Color, 1981, 88 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Dusan Vukotic
Starring Zarko Potocnjak, Lucie Zulová, Ljubisa Samardzic, Ksenia Prohaska
Deaf Crocodile (Blu-ray) (US RA HD)
Adventurous label Deaf Crocodile continues to strike gold in the mysterious realms of Eastern European genre archives with this wild Czech-Yugoslavian co-production, a genre-splicing blend of sci-fi, domestic comedy, monster movie, and flat-out general weirdness. Essentially this is a riff on the experience of being a writer and how it affects your reality, a la the previous Le Magnifique and later films like Gentlemen Broncos and Stranger Than Fiction, though with a goofy sensibility all its own.
Hard at work on his fantastical novel by dictating into a recorder while wearing an astronaut helmet, aspiring writer Robert (Potocnjak) is constantly belittled and distracted by his girlfriend, Biba (Zulová). However, it turns out Robert's written creations can materialize in the real world, namely alien leader Andra (Prohaska) and her two child companions, Targo and Ulu, from the planet Tugador in the Arkana galaxy. Unfortunately, at a friend's suggestion he's also written a monster into the story that could pose a threat to everyone in sight.
Bizarre and unpredictable, this one starts off whimsical and charming but often detours into darker territory including a handful of surprisingly violent twists along the way. The depiction of the aliens is a fascinating one as they're all too aware they've been created by Robert, who's had the ability to control his environment since birth but can't quite get a handle on the mechanics of it. From the gold alien suits to the apartment decor, it's also a feast of early '80s production design including some lovely glowing power ball and laser eye effects thrown in, and the actors are all in the right spirit to pull it off without winking at the audience.
Though given a modest theatrical release at the time in Europe with a couple of VHS releases after that, Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy (Gosti iz galaksije) has been virtually unknown in the U.S. until the 2023 Blu-ray release. The new scan looks great, preserving the somewhat grungy look of the original film with some crazy primary colors where needed, and the DTS-HD MA 2.0 Croatian mono track sounds excellent. Somewhat controversially, the disc only features English SDH subtitles which means the dialogue is also scattered with designations for sound effects, speaker names, etc. A new audio commentary by Samm Deighan is in keeping with her solid work on the label's prior tracks, laying out director Dusan Vukotic's animation background with Zagreb Films, the history of Yugoslavian fantastic cinema, the ties to other Eastern Bloc sci-films, and lots more.
Also included are five restored short films, mostly animated, by the director starting with 1959's Krava na mjesecu (Cow On The Moon) (10m40s), a very colorful, dialogue-free diversion about a young girl building a rocket to the moon -- much to the confusion of the neighbor boy who keeps pestering her. In the same year's Piccolo (9m30s), a noisy musical instrument instigates a feud between two neighbors who become increasingly berserk, while 1960's 1001 crtez (1001 Drawings) (14m24s) is a fascinating B&W short mixing live action and animation to reveal how cartoons are drawn, covering all the character artists, chief animators, and other jobs involved in bringing the craft to life. This is the only one with dialogue, presented here in Croatian with English SDH subtitles. The Oscar-winning Surogat (The Substitute) (9m48s) from 1961 is a rapid-fire, colorful romp about a guy who navigates a beach filled with blow-up furniture and animals, and finally, the bizarre Ars Gratia Artis (8m55s) from 1969 mixes animation and live action as a man (both real and drawn) chomps up a vinyl album, razor blades, thumb tacks and pretty much everything else except tinfoil, thankfully. The disc also comes with an insert featuring an essay about the film and the Zagreb ties by Jennifer Lynde Barker.
Reviewed on December 9, 2023