The Out-of-Towners: In Praise of Alien Predators (1986)

Matty shares his love for Deran Sarafian’s hugely enjoyable sci-shocker. 

Though rough around the edges and prone to lollygagging, ALIEN PREDATORS (1986) succeeds due to its appealingly matey attitude and dogged commitment to weird flourishes and serious scares.

At its heart are some excellent lead characters. Taking his cues from the robust interplay of An American Werewolf in London (1981), writer/director Deran Sarafian’s kooky sci-shocker is as much about people as it is monster movie thrills. The crux of the drama rests upon the jocular yet surprisingly complicated relationship between three holidaying pals: a charming wise-ass (Dennis Christopher, Fade to Black (1980)), his slightly less boisterous best pal (Martin Hewitt, Endless Love (1981)), and the brilliantly multi-layered gal (figure skater and Sarafian’s then squeeze Lynn-Holly Johnson, For Your Eyes Only (1981)) that one of ‘em is trying to bed and the other is crushing on big style. The extraterrestrial takeover this insanely likable young throuple happens across while traversing Spain in a Winnebago seems largely incidental. If anything, Alien Predators’ ‘Andromeda Strain meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ premise is simply the logical extension of Serafian’s core ideas: awareness of self, awareness of others, and how we all fit together — if, that is, we even do at all.

Featuring several squishy FX — albeit maybe not as many as you might expect — Alien Predators boasts a modest yet richly satisfying ick-factor. Designed and orchestrated by James Cummings (The Boneyard (1991)), Bill Sturgeon (Videodrome (1983)), and Margaret Bessera (The Thing (1982)), the highlight is a ghoulishly grotesque creation courtesy of Mark Shostrom (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)); a nauseating, surreal nightmare of a dead body that left such an impression on Stuart Gordon that the Re-Animator (1985) titan promptly hired Shostrom to tackle the Pretorius creature in From Beyond (1986). However, it’s the more unusual passages that bolster Alien Predators’ ample fight quotient. Vignettes and images are driven by peculiarities and fractured dream logic: a pair of bizarre, spore-infected locals; a suspenseful homage to Duel (1971); and atmospheric, ambiguously mounted shots of empty streets and rooms held for longer than is comfortable.

Unfolding in a near barren town, Sarafian makes stellar use of his central location, Chinchón; a Spanish municipality 50km south-east of Madrid. Embellishing the historic bullfighting town’s dizzying geography and lingering on its medieval architecture (one unforgettable sequence reveals a high-tech NASA lab, rendered with a 2001 (1968)-by-way-of-The Devils (1971)-esque élan, housed inside a castle), Sarafian and cinematographer Tote Trenas lace Alien Predators with a disquieting tone typified by a creeping rhythm; off-kilter atmosphere; and a shudder-inducing sense of space that, today, would have #FilmTwitter throwing around ‘ian’ suffixed buzzwords like ‘Lynch’ and ‘Kubrick’. Indeed, Chinchón is so integral to Alien Predators’ look and feel that it’s hard to believe shooting there was a strictly mercenary decision.

As Sarafian explains in the gab-track on Scream Factory’s 2019 Blu-ray, producer Eduard Sarlui only agreed to finance the film if it could be lensed quickly and cheaply on Spanish soil, basically in tandem with the Continental Motion Pictures boss’ other Iberian shocker, the Alice Cooper-starring Monster Dog (1984). At the time, the twenty-five year-old Sarafian — son of Vanishing Point (1971) auteur Richard Sarafian [1], and the future helmer of Death Warrant (1990), Gunmen (1993) and Terminal Velocity (1994) — had been earning a crust as a ghost director/fixer. An in-demand wunderkind, Sarafian helped finish five runaway productions between 1979 and 1982 but threw in the towel after a miserable experience on Lawrence Foldes’ Young Warriors (1983)  [2]. Hungry to craft a proper film of his own, Sarafian penned a sci-fi horror script inspired by the real-life demise of space station Skylab in 1979, and a scenario involving an RV suggested to him by a friend (hence the “based on the screenplay ‘Massacre at RV Park’ by Noah Blogh” credit at Alien Predators’ close). Then titled ‘The Falling’, Sarafian pitched the script to Sarlui following a meeting at the 1983 American Film Market. Sarlui loved it — and, as soon as Sarafian said “sí!” to the impresario’s Spanish proposal, ‘The Falling’ was in front of cameras, wrapping by the end of May 1984. 

During development, Sarlui packaged ‘The Falling’ alongside John ‘Bud’ Cardos’ superficially similar Mutant (1984) and an unmade sequel to William Malone’s Scared to Death (1980) [3]. The three pictures were set for release by Edward L. Montoro’s Film Ventures International. Sadly, the deal crumbled amidst Mutant’s belly-flopping at the box office; Film Ventures’ growing financial struggles; and Montoro’s subsequent disappearance. The shady mogul embezzled a cool $1million of Film Ventures’ funds and fled to Mexico, never to be seen again. Funnily, when ‘The Falling’ landed on tape in the U.K. in 1986 (via Entertainment in Video) it was as ‘Mutant II’. When it finally started playing U.S. theatres in January ‘87, Sarlui and his new company, Trans World Entertainment, rechristened it Alien Predators to capitalise on 20th Century Fox’s recent smash, Aliens (1986), and an upcoming new movie of theirs called Predator (1987). It was an area Sarlui and his Trans World partner, Moshe Diamant, were well-versed in. The pair had previously commissioned an Alien (1979) riff, Creature (1985), from the aforementioned William Malone in order to cash-in on Aliens. And in a move wholly indicative of Sarlui and Diamant’s ‘just rip ‘em all off’ mentality, they even recycled Creature’s poster design for Alien Predators’ key art.

[1] Sarafian senior also dubs Spanish actor J.O. Bosso, and the patriarch’s iconic Twilight Zone episode, Living Doll, gets a nod in another of Alien Predators’ greatest moments.
[2] To this day Sarafian refuses to name any of them except Foldes’ stinker.
[3] Ultimately, ‘Scared to Death II’ evolved into the Sarlui-less Syngenor (1990).

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