It’s a trio of alien encounter films that gave me the creeps when I first saw them. Do they still hold up?
Author Whitley Strieber (Wolfen, The Hunger), went the nonfiction route when he became convinced he was abducted by aliens and wrote the book on which this movie is based. Communion comes from the director of delicious 80s horror trash like The Beast Within and Howling 2 and Howling 3, and while it starts out much more eerie and unsettling, it becomes another 80s disaster.
Christopher Walken plays Strieber, who takes his family to their house in the woods. A strange occurrence involving a lot of light saturating the house spooks the family overnight, but there’s little recollection of what transpired.
For the rest of the film, Walken and his wife go to various doctors, therapists, and group meetings to determine what may have actually happened, because Walken begins to lose his shit, from getting pissed at a little girl for playing a prank at a Halloween party to envisioning everyone on a bus with big bug heads.
The more flashbacks we get inside Walken’s mind (through hypnotism), the more the movie spirals out of control, with scenes featuring classic big-eyed aliens and blue dudes that look like a mix between Jawas and the critters from Phantasm.
Every alien sequence begins to feel like a drug trip, almost as if the filmmakers decided they had to make the footage live up to Walken’s natural weirdness. Let’s face it—only Walken could make an anal probe scene feel like a campy alien/human gang bang.
By the time he started dancing with aliens in the final act, I realized I must have repressed my memories of this movie even deeper than people who’ve actually been abducted repress their memories.
One interesting thing of note is that in this story, Strieber mentions seeing an owl before the abduction, an element that plays a bigger role in The Fourth Kind below.
THE FOURTH KIND (2009)
I recalled being kind of freaked out by this movie when I caught it on cable over a decade ago, so with Communion and Fire in the Sky hitting Blu-ray, I figured I should round out my collection of films with disturbing alien abductions themes. This film isn’t “boo” terrifying, but it sure is a psychological freak out.
I really like the way it’s structured. Milla Jovovich introduces the film as herself being in a documentary of re-enactments focusing on people in Alaska who all experienced alien encounters in their homes.
Events are often presented with a split screen—on the left is the “real” footage of the “real” person (it’s fake) experiencing what the re-enactment is portraying on the right. It sort of gives the film this hybrid found footage feel at times.
The Milla character’s story is intriguing. She had a horrifying experience in which her husband was stabbed to death by a mysterious figure while she was in bed with him, but she can’t remember any details. It adds a frightening dimension to the usual alien abduction concept.
The whole movie involves several deaths, making thing even more unnerving considering alien abduction stories don’t usually come with murder as a side effect.
Milla sets out to figure out what could possibly have happened, in part by interviewing other people in her area who experienced similar occurrences. Rather than abduction situations, most of the time the footage makes these experiences come across more like possession.
It’s all creepy in its own rights, but absolutely nothing is clarified by the time the film concludes, and everything is left open-ended.
We never do see an alien, but the focus on everyone who is abducted thinking that an owl has been visiting them repeatedly is chilling. As you start to realize that the owl face eerily resembles the face of a classic depiction of an alien as described by those who’ve encountered them, you begin to feel like you have seen an alien in the movie even though we never do.
FIRE IN THE SKY (1993)
Loosely based on a man’s claims of alien abduction, Fire in the Sky really freaked me out when I saw it way back in the 90s. Revisiting it, I was surprised to find that a majority of the run time (the first 70 minutes) focuses not on the man abducted, but the small group of friends that saw him abducted and how they were treated by a public that didn’t believe their story of his disappearance.
The great cast includes the likes of Robert Patrick, Henry Thomas, Craig Sheffer, and Henry Thomas, with James Garner as the man who interrogates them.
Various flashbacks reveal what led up to the abduction, and that scene is a spectacle in itself, drenched in red in the forest at night as the men encounter a spaceship while in their truck and their friend, played by DB Sweeney, gets out for a closer look.
All the melodrama about how they’re treated by the locals and how it affects their lives is okay, but the money shot is the phenomenal sequence that comes after they find Sweeney five days after he goes missing. Following his reemergence, he is suffering severe PTSD, which eventually leads to the payoff—what is still one of the most detailed and frightening alien abduction scenes ever.
There is no gentility in how the aliens treat Sweeney. He is put through a nightmarish conveyor belt of alien spaceship horror before the aliens, totally indifferent to his shrieks of terror, subject him to gruesomely invasive procedures.
It’s still a hard scene to watch and it is reason enough for me to consider this the most traumatic viewing experience of these three films.