Genres are more fun when you can mix and match them.
Consider Attack of the Unknown: we have a tough and experienced SWAT team making a major bust, only things don’t go as planned and one of their team gets killed.
And, even worse, the FBI insists on taking over.
But the team is given the job of transferring their prisoner to another jail, and they start across town with him.
Unfortunately, that’s when the alien invasion starts.
After the initial attack, they take refuge in the nearby prison, but they are surrounded by the aliens, and alien ships are filling the skies.
They soon discover that they have no way out, and they don’t think they can keep the aliens out much longer. All they can do is barricade themselves inside, fight off the invaders, and hope that someone out there is going to rescue them…
Now if you’ve seen a lot of horror and science fiction films you are probably going to recognize a few bits and pieces here (particularly the ending), and action film fans will feel right at home with the SWAT raid at the beginning.
But that’s not a big deal in a B-Movie.
And as B-Movies go, it is pretty solid. Once things get moving, Attack of the Unknown rarely bothers to slow down, thanks to plenty of well-staged action, some clever little ideas, enough complications to keep us interested and plenty of aliens. They have a distinctive look when we first see them in their suits, and they don’t look bad at all when we finally see what they look like under their helmets.
The film even gives us a little information on the aliens, which have been around for a lot longer than anyone realizes. We even learn what it is they are after, and how they got it in the past. We learn most of this from a major character who’s has a past history with them: he is one of the worst and most dangerous people in the film, and knows a lot about them, more than he is willing to tell us. There are hints that maybe he has some sort of connection to them that goes beyond what he’s said.
But he gets killed off before we can learn anything more.
Oh, well. Considering how the aliens reacted, maybe he didn’t actually have a connection.
It is just a touch amusing to see Richard Grieco in the lead: I didn’t realize he was still out there starring in low budget science fiction and horror films. After all, I’m not sure I’ve seen him in anything more recent than Webs (2003). He started out as a replacement on 21 Jump Street, got his own spinoff show, then quickly descended to low budget Purgatory.
Hey, they can’t use Eric Roberts all the time.
He’s suitably tough, as are the entire crew, like a low budget version of the team in Predator. But I think it helps that, even though Richard is top-billed, the squad’s commander, Maddox (Douglas Tait), overshadows him a bit in the earlier parts of the film, and many of the other characters get their moments and even a bit of individual development. We’re used to the “the only man for the job” heroes found in your typical low budget DTV and TV films, so it is a welcome change to portray the hero as a part of a team, who are all competent and given their own heroic moments. It’s not great art, but then, you don’t expect that in a movie about a SWAT team fighting an alien invasion.
And I suppose that really sums this one up: yes, we know it is more or less a mash up of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Independence Day, and a tough crime thriller, with bits of other great movies tossed in where they can fit them in, but who cares? It is pulpy fun, with guns, gangsters, villains, aliens and a jail full of prisoners.
Yeah, I thought the prisoners would have got to do more, but, hey, it’s still fun.
And that is what really matters…