Susan King has been writing about film in Los Angeles for decades but she is making her first guest contribution to the Hero Complex today with a look at “Alien Trespass,” a bit of intergalactic camp that (if it’s anything like its official website) might fit nicely into a film festival with “Mars Attacks! “ and “Earth Girls are Easy” and perhaps even the sublime “Ed Wood.”
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s, R.W. Goodwin would spend Saturday afternoons at the Ritz Theater in Inglewood watching double features of such sci-fi classics as “War of the Worlds” and “It Came from Outer Space,” as well as some of the cheesier thrillers Hollywood churned out during that decade.
And his love for the genre continues. A successful film and TV producer, Goodwin received numerous Emmy nominations as an executive producer of the seminal 1990s sci-fi series “The X-Files” and directed several episodes of the hit show. Even his wife, Sheila Larken, made an appearance as Agent Scully’s mother in several installments.
“I live in a city in northwestern Washington called Bellingham,” says Goodwin. “And I have become friends with a guy named James Swift, who was an enormous ‘X-Files’ fan. The irony was when he was a young kid he used to go to Inglewood to the Ritz Theater. We realized pretty early on we had gone to the same elementary school and junior high and didn’t know each other.”
Swift came to Goodwin a few years ago with some scripts and an outline for a 1950s-style sci-fi thriller called “Alien Trespass” that channeled some of the flying-saucer magic of Eisenhower-era cinema. In Swift’s various scripts, he plucked themes, character inspiration and monster types from “War of the Worlds,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still’’ and ’It Came from Outer Space” and added some new twists.
“The scripts weren’t very well done,” Goodwin said. “They had some issues, but the story was cool…. He created a new story, but it seemed so familiar, it felt genuinely like the 1950s.”
Before Goodwin committed to the idea of the throwback film (which opens Friday at the Monica 4 Plex, Mann Chinese 6 and Pasadena’s Playhouse 7 Cinemas ), he revisited all those 1950s films by using a powerful spinning disc that allowed film fans to travels through time — a shiny flat saucer known as a “D-V-D.”
“Everything was just as I remembered it as a kid,” he says. “I was scared to death by these things. I had incredible primal imprints on me from some of the movies. I was happy to relive them, but at the same time seeing those ‘50s movies, I was laughing a lot. If you look at the movies now they are inadvertently funny, though the people who were making them were serious about them. I figured if we did something that was absolutely true to the time, we could do it intentionally inadvertently funny.”
In the end, the final script was written by Steven P. Fisher (Swift and Fisher share a “story by” credit) and handed to a cast that plays it perfectly straight, especially Eric McCormack, who plays a brilliantly nerdy astronomer named Ted Lewis living in a small California desert town. He and his wife witness a spaceship crash one night into a local mountaintop. Escaping from the saucer is a murderous being called the Ghota that’s bent on destroying all of humankind. It’s up to the ship’s sweet pilot, Urp, to save the world. So he inhabits the body of Ted and, with the help of a local waitress (Jenni Baird), searches for the Ghota. For genre fans, take note that Robert Patrick of “The X-Files” and “T2: Judgment Day” also stars in the film. (Have you read the rumors, by the way, that Patrick might be in the mix to return to his T-1000 role in director McG’s revival of the “Terminator” franchise?)
“Alien Trespass” was shot in Canada for “well under $5 million,” says Goodwin. “We made it in 15 days. Every single department prepped so hard.” Visual effects supervisor Eric Chauvin (“Lost,” “Pushing Daisies”) supplied the distinctly low-tech movie magic. The only CGI here stands for “crude Ghota image” since the maurading off-worlder was made with an old-fashioned software known as “rubber.” The flying saucer and other alien effects were done with animation techniques of 50 years ago.
“We weren’t,” Goodwin said, “trying to fool anyone.”
— Susan King