Strange Invaders is one of those films I’ve always heard good things about from friends and colleagues. As I’ve mentioned before, I worked in the home video market for a short time, and – back in the day – many of these more obscure titles would hit the shelves on a fairly consistent basis. This was a popular rental for its time, and many of the folks who returned it said good things of it – the story and the production value – but I’d never quite taken it in, though I wanted to given my affinity for the subject matter (alien visitation).
The story is as follows: Centerville (IL) is the small Midwestern town that is the recipient of a visitation that turns into something vastly more interesting (which the audience learns later in the film) – a 25-year study by a ‘higher species’ to understand Earth and its inhabitants, though we’re never quite told for what purpose. Cut to 25 years later, and Charles Bigelow (played by Paul LeMat) agrees to watch his daughter while his ex-wife – Margaret (Diana Scarwid) – travels home to Centerville for her mother’s funeral. When two weeks go by and the woman hasn’t returned, Bigelow decides to head to the Midwest himself, only to discover something’s afoot in the sleepy li’l place … and before it’s all over he might just uncover one of the greatest conspiracies of his generation!
Invaders is actually chocked full of talented players, including the always reliable Nancy Allen as ‘National Informer’ reporter Betty Walker and the immeasurably gifted Louise Fletcher in the role of chief conspiracist Mrs. Benjamin. (Seriously? No one could give her a first name?) June Lockhart, Charles Lane, Fiona Lewis, and Kenneth Tobey round out the cast (in roles ranging from human to alien-inhabited humans); and the ensemble appears to have a reasonable amount of fun with the UFO-themed material as any group would.
Essentially, what transpires in the picture’s second half involves Bigelow’s daughter being abducted (for purposes that never quite get explained satisfactorily so far as this reviewer was concerned), but it’s necessary in order to set the stage for the big finish: the aliens are coming back, and we’re not sure if this will be good or bad for the big blue marble. There’s a race against time – involving a former contactee (the great Michael Lerner) – and despite some heavy-handedness with all of the set-up much of the flavor turns sugary in the last reel as (SPOILER ALERT) loved ones are reunited for (again) not specific reason provided by the script.
Interestingly enough, Invaders taps into many of the more common UFO tropes of its era. The flying saucer phenomenon was in one of its many heydays (early to mid-1980s), much of which can be attributed to the greater Roswell mythology really coming to life as well as Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and E.T. – THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL charming the pants off of audiences (as well as plenty of money from their wallets). There’s even a throwaway sight gag by Mrs. Benjamin delivered with a nod and a wink: when being asked to identify from photographs the common type of alien he saw, Bigelow is presented with a series of wacky drawings as well as a snap of Mr. Spielberg. Clearly, Invaders saw itself as being part of that larger cinematic universe, the biggest difference being that its story and presentation lack any of those superior films’ nuances (and production budget).
However, I also found the feature filled with many flaws, most of which would normally mean sentencing it to the theatrical graveyard. For example, the script never quite identifies what all of this is meant to be about, instead choosing to explore circumstance without any greater consequence. Far too often, day becomes night which very quickly becomes day again, making the close viewer wonder exactly how much time has elapsed despite the fact that cinematically it all played out in only moments. Lastly, the pesky aliens are given rather ominous treatment throughout most of the picture, seemingly robbing the life force of the various contactees; their seeming act of goodwill in returning all whom they’ve taken in the finale is an act of benevolence that comes out of nowhere with little explanation, and it would’ve been nice to have been given some morsel of explanation, regardless of how small … or distasteful.
At best, STRANGE INVADERS feels like a kinda/sorta ‘wannabe’: all involved quite possibly thought they were making something bigger than what they delivered. There’s enough general weirdness in there to suggest that it wanted to explore the world of alien contact, abduction, and all that goes with it; but by only casually mentioning each of assorted facts (much like bullet points in a Powerpoint presentation) it lacks any real depth to be taken seriously. I’d even stop short of calling it a B-movie (though others have) only because I didn’t find any significant “rewatchability” quotient to it in the slightest; more of a curiosity than a legitimate “find” in the realm of lost pictures, it’s probably best considered a curiosity … much like its subject matter.