Your best friend could be out of this world.
Year of Release: 1978
Also Known As: The Varrow Mission
Genre: Science Fiction
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: Peter Semelka
Michael Dunn ... Carl
Dan Harville ... Tony
Dale Angell ... Tiny
Alex Churchich ... Alex
Steve Bartlett ... Steve
Chad Bennion ... Mike
Ken Johnson ... Buzz
Roger Hamblin ... Ray
Holly Harkness ... Jean
Sally Jones ... Rosie
Scott Sudbury ... George
Tracey Anderson ... Joan
Dan Harville ... Tony
Mike McClure ... Varrow Male
Judy Richards ... Varrow Female
Vern Adix ... Mr. Cranston
Dave Olson ... The Creature
For nearly a century eerie rumors have brewed about the Old Mill. Mr. Cranston, the owner, laughs off the stories of U.F.O.s, flashing red lights and outer space aliens. He offers the mill to some local teenagers who believe that its ominous history makes it the perfect spot for their "spook night" contest on Halloween.
At the mill, the teenagers discover lifelike mannequin heads, strange bones and a tunnel leading to a mysterious room. Several of the friends disappear. Carl, the group's leader, is pursued by a grotesque space monster, which had been masquerading as a new student in town. Carl battles with the monster, striking it to the ground, and believes the nightmare is over... but will it ever be?
TeenAlien, remindin' us that the economy is pretty god-damned broken when you've got a Master's degree in Interstellar Warp Drive Engineering, but hafta live in a condemned buildin' to make ends meet.
An speakin' of people who're a few bucks short of a student loan payment, I don't mean to be graphic or anything, but Skunky Hernandez can take his "other duties as assigned" an stuff 'em up his cornhole. "Other duties as assigned," for those who might not know, is somethin' bosses stick on job descriptions that allows 'em to claim insubordination in your unemployment hearing after you refuse to dig up their clogged septic tank as part of your clerical position. Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that Skunky called me at 6 in the AM on July 5th (the mornin' after we all got trashed on Pole Cat beer an lit off a buncha fireworks on toppa Cleave Furguson's roof) wantin' me to come have a look at his culvert pipe. Apparently there wasn't hardly any water comin' outta there an he suspected Delbert Biddle'd gotten a little too stoked up on all that "freedom" talk they regurgitate on the 24-hour news networks an decided to dam it off on his end. Delbert thinks Skunky's a spy for the Mexican government sendin' back top secret American agricultural information or somethin', so Skunky usually sends one of us guys who're a little closer to the pale anytime somethin' needs to be done on the property line, which's when he brought up that whole "other duties as assigned" crapola. So I zombie myself outta bed, shave my tongue, grab a handfulla jerky, drive on over an sure enough - pipe runoff's down to a pitiful little trickle. Course, what Skunky didn't notice, no doubt because he couldn't smell it over his own homegrown aroma, was one hell of a stank comin' outta there, so I wander on over to the other end of the pipe an everything's more or less normal, other'n the ditch bein' kinda high an pretty badly backed up.
"So, what geevs?" Skunky asked once I'd made it back over the hill.
"Ditch's flowin' fine, culvert must be plugged. Prolly got a beaver in there or somethin," I says.
"So geet in pipe and de-beaver it greengo; pond ees already down a foot and catfeesh getting heat stroke!" he demanded.
"I'm a projectionist Skunky, not a plumber. If you're so worried about it you can squeeze that fat can of yours in there an roto-root it yourself. I'm goin' back to bed."
So we argued about it for half an hour or so an reached an agreement wherein I get free concession food an drink twice a night, an I'd crawl inside to find out what'n the heck was goin' on. Once the proper precautions were taken, of course.
"Fine, but I ain't crawlin' an inch until you show me proof that your C.H.U.D. insurance is paid up," I squinted.
So he brought me the paperwork provin' he was insured against acts of C.H.U.D. an everything seemed to be in order, but I had one more condition I wanted met before I was ready to make that Shawshank Redemption excursion; "an I also want a slingshot an some silver in case Tim Curry's in there passin' out balloons."
