Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Alien 2 - On Earth

ALIEN 2 – On Earth
Original Title: Alien 2 – Sulla terra
Directed by: Ciro Ippolito
Italy, 1980
Horror/Sci-fi, 85min
Distributed by: Midnight Legacy

Finally, one of the most anticipated releases of 2010 hit’s the machine. If there ever was a movie that I wanted to be see again, it certainly was Ciro Ippolito’s Alien 2 Sulla Terra (Alien 2 – On Earth) a movie that I still remember the exact moment I first spotted the cover art for in an old VHS rental catalogue in the early eighties. Which for some odd reason used the scene with the police car at the end on it's original packaging... it was obviously changed for a more grizzly design with a severed head later.

Thelma Joyce [Belinda Mayne] is part of a team of spelunkers who go up to an unexplored cave system as part of a weekend expedition. At the same time a space shuttle is on it’s way back to earth after failing its mission. Unknown to mankind at the time, the shuttle has brought with it a strange parasite, which has taken on the form of blue crystal like rock. After breaking down on live television, due to something of a mental disorder making Thelma see monsters, her boyfriend Roy [Mark Bodin] comforts her and takes her to the bowling alley where the rest of the gang are waiting for them. Burt [Michele Soavi], part of the team, sees one of the odd looking rocks and sticks it in his pack. But when they get into the caves, the rock starts pulsating, and pretty soon it turns out that the rock is in fact an alien egg. Trapped deep beneath the earth, the speleologists have to find a way out of the dark damp underworld and this time the monsters are not in Thelma’s mind!

Alien 2 – On Earth is often called a shameless Alien rip off, boring, and [insert your own damned amateur film critic slur for how bad the movie is here]. But let it be known that when you get into watching European low budget cinema, the first thing you learn is that these movies play by an entire different set of rules. There’s no place for customary beats and logic narrative, as these movies have to move fast and punch hard to keep the audiences from getting ahead of the films. Plot holes, illogical moments and spiteful deception are all part of the game. That’s why you only will find true moments of outlandish atmosphere, profound horror and mind-expanding surrealism in these pieces. Where else will you see a goddamned zombie fighting a shark underwater, where else will you see man-size rats in uniforms torch humans, where else will you see a oedipal dead kid biting off his mother’s tit… You get the point; it’s the stuff that draws the rest of us to these movies, and safely away from predicable movies that simply waste our time.

Directed by Ciro Ippolito, under the pseudonym Sam Cromwell, Alien 2 – On Earth is possibly as rare and unheard of as it’s creator. Ippolito and Alien 2 – On Earth are not the usual starting ground when watching Italian genre pieces, but rather something that you may be lucky to discover after some time when you have worked your way through the common starting points of Argento, Bava and Fulci. So who is he? Who is the man behind it all, Ciro Ippolito, and what is his place in the wonderful world of Italian Genre Cinema?

Born just after the Second World War - in 1947 -, the Nepalese Ippolito was part of cinema since childhood when he first appeared in a minor supporting role in Turi Vasile’s Classe di ferro (Class of Iron) 1957. Class of Iron was a comedic musical, later spawning quite a few sequels, but perhaps most note worthy for it’s script, partially written by a young Antonio Margheriti. Already mesmerized by the magic of cinema so early on, it’s no surprise that whilst acting on his second movie, Roberto Rossellini’s Augustin d’Ippona 1972, Ippolito jumped at the chance to prove himself whilst assisting the assisting directors. Staying in the realm, taking small parts in diverse movies, amongst them Gianfranco Migozzi’s classic Flavia, la monaca musulmana (Flavia the Heretic) 1974, the next natural step was to get involved with writing too.

1978 saw Ippolito billed as one of the writers, and also gaining a producers credit on Alfonso Brescia’s Polizietti Napoli serenata calibro 9, together with Brescia and Piero Regnoli – remember, the guy who wrote Andrea Bianchi’s Le notti del terrore (The Nighs of Terror) and Lenzi’s Incubo sulla città contaminata (Nightmare City) 1980… Ippolito would co-write several other hardboiled Neapolitan Polizietti’s in the years to come, and finally he got the chance to helm a movie of his own; Alien 2 – Sulla Terra (Alien 2- On Earth). Ippolito continued making movies, either behind the camera or behind a desk as producer, and to this day has some thirty plus titles to his name, but Alien 2 – On Earth is the one we will remember him by when the man comes around.

