Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Intruder Within (1981): ALIEN drills for oil on TV

I don't know if any of you have ever seen this one movie called "ALIEN"? It was about these blue collar space travelers who were towing a bunch of raw mineral ore back to Earth after mining it from deep space.  Well, along the way they picked up a distress signal...oh, you've heard of this movie before?  Well so have the people who made today's groovy movie "The Intruder Within", which was broadcast on TV in 1981, not too too long after "ALIEN" made a zillion dollars at the box office.  The makers of "The Intruder Within" were definitely out to steal a little of Ridley Scott's thunder.  Actually, the Italians had already made their own "ALIEN" ripoff called "Alien 2: Sulla Terra", about which I will say very little here.  "The Intruder Within" does a slightly better job at creating an actual film out of the material, as opposed to "Alien 2", which seemed designed to create a loosely constructed movie where the title alone could be expected to rake in some money in theaters. 

But whereas "Alien 2" had only the vaguest connection to Ridley Scott's film, "The Intruder Within" makes me feel like if they got ahold of the script of "ALIEN", made a few changes with a red pen, and filmed their movie.  They changed the setting from outer space to an oil rig in the middle of the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica. After some exposition where a young roughneck has a dream that everyone's going to die, we learn that the medical officer on board the rig was hastily replaced by the company (!). Not long after, the oil drill, which has been digging at depths "never before reached", dredges up a series of objects that resemble eggs (!!).  There's also a wormy thing with teeth (!!!) that bites a crew member, who then promptly dies.  Someone touches one of the eggs and gets cut by it; he then goes suicidally crazy.  The sketchy medical officer suspects that the objects are eggs containing an unknown life form (!!!!), and he's willing to risk the lives of the crew members in order to see what happens when the eggs hatch.  After he isolates the eggs in a locked box, one hatches and BURSTS (!!!!!) out of the box, attacking a guy cleaning the lab.  Shortly thereafter, he awakens and suddenly wants to mate with every female on board.  He rapes one unfortunate woman, who languishes a while before an adult creature rips itself out of her body (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).  It goes on a rampage that you will most likely find way too short compared to the length of time you waited for it to happen.  Even with so many plot similarities, the movie goes further and recycles some of the actual characters from "ALIEN"; I noticed parallels to Dallas, Lambert, and Parker, and there was a whole crew of Bretts.
"No, my name is NOT Dallas."
"The Intruder Within" may not be all that original, but it has doomy atmosphere in every frame.  Considering it's so similar to another film, it has a gritty life of it own after it gets going.  The claustrophobic location of the oil rig helps a lot, but so does the camerawork, which frames things in the smallish television ratio. The special effects aren't going to win anybody any awards, unless there's an award on how to make something out of so little.  I can only imagine that the budget on this was miniscule, and with that in mind, it doesn't turn out half bad.  The smallish creatures are the main problem, as they're clearly puppets and difficult to animate.  The inevitable "birthing" scene would have been impossible to show on television, and it plays out in shadows on a wall.  Although the monster suit is unconvincing, there's a certain level of creepiness to it as well, not in what it looks like, but what it sounds like: a bizarre, burping gargle followed by a deep, threatening rumble.  Once the creature starts walking the ship, the director uses point-of-view tracking shots of the creature roaming the deserted hallways, gurgling to itself.  It's weird.

There's something enjoyable about watching a ripoff film like this, and it's interesting to see the ways someone tried to creatively reimagine "ALIEN" into a TV movie.  The body count is also surprisingly high, although none of the deaths are terrifying or spectacular.  Despite being broadcast in 1981, the spirit of the 70s still hangs over it.  I recommend it to anybody who's a geek for "ALIEN", or just plain sketchy sci-fi/horror flicks. 

"I know I've seen something like this thing before, but where? WHERE?"