Alien Raiders

The idea of the unknown enemy among us was a common theme in the classic days of horror and sci-fi movies. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing From Outer Space, and The Stepford Wives are among the classics that have been remade several times over, culminating in what is still one of my favorite movies in the genre: John Carpenter’s The Thing (not including the new Battlestar Galactica series which also makes use of the theme incredibly well). While Alien Raiders may not be on par with Carpenter’s remake, it’s still an interesting, albeit mostly predictable entry into the genre. Alien Raiders suffers from a horrible title which most people will pass by. While there are aliens, and there is some sort of raid going on in the movie, the title really doesn’t do the story any sort of justice, potentially misleading its audience into expecting something different from the story.

The movie takes place in and around a small town grocery store. It’s the usual kind of place you’d expect – the teenage bagboy is smitten by an attractive cashier. The grueling boss mistreats his employees while skimming money from the tills. It’s the small town environment where everyone knows everyone else, and everyone knows the local sheriff (who, coincidentally, is the step-father of said attractive cashier). The rustic environment changes rapidly, however, when a group of armed, masked assailants raid the grocery store, taking everyone inside as hostages. A particularly freaky looking, unmasked member of the raiders starts staring deeply into each of the hostages’ eyes, letting the rest of the team know each person is clear… clear of what? Unfortunately, before that is answered, the team member is blown away by a police officer who happened to be in the market when the trouble started.

The already weird situation gets stranger as the leader of the band of raiders reveals the group’s real purpose. Someone within the grocery store is a highly powered alien being – one of the most powerful this group of hunters has encountered, possibly even the king of the species. The group’s goal is to identify and execute the alien. While they do that, they’ll have to contend with the mounting police force on the outside (remember, the chief is the stepfather of one of the hostages), the plotting hostages on the inside, and a world of other problems that includes no longer having the person who can actually detect the aliens. Oh well, on to Plan B – which involves the chopping off of fingers.

Alien Raiders is obviously a fairly low budget picture, and it shows, but that isn’t necessarily bad. I’ll admit, early on in the movie when the picture changes to a night vision video camera the raiders carry, I worried that things were about to get ugly, and not in a good way. Thankfully it was only a momentary inclusion and actually makes a nice effect when you realize these guys aren’t necessarily the professional terrorists they originally appear to be. A few other moments stand out for low budget reasons – one of the people shaking violently when it is revealed they are an alien looks kind of silly – but all in all, the movie does a good job of making good use of its limited resources. Gory sequences that involve cutting off those fingers I mentioned before or combat with the aliens looks convincing enough, and the way the aliens are portrayed doesn’t stand out as a guy in a rubber suit or a low budget effect.

The story of attempting to detect the alien invaders is interesting, although predictable enough that it doesn’t hold a ton of suspense. Along the way there is some hint as to a larger story in play here. For instance, the people who can detect the aliens were apparently infected by the aliens, but it didn’t take hold. It’s a shame the movie doesn’t go into more of the mythos behind these aliens though. I wouldn’t expect a short movie like this to reveal everything, but a bit more information could have been nicely tantalizing. Instead I felt like

The problem with Alien Raiders is that nothing really stands out about the movie. The concept is so similar to other movies that it immediately begs comparison, and it doesn’t stand up well against some of those classics. Because the movie makes good use of its resources, it doesn’t stand out for campy bad reasons either. Fans of 24 might enjoy seeing Carlos Bernard in a slightly different role than he’s had on the series (although it’s not that different), but otherwise this is a fun little “aliens among us” kind of story that’s entertaining to watch but quickly forgettable. As a low budget movie, there’s not a ton of material here on the DVD. There looks like there is more, but most of it isn’t worth much of a look. As with most Warner Brothers releases these days, the disc does include a key to download a digital version of the movie for your iPod or laptop.

There are two short behind-the-scenes featurettes here - “Hidden Terror: The Making of Alien Raiders” and “Blood, Sweat, and Fears: The Special Effects of Alien Raiders”. These are nice featurettes because they actually go into the subject the title says the featurette is about. These weren’t just promotional featurettes used to advertise the film. Be warned - that means both of them are laden with spoilers, so you’ll want to avoid watching these until after watcing the movie. I wish they went more into depth than their short running time allows, but they are enjoyable while they last. Interesting of note, John Carpenter’s The Thing is mentioned at least twice over the course of the less than ten minute running time of the two combined, so that comparison was obviously something the filmmakers were going for.

The DVD attempts to extend the world of Alien Raiders by including three video diaries, two by members of the alien hunter team (where they explain their roles) and one by Whitney, the cashier of the grocery store (set up as video diaries on her MySpace page). All three of these are tremendously boring. They communicate a tiny bit of information you wouldn’t have gotten from the movie, but that’s about it. Whitney’s is particularly horrid because they attempt to foreshadow a major development in the movie, but don’t do it well. Each one runs about eight minutes long, which is seven minutes longer than the gimmick works.

The only other contents on the disc are trailers for other Raw Feed movies, which is a bit disappointing. A small picture like this, particularly a horror film done by a director who loves gore and visual effects, has a lot of potential in a commentary track. The little bit of behind-the-scenes material we get only whets the appetite, but there’s no real follow through with more information, leading to a dissatisfying look at the making of the movie, and subsequently the DVD as a whole.