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February 10th, 2017

ALIEN SEED (1989) **

I've watched Elves every Christmas for almost twenty-five years now. Part of the tradition is seeing the hilarious trailer for Alien Seed that immediately precedes the film. For whatever reason, it’s taken me this long to watch it. While I am glad I’ve finally seen it I have to confess that all the best parts are in the trailer.

Mary (Shellie Block) gets abducted by aliens while jogging. (A flash of white light is the special effect.) Afterwards she has no memory of the event. All she knows is that they left her with a big old alien hickey on her neck. She contacts a writer named Mark (Steven Blade) who is an authority on alien abduction, but she is killed by the evil Dr. Stone (Erik Estrada) before they can meet. Her sister Lisa (Heidi Paine) is then abducted and impregnated by the aliens. Mark tries to help Lisa understand what’s happening to her when some government agents show up trying to assassinate them, fearing that her half-alien child will be the new messiah.

While watching Alien Seed, it dawned on me that it’s basically an inverse version of Elves. (Which figures since it was made by the same producers.) Instead of Nazis using elves to mate with women to produce the Antichrist we have religious nuts using aliens to mate with women to create the second coming of Jesus. It also has a keyboard-heavy score that is similar to the one heard in Elves, which makes me think it might make a good double feature.

Sadly, Alien Seed is nowhere near as much fun as Elves. I will say the first twenty minutes or so makes for a mini-camp classic. Block's acting is terrible and her airhead line reading of the simplest dialogue is often hilarious. The stuff with the aliens, who wear masks from Spencer's Gifts and white spandex, is pretty funny too. The early scenes also contain lots of T & A as Paine works in a topless bar.

Once the action switches focus to Paine’s character, the whole thing takes a nosedive in quality. From here on out, the film resembles a cheap version of a ‘70s political thriller with our heroes hiding out in hotel rooms and outrunning men in black suits. The action is also cheaply done with nearly all the car chases taking place well within the speed limit. The shootouts are fairly low rent, although the squibs are pretty bloody. We do get one great fire stunt in the final minutes of the movie. Although brief, it's quite effective.

Erik Estrada really gets into his role of Dr. Stone. He gamely chews the scenery and his theatrics are entertaining (especially when he tortures Blade using “buffalo stimulants”). You just wish he had more screen time because when he's absent his presence is sorely missed.

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LITTLE MURDERS (1971) ***

Little Murders is an offbeat, weird, mostly amusing, sometimes frustrating, occasionally exhilarating black comedy. It swings for the fences in nearly every scene. Because of that, it winds up whiffing big time every now and then. However, when it hits, it’s often a grand slam.

Marcia Rodd saves Elliott Gould from a mugging. Instead of thanking her, he just wanders off and lets the muggers turn their attention on her. When she goes to give him a piece of her mind, she is perplexed, but fascinated by his nonchalant attitude towards just about everything. They wind up falling in love (sort of), get married, but have trouble achieving marital bliss.

The big problem with Little Murders is that many of the dialogue scenes go on for far too long. It was based on a stage play, so the film contains several longwinded monologues that ramble on unchecked. While the majority of them work others fall flat (like the scene with the judge). If you can get through the spotty passages, you’ll be rewarded with some downright hilarious moments.

The scene where Rodd brings Gould home to meet her family is a masterpiece of black comic WTF weirdness. This sequence achieves a surrealistic quality that is almost dreamlike. It’s expertly acted (especially by Vincent Gardenia as Rodd’s uptight father) and the comedic timing is impeccable. The best part though is Donald Sutherland’s extended cameo as a priest who performs their wedding ceremony. Sutherland is amazing in this. He gives an awesome speech about love and marriage that is timelier today than when it was made. If I ever have to renew my vows I might have to crib a line or two from his speech.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles a bit in the third act. The writing tends to be more and more unrestrained as it goes along, particularly the scene with Alan Arkin (who also directed) who plays a crazy cop. Still, the film ends on an absurd, violent, but oddly poignant note, and the final shot is rather sublime.

Little Murders is uneven and flawed to be sure. I bet Arkin could’ve taken a few scenes out here and there and it would’ve tightened things up considerably. Still, the film has a voice that is so irreverent and surreal that it’s hard to resist. I can only imagine how audiences reacted to it when it was released. With the world getting more and more bizarre as each day passes, I think the flick has almost (but not quite) caught up to where we are today. That of course means it’s ripe for rediscovery.

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