Monday, October 3, 2011

The Mill Creek Invasion: THE DAY TIME ENDED (1980)

When September is torn off the calendar to reveal October, the thoughts of many a mind turn to the pleasures of terror in anticipation of Halloweeen. Mine is one of those minds, but I find myself wanting above all to explore my latest acquisition from those fine purveyors of many a cinematic horror in every sense of the word, Mill Creek Entertainment. They've replaced their adorable creek-mill logo, their babbling brook and chirping critters with symbolism more stark and industrial -- their mill wheel has become a gear -- as if that makes them the badasses of public-domain DVD box sets. But Sci-Fi Invasion, Mill Creek's newest 50-film set, has many of the same qualities, and a few of the same films, that have made Mill Creek a name to be reckoned with, if not a company to be reckoned with on the Day of the Reckoning....But I digress. Despite the repackaging of some oft-anthologized titles like The Head and The Wasp Woman, Sci-Fi Invasion boasts a hefty percentage of items I've never seen or even heard of before, including plenty of Euro schlock from the Sixties and Seventies. I start this series, which will run occasionally at least through this month, with an American collaboration between producer Charles Band and director John "Bud" Cardos that truly lives up to Homer Simpson's description of a plot without a point as "a bunch of stuff that happened."

Cardos's phantasmagoria is prefaced with a deliberately murky, disembodied commentary by star Jim Davis that explains that "time exists in a continuum," and that "the past, the present and future are constantly in conflict in a finite world." The film proper shows how Davis, playing family patriarch Grant Williams, acquired his wisdom. Davis is entertaining his children and grandchildren at his new solar-powered ranch when an energy wave from a rare, centuries-old "trinary supernova" hits Earth. With it come a variety of colored lights, objects and creatures. What this means is that an apparently overqualified crew of effects artists are unleashed upon a film that really has no other purpose. What initially appears to be the most desultory alien invasion ever put on film proves ultimately to be even less than that. The actual insignificance of it all becomes kind of epic.

A little girl's pony gallops around a corner and disappears. She follows and confronts a glowing green pyramidal thing. Natually, she asks this object if it can help her find her pony -- and it complies. Later, she is visited by some spritely snot-colored alien who also visits 1957 Best Supporting Actress Oscar Winner Dorothy Malone, prompting Davis, playing Malone's husband, to prowl his house with his bedside pistol in hand. With this, Davis confronts a presumably malevolent floating device that struck me as a slide projector with little metal tentacles. This device (honestly, no word describes it better) can stop a bullet in mid-flight and melt it, only later to have major difficulties getting through a door. Eventually it goes away.

Above, Dorothy Malone's Oscar comes to life to taunt her.
Below, you figure it out.

Outside, confused creatures appear on Davis's doorstep. The more confused of the two looks like the missing link between dinosaurs and Chumley the Walrus from the old Tennessee Tuxedo show, and Chumleysaurus (let us call him that while he's here) grows only more confused when a more aggressive lizard-beast appears and starts kicking his ass. It seems like there's a backstory here, but it doesn't really matter. After the bad monster lays out Chumleysaurus, who seems relieved to pass out if not away, he annoys the family by scratching at their door before another round of colored lights takes him away.

The Vladimir and Estragon of Space are tired of waiting.

Eventually, Davis and his family go away. Caught up by a fresh vortex, they find themselves in the Great Junkyard of Space. You know it's futuristic because you see a space shuttle (first in flight that very year) amid the hulks and wrecks. These are apparently the leftovers after the big cleanup of Earth debris for the Devil's Tower dump, but they're enough to awe our family. After some theoretical suspense over whether the little girl will be left behind, the Davis brood realizes that the Junkyard will be their new home. Happy to be reunited (even son Chris Mitchum made it before the last vortex), they seem untroubled by being cut off from the rest of their presumably extended family, all their friends (maybe they had none), co-workers, etc. As they approach a glass-painting city with its promise of adventures to come (something about this 79 minute feature fairly screams "failed pilot"), patriarch Davis decides that it was all meant to be -- which isn't the same as it being meant to be anything -- which it isn't.

The effects are hit (the critters) or miss (most of everything else) and Cardos's pictorial ambitions are compromised by the typical Mill Creek pan-and-scan, but there's a sort of charm to the naive irrelevance of the story. One thing the writers nail beyond dispute is the authentic incomprehension common people would probably experience amid waves of trinary-nova phenomena. The irony is that while the family doesn't know what's going on, there really isn't anything going on, by normal movie standards. The day time ends really means that nothing matters anymore. That realization is like a cleansing brain-flush that makes it hard to dislike this film while it remains equally hard to recommend it to the casual moviegoer. But the type of people who will buy a Mill Creek boxset should find it at least a partial justification, for amusement's sake, for buying Sci-Fi Invasion.


Sam Juliano said...

Well, for one the price is bargain basement, and the ppurported quality is decent. Like many others I have fond memories of growing up with some of teh titles in teh set like THE MANSTER, NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST and THE CREEPING TERROR. After looking at the contents of this set, I'd say a fair portion of course have been offered on previous Mill Creek sets. But a number of others haven't and the price point should prod those undecided to ante up with the modest investment. Yes, perfectly timed for Halloween.

Samuel Wilson said...

Modest is right, Sam, and I got this one for $9.95 at the local FYE, and that only means it can probably be had cheaper online and elsewhere. By my estimate, slightly more than half of the 50 in this collection aren't available in other Mill Creek sets that I already own.