SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

'STRANDED' (2013) ~ Christian Slater gets a nasty case of alien spores . . . it's either kill or conceive, on a really bad day on the moon!

*There are some major plot spoilers masquerading as alien mould spores in the review below ~ Watch before reading!*
Well, I finally caught up with Christian Slater's most recent 'sci-fi' 'horror' 'thriller' STRANDED last night, only for the evening to end in some disappointment - this could have been my new favourite best bad movie ever (a title overtaken by numerous other best bad movies since watching 1959's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE  as a teenager - a film that first tickled my now well-developed terrible taste buds) if it didn't have such an unfortunate dullness in the middle. But before that, it was hilarious!
Slater's moon-based ore mining corporation (or something!) colonel kept barking random orders mid-meteorite attack on their 'Lunar Base Ark' in the film's opening scenes, but then said over the comlink; unexpectedly indecisively; mid-existential crisis: "Shall we abandon the mission? What do you think?" to the rest of the crew, almost as if this was a BDSM safeword to fellow cast to quit the whole damn thing having just seen the cheapness of the lunar base models (much like overturned egg boxes from Blue Peter). This scene (in fact - whole movie) deserves a 'quote and response' night at the Prince Charles cinema in London:

"Should we abandon the mission? What do you think?"
"We don't know," we could shout back to Slater's indecision. "What do you think?"
Imagine Captain Kirk acting like that. . .

Scotty: "Captain, if we don't get out of this Thiridian space web in ten minutes, the engines are gonna blow. What do we do?"
Kirk: "I don't know. What would you do?"
The funniest moment of all though in STRANDED is when a female crew member gets infected by alien spores from a meteorite that crashes into their base and grows a seriously huge pregnant tummy in under 12 hours. Having previously been super-skinny, she's now suddenly ready to give birth.

