ADVENTURES IN STREAMING
EACH ISSUE, OUR INTREPID WRITER FOLLOWS NETFLIX’S COMPUTERCALIBRATED RECOMMENDATIONS, GOING WHEREVER THE TRAIL LEADS Alien invasions
SIMON CROOK T’S A QUESTION THAT’S baffled mankind’s greatest brains: are we alone in the universe? Well, Hollywood has an answer to that, which it’s repeated endlessly since the 1950s. No, we’re not, and here are the special effects to prove it. This year alone, we’ll be gatecrashed by The Fifth Wave, Terminus, The Blob and, pending an Apple update, Independence Day: Resurgence. Offering an A to Z of planettrashing ETS, Netflix is chest-bursting with the buggers.
First up, . Made in 1978, when the toxic haze of Watergate was still thick, Philip Kaufman’s horror reflects the era’s pervasive paranoia, but its vision of soulless conformity still leaves a biting chill in the 21st century. Infected by a cosmic fungus, humanity’s cloned into emotionless, blank-eyed Pod People. Ever been on the Northern Line at 9am on a Monday morning? Same difference. The man-faced dog and Donald Sutherland’s climactic, bloodfreezing scream are well-known, but for me, its creepiest image is Brooke Adams’ body deflating like a punctured tyre as her twin rises in the background. Dutch angles and mirror-imagery enhance the doppelgänger unease. This is the rarest of beasts: a remake that topples the original.
As a special bonus, the Netflix algorithms appear to be jammed on Other Remakes Of 1950s Flicks I Might Like. , an ’80s oddity from ’80s oddbods Cannon Pictures, follows a panicky kid as he alerts suburbia to a Martian invasion. Hunter Carson stars alongside Karen Black, his real-life mum. Combining the talents behind The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Alien (Tobe Hooper directs from a Dan O’bannon script), you expect events to lurch into gooey horror but, weirdly, it plays as a schlocky children’s movie. Wilfully blinded by nostalgia, it’s amazingly faithful to its source-movie, offering little new other than Stan Winston’s creature FX. His globular Martians look like Pac-men sculpted out of meat. The invasion’s eventually defeated by some good old gratuitous machine-gunning. The invasion-nostalgia continues in
. Freshening up the formula with a time-travel plot and a menagerie of retro ETS (all bug-eyes and exposed cauliflower brains), the third in the series sends Will Smith back to the ’60s to prevent his partner’s death. Enter Josh Brolin, nailing a fantastically crumpled impression of a young Tommy Lee Jones, and Jermaine Clement gnashing ham as its Boglodite villain. Men In Black’s sarcastic take on alien-invasions (they’re already here, provided they go through customs) is inherently funny, but the films, enjoyable though they are, feel naggingly inconsequential. I swear Barry Sonnenfeld hides a neuralyzer flash in the credit crawl — you forget Men In Black 3 the moment it ends, vaguely aware of having had a good time. Next up,
, a prototype of the title-first-scriptlater trend that birthed the Sharknados of this world. It’s bad-on-purpose but surprisingly good fun. Arriving in a Big Top UFO, said Klowns, presumably from a planet shaped like a big red nose, set about turning humans into candyfloss cocoons, sucking out the blood with Krazy Straws. Crikey. Remember Krazy Straws? The fear of clowns, by the way, is coulrophobia. You might want to avoid the Chiodo brothers’ movie if you also suffer from campophobia, but the world they create is consistently tongue-in-cheek and perversely inventive: shadow-puppet T-rexes, balloon-animal Dobermans, custard-pie massacres, even intestinal ventriloquism. It’s like gatecrashing a kids’ party hosted by Freddy Krueger.
Set ten years after the invasion, is an attempt to expand the universe created by Gareth Evans — a promising concept shrunk by its own confused vision. We’re in the Middle East now, where Marines are battling aliens and insurgents. “Who are the real monsters?” the movie asks. “Where are the real monsters?” you shout back as its squidzillas are relegated to a back-projection cameo. It’s five per cent sci-fi, 95 per cent combat character-study à la Hurt Locker, but its squaddies are as sludgily drawn as the brown-hued cinematography. Whatever tantalising ideas it does have (a pitbull-versusalien dogfight, a benign herd of equine mutations) are lost to shouty war-is-hell nihilism. With nobody to connect to, it’s more like an alienation-invasion. The film’s final shot is an unholy scream of despair. After two frustrating hours of hollow macho grunting, it’s impossible not to join in.