Well, the inaugural Horror Squad Movie Club kicked off this past weekend with Eduardo Sanchez' rednecks-kidnap-an-alien flick Altered. Judging from people's reactions in the comments and on Twitter (thanks for using the #hsmovieclub hash tag, by the way) most people seemed to have never seen it and enjoyed it for the most part, so mission accomplished (though I do think it's safe to say I still love it more than most).

Unlike my pick for the Sci-Fi Squad Movie Club, Altered States, I don't particularly have any discussion questions for the group. I do, on the other hand, have a few aspects of the film I'd like to spotlight beyond basics like performances and overall package (it's a shame this ended up straight-to-DVD considering how consistently above average the whole production is).

If you're still susceptible to Altered spoilers, it's best to turn away now.

The Plot
I'm a huge fan of aliens on film. Why? Because I'm terrified of aliens. Absolutely petrified, matter of fact. For that morbid fascination alone I'm already on board, but what gives Altered a leg up over the competition is its hook.

I imagine the pitch for it went a little something like this: Remember how freaky Fire in the Sky was? Well, take that, but instead of just having the abductee's lives ruined forever, they grow up holding a grudge; a grudge they can finally fulfill when they're actually able to kidnap one of their captors as adults.

It's simple to the point of not even requiring an introduction (I love that it hits the ground running), but there is no denying that it's unique. Plus, once they start to discover that their dreams of revenge were ill thought out, it turns into an exceptionally nasty little creature feature with a bevy of tricks up its sleeve.

(Note: I brightened up this shot just to get a better look at it.)

The Alien
And speaking of a bevy of tricks, I'm glad that Jamie Nash's script consistently finds ways to up the ante. There's a process of successive revelation that I dig every time. Not only does it take a while to get a full glimpse at the badass E.T., but we get to discover a host of inspired (and malicious) qualities along the way.

We learn it has mind control powers if you stare into its eye for too long and that it can communicate with its friends via a specialized internal organ (an organ we find out Wyatt is all too familiar with when he lifts up his shirt to reveal the aftermath of a seriously crude bit of self-surgery) pretty quickly, but my favorite aspect would have to be the flesh eating virus transmitted by its saliva (more on that later).

I'm also a big fan of how threatening the little green guy is despite being, well, a little green guy. Sure, he looks like a short guy in a suit from time to time, but let's step back and acknowledge how awesome that actually is. Sanchez didn't go CGI, nor did he go partial prosthetic. That alien is a full-on man-in-suit job, which I think is something we can all agree is a depressingly rare find in creature features these days.

(Note: Again, I brightened up the shot so we could see the intricacy of the work)

The Effects

While we're on it, let's give a big round of applause to Mike Elizade and friends for the special effects. Save for the spaceship at the end of the film (another pleasant touch considering we're never shown its arrival), Altered is pretty much entirely free of nagging digital work; making me wonder why a straight-to-video horror movie from 2006 has more impressive gags than Joe Johnston's $150mil Wolfman remake.

All the practical effects didn't go into the alien, either. The actual best moment of the film, in my opinion, arrives with the final reveal of how astonishingly rotten Cody's body has become from the aforementioned flesh-eating saliva in a matter of hours.

I'll even go as far as to say that the make-up job on Cody isn't just the best effect of the movie, it's one of the best practical make-up effects jobs of any film in the last few years. Sure, Sanchez keeps it in the dark in all the right places, but that doesn't change how eye popping it is when he first stumbles out of the bathroom and the "how cool is that?" cringe you get when the trunk of his body starts to visibly collapsing in on itself.

My hat is off.

The twisted sense of humor.
I'll admit that the first time I saw Altered, I rolled my eyes a bit when the alien played a game of itchy trigger claw with Otis' innards. It comes across as a tad silly even factoring in the subject matter the first go around, but I've come to love that scene in subsequent viewings (I've seen Altered at least 6 times since it hit DVD with two weeks left to go in 2006). There's just something so energetic about how lively that gag is. Plus it puts a smile on my face every single time the cop walks in expecting to find some kind of domestic dispute and sees an alien crouching beside a bed playing tug-o-war with a guy's intestines.

I'm also a big fan of how much use the redneck gang of abductees get out of duct tape. Because let's be real here, if there's one thing horror movie scripts are lacking, it's appropriately improvisational use of duct tape.

(This has nothing to do with the music, I just like this set up.)

The Score
I'm a sucker for horror movies that feature a string-heavy score. The original music was done by the same duo who did The Blair Witch Project, which isn't exactly known for its aural prowess, but their work here is striking. It keeps you on edge throughout with an aggressive playing style that sounds like violins and cellos are being hacked to death by knives. I dig it.

But hey, the above are just the things I love about Altered. What about you guys? Agree? Disagree? Love/Hate something I didn't touch on? Let's get the ball rolling below.
categories Features, Horror