Two weeks ago THEY landed on Earth. Today beneath a major American city the experiments begin...
Year of Release: 1983
Genre: Science Fiction
Running Time: 87 minutes (1:27)
Director: Mike Gray
Robert Carradine ... Bobby Sinclair
Cherie Currie ... Iris Longacre
Keenan Wynn ... Dan
Cal Bowman ... Gen. Milton Ward
James Hess ... Col. James MacGruder
Terry Burns ... Capt. Hinsdale
Eric Morris ... Dr. Vernon Cottrell
Dov Young ... Gamma
Josh Oreck ... Beta
Christian Morris ... Delta
Wavelength is the fourth in a series of reviews I've chosen to write as a tribute to Joe Bob Briggs for his lifetime of dedication to B, Drive-In and Exploitation movies. It was his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column and host segments on Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and Monstervision that inspired me to write with what limited ability I have. Thanks for everything Joe Bob, we all 'preciate what you do.
Regarding the ordering of these 12 tribute reviews, I'll be counting down the first 12 horror movies that Joe Bob reviewed back in '82 and '83. Less the titles I've already done up to this point. By the time I decided to do this, I'd already done some of those first 12 titles, so call that a blunder on my part. Wavelength, technically speaking, was the 15th horror movie Joe Bob reviewed in his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column, and the 36th overall.
For anyone that might be curious, the non horror titles (or titles that I may have done previously) between Wavelength and my next review were: Screwballs (#35) and Losin' It (#34).
Robert Carradine is a rock star on the comeback living in the Hollywood Hills with his girlfriend, Cherie Currie, who hears voices, which he cannot, coming from an abandoned Air Force facility. With the aid of Keenan Wynn, a crusty old prospector that lives in his tent in the Hills, they are taken to an air shaft which leads to the so-called abandoned air base. The couple stumble on an ultrasecret government project involving aliens from outer space recovered from a recent unidentified flying object crash site. After their discovery, capture and subsequent escape, the FBI, CIA, NASA and the Army intelligence combine all their resources to find this unlikely band of Hollywood desperadoes and destroy them. A very extra-terrestrial surprise ending.
Wavelength; keeping the tin foil hat stylish since 1982. The tin foil hat's actually a seriously underutilized tool when it comes to the diagnosis of specific types of psychoses. If the hat stops the voices from gettin' in, you've got proof that the aliens really are tryin' to take over your brain an force you to watch reruns of Alf. On the other hand, if you still hear the voices with the hat properly fitted, you're prolly possessed by Satan an should consider checkin' yourself into a nunnery where you'll have to stare at the nuns in the communal shower til Big D finally cracks an runs screamin' from your soul as he tries to dig his eyes outta the sockets with an ice cream scoop. Of course, the tin foil hat is chided an derided by the scientific community, but that's not because it don't work, that's just what they want you to think. No, the tin foil hat is discredited because it's dirt cheap. An if people realize they can get a diagnosis without the aid of some bald-headed windbag wearin' horn rimmed glasses an a bad comb over who strokes his beard for minutes at a time an says things like "the id has taken firm control of your life, and until we can retrain your superego to intercede at critical junctures, you will always succumb to the urge to carry dead squirrels around in your pockets while playing the drum solo to Inagaddadavida on the cantaloupes in the produce section", all of our country's wine tasting groups will fold and fancy pants restaurants that have three month waiting lists might have to decrease it to just two months. Pfft, psychiatrists. They're not the boss of me. But anyway, betcha can't guess who hates this one. I know you can't guess, cause pretty much ain't nobody seen this one. Well Ray Santilli saw it, an he was furious. You remember Ray, sold an alien autopsy video to Fox back in the day for big bucks? Poor Fox, they've bought more bridges than the front row of a Merle Haggard concert. Anyway, Ray saw this one a little too late an it really wiped that smug look right offa his pretentious face. He coulda bought the rights to this sucker an sold it to Fox for way less than what he paid for those guys to put on radiation suits an cut open a ketchup filled RealDoll. It's not like anybody's seen this thing anyway, nobody woulda noticed. Equally upsetting, if he'd watched Wavelength a little sooner maybe he'da thought not to imply that an extra-terrestrial being only has one big organ that looks like a prom night dumpster baby. Poor Ray, he's the real victim in all this, cause as daft as Fox is, they still raked in millions offa his farce thanks to the Alex Jones fan club. Maybe if he'da sold 'em the rights to Wavelength he'da been able to save enough cash to get a hat to cover up that Mr. Clean haircut he's got goin'. I think we all aughta take up a collection for Ray, I'm bein' completely serious here, anybody got Jerry Lewis's number? He'll prolly do it for free as long as we promise to let 'im put in the buck teeth an sing I'm in the Mood for Love.
