A terrific and decidedly mean-spirited low-budget thriller from Eduardo Sanchez (one of the co-directors of The Blair Witch Project), Altered features a group of angry and armed redneck abductees who take revenge on the (rather nasty) aliens that poked and prodded them by abducting one of their own (ha, see how you like it!) — which ends up being perhaps the worst idea anyone on the planet has ever come up with. There are some really good scares in this one, as well as some really unnerving imagery — the bound and hooded alien in the garage ever so silently waiting to make its move is the stuff of freakin’ nightmares, as is the fight it puts up when it eventually gets loose. If nothing else, Altered proves that The Blair Witch Project (which has now become one of the most underrated horror films of all time) was no fluke for Sanchez — this guy definitely knows how to run a creepshow.
Fire in the Sky is based on the alleged real-life experience of Travis Walton (played by D.B. Sweeney), a logger who was snatched by aliens on November 5, 1975 near Snowflake, Arizona while he and his co-workers were driving home. After the authorities have all but concluded Walton’s sudden disappearance was foul play, he shows up at a gas station five days later, naked, dehydrated and incoherent. What follows is a bunch of fractured flashbacks depicting Walton’s terrifying abduction, during which he was forced to endure all sorts of painful experimentation (including an optical probe, but you may have already guessed it involved that). This is probably all a bunch of hooey, despite the fact that the loggers agreed to resubmit to an additional polygraph examination a month before the film’s March 1993 release (which they passed)… though it’s definitely elaborately plotted, planned and entertaining hooey. Robert Patrick, who had recently been introduced to the world as the evil T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, gives an unexpectedly sensitive and humanistic performance as Walton’s best friend and future brother-in-law, Mike Rogers.
Director Lawrence Kasdan’s weirdo adaptation of Stephen King‘s weirdo (and way too long) sci-fi horror novel features four thirtysomething friends out in the woods for their annual drink-beer-and-hunt trip; their R&R session soon turns into a battle for survival as they take on invading parasitic aliens that gestate in your stomach and force you to shit them out (whoa!). That revelation is definitely the showstopper; everything else is pretty silly, with Morgan Freeman miscast as a brutal military man who will stop at nothing to wipe out the nasty E.T.’s and Tom Sizemore looking confused as his hapless underling. You also get Donnie Wahlberg as the gang’s special friend who ends up being the key weapon in stomping alien ass and Damian Lewis doing his best when called upon to be possessed by one of the creatures… which inexplicably causes him to speak in an English accent. Yeah, strange things are afoot in this one, friends, and Kasdan doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job driving, but it’s just so damn bizarre that you may find yourself in its clutches for the long haul.
Steven Spielberg‘s 1977 portrait of a seemingly happy suburban family torn apart by Dad’s (Richard Dreyfuss) sudden obsession with mashed potato sculptures is a fascinating prelude of sorts to many of his later ’80s films — and a pretty great piece of science fiction in and of itself. The aliens are ultimately here with a message of peace, though getting to that revelation makes for an engrossing mystery that’s filled with strange and unsettling moments — Spielberg seems to really be experimenting with tone, pacing and characterization here (now that he doesn’t have to worry about the stupid fake shark refusing to stay afloat), making Close Encounters one of his most, well, creative pieces of work. Dreyfuss is excellent, and the extended climax at Devils Tower is truly majestic, though the film’s most memorable sequence is also its most terrifying — the abduction of a young boy, taken from his home as his doggie barks and his mother screams. It’s scarier than anything Spielberg would throw at us in Poltergeist, and that goes for the damn clown under the bed, too.
Director Tobe Hooper’s large-scale depiction of London being overrun by invading “space vampires” is an impressive exercise in controlled chaos — really, you don’t expect what’s basically a tacky B-movie to have such an expensive price tag, nor to be orchestrated with such skill (it seems like Hooper had something to prove after Steven Spielberg all but took Poltergeist away from him). And a B-movie it is, one that features a lead alien who happens to be a hot babe who spends the entire 116-minute running time completely stark raving naked. The lovely Mathilda May would end up being typecast as hot naked babes for the rest of her life, but really, after the display she puts on in Lifeforce, how could she not be? She’s sexy as all get-out as she and her minions lay waste to merry old England; she also manages to possess Patrick Stewart at one point, which makes for an amusing bonus performance from the Star Trek thespian. And, get this, in order to defeat her, our hero (Steve Railsback) has to get busy with her… in a church, no less. Enjoy, Earthling.