Our next entry in ‘50s Parody Week is a somewhat odd film, but that is a large part of its charm. Invasion! (originally titled Top of the Food Chain) is a movie created by a bunch of Canadians (directed by cult filmmaker John Paizs and written by Phil Bedard and Larry Lalonde, TV writers best known for Dracula: The Series) that spoofs America’s Golden Age of sci-fi cinema. It was screened at the 1999 Vancouver Film Festival before being released on video in the US.
When a meteor crashes into the hills outside of the hamlet of Exceptional Vista, things begin to go awry. All TV reception goes out and unusual guests begin to filter in. The small town has been on the skids since the nut factory closed, so all the new activity is welcome, though admittedly strange. Dr. Karel Lamonte (Campbell Scott), world-famous atomic scientist from the Atomic Academy, is in town on vacation and hopes to observe the local flora and fauna. Also visiting are Chris Marlowe (Elisa Moolecherry), traveling banjo salesperson, and Michel O’Shea (Nigel Bennett), traveling vacuum cleaner salesman. They are all staying at the local inn, run by the well-read town sweetheart Sandy Fawkes (Fiona Loewi) and her brother, Guy (Tom Everett Scott), with whom she has a disturbingly close relationship. Sandy has her sights set on Dr. Lamonte the moment he hits town and makes no secret of it. Before she gets a chance to make a move, people start turning up dead, covered in viscous blue goo. Who is behind the murders? And could they be connected to the meteor?
Invasion! is a clever little film. I was surprised when I learned it was written for the screen—it feels very much like an alternative theater piece that’s been opened up for the screen. John Paisz has given us an affectionate send-up of those wonderfully terrible 1950’s atomic-age sci-fi/horror movies we used to watch on lazy Saturday afternoons. The movie’s era is hard to pin down. It feels like the ‘50s, but the décor is ‘60s kitsch and we hear ‘70s music played, all of which adds to the anachronistic atmosphere created by Paisz. The script is loaded with understated, witty wordplay: Exceptional Vista is located in the “Western Central Northeast.” It’s located near the villages of Bladder Town and Fetus. The “dead remains of a human corpse, deceased,” are found in the “hilly, lumpy bumpy part of town outside of town.” In my favorite quote, Dr. Lamonte opines on the possible killer, “A genetically engineered band of devil-worshipping serial killers or a sasquatch-type thing—I don’t like the sound of that.”
This flick wouldn’t work without the dead-on performance of Campbell Scott. His portrayal of Dr. Karel Lamonte is what drives the film. The perfect model of a masculine ‘50s scientist, he dreams of a time that science will save mankind. However, he repeatedly proves to be an inadequate hero, often overshadowed by the “girlish enthusiasm” of the quick Ms. Fawkes. Indeed, in a hilarious scene she even beats him at his own game when she lays out the solution to cold fusion, besting Dr. Lamonte’s competing theory of “cool fusion.” The rest of the cast is good, with Fiona Loewi and Elisa Moolecherry distinguishing themselves admirably.
As we all know by now, any good ‘50s sci-fi parody includes a degree of campy sexuality, and Invasion! is no different. But as with its humor, the perverse edge is played subtly for the most part. Sexual identity is subverted through the character names: men are named Karel, Michel, Claire, Dana, Kim, Jan, Leslie, Gayle and Pat. The most masculine male name is Guy, belonging to Sandy’s brother, a man-child to whom Dr. Lamonte grows (ahem) confusingly close by the movie’s end. Dr. Lamonte is also quite fond of his customized blow-up doll (see photo).
As I stated, Invasion! is a charmingly odd film. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you like parodies of ‘50s sci-fi flicks made by Canadians and loaded with sexually confused heroes and deft banter that seem to be set in every decade since the ‘50s, this might just be the only film for you. Aren’t you glad it exists?