Editor’s Desk, May 2023: Once again . . . we were simply crossing off another Mill Creeker from another Mill Creek box set, just because we love Mill Creek. And as with another lost, fellow Mill Creeker, UFO: Target Earth, as well as with the equally VHS-forgotten Delirium and Calamity of Snakes, Top Line is receiving its own hard-media restoration, this time from the folks at Cauldron Films coming in August 2023 — intel on that release, to follow.
So, yeah, here’s what we had to say back in November 2020 during our annual Mill Creek box set unpacking extravaganza.
We can blame this Italian hodgepodge waste bucket of influences — shot and theatrically released under the title of Alien Terminator, becoming Top Line for video — on George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for giving us their joint jungle-sci-fi Indiana Jones adventures. Oh, and James Cameron for The Terminator. And once you toss in a dash of John Carpenter’s They Live, a soupçon Ron Howard’s Cocoon, and a pinch of Robert Zemeckis’s Romancing the Stone, you’ll know why we don’t revere the resume of Ted Archer, aka Nello Rossati, with the same vigor we give his fellow Italians Lewis Coates, aka Luigi Cozzi, and Al Bradley, aka Alfonso Brescia, in the digitized pages of B&S About Movies.
I mean, you know how gaga for giallo and poliziotteschi genre films we are in this neck of the Allegheny wilds . . . and we never reviewed La gatta in calore, aka The Cat in Heat (1972; the worst of the Argento imitators), and I figli non si toccano!, aka Don’t Touch the Children (1978; the clunkiest of the Death Wish–Magnum Force clones). So what does that tell you?
It tells you that this isn’t a tribute to the science fiction B-movies of the 1950s — like the Lucas-Spielbergian film it’s thieving: it tells you this is an insult to the science fiction B-movies of the 1950s it is thieving. For it is a celluloid larceny that would give Glen “Larceny” Larson pause.
It tells you that not even the very cool Franco Nero (of the superb giallo The Fifth Chord and equally cool spaghetti western Keoma) and the always reliable George Kennedy (who was obviously on hard times, considering he did this and the possessed cat-on-a-boat romp Uninvited in the same year) can’t save this jungle-sci-fi adventure. It tells you that not even the plastic cyborgs, the rubbery-gooey extraterrestrials, and awfully-dubbed Nazis can save it. (Okay, we’ll give Rossati-Archer bonus points for the somewhat decent cyborg and the alien make-ups. Ah, but he loses them for dubbing George Kennedy with one of the worst faux-German accents, aka accidents, in cinematic history.)
And what is a “top line” and what does a “top line” have to do with the movie? (Damned if I know. My attention span was FUBAR’d by the proceedings and I was too lazy to rewind to find out.) Why ditch the more exploitative Alien Terminator? Best guess: Blame it on the always-changing-their-minds producers: “We want Alien . . . wait, we want The Terminator . . . wait, turn the lead into an Indian Jones-type character. And dupe renters into thinking they’re getting a romantic, Bogey and Becall adventure, so ditch the aliens and cyborgs. Hey, can we have him runaround barefoot like Bruce Willis?
Franco Nero plays Angelo: a washed-up writer living in Cartagena, Colombia, whose search for conquistador gold leads him to a mountain cave where he uncovers a 15th century Spanish galleon inside the hull of a UFO. (Okay, it’s not a bad set, actually; but the VHS-to-digital prints of the film that circulate are so muddy, the “majesty,” if any, is lost.) Yes. You heard me right: a galleon inside a UFO, inside a cave, behind fake rock “door,” inside mountain, in the middle of the Colombian jungle.
And you thought Ruggero Deodato’s Raiders of Atlantis was an “epic adventure beyond that rivals Rambo* and Mad Max**.” Think again. And you thought Michele Massimo Tarantini bait-and-switched you with the no-actual-dinosaurs-appear-in-this-movie Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. That’s right. Think again — provided this movie didn’t already compromise your cerebral cortex.
