Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Falling (1987)

Written by: Deran Sarafian
Directed by: Deran Sarafian
Starring: Dennis Christopher, Martin Hewitt, Lynn-Holly Johnson

Happy Halloween, motherfuckers! Well, it's not Halloween for a few weeks yet, but not only is October the best month of the year because it has the only holiday worth celebrating besides Thanksgiving (turkey, pumpkin pie, and smallpox – woo!), it's also harvest time here in the Midwest, and when I'm not doing time at my normal 50-hour-a-week job at the ethanol plant, I'm driving tractor for my dad. So chances are, this is the last communication I'll be transmitting for the month, but I wanted to make sure my handful of loyal followers had something worth following.

What's that? No, I meant Halloween! Not to mention all the spectacular seasonal beers. Columbus Day, pfft. What a crock of shit. Last year, when Phoenix was in kindergarten, Malorie had to tell me to calm down when he brought all that Columbus Day shit home from school. “It's just kindergarten,” she said. “Let it go.” Why should I let it go? Columbus was a moron who sailed out of port in the wrong fucking direction and couldn't read a goddamn map. The North American continent was “discovered” independently at least three different times before that imbecile showed up, saw some brown people, and figured his job was done. Why the hell should I let my children's “teachers” knowingly give my kids erroneous information just because the gub'mint is too lazy to admit the mistake and give up one extra holiday? I can't make deposits at my bank because some fucking Spaniard couldn't figure out which direction he was sailing in six hundred years ago and now the mailman thinks he gets to watch Days of Our Lives instead of bringing me the new Absu record which I per-ordered a month in advance? Fuck that.

What the hell was I talking about now? Oh, right. Spaniards. Well, they may not be the best sailors on the planet, but they can make a decent horror movie. Decades before making a name in television with series like CSI and House, filmmaker Deran Sarafian wrote and directed this odd flick for no less a studio than MGM, and never have I seen a major studio horror flick that looked less like what you'd expect. Basically, imagine Alien 2: Sulla Terra, but shot in Spain with an American cast and at least nominal attention paid to story logic.

The space station Skylab, set up for top-secret biological experiments based on the findings of Apollo 14, has crash landed in rural Spain. This is going to seriously fuck up the pre-college vacation of three high-school friends who have decided to rent an RV and roam across Europe for the summer. The microbes from Skylab have lain dormant for five years, but become active just in time to intersect with the activities of Damon, Michael, and Samantha, long-time friends from California. Samantha is the cute and popular friend of Damon and Michael, who have invited her on their vacation in the hopes of discovering which, if either, of them she is attracted to.

One day, after becoming fed up with the unsubtle advances of Damon, Samantha runs into town with the dune buggy, leaving the boys at the RV. She winds up kidnapped by the mysterious Dr. Tracer, who after leaving his attache Captain Wells to die in the NASA research center set up in a ruined castle, heads back to town to call his bosses and inform them that nothing short of a napalm strike is going to save all of Europe from being destroyed by the alien organism they hoped would die during re-entry when the Skylab satellite was deliberately crashed. Unfortunately it didn't die, and now the entire town of Durante is under the control of an alien microbe that can control its host organisms and is trying to block the town off from the outside world until it can reach maturity in the townsfolk and infest the countryside.

Hijinks ensue when Tracer meets our heroes, has a change of heart, and informs the trio that an antidote is possible if only one of them can retrieve one of the canisters from the NASA site. It works on the same principle as the original tetanus horse serum shots, you see. But what happens to the original horse when it's injected with tetanus? And what if tetanus were as catching as the flu? And what if instead of vomiting and other various unpleasant bodily ejections, that flu manifested itself as an aggressive alien creature? Oh, poopie, indeed.

As I said, this flick reminded me of nothing so much as Alien 2, but with logic and some production values. The human characters, rare enough in an 80's horror flick, actually serve to further invest you in the story instead of making you cheer for their deaths. Michael and Damon are two believably awkward and unsociable nerds, who share a mutual friend and crush in the cute-but-not-inaccessibly-hot Samantha, and have a good-natured competition for her affection without ruining their friendship. And Samantha, for her part, isn't a stuck-up cheerleader type, but is perfectly willing to take her relationship with Michael beyond friendship once he has the balls to admit his crush. And fighting off an alien-possessed zombie horde doesn't hurt either.

While the segments with the main characters may be tonally disparate (suggesting more a horror-comedy in the Fright Night vein) from the atmospherically creepy bits at the beginning involving just the scientists, and especially the cow being infected with the alien organism and the hungry dog being dragged into the body cavity of the dead cow by said organism, this flick succeeds on the merits of never playing anything totally for laughs. It's also exemplary in having our three main characters all be goofy and charming and totally human without ever relinquishing any of their sympathy. Even on the few occasions where the two guys are acting like douches, it's clear they're only doing it out of an attempt to show off for a girl they like based on a background of total social awkwardness and not having a clue how to act around a girl.

Horror flicks could really take some notes on how to treat their main characters' relationships from this movie, which is really strange considering the almost total lack of communication between the international crews and the fact that the production ran so far over schedule and budget that it didn't get released until fully 3 years after shooting finished and caused the producer to quit the movie business entirely.

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