Getting back on track, as what has to be the greatest movie ever made to feature both the cranky ramblins of Keenan Wynn and outer space aliens that look suspiciously like child actors (beating out the also enjoyable Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star), Wavelength has a lot goin' for it an demands closer examination. First thing you aughta know in case you're ever tryin' to smuggle bald-headed space babies into the Mojave Desert; it's every bit as easy as smugglin' Mexicans into the Arizona desert. One of these days we've gotta build a big fence around Bakersfield so no aliens can escape. Second, the military is very much in favor of quarantining any dangerous disease that might be spread by bald-headed space babies, or those who may have contacted the bald-headed space babies. Unless of course they themselves were in contact with 'im, which is a completely different situation that warrants an exception. An third, don't ever question somebody about the voices in their head. Not only does it really get their fur up, but there's a good chance that said voices might take a dislike to you an start tellin' the whack job that your skull would make a great conversation piece if it were mounted above their gun cabinet. But even though Wavelength has a classic Spielbergian happy ending, there's somethin' about this one that really worries me. In the movie, the aliens can only communicate with people that have pretty much nothin' goin' on in their head, otherwise their signals get jumbled with the stuff normal people have goin' on in their minds like struggling vainly to get "Friday" by Rebecca Black offa loop or tryin' to figure out why folks used to call black people "colored" when black is by definition the absence of color. So it kinda looks to me like when these aliens do show up, the only people they're gonna be able to communicate with'll be; Jenny McCarthy, Stephen Baldwin, Sarah Palin, an Frank Stallone. That's not gonna end well for anybody involved cause Jenny's pretty much swimmin' with disease cause she's too goddamned stupid to understand how vaccines work. Stephen'll end up gettin' 'em high which'll lead to the munchies an ultimately, to them eatin' us an developin' a taste for human flesh, at which point they'll start importin' us back to their planet so they can open up fast food restaurants like in Bad Taste. Sarah'll prolly have 'em all rounded up an dropped off on a deserted island an start a new reality show based on The Most Dangerous Game. An Frank, well, he'll prolly just end up borin' 'em to death with stories about Sly an they'll have no choice but to blast off in a blind rage when they realize that Frank didn't lift a finger to stop Sly from makin' Judge Dredd. This is a real problem; they're gonna take one look at us an move on to the next star, permanently condemnin' me to a lifetime of dealin' with you people.
