I hate to say it, but the operative phrase here is “nice try.”
It’s not like The P.A.C.K. is terrible. Despite what had to have been a cripplingly low budget, low budget filmmaker David A. Prior made quite a respectable little action film which is, naturally, quite reminiscent of other films we’ve seen.
But then we expect that in super-low budget Grade Z movies.
The story is simple enough: something drops out of the sky which proves to be an alien biological weapon called a P.A.C.K. (or,“Prefabricated Animalistic Cybernetic Killer,” if you want to spell it out) which is basically a weapon designed to kill as many beings as it can — man or beast — before its “battery” runs out.
But that would actually be worse as that would trigger the thing’s self destruct mechanism, which would blow a big hole in the planet.
Now Prior had worked on a dozen similar films before The P.A.C.K., although this was the first time he just produced and left the direction to someone else. I suppose his experience may be why we see so little of the creature for most of the film. After all, it’s just a guy in a suit and doesn’t really seem as terrifying as its reputation would suggest.
But I’ve seen a lot worse guy-in-a-suit monsters and it does the job. More or less.
And let’s note that The P.A.C.K. has a lot of separate story strands, each bringing in a new set of characters. This is definitely an improvement over those overwhelmingly small films which just do not have enough plot to go around. Mind you, if you look at a lot of tiny Indie and DIY films, you often find that they have a lot of characters and separate plot threads which often have minimal connection with the rest of the story. It’s an old trick, a way to ensure that no matter which people are free that day, you can still manage to shoot something. That might be what’s going on here, even if several of these characters do end up intersecting with each other by the end.
Basically, we have the local sheriff investigating along with several deputies and a handful of police; a team of operatives from some government agency who run a roadblock and go into the area to hunt down the creature; we have a UFO expert who’s part of some major amateur organization who spends most of his screen time trying to persuade the Sheriff to listen to him; the rather dull alien with a powerful sphere who has come to destroy the beast; and, of course, a lot of locals who stumble across the creature and get killed.
But I suppose that’s part of the problem here, that we have too many characters: the secret alien hunters, for example, look like they might be sort of interesting, what with the Seal team guys, the super brainy expert, and the reckless guy in charge, but they all disappear quite quickly moments after they’ve been introduced. All, that is, except for the girl on the team, who is played by Sandahl Bergman, one of those iconic Eighties actresses whose busy career I find rather mysterious as she really isn’t terribly attractive.
Then there’s the Sheriff’s deputy who looks like he’s getting built up into a bigger character, but then gets slaughtered without much pomp or ceremony.
Now most of you have seen a few of these sorts of films before, so it should come as no surprise that the helpful alien, T-7043, is as dull as cold dishwater. He doesn’t show much emotion, and only occasionally gets drawn out to talk about himself or his mission. I might be inclined to blame Ted Prior (David’s brother, frequent actor in his films and a Playgirl pinup model) for this performance, but it is very much a stock stoic and unemotional character, and the script never gave him much to work with anyway. However, the film just completely fails to carry off the romantic moment at the end.
But then, they didn’t have Jeff Bridges playing the alien.
Not that I’m sure that would have been enough.
It is also interesting to note that this film was shot in a small town in Alabama, which does give it a bit of atmosphere.
Although we all know that was probably just because it was cheap.
It’s also interesting to note that Red West, who plays the cynical old Sheriff, was one of those closest to Elvis, and had a long career playing character parts in movies. He’s one of the few things giving this film much life.
And that’s really what this film needed was a bit of life. Or characters we cared about who lasted more than a few minutes on the screen.
As it is, The P.A.C.K. is just sort of…there.
It’s not terrible, it does a reasonably good job of doing what it is trying to do.
But it just lacks something.
And I really think that something was a bit of personality.
Particularly when it comes to that superior but helpful alien.
Let’s face it: It would have improved everything if he’d been played by Groucho Marx…