|Submitted by Iain McLachlan |
(May 26, 2004)
ALIEN 2 – SULLA TERRA
Alternate Titles: ALIEN 2; ALIEN 2: ON EARTH; ALIEN 2 – WITHIN THE EARTH; ALIEN TERROR; THE STRANGERS.
RT: 92 mins
Pro Co: GPS Cinematografica.
Dir/Pro/Wr: Sam Cromwell (=Ciro Ippolito);
Exec Pros: Angiolo Stella, Ciro Ippolito.
Phot: Silvio Fraschetti;
Film Ed: Carlo Broglio;
Mus: The Oliver Onions (=Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis);
Pro Des: Angelo Mattei, Mario Molli.
SFX: Donald Patterly;
Make-Up: Lamberto Marini.
Speleological Consult: Simone Pinto.
Cast: Belinda Mayne, Mark Bodin, Robert Barrese, Benny Aldrich, Michael Shaw (=Michele Soavi), Judy Perrin, Don Parkinson, Claudia Falanga.
Commercial Italian filmmakers are seen as much more entrepreneurial than their counterparts in other countries, with the possible exception of some in the Far East, especially in their ability to adapt to and exploit market trends.
Loopholes in Italian (and other European nations’) copyright conventions during the 1970s and 1980s were readily taken advantage of by some of the industry’s more audacious producers. This lead to situations where certain movies would adopt titles implying that they were direct sequels to whatever the latest Hollywood success was. Among the more notable examples of this was Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (79) which purported be to a follow-up to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (78), retitled by its Italian co-production partners as Zombi in a number of markets.
Equally audacious was this independently mounted production from actor (Flavia, la Monaca Musulmana 74) turned filmmaker Ciron Ippolito that debuted in Europe mere months after its inspiration, Ridley Scott’s Alien (79).
As the world awaits the return of two astronauts from a deep space mission, a speleologist and her boyfriend make their way to a TV station to taken part in a programme, for which she is late. She arrives just in time to be interviewed by the show’s host. Midway through she becomes unwell, forcing the show to be abandoned. It turns out that the woman, called Thelma, is psychic and has experienced such episodes before. As she makes her way from the TV studio to meet up with her friends from the caving club, the spacecraft splashes down in the ocean and is met by a navy helicopter. Thelma travels to the coast and meets her professor who advises her that she should just learn to live with the strange sensations that she experiences. She and her boyfriend then go to a bowling alley where they meet the rest of the group. After winning some money on a series of bets, the group leave for an expedition to some caves in Colorado. On they way one of them stops to pick some candles and Thelma decides to take the opportunity to grab some fresh air. She walks down to the beach and is almost immediately overcome with a sense of great fear regarding a young girl playing nearby. She is led away by her boyfriend and they continue their journey. The child notices a strange pulsating rock lying in a pool. Shortly after, she goes missing and her mother frantically searches for her. She discovers her crying in another part of the beach and is horrified to discover a terrible wound on her face. On the way to their destination, the cavers hear a radio bulletin in which it is claimed that after the astronauts returned to Earth, their craft was found to be empty. Reaching the area near the caves they intend to explorer, the group make preparations to begin the expedition. One of them discovers some strange rocks lying on the ground and picks one up. He later gives it to Thelma as a present. She puts it in her rucksack…
Probably the most interesting feature of Ciro Ippolito’s Alien 2 – Sulla Terra is that, like Ridley Scott’s film it owes a lot to genre movie-making of the 1950s. However, whereas Scott (and many of his subsequent imitators) used Hollywood sci-fi productions as his model, Ippolito introduces elements from British science fiction works from the same period.
The most obvious influence on Ippolito appears to be Val Guest’s Hammer production Quatermass II (57), adapted from Nigel Kneale’s BBC serial of the same name. There, part of an alien invasion involved alien spores erupting from hollowed out stones that arrived on the planet during a meteor shower. The spores enter the human host and control it on behalf of an alien hive mind. In the case of this film, the creatures that are contained within the strange blue stones seen scattered around on the ground do appear to take control of their victim’s bodies, at least for a while, but the ultimate aim appears to be their destruction.
The fact that the appearance of the stones is linked to the returned space mission, in particular the mysterious disappearance of the crew, meanwhile, suggests an allusion to Guest’s adaptation of the original Keale work The Qautermass Xperiment (55).
