceships, horrendous ham acting and precarious plotline incongruity. Though some may find this movie registering a minor "m'eh" on the scales of satisfaction, most will tune in, turn on and titter. Why it took nearly 20 years for this film to get the recognition it deserves will always be a major motion picture mystery. Or maybe it didn't. Maybe this is all a hoax. Maybe this was a recent production simply "modified" to look desperate and dated. Who knows? Perhaps it doesn't matter. It Came from Somewhere Else is the kind of film that defies temporal placement. It could be from the past. It's possibly from the present. But the best bet is to argue that it's from everywhere and nowhere. That's the only locale where its sensational stupidity makes any sense at all.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here