I Was a Teenage Sex Mutant: Dr. Alien (1988)

Matty gets to the surprisingly sweet and relatable centre of David DeCoteau’s bawdy, Charles Band-produced sci-fi sex comedy.

There’s something wonderfully, perfectly symmetrical about DR. ALIEN. It’s a film about transition that happens to be an important transitory work for its makers: producer Charles Band and director David DeCoteau.

DeCoteau’s fifth team-up with Band after Dreamaniac (1986), Creepozoids (1987), Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988), and Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988) (the latter of which DeCoteau was brought in to fix — read ‘re-do’ — after the picture that originally bore the Bimbos moniker, eventually released as Cemetery High (1989), proved unwatchable), Dr. Alien was shot as the AIP-aping ‘I Was a Teenage Sex Mutant’ in nineteen days during the Writer’s Guild strike of 1988. Built from a script by longtime DeCoteau associate/fellow Band frequenter Kenneth J. Hall (who, incidentally, had been tasked with salvaging the aforementioned Cemetery High), it was while Dr. Alien was being made that Band’s iconic ‘80s outfit Empire finally crumbled, DeCoteau later recounting to Femme Fatales magazine that he received the following communicae from Band on set:

“The bank just shut down the entire company and seized everything. But they don’t know you’re shooting this, so just keep rolling and get it in the can before someone finds out!” [1]

Shielding the cast and crew from Empire’s behind the scenes turmoil, DeCoteau did indeed get the film in the can. The finished product was then bundled alongside two other titles — Scott Spiegel’s Intruder (1989) and J.F. Lawton’s Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989) — in a hastily assembled shell company called Phantom Productions that Band used in his negotiations with Paramount; the same deal, of course, that resulted in the creation of Full Moon. 

As Band came up trumps, so too did DeCoteau. Though he’d already pseudonymously lensed a slew of hardcore pics and the power-packed double whammy of Lady Avenger (1988) and Nightmare Sisters (1988) away from Band, it was post Dr. Alien that the cult auteur’s career really started to fly as he began to focus his attention on his own video label, Cinema Home Video, and toiling as a gun for hire for other producers eager for a piece of the VHS pie — well, until Band came calling again for Puppet Master II (1990) and Crash and Burn (1990). Still, the gap between Dr. Alien and DeCoteau entering the Full Moon fold pretty much full time (exceptions such as his CHV offerings, Prey of the Jaguar (1996), Skeletons (1997), and Leather Jacket Love Story (1997) notwithstanding) was a fascinating period for the B-maestro. As well as cementing his Corman-esque ability to pull a movie together quickly and cheaply off his own dime (a skill initially developed in the privately-funded Dreamaniac and Nightmare Sisters, and one that would prove invaluable for his subsequent Rapid Heart Pictures at the turn of the millennium), from an artistic point of view, it allowed DeCoteau to noodle with a slightly wider range of darker, edgier material like Deadly Embrace (1989) and Murder Weapon (1989). For all of this to occur — accidentally, admittedly — in the immediate aftermath of a flick that deals with a person’s personal growth — the metaphor speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

 

 

That said, that doesn’t mean Dr. Alien is serious or melancholic. Far from it; at its core, DeCoteau’s final Empire-affiliated joint is a jocular and ribald T&A potboiler with winkingly kitsch sci-fi trappings. However, the crux of Dr. Alien’s narrative — that of a young man’s sexual and emotional awakening — is surprisingly sweet and, most pertinently, honest. DeCoteau has always been very good at expressing teenage emotions on screen in a way that’s both relatable to his (largely adolescent) audience and completely free of condescension; a knack he’d use to greatest effect on his pioneering programmers that deliberately catered to the then massively under-represented teen girl and teen gay lad market (cf. Voodoo Academy (2000) and Rapid Heart classics The Brotherhood (2000), Final Stab (2001), and Speed Demon (2003)). So despite some likely thinking an eighty-three minute romp in which a nerdy college kid, Wesley (Billy Jacoby — who, in an interesting nugget of trivia, beat a pre-fame Brad Pitt for the role), transforms into a wanton sex god; rattles a bevy of bodacious beauties who’re overwhelmed by his bulging phallus; and whose arc finishes with him becoming a beloved smalltown rock star is nothing but a crass wish fulfilment fantasy, there is a truth to Dr. Alien. After all, what red-blooded heterosexual male doesn’t want to party or be famous or have every smokin’ hot bit of skirt he meets, MILF-y teachers included, go hog wild the second he pops his plonker out?