Another major influence on this film is Quentin Laurence’s The Trollenberg Terror (58), another adaptation of a TV serial (this time written by Peter Key for ATV). Although the locale for that movie is somewhat different from the one in Ippolito’s production, being set mostly on an Austrian mountain rather than a network of caves, there are common elements including death by decapitation and an eerie encounter with a reanimated corpse. The similarities between the two pictures are underlined by the presence of Anglo-German actress Belinda Mayne (Don’t Open ‘Till Christmas 84) as a telepath who develops a psychic link with the aliens, echoing Janet Munro’s character in the 1958 work.
Among other productions which may have had a bearing on Ippolito are Ranald MacDougall’s post-apocalyptic The World, the Flesh and the Devil (59), with Harry Belafonte emerging from a cave to find the world has changed dramatically in his absence, and the worm-like parasites, which the aliens sometimes appear as, taken from David Cronenberg’s Shivers (74).
While the presence of these varied influences does prove interesting, mainly in retrospect, the movie itself is revealed to have all the hallmarks of a quickly and cheaply shot opportunist production.
Even when compared to the bargain bin end of Italian exploitation filmmaking, the production values for Alien 2 – Sulla Terra are threadbare, particularly in the first third of the plot. Here the biggest liability the drab, unattractive cinematography used for interior sequences such as those in the TV studio and bowling alley, the latter of which also features distractingly shaky handheld camerawork.
Overlit exterior scenes make the unique San Diego locations seem totally anonymous and uninteresting, despite the settings obviously having potential, especially as this is an Italian crew working in an unfamiliar foreign land. Even worse is the treatment of the, in other hands, quite startling site near to where the cavers plan to explore, featuring bizarre rock formations scattered around the place. Rather than possessing the otherworldly quality that it should it, the locale has all the resonance of a building site.
The inept technical quality of this portion of the film, together with the director’s penchant for featuring very long takes of completely irrelevant scenes, may remind some viewers of outtakes from a documentary about caving.
Production design and location set dressing are also inept, notably the cheap looking TV studio (apparently manned by five personnel and a director) and building interiors, while the grotty mismatched stock footage used to pad out the picture underlines how desperate the whole enterprise is.
The tackiness of the synth/electric guitar score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (I Predatore di Atlantide 83) is underlined by its slavish imitation of regular Dario Argento collaborators Goblin (Contamination 81) along with the presence of two dire country/folk songs.
Matters are not helped by director Ciro Ippolito’s screenplay which suffers from a variety of deficiencies including excessive padding, utterly banal dialogue (even in the original Italian prints) and serious plot holes. Among the latter are missing details about the purpose of the space mission, their mysterious disappearance and that event’s connection with the strange stones that have suddenly appeared on the planet.
Although many reviewers have stated that the stones are the results of a meteor shower, this is mainly conjecture since the issue is never directly addressed in the film. Neither is the purpose of the aliens contained within the stones; initially it seems that they take over their human hosts for some purpose, but ultimately their aim seems to be to gorily destroy them and anyone else within striking distance.
In fact, as written by Ippolito, much of the mechanics of the plot are left wide open to interpretation, their being implied, under-explained or just ignored completely with the audience required to fill in any gaps itself. In an early draft of the script it seems possible that most of the events portrayed were in fact the result of a psychotic or delusional episode experienced by the hypersensitive heroine (as suggested by some of the dialogue). However, the appearance of the end title card bearing the legend, “You Could Be Next!” scuppers this intriguing notion.
When the group finally descend into the network of caves they intend to explore, the film veers off into “stalk’n’slash” territory, with the cavers running through tunnels and caverns to escape some physical threat (monsters instead of a deformed guy in a mask) and doing the really stupid things associated with the worst clichés of that particular type of movie. Thus, pairs of characters split up, even it will obviously increase the danger they are in, especially as they do not inform their partners where they are going or what they are doing and vital pieces of equipment are thrown away. At one point, a member of the team (Michele Soavi, Paura nella Citta dei Morti Viventi 80) lights up two candles and starts typing in a cavern likely to be full of methane.
What will really harm the film in most people’s eyes is the lack of actually physical confrontation between the heroine and the lead alien creature expected at the climax of the film. Here the lack of resources for the production becomes very evident. When the heroine and her boyfriend (Mark Bodin, Anthropophagous 80) finally escape from the caves, they make it back to civilisation only to find San Diego devoid of any life. Returning to the bowling alley where their friends were, the boyfriend disappears from the film, apparently a victim of the aliens. The girl is then terrified by the presence of some sort of lifeform that the viewer is only allowed to glimpse of part of. All scenes involving the marauding creatures are shot from inside a very vaginal opening in the beasts’ bodies with no shots of what is actually being reacted to. In other circumstances this might seem an innovative way of overcoming the paucity of the production’s resources but here it merely underlines how cheap the whole venture is.