Putting it into context, in 1979 Ridley Scott’s truckers in space slaughtered by unseen xenomorph success story Alien rocked the movie world. Obviously it inspired a whole heap of low budget followers that wanted to get a piece of the sci-fi horror scene. And everyone put their spin on it too, just like Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, Alfonso Brescia’s La bestia nello spazio (The Beast in Space) and Ippolito’s Alien 2 – Sulla Terra (Alien 2 – On Earth) not to mention the zombie and post apocalypse movies that make up a huge part of the passion held for Italian genre cinema. As these too often refer to and use science fiction traits in their dark tales of a world gone to hell.

Now, Alien 2 – On Earth may not be the best movie inspired by a larger studio original, and it's in no way the worst either. But Alien 2 – On Earth works, it’s entertaining, and it is a magnificent movie that still has some really good moments of terror, suspense and shock. It’s also note worthy that the movie has moments reminiscent to John Carpenter’s seminal sci-fi horror The Thing 1982, and Neil Marshal’s The Descent 2005, even though it was made years before both of those flicks.

Like a lot of low budget Italian quickies, Alien 2 – On Earth gets a lot of shit tossed at it from impatient viewers looking for a quick fix of blood and guts. One constant remark being that it’s “painfully slow”. Now I can’t really agree, because even though there’s no initial attack to set a protagonist and twenty minutes pass before there is a first gore sequence, and at that a brief one, Alien 2 – On Earth doesn’t really move that slow at all. There are several reasons for claiming that. The first being that the first twenty minutes are spent setting up the ordinary world and the characters who live there. Sure it may be shallow, but establishing stuff is exactly what this early part of the movie does. It’s also where quite a lot of valuable information is planted. Thelma’s “inner visions” of monsters that are causing her great trouble – the same one’s that make her freeze on the TV interview at the start, the parallel story with the returning astronauts – see it’s a genesis story, they brought the alien with them, and smaller details like when the team walk into the bar and talk about the size of the unexplored cave system they have discovered. Small details, that come into play later in the movie. So please, stop with the bitching about nothing happening, start reading movies in a different way and be patient.

There’s a fair amount of little details in the script by Ippolito that amuse me, because I always appreciate a well written story – that doesn’t mean dialogue, I want my Italian genre movies to have corny dialogue, it’s also part of the form – but in the script there’s good stuff, such as the logic procession of things. Being speleologists, an area that combines several fields, geology amongst them, it’s really no surprise that Burt [Soavi] sticks the rock in his pack! He obviously wanted to check that rock out later, and where better to store it than his backpack. There’s also logic to why they simply just don’t leave the cave the way they came in. Because there’s the treat of the monster at the top of the decent they went into to rescue Jill. Instead they are forced deeper into the underworld as they search for an alternative way out, and the deeper they get, the tighter the suspense creeps in.

Then there’s that slow build that constantly get’s a hammering. But by skipping a classic initial attack and merely hinting at the dangers – such as the kid with her face smashed to a pulp – it allows the punch to be harder when the blood starts flowing. There’s nothing like unleashing a terrifying, unknown being into a dark cave where we all naturally would experience a certain level of claustrophobia. And even if it was budgetary restraints that inhibited Ippolito to fully expose and reveal the monster – despite that great tentacle attack on Cliff, and the really freaky p.o.v. from inside the beats mouth during the climax – it works in favour of the movie, because there’s no way in hell that they could have come up with anything that would have been as disturbing as H.R. Giger’s alien designs. So keeping it off screen and posing a threat in the off screen space works wonders for this little gem.

There’s also the inventive use of a subplot concerning the returning space shuttle and the astronauts. This is more or less the same kind of thing that George A. Romero did with Night of the Living Dead 1968, through the TV and radio he told of a genesis of the disease that made the dead get up and walk. It’s the same function that the space shuttle subplot has in Alien 2 – On Earth, but with some brilliant stock footage use to actually show us the events instead of just talking about it. In some cases stock footage is a gift to creative filmmakers, Ippolito uses stock footage to get the images that his budget wouldn’t allow him, and this is a great example of how you intercut that footage with your own to create a believable world. It adds dimension and gives a bigger-better-faster look when we actually see the space shuttle, the huge US Navy ships preparing to intercept the shuttle on it’s re-entry and all that stuff.

The ending is dark and haunting, and not too unlike the world in peril scenarios that the zombie and post apocalypse flicks used to climax with. The scenes of an abandoned San Diego are really effective and evocative. Cinematographer Silvio Fraschetti’s use of an early morning on location before the city comes to life to create an eerie atmosphere. But the location that really stands out and definitely makes the movie look a hell of a lot more expensive than it was is the caves. Shot on location at the Castellana Grotte in southern Italy, these almost a hundred million year old caves really make the movie. Just imagine what it would have looked like built on a set, without depth or perspective… instead Ippolito took his cast and crew 70 meters below sea level captured the whole the thing for real.