The movie begins with what looks to be a point of view acid trip wherein three nekkid child actors in bald caps're trapped inside prefitted vegetable steamers while Tangerine Dream plays in the background. They couldn't afford a shocking pre-credit sequence so they went with this, which is still at least as unnerving as havin' a single Twilight Mom sit down next to you in the back row of the movie theater. Elsewhere, Carradine the lesser (Robert) is awoken by his dog who's barkin' up a storm cause he's hearin' Sperm whale noises inside his head an can't get any shut eye. It's like tinnitus for hippies. So Rob gets up an goes to the recordin' studio to work on a new album cause his drug dealers've stopped takin' I.O.U.s, an while all this is goin' on we've got some Wonder Years-esque voice over tellin' us all about Rob an how dreamy the narrator thinks he is. Unfortunately, Rob gets tossed out on his butt for not payin' his last recordin' bill an for dishonorin' the family name by havin' anything to do with Lizzie McGuire. So he ends up goes down to the bar an sits next to the girl doin' the voice over (Iris) so she'll quit doin' that an then they get in his car an run into Keenan Wynn on the way home. Keenan's one of those guys that functions entirely on liquor an sits around all day talkin' about how they did things in his day an that the country's gone to hell in a handbasket ever since Truman left the white house. So Rob gives 'im some scratch so he can head down to the Stuckey's an pick up some lunch as Iris looks down into the valley with a look of confusion not unlike the one you might see on Dubya while he tries to program his TiVo. Then they press on an upon arriving back at Rob's place, she stares adoringly at 'im while he plays guitar with this look on 'er face like she's gonna eat 'im after sex. The next morning, the dog's causin' a ruckus again, only this time Iris can hear the Sperm whale mating calls as well an starts freakin' out like she's havin' a 'Nam flashback. I guess if only she an the dog can hear it, that'd make her a bitch. Which is precisely what she acts like after she tells Rob about it an he shows the tiniest degree of skepticism, so Rob decides he believes her before she decides to use her nails to make 'im into a believer an they head into town to take a walk. Once there, they happen upon a supposedly abandoned military base with the standard "don't even think about it" signs all around, all the while the woman with the screaming brain tries to convince 'im it's still operational cause there's plants in the window an a help wanted sign out front. So then they go talk to Keenan again an Rob asks 'im if he's seen anything weird lately an Keenan reminds 'im they're in Beverly Hills which is essentially like tryin' to use gaydar inside a steel mill.
That evening, Rob starts askin' Keenan what he knows about the base an you see Keenan's eyes light up like a nerd in the library when it looks like a woman might speak to 'im. So anyway, Keenan explains that he helped build the place an that it's so enormous that the Walton kids might consider it an acceptable living space for their chihuahuas. Rob, bein' the daring type, at least when it's clear there's a good chance he'll be permanently cut off if he isn't, decides to go down into an air shaft which leads to the base. So Keenan shows 'im how to get in an Rob an Iris creep down the tunnel passage til they've gone so far underground that think they can hear Gollum talkin' to 'imself around the corner, but pretty quick the space babies start telepathically screamin' in 'er ear like Dani Filth an she goes ape shit til the military shows up an puts 'em in the crossbar hotel. You can't really blame 'er, cause in the room below there're these military doctors slicin' up one of the space babies who's havin' trouble conveyin' to the doctors that it ain't dead yet an that those organs they're yankin' out're sorta important. So while Rob an Iris clatter little tin cups against the bars in their cells, the military runs down all the stuff the film crew didn't have the budget to show us. IE; that the alien ship was shot down a couple weeks ago an that the surrounding area now looks like three mile island. About that time the head doctor (Cottrell) starts gettin' curious about why Iris started squealin' before anybody even knew she was in there an decides to go ask Rob, only by now he's got a club an he's tryin' to concuss anybody that gets within pasty white armslength. Eventually they're able to calm 'im down enough to ask why Iris started shriekin' like the director threatened to cut off her voice over privileges an Rob says he dunno but that it was the first time he'd ever seen 'er change her facial expression in his whole life. The next day, the military goons bring Iris in to see Cottrell an General Halftrack, who then take her into the room with the vegetable steamers. So Iris pulls up a chair an listens to the space babies complain about their cramped quarters an promises that their parents'll pay the ransom. She eventually turns around an tells the uniforms that they wanna know where their buddy is... awkward. So the GI Jokes get on the horn an call in an even bigger wig an tell 'im that the space babies're awake, colicky, an need changin'. Later on, the armed farces gather in the situation room an try to figure out why only Iris can hear 'em an whether they aughta tell Ronald Reagan about this or not since he'll prolly just use it in a series of speeches to try an achieve peace with the Russians. Cottrell explains that she can prolly hear 'em cause she's a twin, an that it's a well known fact that twins communicate telepathically to coordinate their efforts to terrorize their parents.