The picture ends with an hysterical lead character screaming at the camera in a deserted city (very reminiscent of Boris Sagal’s The Omega Man 71), suggesting either the makers ran out of money or had not idea how to end the story properly. Of course another explanation could be that the finale could be a remnant from the suggested alternative concept that this is the culmination of the heroine’s emotional and psychological collapse.
Although its shortcomings are formidable, Alien 2 – Sulla Terra is not without its merits.
Once the group enter the caves in Colorado, things begin to look up regarding most aspects of the production. Ciro Ippolito and cinematographer Silvio Frashcetti (La Guerra dei Robot 78) inject some style into the proceedings such as where the pitch black of the caverns is broken by the lights on the helmets of the cavers, usually seen in some from of creative formation or individually seen lowing themselves into the cave floor and appearing as both startling and eerie. Also of note is the use by Ippoliti and editor Carlo Broglio (La Bestia nello Spazio 78) of creative jump cutting as illustrated by a camera flash transforming into a lamp and the attack one of the characters becoming the photograph of another character in an ambiguous pose.
The location itself, the Castellana Grotte in Italy is atmospherically photographed, bringing out the general weirdness of this unique place with its bizarre colour schemes and eccentric rock formations. The Grotte is backed up by convincing studio recreations created at Cinecitta by production designers Angelo Mattei (Demoni 85) and Mario Molli (Death Train 89). Even the hand-held camerawork (here more controlled than in other scenes) adds to the overall feel of the film, occasionally lending it a documentary quality.
While still marred by inane exposition and excessive padding, the makers still manage to create a few tense moments. The best of these has the group rush to another part of the caves to find their friend who, according to a hysterical heroine, was caught by one of the exploding rocks and fell into a well. Supposedly badly injured, they discover her apparently unharmed and use a stretcher to lift her, agonisingly slowly, onto a ledge to take her to safety. Once on the ledge Silvio Fraschetti’s camera begins a long pan across her prostate body to rest on her face, now beginning to change. Featuring one of the few effective pieces of music from the De Angelis brothers, this is a well-executed suspense sequence that makes it all the more regrettable that the majority of the rest of the film is so weak.
The sequences featuring the two survivors’ escape from the cave and back to what they believe is the sanctuary of the city have a delirious quality about them which is neatly underlined by the Silvio Frashcetti’s cinematography which, unlike earlier in the film, actually makes the Californian locations look surprisingly otherworldly. The delirious nature of these scenes is emphasised by the handheld camerawork that worked against the film in the first act, but here illustrates the unpredictability and instability of the environment the characters have now inherited.
Unable to compete with its bigger budgeted contemporaries in Hollywood and the UK, and indeed Italy itself, in terms of optical and mechanical special effects, Alien 2 – Sulla Terra opts to go the route pioneered by trash filmmakers like Herschel Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast 63) and Andy Milligan (Legacy of Blood 78) and concentrate on gross-out splatter effects.
On this level, the film largely succeeds with effects work by Donald Patterly including gaping facial wounds, eyeball violence (including aliens bursting out of sockets and propelling orbs through the air) and lashing of paint-like blood. The most impressive single effect is probably a spectacular pre-Scanners (80) exploding head, whereupon an alien parasite makes it way out of the bloody stump that was once the victim’s neck. Coming a close second is the decapitation of a caver in which the skull is sliced off the body and falls to the ground, windpipe and part of the spinal cord still attached.
If any of the above fails to hold the casual viewer’s attention, leading lady Belinda Mayne does appear topless on two occasions. Mainly as a result of her rather attractive breasts’ performance in this movie, Mayne has become something of a favourite on celebrity nude sites.
The size and species of the alien creatures themselves tend to change from scene to scene, sometimes resembling piranha fish, the Carlo Rambaldi/Roger Dicken miniature creature that erupts from John Hurt in Alien, long eels or tentacles. On several occasions they have been obscured by copious amounts of stage blood, probably to disguise their technical shortcomings.
Ultimately, Ciro Ippolito’s effort remains a testament to blatant opportunism, the use of outrageous gore and inept low-budget filmmaking.
Cast member Michele Soavi was also working as a crew member on other productions during the same period, especially for filmmakers Dario Argento (Tenebre 82) and Aristide Massacessi (Ator L’Invincible 83), the latter of which gave him his first directorial assignment, the highly-regarded giallo Deliria/Stagefright (87). Soavi’s subsequent directorial credits include La Setta (91) and Dellamorte Dellamore (94).
©Iain McLachlan 2004
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