The cast is an odd mix, none of them are really big genre names, and most of them only have a single screen credit with Alien 2 – On Earth. But Belinda Mayne did work on several other movies and TV serials, Mark Bodin who plays her boyfriend Roy held a part in Joe D’Amato’s infamous Anthropophagus the same year and then there’s everyone’s favourite bit part actor turned director Michele Soavi. Someone really should put together a video of all his death scenes, because I can’t remember many movies where Soavi was still standing at the end of the show. And all good genre geeks know they are in good hands when Nick Alexander worked as the dubbing editor on the movie.

Finally, there’s the score. Amongst my favourite soundtracks, Guido and Maurizio De Angelis works are quite common. Their score to Alien 2 – On Earth, performed under the pseudonym The Oliver Onions, really is a good one. It has a wide range spanning from soft guitar ballads to the great electro funk and brooding horror sounds which suit the movie like a glove. It’s a treat that Alien 2 – On Earth was made just before the Italians started sticking pop and rock songs on the soundtrack, because those movies age as fast as the music in them did, whereas the splendid instrumental compositions still hold an eerie atmosphere and power to them.

To sum it all up then; Alien 2 – On Earth is a splendid little grim flick most likely inspired by Scott’s Alien, but definitely not a rip-off or an “Italian Sequel”. This is a very potent movie that stands sternly on it’s own two legs. Has a decent cast, uses some good themes, and packs a great soundtrack. Not to forget that this release looks amazing.

Midnight Legacy has undoubtedly carved themselves a great groove on the scene with the release of Alien 2 – On Earth. Everything about this release, from the contents to the final artwork and Chris Mantovi's original design is top notch. Skeptics be gone, hail the new king, and with a few more rare titles like this one under their belt it’s fair to say that Midnight Legacy will be giving the competition a run for their money, because even with just one title on the market, they are the most interesting company in the game right now. I know that I’ll be saving the cash that I was thinking of putting on BluRay’s of the holy trinity Fulci, Bava and Argento towards the future Midnight Legacy releases instead, because I’d rather watch stuff that I haven’t seen in ages than watching an upgrade.

The movie has never, and when I say never, I’m even talking about the few screenings the movie had when it played theatrically in 1980, looked better than it does on this BluRay limited edition. Taken from a 35mm negative, the colours are vibrant, the image is stunning, and being a complete novice at BluRay all I really can say is that the detail of image is outrageous. If this is the future then I’m glad that I finally found a movie that motivated me to upgrade all my home entertainment equipment. If you have a BluRay player, and if you are into Italian genre cinema, then this is a must have release. A splendid piece of genre cinema to put amongst the collection - because the spine is numbered, and this time around there's still time to come along from the start. I’ll leave you with that, as now I’m going to sit through Ciro Ippolito’s fascinating Alien 2 – On Earth on BluRay one more time as I await future titles to be announced from Midnight Legacy.

Widescreen 1.85:1 (1080p HD resolution)

Dts-MA 2.0, English Dialogue

There’s a Trailer and an eleven minute long special effect outtakes reel showing some alteration in some of the scenes. This material is in HD too so there’s no love lost with this disc at all.

Here's an awesome Australian trailer, which obviously doesn't reflect the quality of the Midnight Legacy release.

Screengrabs taken from Matt Paprocki on Check out his detailed review which is more technically savy than this one is, and there's even a three part interview with part of the Midnight Legacy team about the disc, the passion and attention put into bringing Alien 2 - On Earth to BluRay for the first time.


Jocke Andersson said...

If I remember correctly, Ciro has a small cameo as the guy with the headset in the first screenshot. :)

CiNEZiLLA said...

Cool! I didn't know that!



David A. Zuzelo said...

Great review, I really like this film a lot and it is nice to see reviewers go beyond "Terrible film, great disc"-and this release certainly deserves to have the movie appreciated.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Thanks David!
It certainly is a grand movie that needs to be re-discovered and put back in the Italian Genre Canon, because it's easily as entertaining as the more known stuff is.


Aylmer said...

It's a great year for A L I E N spinoffs on dvd. The two Corman's and now this. Nice write up J.

Bill Knight said...

Thank you for the review Jason.

This is a great and well written review by someone who really knows and understands these films. The best one I've seen so far!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Cheers Bill!
Glad you liked it.

Alymer: I'm not much for Corman. Never really got into his flicks. So I'm happy with Alien 2 On Earth! :)


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