The Underground is our recurring feature, resurrected from an all-time great CHUD column, the aim of which is to get the word out on projects outside the Hollywood studio system. Studio films have big promotion engines behind them. The Underground caters to everything else: from indie films, to cult films in the making, pet projects, guerrilla films, internet shorts, etc.
At its heart, there’s more than a little bit of some vintage X-Files going on in All The Devil’s Aliens. And that goes deeper than the fact that there are actually aliens from Roswell skulking about in the shadows. One might think that said aliens would be the thing to fear the most in this tale about a male nurse’s first night out in the middle of nowhere caretaking for a cantankerous old bastard who used to be somebody back in the day. But the old bastard in question has some decidedly deadly issues of his own with which to contend, and that subsequently makes this horror genre mash up all the more unusual.
The story centers on Michael (David Gries), an empathetic nurse, who is assigned to drive out into the boondocks to assist in the caretaking of Stanton Pinborough (Joseph Scott Anthony), who used to be a wealthy muckety muck but who long ago went insane and later became a recluse when his son disappeared mysteriously and his wife died. Of course when there’s a crazy, rich old man in a lonely old house there are bound to be rumors. In Pinborough’s case, the whispers are that he had something to do with the controversy over the alleged Roswell crash in 1947, but nobody knows what exactly. But now he’s just a crabby old fart who terrorizes nurses, and none more so than his primary caretaker, Robin (Lisa Mueller), whom Michael will be assisting. No one other than Robin has even seen Pinborough for years.
As Michael arrives at the house, he’s warned by his predecessor, who looks ready to freak out, that the house ain’t, well, right. She pukes in the driveway to punctuate her point before driving away at a faster clip than her ratty old car is even able. Michael meets Robin, who is a kind, but very put-upon nurse seeing to Pinborough’s every whim, and is decidedly happy to have Michael – a male nurse – to back her up. Pinborough is represented for nearly the first hour by a baby monitor, which delivers all of the labored breathing, lung-hacking coughs and foul-mouthed loveliness of the man. When she’s not running up to ameliorate him, Robin’s giving Michael the rules and telling him about the stories of Pinborough’s past, real and rumored. She intimates that his son did disappear mysteriously and his wife died around the same time, decades ago. Between the stories, the old house, which is a convention of shadows, lurking figures in those shadows, and Pinborough’s creepy voice, the story is on a decided build up of dread until Michael has to come face to face with Pinborough when Robin disappears suddenly.
When the meeting does occur, we learn with Michael that Pinborough is not only a miserable old bastard, but an intimidatingly creepy dervish of insanity, rage and regret. It all stems from the all-too-true fact that not only was Pinborough involved in the Roswell affair, but that he did something to piss off the aliens to the degree that they’ve tormented him for decades, including that very night. Furthermore, Pinborough’s encounters with the aliens are directly responsible for the fates of his family. So it turns out that humans aren’t the only vengeful entities in the known universe. Not only will the aliens not let Pinborough die, it appears that they’ve been keeping him young for decades so that his torment won’t end with his natural death. And Michael gets caught square in the middle of Pinbnborough’s personal war with them.
There are three main performances in the story, with Gries delivering a solid turn in a sea of weird shit going on around him. Mueller is also particularly good. Her exasperation and weariness with her position, yet her genuine concern for Pinborough is palpable, even when he abuses her verbally and in one case, physically in an extremely foul method. But Anthony steals this whole show with his batshit rendition of Pinborough. Pinborough is far beyond not a nice person. He’s harboring secrets both done to him and that he has done. He doesn’t suffer fools at all and when Robin is no longer around, he focuses all of his unhinged attention to Michael.
Director Daniel Falicki seems to draw more than a little inspiration from some mythology episodes of X-Files, both in his presentation of the aliens and their motivations. They’re often seen as humanoid silhouettes scurrying about both inside the house and outside, with beady red eyes at times. Falicki shows an aptitude here for the slow burn of inducing dread, mostly in the first hour. The remainder of the film is straight up freaky shit going on, both from the aliens and especially Pinborough, who makes Norman Bates look like an friggin’ amateur in the playing-with-dead-body arena. This is an interesting personal war going on between a weary but manic old (young) man and some pissed off aliens, who are genuinely fucking with him. It’s cooky.
If there are any quibbles to be had, it’s in the fact that the aliens, advanced as I guess they are, and after better than half a century, seem to have not a goddamned clue when it comes to go about getting what they really want from Pinborough, when Michael figures it out in one night. It sort of follows the logic of a certain other race of aliens who melt like wicked witches when touched by water and yet invading a planet full of the stuff.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
All The Devil’s Aliens is from Sector 5 Films, an indie distributor that’s part of a group of companies under the Alchemy Works banner including Reality Films, Chemical Burn Entertainment, World Wide Multi Media and Eyes Wide Open Films.
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