Thrill Me: The Top 5 Small-Town Alien Invasions
It's hard for me to explain why I have such a soft spot for these types of movies. I'm guessing part of it was just growing up in the 80s, when there was a big push to make exploitation films more mainstream, and a part of that was bringing back sci-fi and horror that was popular in the 50s and updating for the modern audiences at the time. This also meant making those films a little more palatable for younger audiences, which means there were a lot of these movies, which is reflected in this particular list.
You know the formula I'm talking about; a small town full of over-zealous teenagers who are fooling around in the woods, and usually find an asteroid while out there. Hopefully, there's a local sheriff who thinks it's just a prank before all hell breaks loose, and by then it's too late to realize he's in over his head. Maybe add in a paranoid town drunk for good measure. For variations, perhaps make the sheriff the hero, then rinse and repeat. By all means though, the town must be destroyed at the end of the picture. It's a formula I never seem to tire of and thankfully Hollywood has not really gotten tired of making them either.
And with that,
It's Clobberin' Time...
5. The Blob (1988)
Starring: Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith, Donovan Leitch Jr., and Jeffrey DeMunn
Directed by Chuck Russell
After catching it on a local Fox affiliate at the age of 9, Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.'s original 1958 version of the The Blob scared the wits out of me so badly that I refused to sleep for the rest of the night in fear of the gelatinous creature that might devour me whole. On the other hand, simply the trailer for Chuck Russell's '88 remake, which featured a man getting sucked down a sink drain by the creature, terrified me not only that night, but for weeks on end. I mean, I was around drains all the time and the fact that this thing could get me any time I took a shower or went near a sink absolutely terrified me. When I finally saw the entire movie, what I found was a film that could match the intensity of that trailer and of the original film, but with (at the time) modern gross-out effects, making for the best (and most disgusting) version of The Blob possible. To this day, sink drains have never been the same. Thanks Chuck Russell.
4. Slither (2006)
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker
Directed by James Gunn
Director James Gunn is obviously a huge fan of these types of movies, and after getting his start with Troma and working his way up, Slither ended up being an awesome coming out party for who he was as a film maker. Filled with amazing gore and ridiculous laughs, the flick is outrageous fun, with Nathan Fillion along for the ride as the town's bumbling Police Chief who has to step up and save the love of his life. Gunn pulls out all the stops, giving you gruesome visuals but lacing every moment with the juxtaposition of razor wit and low brow hijinx. Guardians of the Galaxy may have launched the Gunn's notoriety into the stratosphere, but the seeds of that film's enjoyment and irreverance can be found amongst Slither's macabre laughs.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, and Carolyn Jones
Directed by Don Siegel
Don Siegel's masterpiece of paranoia might not have quite the same thematic punch in this post-Cold War era, but as a piece of scifi-horror it still remains one of the best of it's kind. Like a 90-minute Twilight Zone episode, Body Snatchers starts small but once it gets going makes it's as if the whole world were closing in on you. Where Phillip Kaufman's 70's remake has a much more epic sense of existential dread, Siegel's film is claustrophobic in nature, it's small town setting making you feel like you've lost literally everyone you've ever known. Even the introduction of the pods themselves, which is clearly just a plastic pod with bubbles, is still kind of terrifying. Where other versions of this story made use of more modern effects and gore, Siegel's 1958 original shows just how important terrific acting and mood make all the difference.
2. Critters (1986)
Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Green Bush, and Scott Grimes
Directed by Stephen Herek
There was a point in the 80s where Critters was a bit of a "right of passage"-type movie, or at least it was in my own personal circle. Sure, looking at the movie now it seems pretty quaint, but at the time it came out Critters was just-scary and gory enough to be a good time for young teenagers and adolescents without scarring them for life. Where most of the aliens from 80s movies were creatures with specific agendas that systematically took steps to achieve their goals, the critters were simply man-eating balls of fur and teeth that consumed all in their path and were really kind of stupid. Adding to the fun were a couple of intergalactic, shape-shifting, trigger happy bounty hunters, giving the film it's era-required requisite of explosions. Lastly, how great is it that a movie doing a bit of riff on E.T. actually casts Dee Wallace as the mom in the film? Was there ever a better genre film mom than Dee Wallace? I don't think so. At any rate, is Critters the scariest movie of all time? Not even close. Is it fun as hell? Absolutely.
1. Night of the Creeps (1986)
Starring: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, and Tom Atkins
Directed by Fred Dekker
If the 1980s were the golden age of the horror-comedy, then Night of the Creeps absolutely stands as one of the era's crown jewels. Much like Fred Dekker's other horror film from the same period, Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps was largely unavailable after its theatrical run, but the cult following of this film has grown exponentially since its release on DVD and Blu-ray in the late 2010s. Basically, the film is your standard 80s teen-sex comedy, only with aliens, zombies, axe-murderers, and hard-boiled detectives thrown in for good measure. The movie is equal parts hilarious and gorey, and gloriously action-packed. If nothing else, come for the zombie hijinx and romance, and stay for the amazing Tom Atkins, playing a tortured police detective spouting catchphrases almost as often as he shoots bullets.