Top Line [Alien Terminator] (1988)

It seems that those Mill Valley Fifty movie sets always feel the need to throw at least a few half-way decent films in with all the trash.  That includes such interesting efforts as Primal Impulse (although in a horribly cropped print!); Peter Jackson’s splatter comedy debut, Bad Taste; the Indie classic, The Brother from Another PlanetPrey; The Manster; The Alien Factor; and even the goofy arm-wrestling cyborg film, Hands of Steel.

This is one of their more interesting additions.

Okay, we’re talking a low-budget Italian production, with all the problems that go with that, exacerbated by the fact that they shot it on location in Colombia.

Okay, the sound quality is lousy.

We knew that.

The film is badly dubbed.

We knew that, too.

And when George Kennedy shows up in a gleeful and manic bad guy role, he’s speaking in someone else’s voice.

Well, that’s hardly a surprise.

To save money, most of these Italian films of the era — even the ones filmed in English — relooped all the dialogue:  after all, it’s hard to get good sound when you’re actually filming.  Much easier to dub it all in afterwards.  Heck, even the Italian version of the film is dubbed.

And, ironically, that often means your expensive American or British actor can’t make post-production and someone else does their dialogue.  The effect can be almost surreal – as it is here, when a high-pitched, somewhat nasal voice replaces George’s gravelly growl.

This is obviously a Raiders of the Lost Ark clone, but because of its B-Movie nature, it goes off into total craziness with a plot involving aliens and a long-lost treasure (long before George Lucas did something similar with hundreds of millions of dollars and Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

In many respects, it actually reminds me a bit more of Romancing the Stone —  it is a fairly laid back sort of movie for the most part, moving at a gentle pace — although with enough sheer craziness mixed in to make this a beautifully strange little film.  Franco Nero plays a drunken novelist living in self-imposed exile in Colombia, who hopes that his friend’s discovery of a cache of pre-Columbian Gold will make them both rich.

Only, what they find when they discover the cave that was the source of  the gold is totally unexpected and more than a touch outrageous.

Before we get to the end, there’s a very silly car chase involving a drunken couple and a basket of eggs; plenty of talk about alien conspiracies and Von Daniken-style ancient astronauts; a battle between an enraged bull and an Alien Terminator; and a hideous transformation scene.

It is amiable and entertaining throughout, if you can overlook its flaws.  Nero makes an engaging hero (somehow reminding me of the young Kevin Kline in some of his more likable roles) , with just the right mix of reluctance, incompetence and genuine heroics to keep his character from becoming anywhere near as bland as many Hollywood action heroes.

Curiously, it ends with one of the “A year later” endings that Buster Keaton was parodying back in the Twenties; a cliche – or near cliche that vanished long before the era of sound.

However, the last shot is one of the nicest touches in the whole film – and one, I might add, which didn’t cost much to create.

Just beautiful.

So don’t expect Raiders, remember it is super cheap and very Italian, and you’ll probably enjoy this one.  It is modest, creative, and thankfully, made cheaply enough that no one cared enough to say, “wait a minute, that’s a crazy idea!”

And that’s always something to be thankful for.

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