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November 20, 2010

Not of This Earth

(1988, Dir. by Jim Wynorski.)

My first experience with the films of Jim Wynorski occurred when I was less than ten years old.  That might sound like a recipe for trauma, considering the filmmaker's background in exploitation flicks of the '80s, but I just happened to grow up with a strong love for Wynorski's The Return of Swamp Thing - which might be the only film the man made that didn't offer gratuitous nudity.  To be fair, I haven't gone through the man's entire filmography - which runs 87 films deep -  so maybe there are some kiddie friendly flicks hidden there.  But I know now that the odds were not in favor of a 9 year old being exposed to one of his films intentionally.

(And before you blame the parents or the cable, you should know I found the film at our public library.)

When I came across Wynorski again as a young adult - I believe through Cheerleader Massacre, which bothered me by not featuring any cheerleader costumes - it quickly became evident that this was not a director who focused on making cheesy comic films for children.  That's not a bad thing, partially because it's hard not to love a director who's used the fabulous Leone inspired pseudonym Arch Stanton, and mostly because Not of This Earth is a perfect example of the kind of '80s trash cinema that's actually a ton of fun.

A remake of a Roger Corman classic from 1957, this version stars notorious underage adult film star Traci Lords in her first "mainstream" role.  Though I'm not familiar with her previous career, Miss Lords shows a surprising talent for comedy in this nonsensical sci-fi tale.  It's clear from the start that the film isn't taking itself too seriously, and Lords' performance seems to carry the film's tone perfectly.  She may have been "classically trained" as an actress, but she learned how to present herself as a lively and attractive lead in the process and does so with ease in this case.  The other cast members are led by Arthur Roberts, playing the alien bloodsucker who employs Lords' nurse, and his heavy performance offers a fine counterpoint to the silliness that goes on around him throughout the film.

Since the film quickly establishes that there's little depth to it all, it became extremely easy for me to buy in to what Wynorski was offering.  With a quick pace, a fun synthetic musical score, and some ridiculous action, Not of This Earth is simple but effective.  And though Wynorski gets the nudity into the film (and does so often), the film doesn't dwell on it like other films in this vein I've seen did.  Maybe I'm more OK with recommending a movie that offers gratuitous nudity if there's a conversation about the plot going on at the same time, I guess.

Not of This Earth doesn't fit into that "good movie" category we've all been raised to believe in, but I had a good time watching it.  The effort put forth by Wynorski, Lords, and crew is quite visible, and the film succeeds within its resources quite nicely.  This is definitely trash cinema, but it's fun trash cinema that rises above the pile of trash I'm used to from the '80s.  Now restored on DVD by the amazing Shout! Factory, Not of This Earth should be a treat for fans of B-movies and those who want a taste of infamy from the late '80s.

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