So he plucked out one of his fillins, handed it to me, an in I went, an lemme tell ya - the smell in there was almost as bad as the men's room at The Gutter Bowl on Five Alarm Flatch-in-the-Pants chili night. Sure's heck wasn't no beaver, that was for sure, an after a while I could feel more'n more water runnin' until eventually I saw this big lump up ahead with water spillin' over the top of it. That's when it hit me, literally; dead cow, suddenly dislodged by all the water built up behind it, an next thing I know I'm sewer surfin' like a ninja turtle on a bubonic plagued bovine boogie board, unable to squirm off without riskin' a mouth fulla septic sauce or worse: gettin' run over by it. On the plus side, when we finally reached the end of the pipe Skunk'd poked his head in to see what was goin' on an broke both my an the cow's fall.
"Think I found your problem Skunky, you missin' any cattle perchance?" I asked as he tried shovin' the corpse off his chest.
"Shut up an geet carcass off before I catch dead cow disease!" he wheezed from beneath the cowdaver.
I imagine a cougar or a bear musta stuffed it in there for leftovers only to have it roll down to the narrow spot in the middle an get stuck, but needless to say, Juanita made Skunky wash off in the pond before she'd let 'im in the house again, so at least somethin' good came outta all this nonsense.
For some reason he didn't want his fillin' back afterwards, so I traded it to Edgar Mastrude at The Video Dome for a coupla tape rentals an headed home to check out TeenAlien, which for all its faults, is probably the finest alien invasion flick ever made by teenage Mormons. Just trust me on this - when TeenAlien hit theaters back in '78 they had people lined up around the block at the local laundry mat waitin' to get their magic underoos washed out, it was pure chaos. Unfortunately, I dunno how many people outside Utah ever got to see this one in its prime, an it seems like the distributor was only able to offload about 17 copies once it dropped onto VHS. So since I may be the only person you know who's ever actually seen this thing, I'm gonna take my reviewin' duties especially serious today an present an unblemished view of the Utah filmmaker's art that's sure to increase the flick's total viewing audience by 5, maybe 10% - startin' with these three bits of B-movie wisdom. First, it's hard not to feel at least a little rejected when aliens abduct your hillbilly hooch an leave you standin' there holdin' the mug. Second, alien cloning booths don't come standard with a hair generator, so be *very* careful who you taunt at a Confederate monument removal protest. An third, there's just no way you ain't gettin' gouged at the optometrist's office when you've got nine lenses in each eyeball.
The movie begins at Brighton Canyon near the Old Mill, you know the place, right? Good, cause the director saw fit to throw that up on the screen, so I'm sure knowin' that's gonna pay big dividends later. Anyway, it's the "late 1950s", an this weird old codger who looks like Danny Bonaduce's grampa's hangin' out in his kitchen mixin' up some hillbilly hooch an listenin' to a 1940s swing rendition of The Champs' "Tequila" on the radio. But when he heads outside to do some serious porch sittin' he spots this spaceship takin' off from out behind the mill an starts gettin' concerned that the aliens might mind meld with his cattle an find out that their relationship ain't entirely professional an heads out into the yard to investigate, only to have the ship park directly above 'im an abduct his patented Cletus-colada right outta the glass while he gazes up into the radioactive kill zone an accidentally invents the farmer's tan. I don't mean to be a Monday mornin' quarterback or anything, but Orson Wells really shoulda done some kinda radio broadcast to warn folks about this kinda thing. Then 20 years pass an a different old man (Mr. Cranston) who drives a Rolls Royce that I can't even afford to look at is showin' some teenager (Carl) around the Old Mill an tells 'im the story about the old millbilly an then another about a coupla klondorks who happened to see somethin' plum bafflin' inside the mill one night. Seems the two crusty old warty-niners noticed a shadow at one of the windows, sent their dog in after it, an hadda roll coal on outta there after whatever it was malamutilated their husky. I'm guessin' the canine in the coal mine trend never really took off, prolly on account of how much cheaper it was to build cages for canaries. But like I was sayin', the old guy tells Carl about the mill's bumpkin-laced backstory an as luck would have it Carl just happens to be lookin' for a location for his high school spookhouse, so Cranston gives 'im the green light to screw around in his structurally condemned liability as long as they clear out before the the Syfy Channel hucksters show up.
