APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Alien from the Abyss (1989)

April 4: Remake, remix, ripoff — A shameless remake, remix or ripoff of a much better known movie. Allow your writing to travel the world (we recommend Italy or Turkey).

The true joy of Italian exploitation cinema is that sometimes, you expect a complete ripoff and are instead rewarded with something if not better than the original, then at least different. Shocking Dark AKA Terminator 2 seems like it’s going to be one James Cameron movie and ends up being another. Night Killer was sold in Italy as a sequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre— it was released using that film’s Italian title, Non Aprite Quella Porta 3 (Don’t Open the Door 3) — and has elements of A Nightmare On Elm Street yet at heart it’s a very deranged portrait of a marriage gone wrong and a woman on the verge. One only has to look at perhaps the most successful ripoff ever, Zombi 2, to see how Lucio Fulci took the basic idea of ripping off Zombi AKA Dawn of the Dead yet somehow going further and stranger than George Romero.

Alien from the Abyss AKA Alien from the Deep has a poster that might make you believe that you’re about to see one of the many remix remake and ripoff versions of Ridley Scott’s Alien (there are a whole bunch in this article).

Yet this movie does what the Italian genre directors do best and get inspiration and then go their own way.

It’s directed by Antonio Margheriti AKA Anthony M. Dawson. He made plenty of movies that cashed in on other films’ successes, including Codename: Wild Geese (The Wild Geese), The Last Hunter (The Deer Hunter), Hunters of the Golden CobraJungle Raiders and The Ark of the Sun God (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Lightning Bolt (a James Bond-style movie) and Tornado: The Last Blood (Rambo: First Blood  Part II). He also made Castle of Blood and its remake Web of the SpiderAnd God Said to Cain (which inversely was pretty much remade in America as High Plains Drifter and inspired Eastwood’s Unforgiven), the giallo Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, Yul Brynner’s last movie Death Rage, the John Saxon shocker Cannibal Apocalypse. And, of course, he made Yor, Hunter from the Future.

Margheriti was the master of lighting, which he needed as he would set up multiple cameras to get shots from every angle, as well as different levels of close-up, giving him coverage faster so he could shoot fast. He was also great with miniatures and, as you can tell from this movie, he seemed to just love exploding things.

Instead of space, this movie is quite earthbound. Jane (Marina Giulia Cavalli, billed here as Julia McCay; she was born in Portland, Oregon but found fame in Italian movies like Fashion Crimes and Complicazioni nella notte) and Lee (Robert Marius, Cop GameWarriors of the Apocalypse) are ecological activists trying to discover why E-Chem is dumping toxic waste into a volcano. Colonel Kovacks (Charles Napier!), the man running the show, tries to take them out with his henchmen and helicopters. Lee gets captured, but Lee runs into the jungle where she meets Bob (Daniel Bosch), a snake farmer who falls for her and gets rebuffed quickly. He literally milks snakes of their venom for a living, a fact that really makes her upset.

While all this is going on, Dr. Geoffrey (Luciano Pigozzi, using his Alan Collins name; if you’ve seen any number of Italian exploitation you’ve seen Luciano) tries to warn everyone that the toxic waste and magma are combining to send a message into space that’s soon answered by a ball of fire that falls from the sky. Inside that burning bit of cosmic comet is an alien that looks like HR Giger but made from elements you can discover at your local Rome — or the Philippines, this was made there — Home Depot. Don’t take that as an insult. I absolutely love the monster in this movie and am obsessed with his gigantic lobster claw.

Just when the movie is getting a little too Romancing the Stone between Jane and Bob — they flirt like no two human beings ever have before, saying dialogue that feels alien and insane like “Don’t you touch me, you snake squeezer!” and man, they’re either going to kill one another or have the best sex anyone ever has had in a jungle movie that forgets that it’s supposed to be Alien — the M-16 carrying bad guys bust in and his trained snakes attack, leaping out all over the place and wasting bad guys left and right. Did I cheer? You know I did.

Keep in mind that the alien doesn’t show up until an hour into the movie, which would have upset me when I was young but old me finds that absolutely perfect. And by alien, we mostly just see his oozing black claw bathed in Italian horror lighting and so much fog. Instead of having a cool suit to fight the alien in, like the Power Loader Ripley wore in Aliens, our heroes just have construction equipment. Oh yeah, and a flamethrower, which Dr. Geoffrey delivers just in time to get stepped on by the xeroxomorph.

The word balls gets thrown around like, well, balls and the monster is more like a puppet, plus there’s a obvious mannequin death scene as all good Italian movies must possess. Napier is a real life special effect, starting the movie at eleven and going into numbers beyond the charts, eating scenery as if he’s Donald Pleasence in an Italian Wendy’s.

All hail Italy and let’s not forget Tito Carpi, who wrote this, and also was the writer of more than a few other movies that I like, including the Sartana movies, the perfection of MartaEscape from the BronxSinbad of the Seven SeasWarriors of the Wasteland and Tentacles. Oh man! And Joe D’Amato’s Il porno shop della settima stradaThor the ConquerorRush and Giovannona Long-Thigh.

Franco Gaudenzi, who produced this with Gianfranco Couyoumdjian, was the man who made so many Bruno Mattei movies happen like DesireZombi 4Born to FightNight KillerRobowarStrike Commando 2Zombi 3Double Target and more. As for Couyoumdjian, well, he produced Zombi and Dr. Butcher, M.D.

What I’m trying to figure out right now is the career path of this film’s composer Robert O. Raglan, who went from being a Chicago ad exec to the music for a wild collection of movies, from Weekend With the Baby SitterThe Thing With Two Heads and Abby to The Glove, GrizzlyMansion of the Doomed10 to MidnightEvils of the NightThe SupernaturalsAssassinationMessenger of Death and more. What an incredible resume! He was paired with Andrea Ridolfi on this.

Man, how can you not be entertained by this? There’s a scene where Jane literally does a laundry list, saying “I’m singlw. Catholic. Angelo Saxon. And I don’t trust men who milk snakes” which made me laugh out loud. Cavalli is really spunky and cute in this and Margheriti is the least scummy of Italian genre directors as she just teases nudity whereas Mattei would have had her running through the jungle nude and reenacting that worm scene from Galaxy of Terror.

I’m so excited that Severin has re-released this on blu ray. Their new version has a 4K scan from the original negative, interviews with Margheriti’s son Edoardo and the North American debut of the documentary he made about his father, The Outsider – The Cinema of Antonio Margheriti. Order it now from Severin.

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