Not of this Earth (1988) (DVD)

“The fate of the world is in the hands of one woman: Traci Lords.”

Roger Corman’s original 1957 Not of This Earth was a simple film, but perhaps that’s why it’s still so fondly remembered. It’s about a human-looking alien come from space to steal blood from earthlings to save his home world. A combo of both the vampire genre and the alien invasion genre, it had very few special effects, relying instead on memorable performances by Paul Birch as the villainous alien and Beverly Garland as his hapless nurse who stumbles onto his secret.

Fast forward to 1988. Corman, now a producer, was allegedly wary of remaking his original, until famed shlockmeister Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) announced that he had adult film star Traci Lords (Blade) available to star. At the time, Lords had made worldwide headlines in a scandal, when it was revealed that most of her X-rated films had been made when she was underage. Corman, no doubt seeing controversy-fueled dollar signs, agreed.

Two B-movie giants, an infamous actress, and a classic sci-fi fable all converged, and Not of This Earth was reborn.

Nadine (Lords) is a nurse with an unusual patient. Mr. Johnson (Arthur Roberts, Revenge of the Ninja) needs blood transfusions on a regular basis, so he hires her to move in with him, staying in the guest room in his mansion, to do the job. She quickly learns that not all is right with Mr. Johnson. His behavior is strange, he keeps odd hours, and people end up missing after meeting him. Nadine investigates, with the help of handyman Jeremy (Lenny Juliano, The Bare Wench Project) and police officer Harry (Roger Lodge, ESPN Trivial Pursuit). Johnson has many secrets, not the least of which is that he is…Not of This Earth!

You just can’t talk about Not of This Earth without talking about Traci Lords. After the shocking scandal that brought her worldwide infamy, this movie was her first “mainstream” role. (A Corman/Wynorski production is “mainstream” now?) According to a 2003 interview in the late, lamented Cult Movies magazine, Lords had somehow managed to secure a spot at the legendary Strasburg Institute, where she learned “the rules” for acting, only to arrive on set of Not of This Earth to discover that the rules don’t apply to cheapie B-movies. Still, she’s exactly what the movie needs. Her heroine Nadine is witty and confident, but also vulnerable enough to make audiences relate to her. Despite her troubled past, Lords manages to pull off the “girl next door” shtick excellently.

As for the rest of the movie, it does what remakes should but rarely do. It maintains the themes and images we remember from the first one, but updates them in just the right ways, to reflect the modern time (or late ’80s time, in this case) that the movie was made. The film has the characters and plot that we remember, but the style and attitude have been updated. Like Cronenberg with The Fly and Carpenter with The Thing, Wynorski took Corman’s original and made it his own. Let’s not forget, though, that this is still Jim Wynorski we’re talking about. Cheesy effects, stock footage galore and lots and lots and lots of boobies make this a Wynorski flick if there ever was one.

Despite all the murder and mayhem, the tone is fairly light throughout. There’s not a lot of straightforward jokes, but more of a tongue-in-cheek attitude. It’s as if everyone involved knew that audiences would likely laugh at the movie, so they decided to be in on the joke. Arthur Roberts provides a deadpan performance as the alien, just what is needed. The movie is already over the top, so if he had also shot for over-the-top, then it would have been too much. Juliano gets a few good laughs as the sleazy handyman, and Lodge does what he can as the “Ken Doll” boyfriend for our heroine.

Thanks to stock footage, the movie is a lot bigger than it appears. One of the big horror scenes, in which one of Johnson’s fellow aliens stalks and kills an innocent woman, is actually a scene lifted in its entirety from Joe Dante’s Hollywood Boulevard, also a Corman production. Likewise, glimpses of the spaceship at the beginning and an opening credits sequence that promises space monsters galore are made up of footage from several other Corman-related films. Some might be enraged by the cheapness of this, but for others, it just adds to the movie’s low-budget charm.

Once again, the pop culture gods and goddesses at Shout! Factory have proven to be the coolest of the cool with their work on the Roger Corman collection. Not of This Earth benefits from a brand-new digital transfer. Although the picture is often soft, colors are bright and vivid, blacks are deep and rich, and the oh-so-very-important flesh tones look natural. I did notice a couple of scratches here and there, but not enough to hamper anyone’s enjoyment of the movie. The sound is decent, making the most of the rockin’ synth score by Chuck Cirino (Angel Eyes).

For extras, Wynorski and Lords reunite for an audio commentary. This is a great one, filled with trivia notes about most of actors on screen, anecdotes from the production, and the pair catching up with one another about how their lives have gone since the movie was made. They both have great attitudes about the movie, and fond remembrances of it. The second commentary is a solo one by Wynorski, recorded for a previously-released DVD, containing more trivia and anecdotes about the film. A brand new interview with Lords has her putting the movie in perspective about her emotional state at the time of making it, as well as her thoughts about it today. This followed by the trailers for this and the 1957 version, as well as trailers for other Roger Corman movies.

How does one review a movie like this? From a strict “film theory and criticism” stance, you can’t really call it a good movie. From a purely base point of view, the movie is a lot of trashy fun. It is what it is, Corman and Wynorski’s Not of This Earth. Make it your next midnight movie.

The Verdict

Not guilty of this Earth.

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