Fresh veggies on Aisle 1. Fresh kills throughout the store.
One of the fun aspects of slogging through the miasma of direct-to-video low budget films that get dumped into the home video marketplace is discovering the occasional diamonds in the rough: little B-movies that transcend their production values and genre markers to offer something inventive and fresh.
Genius Entertainment, under the label Dimension Extreme, has been fairly good at finding this type of entertaining B fare, like the better-than-average creature feature Rogue, the unusual Teeth, and the tense Eden Lake. Lionsgate, a distributor that often dips into B-movie well, also sometimes strikes buried treasure, like the recently offered and very clever Artifacts.
Warner Brothers' own label for low budget schlock, Raw Feed, however, had yet to offer something that truly impressed.
February's release of Alien Raiders by Raw Feed is not only the best feature - by far - from the label, it's the best low budget science fiction thriller I've seen since the aforementioned Artifacts. While the movie, which won a couple laurels from 2008's Shriekfest and Shockerfest (as a sticker proudly proclaims on the DVD's slipcover), may not have the most original premise, its storyline is still inventive, its characters are interesting, and its pacing is quite strong.
Alien Raiders opens with a well-armed circle of raiders in a van who storm a supermarket just as it closes for the night. It's clear from the get-go that this isn't a robbery - The group has too much foresight and too many firearms to justify the haul they would take from the market. Instead, they're a rogue group of concerned citizens led by former scientists who are after aliens that assume human hosts. It seems they have tracked a deadly "king" alien to this location - and paranoia runs high as the team must use a grisly protocol for determining which hostage(s) they have is a host. This is very much Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter's The Thing set in a supermarket. To make matters worse, word has gotten out, police have surrounded the building, and the chief negotiator's stepdaughter is one of the hostages.
For as silly as that synopsis sounds, Alien Raiders isn't played for laughs - and it's surprisingly creative at delivering a tense storyline in a claustrophobic setting. High marks really need to be given to David Simkins and Julia Fair, who wrote the screenplay. The cast of characters is large, and they're all believable and intelligent. The ensemble of actors collected here are uniformly good (how often does that happen in a B movie?). Each layer of the film's plot - from the titular alien menace to the hostages seeking their freedom to the police negotiators outside - adds to the tense narrative. And, at a brisk 85 minutes, the movie never lags.
My only gripe about Alien Raiders would be that the surprise "twist" ending is anything but, as it's pretty easy to guess early in the film who the alien the raiders are after is. Nonetheless, this is an intense and well-crafted low budget thriller. Highly recommended.
Warner Brothers' Raw Feed label gives Alien Raiders an anamorphic widescreen presentation that they claim on the back cover "preserve[s] the 'scope' aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition." The film looks pretty good. It's a rather dark affair given its after-hours timeframe and colors seemed a tad muted, but details are strong save for some camcorder shots sprinkled throughout.
Two language tracks are available on this disc: English and Spanish. The former is in Dolby Digital 5.1 while the latter is in Dolby Digital 2.0. The English 5.1 track is the default and the one I listened. It's a dynamic presentation with sound effects effectively surrounding the listener. Dialogue, at times, was a little weak amidst the effects work, but it wasn't a major concern.
Additional subtitle options are available in English (for the Hearing Impaired), French, and Spanish.
Trailers precede the main menu for the animated Wonder Woman and Where the #$&% Is Santa? along with a spot for the blu-ray format. There doesn't seem to be a link for these in the menu system; however, a Raw Feed Trailers link provides access to trailers for Alien Raiders, Believers, Otis, Rest Stop, Rest Stop 2, and Sublime.
More significant extras are a series of featurettes on the making of Alien Raiders and collections of additional footage. Hidden Terror: The Making of Alien Raiders (8:30) and Blood, Sweat, and Fears: The Special Effects of Alien Raiders (2:56) offers the typical behind-the-scenes DVD fare: soundbyte comments from the cast and crew spliced together with shots of the movie. Tape #9 Sterling Explains Alien (6:00), Tape #12 Spooky's Lab (4:09), and Whitney Cam (8:52) purport to be footage shot by the characters that gives further background on them. They're okay but hardly essential viewing. All but the very last extra are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
I would have really appreciated hearing from director Ben Rock and writers David Simkins and Julia Fair in a commentary track, but no such track appears here.
By far the best movie to come out of Warner Brothers' Raw Feed label, Alien Raiders offers a strong plot, a tense atmosphere, interesting characters, good acting, and plenty of action. What more could you want from a B feature? This Ben Rock - helmed thriller comes highly recommended.