MOVIE – “Spaced Invaders” (1990)
DIRECTOR – Patrick Read Johnson
WRITERS – Patrick Read Johnson, Scott Lawrence Alexander
SIX DEGREES OF CAST & CREW
- Actor Royal Dano (Old Man Wrenchmnuller) was in House II, Ghoulies II, and the thankfully never-sequelized Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Was also in MST3k’s Joel Hodgson’s favorite movie, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao.
- Actress Ariana Richards (Kathy) would briefly be on top of the world, playing Lex in Jurassic Park.
- Actor Gregg Berger (Klembecker) is one of those voice actors that gets to do the voices in videogames based on movies, in place of the big-name celebrities who played the same characters. He’s also been the voice of Odie in pretty well every animated Garfield special for… oh, over 25 years now.
- Actress Patrika Darbo is that plump, overly cheery housewife you’ve probably seen one place or another. Kind of a Danny Trejo of the Martha Stewart set.
- Actors Clen Vernon and Hal Riddle (Old Guys #1 and 2, respectively) probably sat around talking about their days doing one-off episodes of classic TV shows from the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s. Each man did different episodes of Gunsmoke, Quincy M.E., and The Fugitive.
- Little-person Martian actors Kevin Thompson (Blaznee), Jimmy Briscoe (Captain Bipto), Tony Cox (Pez), Debbie Lee Carrington (Dr. Ziplock), and Tommy Madden (Giggywig) are some of the most famous little-people you may or may not know. Thompson, Cox, and Carrington were ALL EWOKS in Return of the Jedi. Carrington did an episode of Seinfeld, and was the midget prostitute in Total Recall. But Tony Cox beats them all. You might’ve seen him as Mr. Parker in Ice Cube’s Friday, and you probably saw him as Dink in Spaceballs. But you’ve most likely seen him as Marcus, in Bad Santa. He’d also previously been in, oddly enough, 1986′s Invaders From Mars, directed by Tobe Hooper.
- The Martian voice actors aren’t as notable, sadly. Joe Alaskey (Dr. Ziplock) and Tony Pope (Giggywig) both did voicework for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Alaskey is actually the post-Mel Blanc voice of Daffy Duck since 1991.
- Kirk R. Thatcher, the voice of the robotic Short Stuff, just happens to be the Bus Punk who gets Vulcanized in Star Trek IV.
- Director Patrick Read Johnson also directed 1995′s Angus, featuring the late George C. Scott. The voice of Martian Dr. Ziplock is pretty well based on the titular character of 1964′s Dr. Strangelove, also starring George C. Scott.
- Music conductor David E. Russo also did music programming on more horrific work such as Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs Jason, Sin City, Grindhouse, and The Ruins.
It’s Halloween, and things haven’t gone exactly as planned. Last night’s screening of Troll 2 wasn’t a jam-packed sellout of cult fans (though I did meet an awesome girl), I never got my costume together (Zombie Groucho Marx will become a reality someday, mark my word), and now I’ve got a headache.
BUT, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one on the planet for whom things go awry. Hell, things go wrong for Martians from time to time! So what better way to kick off my first Halloween post on Cinema NARCs, than with a just-in-time-for-it’s-twentieth-anniversary review of… SPACED INVADERS.
I remember regularly renting this as a kid, and was more than happy to re-discover it on VHS a few years ago. The cover isn’t terribly inviting – a group of cheap looking Martians riding a surfboard through space? One of them in sunglasses? A tagline assuring is that they’re “hip” and “hilarious”? This -can’t- be good. And no, it isn’t. It’s GREAT.
Instead of having some wise-cracking aliens just plain showing up and causing general/generic havoc, there’s plenty of intergalactic plot introduction, including establishing the ever-looming “villain” and his motivation! The Martian space armies are at war with some other aliens, and losing. So it’s decided that super-destroyer robots are to play chaperone, and vaporize any Martians who blunder their missions in any way. Things of course go from bad to worse, and a ragtag crew in a mini-ship get lost in an asteroid field. Picking up Earth-based radio broadcast instead of distress signals, they tune in at the just the right/wrong moment of happens to a small-town Halloween re-broadcasting of Orson Welles reading “War of the Worlds”, and assume THAT’s where the war effort has shifted to, promptly change course.
Kind of a groaner in terms of plot device, and setting things in “Big Bean”, Illinois means the locals are going to be just dimwitted enough to make things somewhat laughable, if only for kids. But what we ultimately end up with is a weak, generic story… done rather well! Suspend your sci-fi sense of disbelief and don your dry-humor helmet, and you’ll definitely enjoy this little sleeper flick.
The Martians land, intent on vaporizing everything in sight along with the rest of their Armies, and are soon confused as to the clearly serene and not-atomized locale and locals. It’s not long before their fearless leader is taken away as bug-squash on a pickup truck’s grill, their ship starts falling apart at the seams, and the rest of the pint-sized crew is mistaken for trick-or-treating kids.
Chicago-imports Sam and Kathy, newly-declared town Sheriff and his daughter, function perfectly as such, as opposed to if they too had grown up in the same farming community. The locals of course aren’t used to Sheriff Sam, let alone any Sheriff, so they’re not quite sure how to follow his leads. And when young daughter Kathy with her outsider’s complex and elaborate alien costume meets the Martians just as they’re accidentally hooped into carpooling with other trick-or-treaters, it’s because she’s an just enough of an outsider that the others believe her story about the Martians being her eccentric Californian Cousins. She knows there’s more to them than their misguided desires to blow crap up, and it’s her big heart that ultimately saves both their lives and the whole planet’s.
There’s a very fine attention to scripted detail here. A lot of characters are introduced, and all are given appropriate roles with appropriate screen time. More importantly, no character or sub-plot is left behind, big or small. The super-destroyer robot and the greedy Farmer’s Union head get their comeuppances, the cantankerous old farmer gets to keep his land, and even the nerdy gas station attended gets the girl.
And again, it doesn’t all sound terribly unique, let alone interesting. But it all works just the same. Visually the photography, lighting, and special effects are all fine. The Martian costumes/masks are minimalist but effective, and the editing and pacing is just perfect. Even the acting is just right, perhaps from just-right casting. The only exception is the fairly flat Sheriff Sam, played well enough by Douglas Barr, if only a poor man’s Paul Gross.
The humor is what makes things most effective in the long run, operating on fairly dry, minimalist level. Much like the rest of the film, a lot of the jokes and gags are simple and at times dated. But you get an air of the writers probably knowing this, and thus turn it a little tongue-in-cheek when needed. The performance to really watch for is Brian the Duck, played by young J.J. Anderson. Even if he’s meant only for comic relief, he does so with such charm. He’s not an obnoxious slapsticking pro; there’s just something about this kid’s performance you have to see to appreciate. from his squeaking voice to his almost Donald Duck overzealous confidence.
“Spaced Invaders” is a fairly rare example of… well, I’ve said it enough already, but things being done -just right-. It’s a great throwback to Halloween, the early 90′s, and those cheesy movies you watched as a kid, loving them because you didn’t know what “cheesy” was. All that mattered was Halloween, and a few Martians.
RATING – 4.5 Donuts of Destruction out of 5.