Now, let’s be clear: the pecker on display in Dr. Alien isn’t a proper flesh flute (for those not keeping track, DeCoteau would save the todger tableau for Naked Instinct (1993), Leather Jacket Love Story and 3 Scream Queens (2014)). Rather, it’s a brilliantly double-ended DeCoteau visual joke a la the throbbing black annelids in Leeches! (2003): Wesley’s meat mallet is, in fact, a pulsating, penis-type appendage that emerges from the top of his head. Designed by Greg Cannom and given a puckered, anus-like mouth for added lewd giggles, the perky cranial critter omits a powerful signal that gets female loins a-flaming and is part of an experiment conducted by fake substitute science teacher Miss. Xenobia (Judy Landers) and her homunculus lab assistant Drax (Raymond O’Connor of DeCoteau’s Prehysteria 3 (1995) and Skeletons). A pair of aliens, Xenobia and Drax have landed on earth in the hopes of saving their home world; a dying planet where the women are raring to go but the impotent men are floppier than the brim of a fisherman’s hat.

In addition to administering Wesley regular buttock injections of a glowing, Re-Animator (1985) style fluid, Xenobia and Drax also spend a sizable chunk of their mission tracking Wesley’s bawdy sexcapades — two of which being desktop romps with Xenobia herself; another a lairy, Porky’s (1981) tinged encounter with a cornucopia of insatiable coeds inside their locker room (Scream Queen Michelle Bauer, who also brought to life Xenobia in her alien form, and the former Mrs. Russ Meyer, Edy Williams, as their coach among them); and the most evocative a typically floaty DeCoteau dream sequence that continues the helmer’s aesthetic fascination with smoke machines and characters in sunglasses, and involves the scantily clad triumvirate of Laura Albert, legendary porn star Ginger Lynn, and DeCoteau’s old muse Linnea Quigley (the trio also appear a few more times in a manner akin to a saucy Greek chorus). 

It’s lusty stuff for sure and those left reeling by the slightest hint of boobage (prudes…) will, sadly, never get past it. Thing is, Dr. Alien is anything but sleazy. DeCoteau’s plucky direction is more interested in generating a film of bright, lighthearted, and vivacious experience, and its copious T&A is offset by a nice line in physical humour, a bunch of quality sight gags, scripter Hall’s ear for a good innuendo, and its above-noted heart. Because beyond the risque-ness and rock n’ roll soundtrack, it’s the deeper, weightier themes of unrequited love (throughout Dr. Alien’s duration, DeCoteau  plays ‘will they/won’t they’ with Wesley and his crush Leeanne (Olivia Barash)) and not feeling comfortable in your own skin that’ll speak to you if you’re still in touch with your inner teenager. As Xenobia says when she peels off her rubbery human mask in a moment that’s somewhere between Scooby Doo and Brazil (1985), revealing the “swollen-headed, puffy-eyed, blue-skinned being from another galaxy” beneath: 

“Everyone grows and changes, but they do it at different rates.”

Dr. Alien - UK VHS
Dr. Alien’s 1989 UK VHS cover. Courtesy of VideoCollector.co.uk

[1] Femme Fatales, Vol. 9/Number 7, November 2000, ‘David DeCoteau: Rapid Heart’s Low-Budget Auteur’ by Jason Paul Collum


 

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz 

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