[Blu-ray Review] Vinegar Syndrome’s ‘ALIEN FROM L.A.’ takes an otherworldly approach to genre filmmaking

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

ALIEN FROM L.A. (1988)

Rated PG, 81 minutes.
Director: Albert Pyun
Cast: Kathy Ireland, William R. Moses, Richard Haines, Don Michael Paul, Thom Mathews, Simon Poland and Deep Roy

Note: The Blu-ray title was released by Vinegar Syndrome. However, the label’s catalog will remain hidden and will return July 1 in celebration of Partners Only Month.

Director Albert Pyun is a true king of trash cinema. It’s difficult to explain his style without it reading like an insult of his craft (that’s not where my head is at). He’s a filmmaker to be celebrated for his ambition as a storyteller. Pyun takes big swings, no matter the acting talent or budget he’s working with. It’s as if he came from some distant planet and studied action movies like MAD MAX, BLADE RUNNER, and ROBOCOP for their world-building aspects.

To some, Pyun’s works may be too much to handle. (Honestly, my wife passed by during my viewing, chuckled, and quickly moved on.) But to those weirdo collectors (like me) who have an appreciation for the joy that comes from watching movies that blur the lines of quality, the stupid-greatness of 1988’s ALIEN FROM L.A. produces a planet-sized smile.

There’s little doubt this JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH and WIZARD OF OZ-esque movie will make you laugh, roll your eyes, anxiously grind your teeth, and scratch your head—sometimes all at once. Take, for instance, a scene when our central Earthgirl, Wanda Saknussemm (Kathy Ireland), is talking to her friend (Kristen Trucksess) about how she can’t hold onto anything in life. Wanda was recently dumped by her surfer boyfriend (Don Michael Paul) because of her lack of adventure (and various other reasons like her “annoying” childish voice). Wanda brings up her parents’ absence, to which Wanda’s friend casually dismisses as nonsense because her father is an explorer (“it’s kinda his job”) and her mother died in a car crash (“it’s not her fault she’s dead”). There are golden nuggets of comedy like this sprinkled all over Pyun’s movie that make it deliciously comical.

ALIEN FROM L.A. also brings up many fascinating ideas about the collapse of civilization and alien contact. To the subterranean civilization depicted in this film, we’re the “aliens.” We don’t look too different side by side (other than some ’80s influence and HUNGER GAMES-like costuming), and we have the English language in common. Diets are at opposite corners, though. I don’t suspect many of us chow down on deep-earth insects and imaginative substances that appear thought up by the Lost Boys. Pyun moves particular elements a few inches to the left to paint his new world with just the right amount of intriguing characteristics.

Another admirable component is Pyun’s direction of action scenes. They’re nicely paced and feature some eccentric camerawork. If you’ve ever seen his 1992 movie NEMESIS, you know Pyun takes chances. (Who could forget the moment when his hero shoots his way through a multi-story building?) The wow factor isn’t entirely there for ALIEN FROM L.A. as it is NEMESIS, but there are enough sequences to punch it up with some BLADE RUNNER-like fashion.

Extras:

To watch these environments come to life in Vinegar Syndrome’s newly scanned and restored edition (in 2K from its 35mm interpositive) is something else. If it weren’t for the cheesy dialogue and musical score, you’d almost question its 1988 release date. It’s a sharp and clean look that has a smooth audio balance as well. (You won’t have to touch the volume on your remote too much.)

In terms of special features, we get three interviews. One, titled “Making a Fairytale,” is an in-depth conversation with Albert Pyun. He discusses the inspiration he took from shooting his 1987 movie DOWN TWISTED (a.k.a. Courtney Cox’s film debut) in Mexico and how he used the footage from an incomplete film adaptation of JOURNEY TO THE CITY OF THE EARTH for ALIEN FROM L.A.’s immediately made direct-to-video sequel. The second interview is with actor Thom Mathews (of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD fame), who touches on his collaboration with Pyun and the film’s cult status. Rounding off the extras is a brief but insightful audio interview with actress Linda Kerridge about her dual parts as Roryis Freki and Auntie Pearl.

And let’s not forget about the juiciest part of collecting: the reversible cover art and cardboard slipcover. One side has an attention-grabbing view of Wanda prepared to step through a new world with an Oz-like structure at the center. On the slipcover, there’s a subtle lift to the art as you run your finger across it (most notably Wanda and the film’s title). The reverse side highlights more characters from the movie, with Wanda featured prominently at the center against a futuristic city background. Either side is worthy of keeping as your cover to show off.

So, shake a few dollars out of your wallet for ALIEN FROM L.A. It’s stupid-fun if you watch it in the right state of mind (and with the right people).

Grade: B-

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.