The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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--Matt

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Invasion aka Infection (2005)

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We've had this one in the Netflix Instant queue for sometime, and often, as we were about to get to it, we'd either get our hands on an Albert Pyun film I wanted to do more, or he'd release a film that would jump this in the priority line.  But we're here now, ready to make it happen.

Invasion takes place in a small town, where a police officer, Brick Bardo (played by Pyun mainstay Scott Paulin) gets a call to help out a man doing some night fishing in a remote state park.  When he gets there, he finds a meteorite, and is also accosted by the man he's there to help, who implants a bug in his ear, Invasion of the Body Snatchers/Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn style.  As you can imagine, these bugs take control of the host, whose job it is to spread the bugs to more people.  Bardo's first victims: a couple chilling at Lover's Lane down the road.  Problem, he gets the guy, but the girl (played by Paulin's daughter, Jenny Paulin Dare (as Virginia Dare)) escapes in Bardo's vehicle.  Trapped in the park, she now has to survive long enough until help arrives.

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I don't know where to go with this one.  The bulk of it is a one-take found footage film shot from a camera mounted to the police car's dash.  The camera only moves as the car moves.  We seldom see people speaking on-screen.  I thought about it like this: if Albert put a comment on the blog or sent an e-mail telling me "I'm working on this new project.  It'll be like a classic 1950s sci-fi drive-in flick, only almost the entire thing will be shot in one take from a camera on a police car dashboard, like found footage, but on another level.  Cynthia Curnan is writing, Tony Riparetti is doing the score, and I have this great new cinematographer, Jim Hagopian.  Plus, we have Scott Paulin and Norbert Weisser, and Paulin's daughter Jenny is a real talent.  I'm really excited for this."  I'd read that, and think "I can't wait to see this!", because it seems like such a good idea.  But in practice, I think it's a little too long.  A 35-minute short probably would've nailed it, because the talent is there-- including Pyun-- it's just hard to maintain a movie for over an hour in this manner.

I have to give Pyun credit for going for it again, and I don't see this as a total failure.  I went on Netflix to see the reviews-- which can often be a harrowing experience-- and found more people that felt the way I did than I thought.  The thing is, it sounds gimmicky, and it could've been gimmicky, but Pyun isn't doing it that way.  If that were the case, he wouldn't have had the attention to detail in other areas that he did; and the work it must've taken to coordinate these scenes as he's shooting so much in one take must've been immense, plus the cinematography was not simply found footage all over the place crap, it all worked.  This was an attempt to take a new approach to movie making from an established and experienced film maker, and for me, with the talent he had, I think this could've worked over a shorter time; but there were people who not only disagreed with me, but disagreed with my misgivings and liked it more than I did.  Besides, even Citizen Kane has gotten "worst movie ever!" type reviews, so I imagine Pyun has to take those ones with a grain of salt.

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One aspect of his films that I've noticed now that I've watched quite of few of them, is that he has a knack for casting really strong young actresses.  I don't know if, in the low-budget film world, too many casting directors don't give credence to female acting talent, or only focus on beauty and not talent too when they shoot, but it seems like Pyun consistently casts great young women, and leans on them for their great performances to carry his films.  We saw it here with Jenny Dare Paulin, especially one scene that required her to react for an extended period on-screen while we listened to the sounds of a violent struggle going on on the other side of her walkie-talkie.  It looked like a tough scene to act through, and she did really well.  Another thing I wanted to remark on is her outfit.  Her character had her prom that night, so she's in her prom dress, and while being modern, there's something very 1950s about it, so we can see that 1950s sci-fi movie element of the film in her that way.  These are the kinds of touches that Pyun adds to films that makes even ones like this that didn't totally work, at least work on some level.

As always, it's time to play our favorite game: name that Pyun Mainstay!  First up, we had, as mentioned above, Scott Paulin as the first sheriff.  Norbert Weisser plays the voice of an expert on the invasion/infection, which we hear from Jenny Dare's standpoint through her radio; and then he plays the deputy on-screen, though the voice of the deputy on the radio is someone else.  I remember when I first saw Weisser on-screen, I was like "hey, but his voice was...?", then I saw it in the credits.  Also, Jenny Dare Paulin was not the only mainstay offspring in the film.  Morgan Weisser, Norbert's son, played Dare Paulin's boyfriend.  He was 34 when this was made, which might explain why there were no close-ups on him playing a high schooler-- I'm 34 now, and who knows if I could play a high schooler either.

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I want to finish with my own personal take on the 1950s invasion film.  For me, I came into contact with them in two ways: growing up on late-night or early morning television; and through MST3K.  With TV going almost exclusively with either new movies, or syndicated reruns of first-run programming; and with MST3K having been off the air for many years now, many people don't have the access to that kind of movie like they used to.  Sure, they know Plan 9 or whatever, but to know the genre and the type of film consistently to recognize aspects like the old guy needing help with his car, or the old townsperson who's been infected, it helps in understanding where someone like Pyun making a movie like Invasion is trying to go.  It's okay to still not like it after that-- one could make the case that MST3K makes fun of these movies because they're so bad, so why be inspired by them?-- but I think what's going on is people aren't getting what Pyun's going for, because a lot of them haven't been exposed to it, so they judge it harshly.  It's just a theory, and I could be wrong.

And with that, let's wrap this up.  This is available on Netflix Instant.  It says 80 minutes, but roughly 15 is credits, and then about five is prologue and epilogue, leaving you with an hour of one-take dashboard cam found footage.  If that sounds intriguing, I say go for it.  I will say, while it's probably not for everyone, you aren't watching a film based on a gimmick.  Pyun is really going out on a limb to try something different.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0472465/

1 comment:

  1. Albert Pyun tried to post this comment, but wasn't able to, so he sent it to me via e-mail.

    "As always, enjoy your studied and insightful exploration of all movies particularly you're view and opinions of mine. With "Infection" we were really trying to make a movie entirely about a real time experience and we spent many many months developing the soundtrack and screening style. None of that translates via a DVD or stream unfortunately. Everytime we screened the film at film festivals, we insisted on controlling theater temperature (56 degrees) and lumens in digital bulbs plus carefully gamma adjustments and, most importantly, each screening had its own live mix through a mixing console so we could adjust the film's audio to the environment. Even the fabric of the theater screen was tested and factored in. We knew it was successful because of audiences reactions after screenings and for months afterward. We used the CIA standards for effecting brain waves via light and and color frequencies as well as audio frequencies. Hence, EVERY bump in the road was a designed, calculated effect. Even footsteps and breathing. There's a lot of sub sonic audio which we enhanced by bringing in our own audio set up entirely. So the film had a davasating effect in a live screening we set up. It's a bummer we could never figure out how to imprint that meta data and set up in each DVD and stream. We knew it was a big risk.
    Albert"

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