I'm recounting all these quotes from memory as I'm not actually ready to watch the film a second time just yet to check (I only - heh! - watched this one for fun, and felt the urge to tell you about it) but Slater looks at another male crew member jealously as the only woman on the base goes into labour and says words to the effect of: "Have you, and her, been...?" "Nah," says the other crew member, "Don't be stupid."
Slater, listen to me - do you really think a 12 hour pregnancy is the result of a quick cabin fling between two of your crew members?!! OK, Norman J Warren's INSEMINOID (1981) pulled that idea off well (in that I could easily believe that lovely Judy Geeson was really impregnated with alien space junk) but STRANDED is pulling nothing off and getting away with it. And it knows it!
Oh, and then there's the 'THE EVEN FUNNIER THAN THE PREVIOUSLY FUNNIEST MOMENT': a crew member is being bitten on the leg by a miniature alien (like the one teenage Robin gave birth to in cult TV series 'V') and Slater won't turn his back to look, despite all the screaming. Crew member: "Something's biting me!" Slater: "No, it's just your imagination." Crew member, thirty seconds later: (showing the 'not as young as he was in THE NAME OF THE ROSE - but still dumb' Slater his now bloody, chewed-up leg) "Look, I told you it was biting me!" Slater: "You must have cut yourself on some glass." Oh my god, the film at this point reaches new heights of hilarious! 
Then it all gets pretty boring in the middle but redeems its sorry ass by going plain certifiably mad (but also quite brilliant and unexpected, in a sudden, hurried change of mood and location - out of the gloom and into the sunlight - kind of way, that's weirdly effective and gives the film a sudden sense of space and perspective and even adds a touch of, my god; inter-planetary grandeur) at the end as the alien lands on Earth in the woods and goes into hiding in a barn. OK, more exciting than it may read like in print. Slater's face on an army vehicle's communication screen in hot pursuit up in space shouting: "Don't let anything get out of the shuttle," is pure camp. Stop the bloody alien baby before it .. Oh dear, too late! The film ends on a clear set-up for a sequel. This is a threat. But I'd love there to be one.
Christian Slater plays the underwritten role of Colonel Brauchman with a sly knowing twinkle in his eye, but never backs down (even when talking into a communicator device that, rumour has it, was actually an LED bedtime book-reading light, the kind you get at the local pound shop for 50p) - hey, it's work isn't it? Also, he was apparently a rallying presence on set for other cast members, cheering everyone up and being the one thing keeping them all going (except for the promise of getting paid for the humiliation of pretending to be bitten on the leg by an alien space troll). I can't wait to see Slater in a supporting role in Lars Von Trier's imminent orgasmic opus NYMPHOMANIAC, he's a fantastic actor and deserves to be back on bigger screens than the TV kind that greeted STRANDED.
Amy Matysio (better known for her comedy work) is probably too good in her role as crew member Ava to be in this movie; she's cute, tough, delirious and suitably freaked, usually while lounging on the same lab bed giving birth and recovering from the trauma of doing so for an hour and a bit (and oh boy, is that a scene to behold when the baby finally slithers quickly out of her 'exit all areas' in the fastest birth in the galaxy, then presumably cuts its own umbilical cord - that looks more like the kind of rope used in a tug-of-war competition, before running out of the room). No actress has made a hospital gown look so unexpectedly ravishing while giving birth to an alien since Judy Geeson didn't wear one.
JUDY GEESON wishes she'd gone private in INSEMINOID!
Of the remaining four crew members, Michael Therriault is great as weirdo loner Bruce Johns, the man who refuses to wear a uniform and shuffles around base like an alcoholic washed-up stand-up, dying to give us his best shot at one last great joke to make us laugh but feeling too depressed to do so after realising it's crap. Later on, Bruce gets all evil on us, but he's still kind of cute and shuffly and looks like he'd rather paint us, write a poem about us (or to Hell with it - tell us a great gag he knows) before eating our intestines and turning us into space mould (just remembered - that alien mould from the start of the movie that keeps on growing in a sealed observation room in the lab and that looks like cat sick; it must be bigger than a vat of estuary effluence by now!).
Brendan Fehr looks like a catalogue model but is actually Dr Lance Krauss and I'll say this much for him - I did really believe in his skills as a doctor, especially when Slater bangs his head and the doctor gives him an ice pack to feel better with while an alien runs around base trying to eat the remaining crew; all three of them. Two of whom are in the medical lab dealing headache tablets.
Director Roger Christian (who always comes across as a genuinely 'nice guy', as they say, full of wild mane-like hair and beard - and enthusiastic about movies) won an Academy Award for set direction on the original STAR WARS (Episode IV: A New Hope) which could explain why there's a lot of scenes of STAR WARS-replicated holograms in STRANDED that fizzle and crackle just like the one that R2-D2 projected of Princess Leia. Even the end credits do this trademark hologram shuffle. Talk about milking this cow's teats too many times!
But I have a fondness for the oft-shamed, but still brilliantly offbeat  Christian, who has kept on filming in the sci-fi genre he loves, because his movies are so often indisputably packed with fun-packed, big fat ideas and because he brings something a little bit different (occasionally 'off the goddam radar'-different and a great success but equally often brave and spectacular failures, usually within the same movie) to his work. Still, theoretically, that's the same with many film auteurs out there, but the rest of this sentence, directly comparing auteur status with STRANDED may be best to reflect upon before attempting, if I ever want to write in Hollywood again!
Roger Christian has also had one F.U ride of a career - not only did he  win an Academy Award for Set/ Art Direction for STAR WARS but he was nominated in the same category for his revolutionary cluttery design work in ALIEN, his short film THE DOLLAR BOTTOM (1981) also won a BAFTA and his 1982 horror THE SENDER was named by Quentin Tarantino no less as his favourite movie of that year.
Often things get a bit too bonkers in a Roger Christian movie and some of his more critically shredded work, most famously John Travolta's tragic BATTLEFIELD EARTH, are kept alive only because so many film fans see them as easily the worst movies ever made, sci-fi or otherwise. I guess that counts for something. His next movie: PRISONERS OF THE SUN, recently completed filming and has a lost city being discovered underneath a pyramid where angry Egyptian gods are ready to end the world as we know it. It stars Joss Ackland, John Rhys- Davies, Nick Moran and Shane Ritchie from EastEnders. To some of you, that may sound like Hell on Earth. Others know different!
I thought I would die of boredom at times during Stranded while at other times I wanted to stand up and friggin' cheer. I guess that's what the best 'bad' movies do to you. STRANDED - it's not great, but it's (almost) as great as TROLL 2!

Words: Mark Gordon

The DVD/ Blu-ray of STRANDED is now available from SIGNATURE ENTERTAINMENT!

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