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Not of this Earth (1988)
"Not of this Earth" first came into my life when I was around 13 years of age. Despite its Roger Corman-produced shenanigans and endearing B-movie fixings, I was more interested in the actions of the film's nubile star, Traci Lords. Revisiting the film two decades later for this review, I'm able to appreciate the picture's ragged low-fi spectacle, lively sense of humor, and the rather creative ways its stretches its budgetary dollar. Yet, my attention returns to Traci Lords, capture here in all her post-porn, pre-mainstream magnificence, matched exceedingly well with Corman's pervy exploitation legacy.
Visiting Earth from the planet Davanna, Mr. Johnson (Arthur Roberts) has come to test the human blood supply, hoping to save his vampiric home world from starvation. Nadine (Traci Lords) is a nurse assisting the aloof alien-in-sunglasses with his blood transfusions, taking residence inside his mansion, where wisecracking parolee Jeremy (Lenny Juliano) also calls home, working as Mr. Johnson's chauffer. Taking hookers, backseat lovers, and strippers as victims, the mysterious visitor is attracting unwanted attention from his staff, with Nadine teaming up with a doctor (Ace Mask) and her cop boyfriend (future "Blind Date" host, Roger Lodge) to investigate Mr. Johnson's ultimate interstellar goal.
Taking a sip from his own reservoir of schlock, "Not of this Earth" is actually a remake of a 1957 Corman-directed picture. Never one to let a good idea go to waste, the producer ordered up a second round for 1988, allegedly on a dare from director Jim Wynorski, who bet he could match Corman's original vision with roughly the same resources 30 years later. The budgetary restrictions are obvious in the update, with stock footage (from Corman's own vault, natch), limited locations, and cast made up of favors and newcomers. I'm not complaining about the two-cent appearance of the film, as it fits right into Corman's legacy as a visionary producer with a padlocked checkbook.
Wynorski skillfully maneuvers around the picture, using his healthy sense of humor to gloss over the frayed ends of the script. "Not of this Earth" has its tongue firmly in cheek, with the filmmaker mounting a sci-fi tale that relies heavily on finger-snap banter between Lords and Juliano, crafty little special effects and props, and a heaping helping of nudity to keep viewers interested in the story. A B-movie warlord, Wynorski knows what he's serving up here, which makes the film consistently amusing, playing up its influences and temptations with a swift pace and spirited performances, only occasionally falling prey to nonsensical filler to get the film past 80 minutes in length. The story is a flimsy take on a telepathic alien invasion, and the cast is expectedly stiff at times, yet Wynorski keeps the picture loose and cheeky, always on the hunt for something titillating or macabre to jolt the movie awake.
Being her first major career step after her off-limits run in the adult film industry, Traci Lords is a major focal point of the picture. Wynorski covers her physical assets like a champ, but he also pulls a proficient performance out of the young actress (18 years of age at the time), allowing her to play brainy, busty, and ballsy without pushing his luck. Lords is fun to watch here, and not always for the blue-bikinied reasons one might expect. She's genuinely pleasant in this modest sci-fi playground, holding her own despite a rather unlikely thespian training ground. Wynorski, eager to fill his frame, brings along a few cult faces to back Lords up, including appearances from Monique Gabrielle, Becky LeBeau, and Kelli Maroney. If you don't know who these ladies are, I'll have to assume you never experienced life as an adolescent boy in the late 1980s.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation is a minor miracle, perhaps the best "Not of this Earth" has ever looked on home video. Still, the image is riddled with print damage and cigarette burns, slightly ruining the fresh transfer provided for this DVD release. However, colors are lush and pronounced, while skintones are accurate, even downright revealing when it comes to the facial make-up on Lords. Black levels are true, with a decent balance between Wynorski's shoot and the film's liberal use of stock footage. A perfect disc? No, but the image looks superb, successfully giving a 22 year-old cult film new life on DVD.
Unfortunately, the sound mix here is very earthbound, with a 2.0 Dolby Digital track that's too thick for comfort. Lots of hissing and pops are detected here, along with a few dips in volume (typically involving heavily looped exchanges), making for a theatrically appropriate presentation I suppose, but a pretty lousy DVD experience. Dialogue is sludgy, with the occasional line lost in the mix. Overall, it's workable, possibly even fitting for the type of movie this is, but those in search of an exhaustively remastered audio mix will be sorely disappointed with what's offered here.
No subtitles are included.
The feature-length audio commentary with director Jim Wynorski and star Traci Lords is simply marvelous, reuniting the film professionals after two long decades to discuss the movie and its amazing 12-day shoot. Lords has a persistent nervous giggle, but she banters well with her charismatic director, taking a trip down memory lane not only to discuss the film at hand, but to explore a few backstage Hollywood/Corman tales, which Wynorski has ready to go at any moment. This is a refreshingly candid conversation, covering low-budget headaches with a sense of humor, and I adored all the "where are they now?" cast discussion, finding out just what happened to this peculiar ensemble. It's a real treat, especially to hear Lords, now 42 years old and a mother, react to her teenaged self.
A second, more directly informative commentary track with Wynorski and actor Lenny Juliano has been ported over from an earlier DVD release.
"Nadine's Story" (11:28) interviews Traci Lords for her thoughts on the film's history, production, and unexpected release. Remaining upbeat about the feature, it's especially interesting to hear Lords recount her decision to forgo all future nude scenes after the release of "Not of this Earth."
"Photo Gallery" (2:00) collects stills from the film (a few resemble paused moments from the VHS) and some advertising shots.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included.
"Not of this Earth" eventually runs out of gas during its protracted finale, adding a case of rabies to the bloody mix, along with a mention of AIDS to sober the film right up. Still, it's a convincing chunk of absurdity, good for a few laughs, some knowing winks, and the very presence of Traci Lords.