Color, 1988, 87 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Kathy Ireland, Thom Mathews, Richard Haines, Linda Kerridge, William R. Moses
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
The history of Cannon Films took some odd turns over the course of its relatively short life, often unleashing multiple films per month or even per day. In one of the weirdest twists, the same day Cannon officially launched Jean-Claude Van Damme as an action star with Bloodsport on February 26, 1988, they also tried to make a movie star out of someone far better known to the general public with a release that ended up on far fewer screens. One of the most famous women to ever appear in Sports Illustrated, supermodel Kathy Ireland took the unorthodox step of picking her first starring movie role in Alien from L.A., which barely registered at the box office but was more popular on home video as well as a quotable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The film was another surprising swerve in the career of Hawaiian-born director Albert Pyun, who started his career off with a bang with 1982's The Sword and the Sorcerer and would go on to direct one of Cannon's biggest home video hits, the Van Damme vehicle Cyborg, as well as the infamous 1990 version of Captain America.
Considering its star was best known for appearing in swim wear, Alien from L.A. makes the questionable decision to cover her in rags and dust for most of the running time in the role of Wanda Saknussemm, a bespectacled wallflower who's very unlucky with love among the Malibu surfer crowd. Meanwhile her archaeologist father (Haines) is off in Africa trying to prove his theory that Atlantis, a civilization spawned by aliens, still lurks somewhere inside the earth. He ends up putting that to an extreme test when he plunges into a deep hole and disappears, which sends Wanda following his footsteps right into that same subterranean pit. Down below she encounters a strange totalitarian society including Gus (Moses), a miner who agrees to help her out. She also falls afoul of mutants and monsters, though the motorcycle-riding Charmin' (Return of the Living Dead's Mathews) comes to rescue her in a moment of extreme peril. However, that's just the start of her problems as she has to help save her dad and outwit the propaganda-spewing powers that be who insist her world above couldn't possibly exist.
Heavily reminiscent of Jules Verne right down to its main character's last name, Alien from L.A. actually doesn't have much to do with the titular city apart from a few minutes at the beginning and end. Most of its was actually shot around Johannesburg, South Africa, a frequent stomping ground for Cannon regulars like producer Avi Lerner and director Alan Birkinshaw that would go on to land the studio in public relations jeopardy due to the country's refusal to stop apartheid. Appropriately, Pyun was brought back by Cannon just after this to salvage an abandoned production by Rusty Lemorande, Journey to the Center of the Earth, with Ireland coming back as Wanda in a few scenes to make it a sorta-kinda sequel. Alien from L.A. will never be ranking in the upper tier of Cannon releases, of course, but its sweet fantasy vibe and amusing attempts to ape Terry Gilliam make it an amiable time killer if you're in the right frame of mind. Among the cast, Mathews is a standout as always and the appealing Linda Kerridge (Fade to Black) is underused but striking here as a very pale denizen of the underworld.
Like most of Cannon's output, this one ended up with MGM and turned up regularly on cable TV for a while. In 2003, the new full frame (open matte) master MGM struck was used for a mostly overlooked standalone DVD release with only a trailer as an extra; that was later ported into a double feature DVD from 2005 paired up with Morons from Outer Space. Both of those in turn ended up in a four-movie Midnite Movies pack in 2011 with The Man from Planet X and The Angry Red Planet, which is still floating around. For the film's Blu-ray debut in 2021 as part of Vinegar Syndrome's halfway to Black Friday sale, you get a fresh new 2K scan from the 35mm interpositive that also seems to represent the first widescreen release on home video ever. The dark photography and heavy accent on saturated primary color lighting both fare much better here with those vivid reds and oranges looking quite nice, and the 1.85:1 framing gives it less of a cable TV feeling than the earlier DVD editions. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track (with optional English SDH subtitles) is a solid reproduction of the original Ultra-Stereo sound mix, which has some nice channel separation in the front while filling in the rear channels with some modest sound effects and giddy pop music. Three new extras are included here starting off with "Making a Fairytale" (13m46s) with director and co-writer Pyun, who explains how this originated when he witnessed the Mexico City earthquake while making Down Twisted, as well as his desire to make a light PG-rated fairy tale adventure versus the usual R-rated fare he was doing. He also goes into the deliberate casting of the very tall Ireland opposite other actors who were predominantly 5'4" or less, the shooting during a turbulent period in Johannesburg, and how he ended up doing the "sequel." In "Putting the Puzzle Together" (10m50s), Mathews talks about being cast during production when the film needed a love interest, the fact that this was originally written as Journey to the Center of the Earth (confused yet?), and his warm memories of working with Ireland, as well as a few thoughts about some of his other big roles and his love of horror fans. Finally a quick audio interview with Kerridge (3m22s) is a nice addition to her one on Fade to Black as she goes into her multi-film collaborations with Pyun and her good experiences with Ireland during the shoot.
Reviewed on May 27, 2021