Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Arrival – review

Director: David Schmoeller

Release date: 1991

Contains spoilers

The alien vampire, the extra-terrestrial if you will, is always a strange one when it comes to the vampire genre. The first question to be asked is, of course is it really a vampire or just a predator of a higher food chain order?

With that said it is really nice to come across an alien vampire film that is unequivocally a vampire film, no doubts, no concerns. A film that takes the genre, sticks to its heart (or at least part of the heart), and just lifts it from plain horror to sci-fi. The arrival is such a film and thus it’s a little sad that it isn’t a better film.

birthday bash
The film starts with a comet and then we cut to the birthday party for 73 year old Max Page (Robert Sampson). As the cake is brought out by daughter-in-law Susan (Danna Garen), grandson Michael (Brad Mills) wanders into the house. He hears a noise and goes out to see the comet fly overhead and crash. The family run round to the crash site.

foaming at the mouth
The next day the area is crawling with Government agents, the crash is cordoned off. Something (small and) unknown has been found. Max (on his Zimmer frame) and Michael wander into the cordon and are told, in no uncertain terms, to get lost – despite the fact that it is Max’ land. They take seats just outside the cordon when Michael’s dad Jeff (Danny Fendley, Red Lips) shouts them in. As Michael heads inside we see something moving under the surface of the earth, at high speed and rucking the mud, towards Max. A scream and he is on the floor foaming at the mouth.

bloodied dream
At the hospital the doctor gives the family the bad news. Jeff goes to sit with his father’s body to say goodbye when he suddenly takes a breath and comes back to life. The doctor is mystified, Max was definitely dead. He is kept in – he has a strain of something unrecognisable in his blood – and seems to be getting stronger. Indeed he is soon able to walk without his Zimmer frame and flirt with his nurse, Connie (Robin Frates). He also starts having strange dreams, involving Susan. They have a meal, their clothing and the setting white, when she bleeds on a plate. In another he kisses her. One morning the hospital discovers that the blood bank has been broken into, emptied bags scattered across the floor.

behind the mask
During this time we see that it becomes quite difficult for Connie to get a needle into a vein (or, indeed, through the skin). As he is discharged she reveals she has a new job and is moving to San Diego. Five days later, at home, and Max' behaviour is odd and his dreams are getting bloodier. At one point, after he has had a dream, Susan wakes to discover him leaning over her, and sniffing. Further into this scene, as thunder and lightning discharge outside, we see a flash of a luminous face behind Max' human face; this happens once more in the film and I couldn’t help but think it was a visual clue for the audience rather than something happening in film as Susan never mentions nor reacts to this. After waking with muddy feet and getting mental flashes of the body of a woman, Max leaves the house, finds the body where he 'dreamt' it to be and hitches a ride away from home.

at the liquor store
Thirteen weeks later and FBI Agent Mills (John Saxon, Starsky and Hutch: the Vampire, Monsters: the Waiting Game, Trapped Ashes & Queen of Blood) is called to the murder of a woman in a trailer park. The suspect had been living with her and was called Max Page. A neighbour, Lou (Michael J. Pollard, Dark Craving), has a photo of Max – clearly a man in his fifties. Mills heads to the Page residence and shows Jeff the picture, who says it must have been taken twenty years before. We also see a moment when Max stumbles into a liquor store robbery and seems disconnected from the world. He is shot but the gunshot doesn’t even phase him. He takes the proceeds of the robbery for himself, not bothering to help the clerk.

Max at his youngest
So we have Max back from the dead, becoming younger – he eventually starts being played by Joseph Culp – impervious to bullets (it seems) and drinking blood every two weeks (the frequency begins to increase later). Later he becomes ill drinking from a woman and Mills finds that she was on an oestrogen suppressant. At this point they realise it is the oestrogen in the blood that he is consuming (and the drug is a poison to him) – this doesn’t quite gel with the seeming random drinking of blood packs early on but Max does seem to sniff out oestrogen and so maybe he could tell which was which. With the suppressant girl they seem drawn to each other and this seems odd given what drives him, but the film, frustratingly, doesn’t explain its thinking around this in depth.

Connie and Max
To be fair the film offers hints within the blood focused dreams, and the fact that after drinking the poisoned blood he dreams of sex in a bath of blood, but the visual code the filmmakers are using is, at best, clunky. It should also be mentioned that it seems the parasite has taken over completely and is intelligent as comments are made about the planet being nice and not having love where he comes from. Yet he is driven to search out Connie, how much is the alien and how much Max (he met her infected but was pretty much himself) isn’t answered.

John Saxon is Agent Mills
It is here that the film falters. The base story is fine, quite interesting indeed, but the exposition is lacking and not in a way that makes you think but in a way that irritates. Part of this fault has to be laid at the Max character. When played by Robert Sampson he begins warm but, as he grows younger, seems to be disconnected to the world. This disconnect is amplified by him as played by Joseph Culp, who is virtually expressionless. It works as a completely alien entity but doesn’t illicit sympathy from the audience or explain motivation. Some of the plot moves, bringing Jeff into the investigation for example, seemed pointless and John Saxon’s Mills believed all this too readily – we needed more time with him.

There are tweaks that could have made this so much better. As it is 4 out of 10 seems right. The imdb page is here.

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