(Literal Translation: Strange Invasion)
I’m always on the lookout for forgotten science fiction films.
The problem is that I’ve been doing it for so long that it is getting harder all the time. I suppose there may still be quite a few out there, but they tend to be foreign, or independent, or, sadly, lost.
Still, it’s nice to make an unexpected find on Youtube, in this case, a nearly forgotten Argentinian film which (like so many cheap foreign made films of the Sixties) comes complete with a lesser American star, Richard Conte.
In a small American town, the TV sets aren’t working. All they can receive is some sort of strange interference pattern and an odd hum.
But this hasn’t stopped the children, who stare intently at their screens and seem oblivious to everything around them. Even a few older adults have joined them.
The numbers of those who have fallen under the spell of the mysterious signal grows and grows bringing in not just the children but parents and other adults. Meanwhile the area where the mystery signal interferes with television broadcasts keeps growing.
And the authorities soon discover that turning off the sets of those who’ve become addicted to the mysterious signal makes them turn violent…
The basic situation feels like it might have come from an episode of The Twilight Zone,and yet, for the most part this one plays out more like a police procedural, as the authorities frantically search for the source of the strange signal. Perhaps it was influenced by some of the Quatermass-inspired British Science Fiction horror of the Sixties, where the scientific search for an explanation is at the heart of the story.
However, it also plays out as a zombie story, as the TV addicts march from one house to another in search of a working television, causing destruction along the way.
While at first glance this looks a lot like an American film of the era (although the print up on Youtube is a bit faded), and what we see of this small city looks pretty much like a small American city. However, it was filmed in Spanish. Supposedly, it was released in some American markets as Stay Tuned for Terror, but there do not seem to be any prints running around with that title, nor have I seen any evidence that the American version was dubbed (and I should note that a lot of Mexican films were only shown in Spanish-language theaters at the time, so an English language edition may not have existed despite the change in title). Another curious fact is that this one sat on the shelf until 1974 before anyone released it.
Emilio Vieyra, who directed Extrana Invasion, is remembered for The Curious Case of Dr. Humpp, a mad scientist sex comedy which has quite a reputation among certain American fans
Although I’m not sure how much of that reputation is caused by all the added sex scenes in the American versions.
He made several genre films, mostly of the sexploitation variety, and some have claimed this is his best film.
I suppose you have to work harder when you can’t rely on naked women to sell your film.
Extrana Invasion is one of those films which starts remarkably well. In fact, I thought it was an impressively tense little thriller for the first half of the film, one which knows how to set up its characters with a few deft stokes and builds its premise well.
However, it slows down rather badly towards the middle, even with the city beset with rampaging TV zombies. Nor does it help that the ultimate explanation for the signals is decidedly anti-climactic and feels very contrived. Most of us don’t expect marsh gas to act that way.
It helps a little bit when we learn that one of the residents is involved, although this goes very unexplained and it is hard to understand how he would have known what to do to cause the interference. Perhaps it was an accident, even if he was claiming credit for it, but I suppose it really doesn’t matter.
After all, if he didn’t figure out how to create that signal, then we wouldn’t have had a movie.
Mind you, there are odd little hints about mysterious plants and their seeds, but these are never developed either. Maybe there’s more here, only it wasn’t developed well.
Or is it just a big, silly pun (Geranium, Germanium)?
The idea of television zombies was timely as a lot of people were becoming very aware of the addictive nature of the medium in the Sixties. Some critics have suggested that this message may be what kept the film from getting released: certainly the idea wouldn’t have seemed so shocking in the seventies.
Whatever the case, this is an interesting minor film which is let down by its anti-climactic final revelation and a limp finale. It has a lot of potential but falters along the way.
Oh, well. It happens.
Extrana Invasion is of far more interest to the obsessive fans of science fiction cinema or for those of us who’ve already seen all the really good films. The rest of you can safely ignore it.
Just don’t stare at those wavy lines on your set…
(subtitles can be found here. They are in French but can be autotranslated online)