I have picked up nearly all of 88 Films Italian Collection imprint and been pretty pleased with most of them. It’s been a good chance to upgrade a fair few import DVD’s to hi-def Blu-ray transfers and on the whole they have really been polished up nicely. It’s probably not that surprising that a US release of this via Midnight Legacy had gone unnoticed as the film is a bit of an underground (pun intended) sleeper that has long been forgotten and it was apparently limited to just 3000 copies and is now OOP. Readers of a certain age may well remember it appearing in one of those lovely gold puffy boxes courtesy of VTC video when the film came out back in 1980. At the time it was known as Alien Terror and that is not surprising as 20th Century Fox had released the excellent Alien the year before and were not up for having any banditry on their title. The Italians were of course renowned for it and from killer sharks to zombies nothing was too sacred for them to hijack.
Director Ciro Ippolito (here under pseudonym Sam Cromwell) was no doubt up there with the best of them and was not alone as the same year Luigi Cozzi was also dabbling with similar themes on Alien Contamination and spreading nasty eggs all over the world. Ippolito is certainly not as well known to Italian genre fans as Cozzi and only has a handful of directorial credits to his name. Chances are if it were not for this film his name could well have passed you by. Injunctions on titles no doubt long gone, 88 films have no problem restoring the film to its original title and go even further with this gem of a quote on the cover and state “Arguably more exciting than Alien 3, decades later Alien 2: On Earth might well be the film David Fincher wishes he had made.” Yeah well, all I can say is take that with a big pinch of salt. On a final note on the alien rip-off saga the Italians were still at it as far as 2007 when the late great Bruno Mattei’s last feature ‘Island Of The Living Dead’ went wholesale plunder on James Cameron’s Aliens, which of course is the real and legitimate Alien 2!
Back to the task at hand and do not panic in the first minute of this as we get into the story involving astronauts returning to earth. It is stock footage and meant to look like it does. Once this is dispensed with the quality of the picture looks crystal clear and fantastic, no doubt far better than whatever the films meagre budget ever deserved. Space is not the film’s final frontier and it is the bowels of the earth we are delving into as we are introduced to a team of explorers who have delved into a very large cave system. One of them Thelma (Belinda Mayne later star of Krull) in true Scooby Doo style has been having some sort of telepathic attacks and visions since then but this does not stop the potty pot-hollers from venturing back for another look to see what they can find. With the on earth segments filmed in California and Colorado we get a big sense of feel from the wide vista shots but when we descend into the caving system filmed in Castellana Grotte, Bari, Apulia, Italy the magic really happens and we get a true sense of an alien environment. One thing I noticed early on is that the director does love his long lingering and somewhat pointless loom and panning shots and as garage doors shut, and cars come into focus you can’t help thinking he is trying to pad out the running time. Once we get beneath the earth though you are no doubt going to be seeing things that are not really there and the stalactite and stalagmite formations are wonderful.
We may not have Sigourney Weaver in the cast but the international group of actors are believable enough. Genre enthusiasts will no doubt quickly recognise actor director Michele Soavi in one of his first proper acting roles and will be waiting for his grizzly demise if they have seen the likes of Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead made the same year. Of course it’s not long before the accidents and deaths start to occur and pretty nasty they are too. If you saw this when it originally came out there are certain scenes here that you will no doubt remember. The action continues and we are left wondering just what is attacking the cavers, will any of them make it back out and what is going to be waiting for them on the surface? Pretty standard stuff but it’s done well and once the action starts it’s enough to keep the splatter fans happy. Unlike Alien Contamination the director also realizes fully the restraints of his budget and plays the age-old trick of not revealing too much of the attacking force rather than spoiling it all with a completely terrible rubber monster. Still there is no escaping the fact that this is quite a bit like watching a very gory Dr Who episode and indeed the likes of John Pertwee and Tom Baker were no strangers getting themselves in similar scrapes down below at the time. You could even look at this as a precursor to films such as Species 1995 and of course the more recent The Descent and there is no denying that it is the impressive setting that is the real star of the film. Music by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis as Oliver Onions adds to the sinister tension throughout with synthesized dread and terror dripping like water from the vast chambers and claustrophobic passages. A year after this was made English director Norman J Warren no doubt inspired by both Alien and the Italian rips went and made Inseminoid and if you are looking for a perfect double bill this would make an excellent companion piece.
Extras are a bit thin on the ground and it would have been great to get the director, cast and crew talking about the obvious influences of the film as well as telling us what it was like to make it on the no doubt rather difficult location. It’s left for ever enthusiastic uber-geek Eli Roth to get verbose over it and as he is no stranger to cannibalising Italian genre film himself I guess that’s fair enough as a stand in. I’m pretty much in complete agreement with him and the only reason I haven’t touched on a couple of points he made is due to spoilers. There’s also an archive special effects reel and a trailer. I really enjoyed this one and eagerly await to see what else 88 Films are going to unearth in their Italian Collection.