She's also got a "heightened" state of mind where she can attain this spooky zen meditation thing like a Buddhist monk that blocks out all unwanted distractions. It's kinda like what allows guys to watch football even when there's women around demandin' we take out the garbage. Then Iris tells 'em the space babies need light cause it's real dark inside their vegetable steamers an they're tryin' to pass the time by readin' Communion, but they also need it cause they're part vegetable like The Thing from Another World an they can't get any photosynthesis goin' under these conditions. Meanwhile, military intelligence has determined that the man who swung a club at 'em, threatened to sue 'em, and who's been found guilty of playin' Lewis Skolnick in Revenge of the Nerds should be allowed to go free. But when the gopher heads to the transmission room to arrange transport, Radar tells 'im he just got a message for the General. The guy immediately commits a federal offense an after he reads the note he gets this look on his face like he just ate 6 Big Macs after takin' an Alli capsule. So he tries to reseal the envelope an get it to General Mills as quickly as possible cause it would appear that all the witnesses to the spaceship crash seem to be coming down with inexplicable cases of death. So either it was exposure to the spaceship or they've all got prescriptions for Celebrex, but this is no time to take chances, so the military puts the base on lockdown an starts puttin' guys in Bobcats so they can bury the space babies like they're nothin' more than toxic waste canisters. By now, everyone that even bore witness to the alien autopsy's gone tits up an so the feds stick Rob in the containment area with Iris while Rob threatens to tell his successful relatives on 'em. John an Dave're gonna have their hides for this. About that time Rob an Iris start hearin' the debris bein' moved in their direction an figure they've got nothin' to lose by bustin' the space babies outta the vegetable crispers an are surprised to see that they've actually got a whole lot to gain when one of 'em melts the lock right offa the security door an they all run faster'n Charles Durning when he catches the scent of burgers on a barbecuer. Eventually, Rob, Iris an the space babies escape out the air shaft they entered through to find Keenan dangerously low on Jack Daniels while the feds below try to figure out whether they should go with the weather balloon or swamp gas story on this one in case they're not able to execute the escapees. Then they head into town an Keenan tries to find somebody weird enough to taxi them an their nekkid friends while the space babies check out what the inside of a public bathroom looks like. That's right guys, you came to see a planet where the inhabitants can't master gettin' their bodily waste into the receptacle, how's that workin' out for ya?
Then these two chunkheads walk in an think Rob an Iris're producin' child porn an try to rescue the space babies, only when one of 'em grabs ahold of an arm, his Hai Karate ignites an nobody's got any piss left to put out the fire. Afterwards, the space babies start feelin' real guilty, so they head over to the church to apologize an just kinda stare at Jesus up on the cross til they get real sad face. He's the only person they've ever seen that's more emaciated than they are. After that whole bathroom incident, Rob's just about had it with people thinkin' he's tryin' to Sandusky the space babies, so he grabs the church donation box an gets 'em to put on some acid washed jeans an some Members Only jackets an head back outside to see if Keenan's found a coyote that'll help 'em smuggle their aliens. Fortunately, Keenan's Indian buddies finally got telephone service in their teepees an agreed to pull all their butts outta the fire an pretty quick the Indians load 'em up an head for the Mojave desert. But en route, Rob starts lookin' like he ate too many Guatamalan Insanity Peppers an by this point they're 30 miles from the nearest bottle of Pepto Bismol. Meanwhile, the military (much like Custer) is about three steps behind the Indians, but they've still got half the city cordoned off an pretty quick they start noticin' these footprint shaped radiation burns in the church lawn an they all get this look on their faces like they just realized they'd given their wives anniversary gifts with their mistresses' names inscribed on the boxes. Eventually, Iris has to scream at the Indians to stop the jalopy so they can all look at how disgustin' an sweaty Rob's gotten. Ain't no aliens got time for this, so they hop outta the car an rumple Rob's hair an suck all the necrosis out of 'em like John Coffee an get 'em back on the road. They're able to bypass the traps that