Alien Arsenal (1999): Unstoppable Teenz

Pew-pew! Pew-pew! Matty has a nice time with David DeCoteau’s serviceable Y.A. sci-fi flick.

Though perhaps a little leaden for the easily distracted teen crowd it’s aimed at, David DeCoteau’s ALIEN ARSENAL is not without its charms. One of a whopping eleven movies that the prolific director would shepherd for Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment between fall 1997 and the formation of his own company, Rapid Heart Pictures, at the back end of ‘99 [1], this sci-fi programmer was the second and final picture for Band’s short-lived Y.A. label ActionXtreme — itself a subdivision of Full Moon’s kiddie wing Pulsepounders — and finds both men in familiar territory [2]. 

For Band, it marks the second time he’d loosely remake his old drive-in favourite Laserblast (1977) following 1987’s Deadly Weapon.

And for DeCoteau, Alien Arsenal affords him the chance to return to ideas and images he’d previously explored and used in Dr. Alien (1988), Test Tube Teens From the Year 2000 (1994), Prey of the Jaguar (1996), Absolution: The Journey (1997), and Talisman (1998). [3]

In that regard, Alien Arsenal can be considered an auteur piece of sorts. His patented brand of homoeroticism is scaled back because of the film‘s target audience, but DeCoteau’s love of underdogs and adolescent heroes; his aesthetic obsession with characters wearing blacked-out sunglasses; and his affinity for educational establishments as settings (the bulk of Alien Arsenal was shot at Ulysses S. Grant High School in Van Nuys — a location that can also be seen in TV shows Saved by the Bell and Malcolm in the Middle) are all present and correct.

Written by DeCoteau’s preferred scripter Matthew Jason Walsh, the plot sees put upon dweeb Ralph (Josh Hammond) and his tomboy pal Baxter (Danielle Hoover, who, despite joking about wanting to see inside the boys’ locker room, is definitely doing a coded lesbian schtick) happening across the titular intergalactic weapon stash and turning into bottom rung, Power Rangers-esque superheroes. Cue a battle with the school’s bullies and, then, a low-key yet planet-saving confrontation with the cache’s extraterrestrial owners. 

An agreeable bit of hokum, Alien Arsenal is heartily shot, surprisingly never boring despite a lack of any real action, and is in possession of a spirited supporting turn from the always wonderful Robert Donavan as a drill sergeant-like teacher. Bonus points, too, for how often Walsh shoehorns the word “arsenal” into the screenplay. For fellow Brits with a sense of humour as childish as mine, the weird overemphasis that a lot of the cast seem to place on “arse” does elicit a few good chuckles. 

Released on U.S. video on 18th May 1999, and also known as ‘Alien Weapons’ and ‘Teenage Alien Avengers’. 

USA ● 1999 ● Sci-Fi, Action ● 81mins

Josh Hammond, Danielle Hoover, Michele Nordin ● Dir. David DeCoteau (as ‘Julian Breen’)  ● Wri. Matthew Jason Walsh

[1] Well, nine full-length features and two halves: Frankenstein Reborn (1998) was a forty-five minute segment, and DeCoteau quit the troubled production of Micro Mini Kids (2001) after four days due to ‘creative differences’. The others, in shooting order, were: Shrieker (1998), Curse of the Puppet Master (1998), Talisman, The Killer Eye (1999), Witchouse (1999), Retro Puppet Master (1999), Totem (1999), and Voodoo Academy (1999). Alien Arsenal was shot in mid ‘98, prior to DeCoteau heading back to Romania for Witchouse and Retro Puppet Master. The helmer would lens another picture for longtime pal Band, Prison of the Dead (2000), in the middle of his opening Rapid Heart two-punch, Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy (2000) and The Brotherhood (2001).
[2] The first ActionXtreme offering was Tom Callaway’s Murdercycle (1999).
[3] Incidentally, it’s Dr. Alien where Alien Arsenal pulls its car chase footage from.

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