Alienator (1989) -***
Alienator— it’s kind of like Alien, kind of like The Terminator. Except, you know, really, really bad. It’s also an aptly named movie, in that, if you watch it in the wrong frame of mind, the experience is likely to alienate you from the works of director Fred Olen Ray for all the rest of your days. Watch it in the right frame of mind, though (the intoxicant of your choice would probably help), and you’re going to need fucking diapers. It’s that funny.
For one thing, Alienator plays like Ray set out to make one movie, realized it was going to be too expensive, and then decided to make another movie instead, stubbornly insisting on using the footage from the first movie despite the fact that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the project as it now stood. And who knows, that may very well be what happened—Al Adamson did it all the time, so why not? Alienator begins in an extraterrestrial maximum security prison (the silhouette of which, by the way, is dominated by a pair of geodesic domes that are obviously soccer balls painted brownish gray!), where an interplanetary terrorist named Kol (Ross Hagen, from Angel’s Wild Women and The Sidehackers) is being held on death row. The prison commander (Jan Michael Vincent, of “Airwolf” fame, most of whose career has actually been spent on stuff like Damnation Alley and, well, Alienator) is really looking forward to throwing the disintegration switch (or, more to the point, telling his sidekick, Orrie [Dollman’s Dyana Ortelli, wearing the movie’s second most ridiculous costume], to throw the disintegration switch) on Kol, but he has a slight problem, in that Delegate General Lund (Robert Clarke, of The Hideous Sun Demon and The Astounding She-Monster, who appears to have been cast on the strength of his pronounced physical resemblance to James Doohan, whom Fred Olen Ray would never be able to afford) has arrived unannounced to inspect the prison. This doesn’t just mean that the commander will have to spend his time babysitting a politician when he’d rather be executing felons; it means that the commander will have to spend his time babysitting a death penalty abolitionist politician when he’d rather be executing felons. It also means distractions, and one of those distractions will lead to Kol’s escape from the prison planet in a spaceship cobbled together from parts taken from a remarkably diverse array of plastic model kits (of which the tail fin from a 1:100-scale kit of the space shuttle is only the most easily recognizable).
Having escaped from the big house, Kol does what fugitives from maximum security prison planets always do, and makes a beeline for Earth. He ditches his spacecraft in the woods somewhere (in what is unquestionably the worst forced-perspective shot I’ve ever seen), and then spends who knows how long staggering around the countryside choking on and struggling with the homing device collar wrapped around his neck. (What, you mean they don’t have explosive collars that blow the heads off escapees when they travel a certain distance from prison headquarters? What kind of sorry-ass prison planet is this, anyway?!)
Meanwhile, four young idiots are tooling around in a Winnebago, seemingly headed nowhere in particular. This is our first indication that our man Freddy has decided to scale back his sci-fi adventure film to the more manageable proportions of a spam-in-a-cabin flick. Driving the Winnebago (driving it drunk, I might add) is Rick (Richard Wiley, of Deep Space). He is, quite obviously, the designated asshole. Accompanying him are his girlfriend, Caroline (P. J. Soles, from Carrie and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), obligatory nerd Benny (Jesse Dabson, also of Deep Space, though he at least has one halfway consequential movie to his credit: Death Wish 4: The Crackdown), and a second girl named Tara (Dawn Wildsmith, from Surf Nazis Must Die and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers). These people are connected to what we have thus far seen by only the thinnest of threads: they run over Kol when he staggers onto the road in front of them.
Now, we have on our hands a movie set out in the country somewhere, so naturally, we’re going to need a couple of hillbillies in our dramatis personae. Fred Olen Ray provides them for us in the form of Harley (Hoke Howell, from Slaughter’s Big Rip Off and Bikini Hoe-Down) and his brother, Burt (Fox Harris, from Forbidden World and Repo Man, to whose memory Alienator is dedicated). We meet these two bumpkins on a poaching trip in the wildlife preserve where most of the movie’s action will take place. Their illegal hunting and trapping is interrupted by the arrival on the scene of park ranger Ward Armstrong (John Phillip Law, from Barbarella and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad— Fred Olen Ray certainly is the man with the has-beens...), the closest thing to a reasonable, intelligent person this movie has to offer. Armstrong sends the two rednecks on their way, and then returns to his cabin just in time to meet up with the Winnebago Idiots, who have brought Kol in to have his injuries tended to.
