There isn't a critic I know that doesn't like to throw around a few French words once in a while. We're a pretty stupid bunch, and tossing out terms like pastiche and homage makes us look all smart and stuff. I've been trying to figure out if Alien Raiders is more pastiche or homage, and though the sci-fi shocker certainly demonstrates great love for its particular station, the sheer number of forebears it gut-checks puts the little trifle clearly in the pastiche class. What I mean to say is; Alien Raiders brings harmless fun, with enough reverence for sci-fi shockers of yore. But as it draws from so many other past movies you'll wonder if you aren't watching a cliff's notes version of all sci-fi shockers from the 1950s through to present day.
We drop starry-eyed into the parking lot of a luckless grocery store full of last minute shoppers and itchin'-to-get-gone employees. One thing mucks up the works, a group of heavily armed commandos, seemingly intent on robbing the heck out of everything. But why do they kill indiscriminately? Are they enraged at the slim pickings they find? Or is there a sinister alien presence lurking about? Answers materialize slowly as our hostage situation churns through tense interrogation sessions, police and hostage negotiator drama, and character building flashbacks. Interspersed throughout are various shaky, disorienting and anxiety ramping night-vision flashbacks.
All of which proves Alien Raiders to be a very smart movie. Smart, but lazy. At least that's how I see the patchwork plot, tweaked just a bit in all directions for an air of cleverness. In addition to copping multiple tropes from other movies, Raiders stints on the gory action we expect, saving most of the good stuff for the final 15 minutes. However, when the goods are on display darkness, shakiness and hyper editing ensure you can't tell what the hell is going on. It's not such a bad thing, since all of the above makes these special effects way more effective than their budget should allow. But when tension is blown on cheap jump-scares that you can't really see (once the chase is truly on our prey has a habit of suddenly dashing across aisles like a jackrabbit), you ask yourself 'what's the point?'
In this case, the point is to bask in an atmosphere so familiar and comfortable - for sci-fi horror junkies, anyway - that you can't help but have a good time. You got your inky blackness, you got your brothers in arms fightin' and dyin', you got people tied in chairs and screamin', you got grocery clerks trying to be heroes - and most of all you got your alien presence hiding in someone's body. It's like, it could be anyone! So here's a list if the movies that form the look, feel and action of that which is Alien Raiders - email me if you spot any others:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Dawn of the Dead
These are just the ones that really jumped out at me. As you can see, Alien Raiders isn't breaking new ground here; it borrows liberally but well. Performances are uniformly impassioned and convincing, while any winking self-awareness is left at the door - Raiders borrows a boatload but it takes it all seriously. Decent amounts of bloodletting and a cool final battle provide quick thrills, even through murky darkness and spastic, destructive editing. But For an all-too-familiar feeling movie that's not as scary or gory as you'd want it to be, Raiders slickly maneuvers its can't-miss formula into enjoyable waters. Let's say it's bon frommage pastiche. (A good cheese pie made of many different ingredients. Thanks Yahoo! Babelfish and Wikipedia.)
Alien Raiders comes in a letterboxed widescreen format (looks like 2.35:1) preserving its 'scope' theatrical aspect ratio. The movie's stylized appearance effectively masks any flaws the picture might have. It's relatively clear and sharp, but filled with washed-out, green-tinged hues and tons of grim darkness. It's seriously black. Action scenes are wacked out enough to be near unreadable, and night-vision shots are green 'n' grainy. It's a good picture, but an acquired taste.
English Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound and Spanish Dolby Surround Stereo are your audio options. The 5.1 mix is dynamic and effective, with a slightly narrow range, but whisper-to-a-scream dialog and loud audio effects require a quick hand on the volume control.
A Trailer for Alien Raiders and other Raw Feed Releasing Trailers are first up in the deceptively full Alien Raiders egg sac.
Dig deeper in the squelchy mess to find two short featurettes: Hidden Terror: The Making of Alien Raiders and Blood, Sweat, and Fears: The Special Effects of Alien Raiders represent about 12 minutes total of EPK/ behind-the-scenes type fun, with all the clips and interview snippets you'd expect. Three more bits add 20 minutes to the extras bag, Tape #9 Sterling Explains Alien, Tape #12 Spookie's Job and Whitney Cam add back-story in the form of 'character shot footage'. It's all fun but slight stuff, basically busting out a half-hour of treats that look impressive on the box, but leave you wanting more.
Combining slightly tweaked elements from numerous other sci-fi shockers (think Alien, The Thing, and on and on) Alien Raiders manages to not seem totally derivative, mostly through strong performances and earnest attitude. ADD-style bloody action is a blur, but the movie's dark atmosphere gives Raiders a stylishly grim look. If you're not looking for the next evolution in alien horror, you'll get enough enjoyment out of this flick. Don't expect grueling terror or true originality, sci-fi fans, and you'll find this one cautiously Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com