Way back in the late nineteen-fifties there was a quiet Illinois smalltown called Centerville where nothing much ever happened - until one fateful night. The place was winding down for the evening and just about the only people awake were a young couple of teens driving back home, but then a huge shape appeared in the sky above the town and something very strange occured. Now, twenty-five years later, one of its ex-citizens, Margaret (Diana Scarwid), announces to her professor ex-husband Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) that she's returning to Centerville, sparking a true mystery for him...
Strange Invaders was the second film from the writer and director team of Bill Condon and Michael Laughlin who had generated a degree of cult success with the similarly-titled Strange Behavior. That film had won most of its following thanks to late night television showings, and funnily enough the same applied to this, as it might not have blown away the competition at the box office, but it did find a home playing on TV channels across the world, being ideal fare for that time of the evening and the kind of thing kids could stay up to watch without fear of seeing any sex or hearing any bad language.
There was a touch of violence, but the tone was more a cross between eerie and nostalgic, with a streak of off-kilter humour for flavour. The reviews of this at the time were surprisingly warm, possibly because the critics were responding to the film's influences, as the fans that it produced throughout the eighties did too, but yesterday's nostalgia for the yesteryear of back then cannot endure too long, and Strange Invaders gradually saw its cult dwindle over a period of decades. There are still those who enjoy it, but there are more who see the flaws in what looks now like a rather haphazard, disjointed work where the filmmakers were not entirely sure what they were aiming for.
That's probably ironic, because Laughlin and Condon's original script was very highly regarded before it was made, but as can happen something was lost betwixt page and screen, and a modern for the eighties take on quaint for the fifties sci-fi managed not to do justice to either. Part of the problem was that it didn't have much of a handle on what exactly was going on, with the aliens' purpose the source of much bafflement not only for the characters but for the audience as well. Even at the end, which is an optimistic one, it's hard to see why they were here at all other than to kick off the plot and generally act oddly to work up the sequences of suspense and horror.
Not that this was too horrifying, as the scares took the form of the disguised extraterrestrials ripping off their latex faces to reveal their uncanny countenances underneath. Le Mat made for a game but uninspiring hero, but his sidekick Nancy Allen, in the role of the tabloid journalist Betty Walker who Bigelow takes his story to, brightens things up considerably, being one of the few cast members who seemed to "get" the material and how it should be played. Also in that cast were an oddball selection of cult and character actors of various vintages, with Wallace Shawn showing up long enough to be zapped and Mark Goddard and June Lockhart from Lost in Space taking small roles. Best of the support was the always interesting Fiona Lewis, brought back from Strange Behavior to play a sinister Avon Lady; a few more examples of that type of style and you might have had a more durable entertainment, as it is, it now came across as a nice try, but shaky. Music by John Addison.