So how did Angie-boy end up here? Cue the bitchy ex-wife-who’s-also-my-publisher-boss trope (Octopussy-era bond girl Mary Stavin, who didn’t fare any better in the inept radio-slasher Open House). Then cue the Aztec dagger Angie discovers that he can sell and save his ass. And cue the bodies that start dropping like flies because Angie found the dagger. (Or was it the cave: don’t care.) And George Kennedy as the troped (blink-and-miss), cackling Nazi antiques dealer after him because of the dagger. And the KGB that are after the Nazis, who are after Angie, because they want the dagger. And the aliens . . . who send in a cyborg (Rodrigo Obregon of a bunch of Andy Sidaris movies?!) adorned with curly hair, an unbuttoned David Hasselhoff red shirt, and a hunk of plastic stuck on his face that comes complete with a whirring eyeball).
Watch out for the bull!!!
Oh, and speaking of James Bond: Nero hooks up with his own Kate Capshaw in Deborah Barrymore, aka Deborah Moore, aka Roger Moore’s daughter (who actually made it into the Oscar-winning Chaplin . . . but also did Warriors of the Apocalypse for Manila-flick purveyor Bobby A. Suarez of They Call Her . . . Cleopatra Wong fame). Oh, and how deep is the rip-offness of it all: Nero looses his shoes John McClane-style in the jungle as he runs from the bad guys so, you know, you think that you’re watching a Die Hard clone because the Romancing the Stone cover gag didn’t work.
Oh, how did Franco Nero get into this mess?
Never mind. This friggin’ mess is one of those analog gems that makes us bow before the VHS-to-digital altars of Mill Creek Entertainment. So take off your shoes, strap on a popcorn bag, and watch this one on You Tube. Ah, the caveat: The print is pretty washed out and I have a feeling the Mill Creek version may not be much better. But that’s how it goes in the wilds of the lawless, analog public domains. For not every movie deserves a 4K Blu restoration . . . but it deserves to be packed amid 50 other lost water-bobbers to enjoy.
Flash forward to August 2023 . . . as Cauldron Films restores and reissues Top Line as part of their new three-Blu-ray reissues bundle with the fellow Italian ditties Off Balance and The Last Match.
This new version of Top Line — a 2k restoration from the orginal negative — is limited to 1500 copies. Extras include interviews with actor Franco Nero and filmmaker Eugenio Ercolani, a featurette on the alien theories of the film by parapolitics researcher Robert Skvarla, an audio commentary by film historian Eric Zaldivar, as well as audio interviews from cast members Deborah Moore and Robert Redcross, and insights on Italian cult films with Italian acting warehorses Brett Halsey and Richard Harrison (Three Men on Fire). There’s also a booklet, a double-sided poster, and a high quality slipcase with artwork by Ghanaian artist Farika — yes, the one behind those crazy-ass overseas VHS tapes we love — courtesy of Deadly Prey Gallery. If you’re not familiar with the art form: this post from Not So Innocents Abroad will get you started.
You can get more information on the reissue at Caulderon Films. Our thanks to Cinema Arcana and The Disc-Connected for the Facebook heads up!
Spaghetti Western Alert: Franco Nero reteamed with director Nello Rossati in the 1986 “comeback” Western, the critical and commercial bomb Django Strikes Again. We reviewed that, and about two-dozen others (including Nero’s 1966 turn in Django), during our “Spaghetti Westerns Week” that ran from Sunday, August 16, to Saturday, August 22.
Movie Theme Drink Alert: Hey, Sam! I can mix drinks based on movies, too! I give you the Top Line Terminator:
- 1 ounce coconut rum
- 1 ounce vodka
- 1/2 ounce blue curacao
- 1/2 cup pineapple juice
The blue curacao, when mixed with the other liquids, will turn green — like an alien. Enjoy!
* Check out our “Sylvester Stallone” week of reviews.
** Check out our two-part “Atomic Dust Bin” tributes to the Mad Max-inspired cycle of films.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.