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Alien Raiders (2008)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 2/17/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/23/2009

A few years ago, Warner Home Video introduced a new imprint called "Raw Feed", which was to focus on direct-to-video horror films. The company was created by veteran TV producer Tony Krantz, John Shiban (The X-Files, Supernatural) and Daniel Myrick (The Blair Witch Project). The group has stuck to their promise and regularly released low-budget horror films to home video. The problem is that they aren't very good. The ones that I've seen, such as Rest Stop, Rest Stop: Don't Look Back, and Otis, ironically try to hard to be clever and then yield frustratingly little results. Wouldn't you know that it would be the company's most subtle film which would be its most satisfying?

Alien Raiders opens on a small supermarket in a quite Arizona town. Just as the manager (Joel McCrary) is closing the store for the night, a group of armed gunmen, lead by Aaron Ritter (Carlos Bernard), storm the store, taking everyone inside hostage. The other assailants -- which includes Sterling (Courtney Ford), Logan (Tom Kiesche), Kane (Rockmond Dunbar) -- fan out, while Spooky (Philip Newby) "inspects" the staff and patrons one-by-one. A few people who resist are shot, and a plain-clothes police-officer in the store creates a brief fire-fight, but for the most part, the initial skirmish is over within minutes. Ritter herds the remaining hostages into the back of the store and then secures the front, just as the police, lead by Seth Steadman (Mathew St. Patrick) arrive. Steadman is concerned for the safety of his step-daughter, Whitney (Samantha Streets), who is inside. In the back, the gunmen, who apparently aren't there to rob the store, have begun interrogating the hostages one-by-one. What are they looking for? And why has one of the dead bodies in the freezer began to move?

It's surprising that Alien Raiders comes from Raw Feed, as the movie is nearly the antithesis of what the company seems to be about. This is not an all-out shocking gorefest, but one of the "smallest" horror films that I've seen in a while. The movie plays like a combination of Reservoir Dogs meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets John Carpenter's The Thing. The entire film takes place either in the store or in the parking-lot. While there is a fairly large cast for a "small" movie, as everyone is confined to one space, the movie never feels "big". The bulk of the film is made up of dialogue scenes, and the scenes where the group "tests" the hostages. There are a few action scenes, but there is relatively little gore and we only get a glimpse of the titular aliens.

So what makes this movie interesting? It's the structure of the script by Julia Fair and David Simkins. Based on the title, we know that aliens will be involved at some point. (The producers should have stuck with the working title, "Supermarket", so that we, the audience, would have no idea what the movie was about.) However, other than that, we know nothing, and we are only fed small bits of information as the movie progresses. At the outset, it appears that a simple robbery is taking place. Why else would heavily-armed gunmen take over a rural grocery store. At no point do the terrorists tell their captors why they are there, and we learn precious little from their private conversations during the first act. It begins to become apparent that the group is looking for someone in the store...and we then learn that they are looking for something. We pick up bits and pieces about their pasts, but nothing concrete. The police find a video which gives some clues as to the alien's origins, but again, this is vague.

Normally, a movie this hesitant in being forthcoming would bother me (and I would accuse it of being lazy), but this approach works for Alien Raiders. Once all is said and done, we realize that we've seen this movie many times before, so the "less is more" approach works. Do I wish that I'd learned more about the character's background and seen more of the alien? Sure, but the film still managed to hold my attention and be interesting thanks to solid acting and the teasing dialogue. The title Alien Raiders gives the impression of the kind of cheap exploitation film one would find on Sci-Fi (no offense) (and the name immediately brings to mind Alien and Raiders of the Lost Ark), and while the movie is certainly no big-budget extravaganza, it does know exactly what it is and manages to provide just the right amount of entertainment.

Alien Raiders annihilates the produce section courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing only slight grain at times, and no defects from the source material. The movie was shot on HD, but the image is still very dark at times...a little too dark in some. The colors are good and I noted no video noise or distracting artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As the film takes place in an enclosed space, stereo and surround sound effects are used to a maximum here. We get a very nice sense of when action is taking place either off-screen to the right or left and behind the characters. This helps to immerse the viewer in the story. The action scenes provide some notable subwoofer effects.

The Alien Raiders DVD contains a few extras. "Hidden Terror: The Making of Alien Raiders" (8 minutes) contains comments from the filmmakers who discuss the story and the production. The cast talk about their characters and how they approached the film. The piece contains a small amount of on-set footage. Makeup artist Myke Michaels and Director Ben Rock talk about the gore and creature effects in "Blood, Sweat and Fears: The Special Effects of Alien Raiders" (3 minutes). In the film, the group videotapes all of their actions. The extras contain two full-length recordings from the characters. "Tape #9 Sterling Explains Alien" (6 minutes) has the detailed giving a detailed overview of the alien lifeform and also the background on Ritter. (This would have helped the film.) "Tape #12 Spooky's Job" (4 minutes) is essentially an interview with the character as he explains how he detects aliens. Similarly, "Whitney Cam" (9 minutes) is a series of videos from Whitney's MySpace page, which the character uses as a sort of diary. (There is no hint of this in the movie.)

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long