MAY 13, 2010
After yesterday’s Blood Monkey, I wasn’t expecting to dip into the Maneater pile again so soon, but that’s just how things work out sometimes. I had picked a different movie for the day (Suicide Girls Must Die), only to discover that my screener copy was just a ten minute preview. So I grabbed the next title on the screener pile, which happened to be High Plains Invaders, which is essentially a standard western but with aliens that look ripped off from War of the Worlds (maybe that’s why they weren’t on the cover - the studio might be afraid that they’d get lumped in with the Asylum’s WotW knockoff).
Like Sea Beast (and Carny, which I just discovered was also a Maneater production), the movie is basically OK, with just enough effort to keep it above a lot of its Syfy brethren. So maybe Blood Monkey was the fluke? Are all of their movies kind of OK? Any Maneater experts reading this? Which do you recommend?
Anyway, what makes this one kind of work is that the characters are all adults, and no one is trying to be funny. You hear “aliens in the old west” and you think camp, but it’s played fairly straight. Even James Marsters, who was a comic delight on Buffy and Angel, is pretty humorless. There is a slight sense of fun to the proceedings, particularly in the scenes revolving around Sanny Van Heteren's character, a female bounty hunter, but it’s hardly the alien version of Undead or Alive or whatever.
I also liked that there were no obvious fodder characters, and that other than the two obvious survivors (which is a term I guess I shouldn’t use after Blood Monkey, though here they play it safe and let the two leads survive), I was never sure who would die next. A character I thought for sure would be one of the last to go actually died first. And there were some decent character shifts - the would-be evil corporate guy, who seemingly knows about the aliens’ existence, turns out to be a very helpful ally, and the bounty hunter, who wants to collect the reward on Marsters, turns out to be even more of a jerk, instead of eventually siding with him against their common enemy.
I just wish that they had a little more balls with Marsters’ character. Near the end of the film, we find out that he’s actually more or less innocent of the crimes he’s been accused of. Remember Pitch Black? Part of what made that movie awesome was that Riddick was a murderer and all of the other things he was in prison for. And that was a decent sized budget theatrical film! I don’t see why these DTV movie writers can’t be a little more daring - they don’t have to worry about hitting every target demographic and Cinemascore and all that other shit. Especially when you have an actor that genre fans love. Maybe they felt it would be a bit too familiar to have Marsters play yet another villain turned hero, but I’d take familiarity with relation to the actor over familiarity with relation to the hero character in 569 other movies.
It also gets a bit slow at times, particularly in the third act, where the human conflicts seem to overshadow the aliens. I know the budget wasn’t particularly high, but it seems like the aliens are constantly walking down the same part of the street and then burrowing into the ground. I can’t recall if we ever see more than one on-screen at once, either. And they have these giant whip tail things that are never used much, even though I would think it would be cheaper to utilize them, as all they’d have to do is make a tail out of the usual foam and latex and such, and then use close-ups to have it smashing through walls and knocking characters aside.
Also, the characters never seem to learn that shooting at it is a bad idea. Not only does it almost never work (near the very end they finally find a weak spot to shoot at), but it also results in the death of one of the heroes, since the alien’s hard shell just causes the bullets to ricochet. All I could think of was Prince of Space, with the Prince constantly telling Krankor that his weapons were ineffectual, only for Krankor to order his men to fire at him yet again. Granted, it eventually works, but it fails so many times before that, I started looking at all of the characters like idiots.
The editing could be better too. It seems like the entire town just disappears, as does a fairly significant character, who then reappears just as unceremoniously a while later, right about the time most audiences would have completely forgotten he existed. There’s also a scene where a few of the protagonists try to head out of town on a wagon, only to return moments later. Everyone knows why, and reacts accordingly, but it’s several shots and seconds before we understand what has happened (an alien has blocked their way). Like Feast, I suspect that they never had time or money to shoot everything in the script (or simply had a really shitty script supervisor), and thus ended up missing some crucial cutaways and master shots that would help make certain scenes a lot easier to follow.
But it’s still an above average time-waster. Other than the shooting stuff I never got mad at the movie, and I was never bored throughout its running time. And I liked the characters (even the sort of villainous ones), which after yesterday’s movie (and the 10 min of Suicide Girls nonsense I endured), is something of a godsend. Like a lot of things tend to do, it reminded me of an "Onion" article, where a basketball player prospect was praised for being a decent human being instead of a complete piece of shit like most NBA players. Likewise, I was surprised with this movie because, for a change, the characters weren’t repulsive or moronic. Let’s make “likeable characters” the next trend in horror movies!
What say you?