Pluto, Mars, an Papa Jupiter've left layin' in the road for 'em an the next morning the space babies get permanent sunburns on the soles of their feet from walkin' around on the desert sand barefoot til they find a good place to signal their parents that they're ready to come home an Iris explains that they were havin' to draw energy from anything near by while they were trapped in the vegetable crispers just to keep from goin' to the big nudist colony in the sky an that's why all the army guys started kickin' off. The Borg giveth, the Borg taketh away. Elsewhere, the military's finally figured out where the space babies went an start gettin' all excited when the general tells 'em to use one of those big explodin' deals they've been stock pilin' to use on Vladivostok all these years, so they grab a bunker buster outta one of those "break in case of Communism" deals on the wall an head for the Mojave while the unsuspectin' space babies spy on Rob an Iris in the sack. Will cut here to preserve the conclusion.
Alrighty, well, I kinda fumbled on this one by including it as part of the Joe Bob Briggs tribute. It's not only not horror, but it's rated PG, so you can imagine how well this scores on the three Bs (blood, breasts, and beasts). It's really made in the same vein as E.T., Mac and Me and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but with that said, anyone who suggests that Wavelength is in any way a rip off of any of those is a dullard. Logic used to determine that Wavelenth is a rip off of E.T. would also determine that Razorback is a rip off of Jaws. Additionally, the script was written before E.T. was even released, and both movies share a release year, despite the IMDB claiming it was released in 1983. I'm really not all that interested in going over the differences between the two, but unfortunately, due to incompetence, it seems like it may be necessary; these aliens were shot down, they're radioactive, an they end up starvin' to death if you put suntan lotion on 'em. Better proof still is the (possibly insane) claim that this movie was based on a true story. Apparently, the movie depicts the events of the supposed true incident, with the exception of the aliens escaping and all the events subsequent to that. The IMDB actually classifies the movie as "Biography/Science Fiction", which I'm not inclined to do for a several reasons, but the only important one is the fact that the evidence is based upon one guy's extremely brief, nondescript story. Besides, if you care about that sort of thing, there are other UFO/alien related movies that're allegedly based on events that at least seem to be better grounded in reality. Fire in the Sky and Communion are two examples, but realistically, whether the movie is based on a true story or not isn't the least bit relevant in terms of it's overall worth. Sometimes when your movie is based on a "true story" you'll get more viewers, but that distinction doesn't actually do anything to genuinely improve the quality of the movie. Many people are inclined to artificially inflate a flick's value in their own mind if it supports a belief they hold, which is something you cannot do if you're critiquing it with any kind of objectivity. I generally enjoy these kinds of movies quite a bit, and I must say, Wavelength is highly under-rated.
Okay, time to put a "Y" incision in this thing an see what color its organs are. The plot is without question the high point, whether it's true or not isn't relevant. This is a subject that people tend to flock to as it covers one of the most important questions in the history of mankind, and a plot that realistically handles the topic of mankind's first encounter with aliens is something most everyone will be interested in, be they on the far end of the sanity meter or just a casual science fiction fan. So the plot is pretty engrossing, but do keep in mind that the movie is rated PG. The acting is decent, and Robert Carradine is pretty entertaining as the burnt out rock star with an authority problem. He and Cherie Currie have surprisingly good chemistry as the couple interjecting themselves into a situation far greater than themselves, and they come off not only as a believable couple, but as likeable people viewers will root for. Keenan Wynn is also great in the cantankerous, grizzled old man role. He tends to steal the show anytime the movie doesn't have a budget, although one could argue that his talents aren't fully utilized in this flick. The supporting cast is pretty good as well, with the military personnel and scientists coming across as authoritative and believable in roles that aren't always given the kind of attention they deserve during a casting call, so for the most part it's a well cast and well acted film.
