The 1980’s found Roger Corman in the same kind of transitional phase that the rest of the b-movie world experienced during this era. The drive-ins were closing, indie distribution channels were getting tighter and ever-rising Hollywood budgets were getting tougher to compete with. As a result, it was getting tougher to get Corman’s kind of cheap yet inventive fare on the big screens, much less marshal decent resources to produce it, and working in his b-movie factory consequently became less of a draw for young filmmakers. The days of producing rising stars like Jonathan Demme and Joe Dante were effectively over and done with.
That said, Corman never found himself wanting for talent to write and direct his movies. A new crop of b-movie maker rose up, the kind who thrived on the challenge of making something out of nothing for the fun of it instead of as a ticket to a bigger career. The poster boy for this style was Jim Wynorski, an aggressively prolific filmmaker who started in New World’s promotional department and quickly segued into writing scripts like Forbidden World and Sorceress. By the time Corman sold off New World and formed Concorde Pictures, Wynorski had become one of his regular directors.
Not Of This Earth is a prototypical example of Wynorski’s “quick & dirty” approach to knocking out a b-movie. Wynorski made a bet with Corman that he could repeat the shooting schedule of Corman’s original version of Not Of This Earth by shooting it in 12 days or less. Wynorski won the bet and dished up a fun cine-quickie in the bargain. Better yet, his inspired gimmick of casting Traci Lords in her first post-porn career role put it over the top and made it a solid video-rental hit.
The plot of this remake sticks close to the Corman original: “Mr. Johnson” (Arthur Roberts) is an alien who has come to Earth from the planet Davanna to see if it suitable for colonization and if human blood can be harvested for a food source. He enlists a nurse named Nadine (Lords) to give him daily blood transfusions while he tries to carry out his mission. Unfortunately for him, Nadine becomes suspicious of Mr. Johnson’s eccentric ways and starts doing some sleuthing with the help of con-turned-chauffeur Jeremy (Lenny Juliano) and her cop boyfriend Harry (a pre-Blind Date Roger Lodge!). Thus, the stage is set for a low-budget battle for the future of mankind, plus some gratuitous nudity and slapstick humor.
Not Of This Earth is the kind of cult flick that is destined to never become a critical favorite because it wears its schlockiness on its sleeve. Wynorski makes no attempt to weave in any social commentary or artsy flourishes, he just cranks the story out as fast as it can logically go and judiciously applies all the bare boobs and cut-rate effects that his budget will allow. His built-for-speed approach to making this film ensures that it has some noticeable ragged edges: the bit roles tend to have amateurish performances (a trio of hookers are bad enough to make you wince) and there are some easy to spot continuity errors and other visual gaffes (note how many times you can see the boom operator or crew in the reflection of Mr. Johnson’s car).
Wynorski also pads the slender running time with borrowed sequences from Humanoids From The Deep and Hollywood Boulevard. Not shots or effects – he lifts an entire scene from each and incorporates it into his film. He also isn’t too careful about how the borrowed footage meshes with his own footage: a cut from an actress in the Humanoids From The Deep scene to a badly-wigged, unconvincing double in the Wynorski footage is guaranteed to raise some unintentional laughs. New World fans will also be able to spot the visual effect shots that other scenes liberally borrow from Galaxy Of Terror.
However, the elements of Not Of This Earth that make a cineaste sneer are likely to make a schlock-fiend smile. Wynorski goes about his job with good cheer and an eye for quality lowbrow fun. He’s also pretty decent with comedy and gets lighthearted performances from the cast to fit the mood: Lords shows enough poise in her first real acting role to get her over the occasional rough spots and Juliano in particular is a scene-stealer, delivering a Bowery Boys-style performance that brings in plenty of laughs.
Most importantly, Not Of This Earth moves with the kind of single-minded purpose that a lot of modern genre fare lacks. Wynorski doesn’t go in for a lot of style but he paces his tale beautifully, making skillful use of wipes to keep the scenes rolling along and never allowing any moment to drag on too long. The end result might not shoot for the aesthetic heights but it is simply too likeably goofy and good-natured to dismiss. Thus, Not Of This Earth is a nice blast of late-1980’s Corman fun and a solid pick for those who want to experience the better side of Concorde’s late-1980’s output.