DVD Review: DR. ALIEN (GRINDHOUSE 5) (1989)

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Review: Dr. Alien (Grindhoue 5) / Cert: 18 / Director: David DeCoteau / Screenplay: Kenneth J. Hall / Starring: Billy Jacoby, Judy Landers, Olivia Barash, Raymond O'Connor / Release Date: January 14th 2013

Ever wondered what it would be like if you were to graft a Jerry Lewis slapstick comedy onto a Frank Henenlotter creature feature? No, honestly, we hadn't either, but that's more or less what they've done in Dr. Alien (1989). Recruited to assist in an after-hours project by his new biology professor Ms. Zenobia (Landers, hiding a Mekon dome under the big hair), freshman Wesley (Jacoby) is injected with 'alien vitamins' which turn the terminally uncool nerd into an instant babe magnet. However, there's an alarming side-effect in the shape of a 'hideous flesh antenna' which pops out of the top of his head at inopportune moments. Whoa, too sexy for this galaxy!

The film's at its weakest early on, when it's at its most Jerry Lewis-ish. Styling, stereotypes and reference points are all drawn from the '50s in a way that seems bizarrely anachronistic for the late '80s. (If in doubt, couldn't they have nicked a few ideas from Ferris Buellers's Day Off or something?) Then there's the horribly dated hey-folks-this-is-a-comedy soundtrack, which accompanies every bumble and pratfall with a cacophony of boings, wah-wahs and horn-honkings. It also doesn't help that the burly Jacoby makes for a rather lumpen leading man – he looks like he ate Matthew Broderick.

However, once the SF weirdness kicks in, the '50s trappings are dialled down and the movie finds its own quirky identity. The fleshy antenna (which sends out stimulating vibrations to all the females in the vicinity) never fails to raise a smile, and if anything it improves Wesley's appearance. Ms. Xenobia and her lab assistant Drax (O'Connor) serve as a pleasantly campy chorus to the main action and provide most of the comic highlights (including an especially good scene where he puts an ill-advised move on her at at local necking spot). On the downside, there's a rather sappy teen romance arc (“I don't want all the women. Leeanne is the only girl for me,” Wesley whines after pulling himself out from under another heap of females), but things culminate nicely with a aliens rampaging through the local New Wave nightclub. The picture is somewhat muted and grainy on this DVD, but in a way that adds to the grindhouse cred.

Despite its racy theme, Dr. Alien is quite restrained in terms of what it shows. The same can't be said of the bonus film, an hour-long sexploitation doc from the '70s about a bunch of Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett lookalikes auditioning for roles in a blue movie. “Oh, this is a real set?” exclaims one wide-eyed hopeful. Then she tests how solid it is by dropping her knickers on it.

Extras: Auditions (1978) Bonus Film / Full Moon Trailer Park / Stills Gallery / Original Trailer / Reversible sleeve incorporating original artwork

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