It takes some schmoozin' an a whole lotta emasculation, but eventually he convinces all his weenie friends to help 'im decorate the House on Haunted Mill. But first they hafta stop an trash talk this goob named Tony an his hick clique an tell 'em they're straight up Utahded if they think they can possibly win the contest now that Carl's secured the mill. Scorin' the mill for this particular occasion's like gettin' to pick first for touch football at recess so he ain't exactly wrong, but nobody likes a braggart, an once Carl an his Salt Lake Biddies drive off to get crackin' this creep who looks like he's been outsourced from the Village of the Damned shows up an tells Tony he knows a secret entrance to the mill an that he'll help 'em sabotage the place in exchange for a case of styling mousse. Elsewhere, the Carleones've gone to work fillin' the mill with all the crap Woolworths tossed in the dumpster on November 6th of the previous year, until this Millsbury Doughboy who looks like he's failed Freshman year about six times (Tiny) stumbles upon a hidden tunnel that leads to Troy McClure's studio apartment. Then these Spanish monks show up an kidnap several members of the family without realizin' the suit of armor in the corner is occupied by one of Carl's wimps who promptly rusts out his codpiece an rattles off to tattle. Carl is P.O.'d, so he sends his crack squad of remedial Drama students to scour the grounds an leave no dead pigeon unturned til they eventually find everybody tied up in the basement like a buncha insubordinate Scientologists. Then the flick devolves into a Scooby-Doo rerun as the kids converge on the monks an yank off their hoods to find Tony an his fellow scamps made up like The Misfits, at which point Carl sends his droogs to throw 'em out on their butts while he turns the place upside down lookin' for his little brother (Mike). Alls I can say is Carl better get his stuff together like right now, cause if you think it's bad comin' home late to one P.O.'d wife, I can only imagine what it's like comin' home late to seven.
Anyhow, Carl ends up back in the hidden "laboratory" where he runs into the prince of peroxide who tells 'im he's been hidin' out there for decades disguised as an illegitimate Flair cause his planet's run by Catholics an he hadda volunteer to be a missionary just to get some personal space. Course once they realized we were a race of conscientious destructors they decided to go ahead an laser us into the ozone since we're just trashin' the place like a buncha hippies at a Rainbow Gathering anyway, an so the short version is that one way or another, Blondie's gonna get us, get us, get us, get us. That's about when our close encounter of the nerd kind goes south, cause next thing ya know Snow White's skin starts crackin' like a back alley eye tuck til his face explodes, revealin' what looks to be a dill pickle that got left in the food dehydrator too long. Unfortunately, Carl's the kinda guy who thinks a concentration camp is where they rehabilitate ADHD patients, so he immediately gets 'imself trapped inside a giant dog kennel while the alien chases Mike all over the mill until Mike finds a can of spray paint an gives 'im the Banksy treatment right in his intergalactic eyeballs. Then Carl an Mike haul butt over to the cop shop to tell 'em the aliens've invaded their little Morman Rockwell community. But this's one alien that ain't about to wind up gettin' dissected on the Fox network, an he hops in his morph-o-matic chamber an transforms into Sinead O'Conner with facial psoriasis just as the cops show up an kick the door in. This seems like a pretty good place to stop my yammerin', but if you're on the edge of your seat an havin' trouble locatin' a copy of the flick to satisfy your ill-placed curiosity, try searchin' for The Varrow Mission instead of TeenAlien.
Well, whaddya think? I promised teenage Mormons fightin' off an alien invasion and I *delivered* teenage Mormons fightin' off an alien invasion. Course, what that means is now we're in one of those situations where your options are to trash a movie made by kids, or turn a blind eye to its crap factor and make backhanded compliments like "I was impressed by the way they were able to secure enough footage to reach a standard running time," when what you really mean is that it's got 23 minutes of padding and a guy could safely fall asleep three times without losing track of the plot, so I'll probably just stick with the former. As you might expect, this isn't the kinda movie that was chuggin' along just fine until its achilles tendon rolled up on it like a window shade, and while there may not be one individual problem that single-handedly brought it down like the Black Arrow did Smaug, the thing that really sticks in my craw is the way the director slips in all the cheesy sound effects and slapstick comedy (like the scene where Tiny and that other guy get stuck tryin' to go into the tunnel at the same time) as a buffer against criticism. It's one of those "you can't make fun of us, cause we KNOW this is ridiculous" tactics people use when they know they're about to make asses outta themselves, and I don't respect it. I've said this before and I'll keep saying it: OWN YOUR SHIT. So you weren't a real filmmaker; we get it, that's not the problem - the problem is you're aware of it, you've opted to make the movie anyway, and now you're trying to save face because you've realized you're in over your head. That attitude is what separates the Ed Woods from the Lloyd Kaufmans, and it's exactly why Ed Wood's memory will last forever but Kaufman's won't. No disrespect intended to Lloyd, cause I certainly admire his tenacity and acknowledge that he's filled a niche few others could, but his movies are almost universally unwatchable. The whole thing really hacks me off, cause without the cutesy PG tone (this movie is quite possibly the most straight-edged atrocity I've ever borne witness to, and features no blood, nudity, cursing, drug use, or even smoking) and constant attempts to make it seem as though its creators were "in on the joke", it could have been an immortal cult hit, but they sissied out on us and tried salvaging their dignity. They even had a great scheme goin' wherein the entire cast "won" their roles by entering a radio contest so that the producers wouldn't have to pay them, but they pissed away that wealth of terrible acting by penning the flick as a 90 minute Scooby-Doo episode.
