Good silly fun, “Alien Trespass” is a dead-on spoof of cheapo ’50s sci-fi programmers done with plenty of self-deprecating humor. Producer-director and longtime “X-Files” intimate R. W. Goodwin clearly knows the territory; the pic gets away with presenting itself as a long-lost classic from a half-century ago while simultaneously sending up the genre’s conventions. Set to begin its gradual theatrical launch April 3, this Roadshow Attractions pickup holds appeal to several audience niches, including fanboys, kids and families looking for some laughs, but could ultimately be just too tame and devotedly retro to break out beyond specialty release. Subsequent DVD future looks rosy.
Goodwin, scripter Steven P. Fisher and co-story scribe and exec producer James Swift root their yarn most specifically in Jack Arnold’s 1953 classic “It Came From Outer Space,” about a crashed alien spacecraft whose passengers inhabit the bodies of local humans while repairs are made, and to a lesser extent in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”; would that this were the only contempo film to pay homage to Robert Wise’s 1951 trailblazer.
In an opening that can’t help but recall “Citizen Kane” (rest assured it’s the only way the two films can be compared), the pic opens with a black-and-white newsreel in which a Hollywood studio head announces the release of a production called “Alien Trespass” has been canceled, its negatives and existing prints burned.
The feature presentation on the “program,” however, is that very same picture, which blazes upon the screen in practically radioactive color with the sight of shooting stars and meteorites zipping across the Mojave night sky. One of these nocturnal apparitions, however, is not a piece of a rock but rather a flying saucer that slams into a craggy mountain range.
The crash site attracts the interest of assorted smalltown locals, including hormonal teens, an old desert coot and the cops. But the first one up there is tweedy, bespectacled, pipe-chewing scientist Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack, quite amusing), who enters the ship, only to be snapped up by unseen forces. When he reemerges and returns home, he looks the same but speaks about himself in a third-person monotone to his wife Lana (Jody Thompson), as in “Ted wants you safe.”
Ted, it turns out, is temporarily inhabited by a spaceman named Urp. Curiously unmoved by perpetually in-heat Lana, Urp does detect unfamiliar sensations when in proximity to blond waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird), a bright lady who needs to find a way out of town. But Urp is mainly concerned with apprehending the Ghota, a tentacled monster with one large red eye that rapidly devours its way through most of the supporting cast, leaving behind only gooey puddles.
The patently phony Ghota reps a delightful throwback to the rubber sci-fi creatures of ’50s drive-in fare. Because it can render itself temporarily invisible, the Ghota can make abrupt appearances that are actually momentarily scary in a very PG sort of way, and it has its big moment in a wonderfully conceived sequence in which it invades a movie theater where a gaggle of dating teens is held spellbound watching the 1958 “The Blob.”
Although full of jokes at the genre’s expense, “Alien Trespass” doesn’t take the “Airplane!” or “Naked Gun” route of all-goof, all-the-time parody, nor is it nearly as funny as those laff-fests. But by playing it straighter, the film does come very close indeed to replicating the sensibility of its inspirations while still inspiring mirth.
Goodwin orchestrates it all confidently, from the earnest tenor of the performances to the impeccably dodgy technical specifications. Rear projection is used wittily, the special effects are charmingly shabby and the Canadian locations, subbing for California, are just right. Holding it all together is a superb score by Louis Febre that exactly captures the melodramatic mystery of the best sci-fi scores — notably those by Bernard Herrmann — right down to the judicious use of a quivering Theremin.
At the Palm Springs Fest screening caught, the house lights were turned up and the film turned off the moment the end credits went onscreen, so running time is an estimate that coincides with that provided by the producers.