Imitation has been the sincerest form of flattery in Hollywood for decades. Like the gold prospectors of the Wild West not wanting to miss out on the rush to the modern day coffee shop global boom where every town and city seems to have a Starbucks, a Costa or some local equivalent, for every original cinematic success story, there comes a slew of people wanting a piece of the action.
Jaws got filmmakers rushing to find other killer fish to put onto the big screen. Dawn of the Dead saw a never-ending supply of low budget Italian wannabes hit the video stores. Only recently, you’ve got to look at the commercial success of the first wave of Americanised J-Horrors such as The Ring and The Grudge. Before long, pretty much every supernatural horror film had to feature a freaky ghost kid. It’s not rocket science in all honesty. When a film hits it big, there are bound to be clones, copies and tacky knock-offs. That’s a part of the business. Producers will see that there is a market for such titles and, only happy to line their pockets with your money, they’ll green light films to cash-in on this demand.
Take Alien for instance. Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror classic has gone down in history as one of the scariest films of all time. It wasn’t just a little green man from Mars threatening mankind, it was a whole new breed of terror. An alien which was humanoid in appearance: taller, stronger and more deadly than us. Suddenly the stakes for the human race had been upped. We were no longer top of the intergalactic food chain, relying on the US army to save the planet as so many of the 50s science fiction alien invasion films would have you believe. This was the future of alien representation on film. And it was a scary sight to behold.
It was inevitable that, thanks to its success, there would be people out there who believe they could do a better job of telling the same story. Or not even a better job, just make some money on selling a similar story to a public who wanted to see more stupid humans being stalked, sliced and ripped apart from the inside by extraterrestrial beings. Alien‘s straightforward formula, the ‘slasher in space’ narrative, would become the prototype for a whole new sub-genre of sci-fi horror films, happy to indulge it’s audience with violence and glorifying the sight of mankind being taught a lesson in respect by more powerful and more dangerous lifeforms than ourselves.
Coming right at the start of the home video boom, this new wave of sci-fi horror films aped the traditional Alien formula: a group of intergalactic explorers are suddenly thrust into a life-or-death situation against a horrific creature of which they know little, except that it can kill with ease. But whilst Ridley Scott opted to avoid making his film gory, focusing on the psychological horror elements and really delivering atmosphere and tension that has rarely been reached since, this wave of copy-cats did what most low budget cash-ins do: tone down the harder-to-perfect, more auteurish elements in favour of the cheaper shock tactics of blood and boobs. Perfect home video material!
Sometimes you don’t want to have to watch something that will make your brain hurt. Sometimes you need to sit down and watch junk. Films which aren’t great by the usual definitions of what makes a good film – but films which are, to put it rather simply, entertaining. You’ll feel a little ashamed to watch them. But you know that deep down, you’re loving every minute for the wrong reasons. And believe me when I tell you that this Alien-clone sub-genre has produced some truly entertaining knock-offs. But it has also produced some stinkers.
So April’s Pick ‘n’ Mix features four of the best and worst of the 1980s Alien clones. Infamous Hollywood producer Roger Corman is the man behind two of them – Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World, whilst ET’s melted cousin becomes the go-to alien in Star Crystal, and Creature features a maniacal Klaus Kinski who looks more inhuman than the alien! Enjoy!
(click on posters to read individual reviews)