The Arrival (1991): Unidentified Flawed Object

Matty finds a few things of interest in David Schmoeller’s dud sci-shocker.

Featuring the underappreciated Robert Samson and a wonderfully forthright John Saxon among its cast, and directed by the consistently fascinating fright auteur who gave us such perennial favourites as Tourist Trap (1979) and Puppet Master (1989), you’d be forgiven for expecting better from this low-key sci-shocker, at least in terms of watchability. Alas, despite its pleasingly chilly ambiance and some excellent stylistic flourishes, David Schmoeller’s lethargic trudge through the same ‘alien on the rampage’ territory as The Hidden (1987) is a pretty stale affair that suffers due to a confused tone and plodding script. 

Re-Animator (1985) star Samson steals the show and submits a delicate performance as Max: an old man infected by an extraterrestrial parasite. Stricken with an insatiable lust for blood — well, the oestrogen-spiked plasma of ovulating women to be precise — and eventually Benjamin Button-ing into a younger version of himself (whereupon the annoyingly wooden Joseph Culp takes over the role), Max embarks on a murderous road trip, travelling cross-country in pursuit of the kindly nurse he’s fallen in love with as Saxon’s copper doggedly tracks him.

Overlong and awkwardly poised between the romanticism of John Carpenter’s Starman (1984) and the nastiness of something schlockier, The Arrival misses the mark on both counts. For fans of the former, scripter Daniel Ljoka’s oestro-vampire hook will likely be too repellent; while those craving a splatter romp along the lines of, say, John McNaughton’s similar — and significantly superior — The Borrower (1991) will be left reeling by the film’s weird mawkishness and total lack of gore and monster action. Still, if you’re an admirer of Schmoeller there are a few scraps to nibble on, to the point you can rule The Arrival an interesting failure.

The sole feature of Schmoeller’s not to be written by him, and one of only three joints he’d fashion away from B-movie maven Charles Band [1], the generally rather Malick-esque genre maestro clearly savours the chance to play artiste for hire on a project with real world grounding and slightly bigger tech credentials than the usual comic book-y, Band-backed productions. The thematic appeal of the material is obvious. Anchored by Schmoeller’s go-to theme of life and death, and diaphanously laced with the celestial melancholy that typifies his best work, The Arrival is nicely made from a technical perspective, and the director zeros in on the more dramatic passages of sci-fi author Ljoka’s screenplay [2] with assurance, even if he never manages to get a firm grip on the story as a whole. Nevertheless, Schmoeller keeps a single foot in the Band fold: supporting him is a career-standout score from Band’s brother, Richard, and cameos from pals and fellow Empire/Full Moon regulars Peter Manoogian (Arena (1989), Demonic Toys (1992)), Stuart Gordon and his wife, Carolyn.         

Also known as ‘The Unwelcomed’, The Arrival was the final picture to be distributed by Alan Stewart’s Filmtrust and was marketed in Germany as a sequel to Fred Olen Ray’s Alienator (1990). It unspooled theatrically in Canada, and was released on tape in the U.S. and the U.K. by Prism and Braveworld, respectively.

USA ● 1991 ● Sci-Fi, Horror ● 103mins

Robert Samson, Joseph Culp, John Saxon, Robin Frates ● Dir. David Schmoeller ● Wri. Daniel Ljoka

[1] The others are The Seduction (1982) and Little Monsters (2012).
[2] Well, I say that: what scant information there is available about Ljoka seems to indicate that he was born in Philadelphia in 1935 and, prior to producing The Arrival, had previously penned the 1973 sci-fi novel, Shelter — a nuclear holocaust yarn set during and after World War III. In it, a lone man trapped underground with fertile women is forced to have sex with them in order to repopulate humanity and, according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, “everyone dies”. As of this writing, I’ve been unable to obtain a copy, and the questions I’ve asked The Arrival’s key personnel re: Ljoka have so far gone unanswered. Stay tuned…     

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