This was a film I'd never heard of before, but when I ran across it on IFC, it sounded like my kind of movie. A dark-comedy about an alien invasion, made during the 80's. Unfortunately it's one of those "almost" films, where it's almost a good film, almost a cult-classic, but something is missing. Strange Invaders has a lot of the right ingredients, but it was thrown together a little sloppily, cooked at too high a temperature, so the final product isn't totally appealing.
The film starts in 1955, in a small town in Illinois. There's a young couple making out in a truck, when unseen to them a large spaceship lands near town. When the boy goes home, there are some strange lights, a creepy shadow of a hand, a scream, and the film cuts to 1983, New York City. Charles is hanging out at home, when his ex-wife and daughter show up. His ex asks him to watch their kid, while she goes home for a few days to help her mother. When she doesn't come back for a couple of weeks, and he can't get a hold of her, he begins to seriously worry. He leaves his daughter with grandma, and drives out to the same small town we saw at the beginning of the film.
Everything still looks very 1950's. But that's the least of Charles worries, when he starts to ask around town, nobody has ever heard of his wife or her family. This seems extremely strange in a town so small. He's about to leave town, when his car breaks down. He stops for a bite to eat, when suddenly there's a laser blast and his car is blown up, and there's a mob outside the restaurant looking very menacing. He does the sensible thing and jumps out the back window, stealing a car from the lot, and begins to tear out of town. On his way out, he catches a glimpse of what looks like an alien, who shoots some kind of death ray, from his face no less, at him as he speeds away, only catching the tail of his car. This is one of the best scenes in the film, and a good set-up for what I hoped would be a fun flick the rest of the way.
When Charles gets back to New York, he tries to get the government involved, but of course nobody believes him, writing him off as a nut-case. That's when he sees a photo in a cheesy tabloid of an alien that looks very much like the one he saw. He visits the paper, where he meets Betty, played by 80's hottie Nancy Allen, who after her own run-in with some weird alien activity believes Chuck's story. Soon they have a gaggle of aliens chasing them through the city, trying to stop their story from getting out any further. Mostly the aliens keep their human disguises, but when they do reveal themselves, the effects are pretty well done.
When the film takes a turn towards a more modern, alien-action-chase, the movie kind of falls apart. They lose most of the comedy that was keeping the film lively, and the filmmaking isn't exciting enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, the way they intended. By this point it's pretty obvious what truly happened to Charles ex-wife, so the film loses the mystery long before the truth is revealed, leaving the ending fairly anti-climatic.
The first half of the film is a throw back to the old sci-fi films of the 1950's. A nice tone is set between loving tribute and straight-up spoof. I thought I was getting into a forgotten cult-classic, but the second half ruins it. It's not terrible, mostly it's the tonal change from spoof to "intense" chase thriller, that didn't work for me. I liked the lead actors; Nancy Allen is always cute on the run. And it was cool to see Paul Le Mat, best known as John Milner from American Graffiti, get a lead role, he has some good leading-man charisma. The sci-fi effects for a low-budget 80's film are fairly well done, the filmmakers knew what they could and couldn't do, so they use them effectively. Strange Invaders might be worth seeing if you're into dark-comedies and/or 1950's alien invasion films. - Grade: C (Seen on 6/4/08)