And now, finally, some 35 minutes into the film, we are at last clued in on what it’s going to be about. Kol tells his “rescuers” that he is a fugitive from a far-off prison planet, and that his captors are sure to come looking for him, drawn by the transmitter around his neck. When they catch up to him, the space cops will in all probability send an Alienator to collect him. This killer android will then destroy everything in its path until it catches and kills Kol. Sound familiar? Naturally, nobody but Benny believes this story, and Armstrong gets on the phone to summon drunk-ass Dr. Burnside (Robert Quarry, of the Count Yorga movies— again with the has-beens!) to take care of the injured alien.
It’s Burnside who first encounters the Alienator (Teagan Clive, from Vice Academy, Part II and Interzone). Oh sweet Jesus. Only in a Fred Olen Ray movie would an invincible android killing machine take the form of a woman with the build of an ex-wrestler (and yes, Teagan Clive really is a woman, though I somehow suspect she may not always have been), wearing a thong bikini made out of silver lamé and auto parts, and a gigantic white wig best suited to the head of an early-80’s new wave band’s lead singer. The Alienator (whose presence, I almost forgot to mention, causes all electrical and mechanical devices to cease functioning, a la The Day the Earth Stood Still) sets her ray gun to “flambé,” and blasts Dr. Burnside, whose name has just become one of this movie’s worse puns.
And this is the vein in which Alienator goes on for the next 40 minutes or so. The android attacks Armstrong’s cabin (where we learn that her death ray, though powerful enough to disintegrate a station wagon, can be stopped by a galvanized steel trash can), chases our heroes through the forest for a while, kills both of the bumpkins when they get in the way, and eventually corners everyone in a tiny shack owned by mad Vietnam vet Colonel Coburn (Leo Gordon, from The Haunted Palace and Bog). This is a good place to be cornered, if cornered you must be, in that Coburn has quite a little arsenal there— AK-47’s, sniper rifles, shotguns, antipersonnel mines, the works. And most importantly, Coburn has a goodly supply of chicken wire. Chicken wire, you ask? Yes. You see, the Alienator is both bulletproof and impervious to the effects of landmines, but if you wrap her in chicken wire, she short-circuits and shuts down. Obviously.
But we’re not done yet. We haven’t even gotten to the part where Kol turns on his human companions, kills Rick and installs his own mind in the dead man’s body, and tries to rape Caroline (apparently because he’s trying to learn how to fit in on Earth, and he’s been taking his lessons from the biggest asshole in the movie). It’s also suggested at this point that Kol may have some world-domination plans coming together inside his head. But luckily for us humans, even the dreaded chicken wire attack can only incapacitate the Alienator for a little while, and she reactivates just in time to decapitate Kol/Rick and incinerate his head before he can do any serious harm. Her mission completed, the Alienator gets back in her crappy-ass model kit spaceship, and goes back home so that Jan Michael Vincent can get in one last scene to justify all the money Fred Olen Ray spent on him.
Man, that was bad. You’ve got to hand it to Ray, though. He’s been at it since 1980, when he gave us The Alien Dead/It Fell from the Sky, easily the worst 80’s zombie movie not made by Bruno Mattei, and nothing seems to be able to stop him. With unreliable distribution, little or no studio support, and budgets that would have worried Sam Katzman, Ray makes movies, and a damn lot of them, too. And wonder of wonders, the fucking things not only make money, they’ve actually won him a following of sorts. The man has even managed to earn himself a chapter in John McCarty’s The Sleaze Merchants, alongside such august names as Ted V. Mikels, Jesus Franco, and Ed Wood. Not bad for a guy who got his start as an unpaid gofer on the set of Shock Waves.