Color, 1980, 90m.
Directed by Greydon Clark
Starring Jan-Michael Vincent, Cybill Shepherd, Martin Landau, Raymond Burr, Neville Brand, Vincent Schiavelli, Brad Reardon, Darby Hinton, Susan Kiger
Scorpion (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Apparently still itching to do a sci-fi film after his cult favorite alien hunter favorite Without Warning, director and Al Adamson disciple Greydon Clark decided to dabble in the popular ideas of UFOs and cattle mutilations with The Return, a truly odd drive-in obscurity with a wildly overqualified cast.
In a quaint southwestern desert town, three people are briefly abducted by alien spacecraft late at night. Two of them, a young boy and girl, seem more curious than terrified, while the third, a weird miner (Schiavelli), is terrified by the ordeal. (At least it's implied they're abducted. There's a lot of disco lighting all over the place anyway.) Flash forward twenty five years, and the girl, Jennifer (Shepherd), is now grown up and become a workaholic at the aeronautic office run by her dad (Burr). Meanwhile the miner still looks the same, and the boy, Wayne (Vincent), is now a cop who spends his time running down joyriding teenagers (including Reardon, who appeared in Silent Scream the same year). You might think he's still in White Line Fever for a minute, but fortunately another Without Warning vet, Martin Landau, is around as a sheriff to remind you something spooky is bound to happen. Sure enough, cattle are being stolen and hacked up in the area, and when Jennifer arrives to check out some weird geological anomalies with her dad later in tow, everyone's quick to point the finger at her. Wayne comes to her defense, but things get even weirder when people start getting their faces melted off and glowing light sabers shoved in their bodies. Why were those three chosen, and what does the return of the aliens mean for the town?
Actually, you won't get clear answers to too many of those questions here, but it's fun to watch a bunch of familiar actors stumbling through a film that veers from Spielberg-inspired outer space mayhem to blood-spraying gore to a climactic psychedelic freak out that leaves more than a little open to interpretation. Shot in 1980, this was written by the team of Ken and Jim Wheat, who also created the character of Riddick and made such films as, yep, Silent Scream and the underrated Lies. At the time Shepherd was in a serious career slump between Taxi Driver and Moonlighting, the show that revived her (and reunited her with Schiavelli, oddly enough), but she does fine with what she has and still looks as good as her peak modeling days. Vincent was probably the hottest name at the time (and would go on to TV fame in Airwolf), but his widely noted addiction problems were really kicking in here and reportedly took a toll on this film, with Shepherd and Landau having to step in at the last minute to shoot scenes when he wasn't available. Burr does his usual stone-faced technical jargon routine, of course, but offering a bit more color are some surprising secondary roles for Neville Brand (Eaten Alive), a pre-Malibu Express Darby Hinton (who had also appeared in Clark's previous three films including Angels Brigade and Hi-Riders), and brief drive-in stale/Playmate Susan Kiger in between H.O.T.S. and Galaxina. Even when you have no idea what the heck's going on, just kick back and soak in all the whole weird, seedy atmosphere, which makes this a lot more interesting now than when it was passed over for a U.S. theatrical release.
Most viewers stumbled across this one either in the early days of cable TV or on VHS from Thorn EMI, looking so dark you couldn't tell what was happening for at least 25% of the movie. The 2013 DVD release from Scorpion manages to fix that problem and looks about, oh, a billion times better, essentially offering the first chance almost everyone will have to see this film in good condition. Colors look great, the night scenes are intelligible, and the trippy ending really dazzles your eyes while your brain's busy doing somersaults. Fittingly, this is presented as part of the"Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line, with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters covering the pertinent facts behind the film after her beloved teddy bear companion, Nigel, gets blasted by aliens. Her baffled recap after the end credits is almost worth the price of admission, too. Clark is all over this disc, too, courtesy of an audio commentary and a 12-minute video interview. There's a some overlap between the two (namely Vincent's personal issues and Burr's reliance on a teleprompter, which he apparently used throughout his entire career), but both have some nice bits worth checking out. The featurette hits on a few other highlights of his career, too, including his early Al Adamson days on movies like Satan's Sadists and Dracula vs. Frankenstein. Also included are the theatrical trailer and bonus ones for Sorceress, Dogs, Saint Jack, The Octagon, Lurkers, The Monster Club, Grizzly, Day of the Animals, and Die Sister, Die!
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Reviewed on November 23, 2013.