ALIENATOR: Interstellar Mayhem By The Numbers

By the time Fred Olen Ray made Alienator, he had worked out a basic style for his brand of straight-to-video quickie: assemble a big cast of b-movie names, create a familiar storyline laced with just enough action to kill 90 minutes and get it in the can as quick as possible.  The results of that formula presented here don’t exactly deliver the goods in the way it intends, despite competent visual effects and pyrotechnics.  In fact, it’s the stuff that isn’t supposed to be entertaining that provides the most amusement.

Alienator is your standard cut-rate “aliens fight on Earth” movie, with a few key elements pilfered from The Terminator.  Alien bad guy Kol (Ross Hagen) escapes from a prison ship before its Commander (Jan-Michael Vincent) can execute him.  He flies to earth after a quick zap-gun battle and the Commander retaliates by sending a laser equipped robot weapon to find and kill him.  Said weapon is the title figure and played by female bodybuilder Teagan Clive in an awkward-looking costume of the comic book variety.

However, in true Ray film fashion, there’s a lot of padding for the audience to hack their way through before they get to the good stuff.  Kol lands on earth in a stretch of forest presided over by good-guy ranger Ward Armstrong (John Philip Law).  He runs into a quartet of particularly annoying college kids, including Ray’s then-wife Dawn Wildsmith, and has trouble communicating due to a band around his neck.  Said band is a tracking device that leads in the Alienator, who initially doesn’t care who she kills but eventually comes to respect earthly life (represented by a hilarious scene where she pets a deer).  The story finally culminates in a battle between the Alienator and Kol, who has a few tricks up his sleeve, with the earthlings trapped in the middle.

As with most Fred Olen Ray films, Alienator is the kind of b-movie where the main objective is getting the film finished.  The script gets from point A to point B in the most generic style possible, with a minimum of wit or inspiration and a maximum of brain-numbing “funny” dialogue to pad the slender storyline out.  There’s a competence to how the action is staged – the pyrotechnics and zap-gun effects are pretty good for this budget level – but said action is delivered in sparing doses.  Ray’s direction is indifferent: his workmanlike approach doesn’t take advantage of Gary Graver’s solid cinematography and he can’t get believable performances out of his cast.

In short, Alienator is the kind of film where the concepts and execution are so dull that the only interest is provided by the rough edges.  For instance, the first act of the film takes place mostly in outer space and is of interest because of how ineptly staged it is.  It looks like it was shot in a hastily redressed power station of some sort and boasts some truly awful costumes: poor Ross Hagen is trapped in an outfit that resembles one of the “Pigs In Space” from The Muppet Show and P.J. Soles wears a bizarre, cleavage-focused outfit that makes her look like a stripper from Alpha Centauri.  The laser-gun battles are pretty hilarious, too, with action choreography that suggests it was improvised as quickly as they could set up the camera.

However, the biggest element of unintentional entertainment comes from the casting and performances: as is usual for this era of his filmography, Ray has packed the film with a variety of b-movies names and doesn’t appear to have given them much in the way of guidance.

Thus, everyone seems to be acting in different films: Vincent is visibly drunk as the commander but seems to be amused by the goings-on, Law gives an earnest but dull performance and Hagen shamelessly hams it up at every opportunity (his moments of sensor band-induced pain are particularly hilarious).   The college quartet is totally forgettable but the cameos provide some interest: the most amusing bits include Repo Man vet Fox Harris’s bizarre interpretation of a hillbilly poacher and Robert Quarry as a hard-drinking doctor.  Horror fans should also keep an eye peeled for Day Of The Dead star Joseph Pilato in the early spaceship scenes.

Simply put, Alienator is the kind of disposable b-movie that is designed to be forgotten as quickly as it is watched.  If you must watch it, aim your focus at the bad acting and tacky costumes as they will provide more entertainment than the story itself.

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