Here's who matters and why: Robert Carradine (Slumber Party Slaughter, Tooth and Nail, Hoboken Hollow, Attack of the Sabertooth, Ghosts of Mars, Lycanthrope, Humanoids of the Deep 1996, Escape from L.A., Body Bags, The Tommyknockers, I Saw What You Did, TAG: The Assassination Game, Orca, Massacre at Central High), Cherie Currie (Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Parasite), Keenan Wynn (Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star, Zoo Ship, The Clonus Horror, The Dark 1979, Piranha 1978, Laserblast, Orca), James Hess (Godzilla 1985), Eric Morris (Battle Beyond the Stars, My Friends Need Killing), Bob McLean (Progeny, Twice Dead), Robert Glaudini (The Alchemist, Parasite), George Skaff (The Exorcist II, Slaughterhouse-Five, Frogs, Man Beast), Milt Kogan (E.T., Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde), Jim Elk (Camp Fear), Alan Koss (Assault on Precinct 13), Kent Butler (Deathrow Gameshow, Curse of the Queerwolf), Bobby Di Cicco (Ghoulies IV, Maniac Cop III), Dale E. House (The Lawnmower Man 2, Night of the Comet, Escape from New York), Brad M. Bucklin (Jurassic Park, Halloween III), Rif Hutton (Home the Horror Story, Star Trek: Generations, The Force, The Borrower), Bob Swain (Shocker). As mentioned previously, normal people may recognize Robert Carradine as Lewis Skolnick from the Revenge of the Nerds series, and as Lizzie McGuire's Dad from the unbearable Disney program of the same name. Additionally, Alan Koss played a recurring barfly on Cheers.
The special effects are few and far between. The aliens are just minority children wearing bald caps. That said, they made minority children wearing bald caps look about as alien as humanly possible without addin' a bunch of make up to them. Fact is, as far as special effects go I think there are only two in the entire movie, one of which I can't even mention as it occurs at the climax which I'd rather not reveal, though it is a nice, if dated, effect. So the only one I can mention is the brief glimpse of doctors carvin' up the dead space baby during the autopsy sequence, and it is well done. The shooting locations are another success, as they utilize the streets of Beverly Hills and the California desert, but also a really well designed set that serves as the underground military facility where the space babies are housed. The little metallic containment pods are really neat, and despite the fact that the room more or less looks like the kinda place Fred Krueger would hang out, it's very effective. Equally enjoyable, if less significant plot wise, is the poorly maintained rest area. Not the least bit significant, but it screams authenticity. Lastly, though not as important as the lab set, is some really attractive desert cinematography. I'm not certain if it was actually the Mojave or not, but it doesn't make too much difference because it looks great. In addition to the aforementioned, there's a pretty good looking tunnel sequence, a church, and a good looking night shot of the city lights from the hills above. The soundtrack is vintage Tangerine Dream, and incorporates a surreal dream-like quality that fits the movie to a tee and helps establish the perfect tone for a flick that's not too dark, but that still showcases a series of events that tend to make people a bit uncomfortable. It's definitely more subdued than some of their other compositions, but Tangerine Dream's music always stands out regardless of whether it's taking a more heavy-handed approach to the proceedings (as it did in Legend), or a casual one, as it does here. Overall, Wavelength is a bit talkative, but I'd strongly recommend it to fans of the benevolent alien subgenre, and more specifically, of those types of movies that came out in the late 70s - early 80s. It's not on the level of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind or any of its big budget cousins, but it punches well above its weight with likeable characters and an engrossing story. Definitely check it out if you can find a copy.