Adapted from the somewhat basic 1989 Cinemaware video game, It Came From the Desert was shot in Spain by German-based Finnish Syfy director Marko Mäkilaakso on a budget of around $1m, with a cast of mostly English actors playing Americans, and is updated from the original’s rather pertinent 1951 setting to the present day.
With a title like that, there’s little doubt what kind of movie this is going to be. The question is, does it live up to those sixty-year-old b-movies it’s trying so hard to evoke?
Mostly, yes. The plot concerns a kegger party in the desert which brothers Lukas and Brian are planning to attend, aiming to win a motocross challenge that’s the main attraction. Brian (Smith) is the shy, brainy one, with a thing for local girl Lisa (Grasse), who the dumb, cocky Lukas (Mills) invites along. Lisa proves rather popular, so Brian huffs himself off into the wilderness, discovering a secret underground base where Dr. Renard (Arnold) has been breeding giant alcohol-guzzling ants, having spliced their DNA with that of the occupants of an alien spaceship which crashed in the area some decades earlier.
You can probably tell this doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, which is not to say the filmmakers are slacking in bringing it to the screen. The script ignores any shortfall in the budget and knowingly - without dwelling overmuch on the references - embraces as many of the clichés of the genre as it realistically can, although it might have been funnier (the sight of a twenty-foot tall ant guzzling from a can of root beer is quite striking, mind you). And the effects are more ubiquitous and rather better than you’d expect, given how much money Mäkilaakso and his team had to play with. You’re never under any mis-illusions about their quality, but it’s easy enough to forgive them and suspend your disbelief, given how much fun everyone seems to be having throwing all this together - and the location is well-chosen.
The success of this is down to the acting and the characters, though, and that’s a little bit of a mixed bag. The three leads are consistent and likeable enough to sell every questionable decision their characters make, and their accents are pretty good too; Grasse especially feels like a star in the making. But it’s hard to believe in such simple archetypes.
This isn’t especially ‘good’, and by setting its sights no higher than to pastiche the films it’s aping (as much Aliens as Them!) it falls short of being in any way meaningful. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable enough waste of time if your bar is appropriately low, and the characters will just about get you over the finishing line.
Extras: Trailer / VFX Breakdown
IT CAME FROM THE DESERT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MARKO MÄKILAAKSO / SCREENPLAY: MARKO MÄKILAAKSO, TRENT HAAGA, HANK WOON Jr. / STARRING: HARRY LISTER SMITH, VANESSA GRASSE, ALEX MILLS, MARK ARNOLD / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 25TH