Makes a guy mad enough to think about demandin' his silver fillin' back, but I'm not the kind to welch on a deal, so let's pick up the pieces of this thing's shattered visage and find out how much face they were able to save by ruinin' the movie. The plot is completely asinine, although one can easily see that the virtually non-existent budget necessitated that in many ways. I won't go into excruciating detail about every little knuckle-headed device that goes against basic reason (the hillbilly's hooch evaporates from the heat of the craft but leaves him completely unscathed, the alien's inability to find a way into the cage that the teenager ingeniously traps himself in, etc.), but to quote Mike Nelson during the riffing of The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, let me just say: "frankly I think this is one invasion the world can handle". That said, I think the pacing more than anything else is what really sinks it, as you could easily cut 20 minutes out and lose absolutely nothing. They padded this sucker out with 10+ minutes of kids decorating an abandoned building, and that's on top of the fact that every single scene hasta take a connecting flight to get to the point. On the plus side, should anyone decide to review it for themselves - your note-taking will be very minimal.
Just as a disclaimer, I've got exactly squat for confidence with regard to these credits simply because I struggle with the idea that any of these kids ever acted again, but this is what the IMDB claims for casting credits, so take them with a grain of salt: Dale Angell (Don't Go in the Woods, Plan 10 from Outer Space), Ken Johnson (House of 1000 Corpses), Julie Pedersen (The Brotherhood 3), Kim Swan (Fist of the Vampire), Tom Ruff (Don't Go in the Woods).
The special effects are, of course, home-made, shoe-string budgeted garbage, but if anything about the movie deserves to be cut a little slack it's this area, because while the two effects (the alien and its spaceship) are completely pitiful - an effort was made, and they didn't try to hide them. You get to see both effects in all their god-awful glory - there's no trigger-happy editing here trying to conceal their awfulness, and you get the whole rancid enchilada from the moment the alien busts out of its human suit until it changes form (which you also get to see, and which required additional work to pull off). It's all very amateurish and pathetic, but damnit, they stuck it out there for us, and that counts for something. The shooting locations and sets are probably the strongest element of the movie, despite not being all that interesting or atmospheric. I struggle to see how this place could have ever been a mill based on the size of its rooms, but it's not completely without dilapidated charm. Some of the rooms were sets constructed by the crew, but given the budget involved there's really not much to complain about here - they did as much as could be expected with what they had, and even though this knowledge won't affect the movie's score, it would be unfair to dump on them for their set design. What I will dump on them for is the cinematography, cause it sucks ass through a straw, but the locations and sets? They did alright here, and hey - the local police helped them out by lending them the station (and I suspect their personnel) for the scenes that took place in the cop shop, so that was cool of them. The soundtrack is all over the map, with some synth music that, while generic and a bit cheesy, is actually kinda catchy and maybe even a little chilling at times. Unfortunately, for every scene helped by the scoring there're two or three hampered by the obscenely upbeat piano/drum pieces, and very early video game-esque compositions. The latter are interesting but totally out of place, and sound like something between the Atari and Nintendo generations - more complex than the Atari, but not nearly on par with the music from a good NES game. It's all very weird is what it is, so if nothing else, it's not boring. Overall, TeenAlien is terribly slow, offers very little in the way of thrills, and is for all intents and purposes a cinematic catastrophe; if it were a natural disaster, the governor would declare a state of emergency and apportion funding to help with the recovery effort. I suppose if you're a die-hard fan of regional filmmaking you can go ahead and check it out, but for everyone else: forget it Jake, it's Utah.