Love For the Craft Can Make A Film Better. The Alien Dead: Limited Signed Edition Blu-ray Review + Screenshots

The Alien Dead Title Card

Released by: Retromedia

Release Date: June 1st, 1980

Region Code: REGION FREE

Run Time: 1h 14m (The Alien Dead)
                   53m (The Brain Leeches)
                   24m (Halloween Planet)

Audio: LPCM 2.0 English (The Alien Dead)
             Dolby Digital 1.0 (The Brain Leeches and Halloween Planet)

Video: 1080p (1.85:1 Aspect Ratio) (The Alien Dead)
            1080p (1.33:1 Aspect Ratio) (The Brain Leeches)
            480p (1.33:1 Aspect Ratio) (Halloween Planet)

Tom Corman: What do you think about, Shawn?
Shawn Michaels: I don't know. Growing up. Getting out of the swamp. Eating hamburgers. Stuff like that.

THE FEATURES [3.5 out of 4]

two people are looking for something in a very dark scene

Commentary with Fred Olen Ray

Writer/Director Fred Olen Ray is joined by director Steve Latshaw (Biohazard 2 and Jack-O) in this very funny and informative commentary. Ray has a lot to say about The Alien Dead and there is not a moment of dead air. Ray starts out by saying that he hates the opening scene, the one with the man at the typewriter because it adds nothing to the film, but run time. The scene that follows, a man and a woman trying to find gators in the swamps, was shot MOS (without sound) because Ray was being arrested at the time the scene was being shot, for trespassing. That is right, while that scene is playing, just think that right off screen is a man being arrested. Ray continues telling story after story until the film is over. Steve Latshaw chimes in now and again, but this is Fred Olen Ray’s track and he owns it. If I were to say anything bad about this wonderful track is that the audio seems very echo-y,like he is recording the track from across the room. I wish that Ray would get a microphone, but the audio is still listenable and doesn’t get in the way. This is a wonderful track.

1992 Cast Reunion (5m 47s, SD)

Stars Mike Bonavia, Dennis Underwood, and Shelley Youngren are on hand to tell some stories about the making of The Alien Dead. They talk about how they were cast (Fred Olen Ray out an ad in the newspaper), their praise and awe over actor Buster Crabbe, and Youngren tells a story about how she got naked for the whole crew, but didn’t even know it. This piece was recorded in 1992 and it looks like they are backstage at some type of convention or awards show. This is a nice little featurette that I wish would have gone on longer.

VHS Cover Gallery (1m 31s, SD)

Fred Olen Ray talks about the various VHS covers for the film from around the world. Normally I hate still galleries, but there is narration, so I was able to get through it without falling asleep.

Still Gallery (2m 18s, SD)

This is a normal still gallery that has music playing as the stills montage moves on. The music is not from the film.

The Brain Leeches (53m 57s, HD, 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio)

The Brain Leeches title card

This is Fred Olen Ray’s first feature and it shows. This film, about leeches that came from outer space and infect humans, is an Invasion of the Body Snatchers rip off.  The leeches attack humans and then go about the daily life of that human while trying to get other people to join them. There is a funny scene with a comedian who has been “leeched” and tells jokes based around the leeches. It is a scene that goes nowhere, but it is amusing nonetheless. The film was shot in black and white and printed on 16mm, which means that it could have been shot on 8mm. The film cost $298.00 according to Fred Olen Ray. The film is bad and Ray even thinks that watching it can harm you. The film may be bad, but it is more coherent than The Alien Dead, the film that this film is featured on and the film that would follow. The film moves at a snail’s pace and feels like hours have gone by even though the film is less than an hour long. Most of the film was shot MOS and the soundtrack is filled with songs from a public domain record that Ray owned. The result is a terrible film that should be watched just to see what a bad film looks like.

The picture quality here is just as terrible as the film. Ghosting, crushed blacks, washed out whites, and lots of noise. The film registers as HD when playing, but I can’t even believe that this is HD. So much wrong with the picture. Then again, I have seen worse. It seems that Ray just put whatever he had on the blu-ray and that is that.

The sound is good when the songs are playing. The audio falls apart when dialogue comes into the mix. The songs sound loud and bright while the dialogue, sometimes recorded in post, is messy and inconsistent. I guess that it fits the picture pretty well.

Audio Commentary with Fred Olen Ray (Brain Leeches)

Ray sits down for another commentary track and this is in the same vein as the track for The Alien Dead. Ray starts off by saying that he isn’t going to commentary over the whole film because that would be torture for him and us, but ends up talking for the whole film. He talks about shooting in the swamps (which he loves doing) and how he cast the film with friends from the cable station he was working at. The camera that the film was shot on was loaned out to him from the station and they gave him a box full of expired (out of date) film. The track becomes a little bit somber when Ray talks about his brother (who is in the film). Ray’s brother passed away a few years ago and the film reminds Ray of his brother. This is another great track from Ray.

The Halloween Planet (24m 28s, SD, 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio)

The Halloween Planet title card

This $5000 production was funded by Ray in the hopes that he would land a TV deal. Of course we know that didn’t happen, but now we know why. This is really bad. If you thought that Brain Leeches was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Two kids fly a space ship from their planet because they want to (?) and land on Halloween Planet, a place where all of the monsters that we know and love (and some that are brand new) have a mixer all the time. The kids are welcomed on this planet and are given a tour before they go back home.

The plot is barely there and the film just plods along for almost twenty-five minutes. Nothing happens before the kids go back home. There is a lot of potential, but it is wasted, probably because of budget. This is another one you can skip, unless you are a big Fred Olen Ray fan or you like to torture yourself.

Audio Commentary with Fred Olen Ray (Halloween Planet)

Another winner from Ray. Here he talks about financing this short. He wanted to be the producer of a kids TV show, but when this didn’t happen, he left for California. He also talks about why he didn’t direct this short (he didn’t see a future in directing) and how he lost every penny he sent on this. (which is why it is a special feature on another film’s blu-ray).  He even offered it to TV stations for free and still no one would take it.

THE PACKAGING [3 out of 4]

Retromedia (Fred Olen Ray’s company) has put out a nice blu-ray package, but they don’t go past their means.

The front cover is a really nice piece of art that portrays a monster dragging a woman by her hair, the tagline reading: THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE TO EAT THE LIVING. The tagline doesn’t really work, but the artwork is very striking and beautiful.

The back cover has the special features listed (Halloween Planet and its commentary track were added after the cover was made) and three still from the film. Specs are at the bottom of the back cover. There is also a section that looks like some spilled paint (or blood) and this is where the autograph from Fred Olen Ray is located. His autograph looks different from the one found on Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, but there was some news that Ray was sick at one point, so maybe is signature changed. Who knows?

The disc art features the same art found on the front cover and is housed inside of a NON-ECO case.

I like that companies like Shout!/Scream Factory, Blue Underground, Severin, Synapse, and Arrow can release product in nice blu-ray cases, but the bigger companies can’t be bothered to. They release all their stuff in those dreaded ECO CASES and I hate them.

The disc is REGION FREE

THE PICTURE [2 out of 4]

One of the alien dead captures a woman so that he can eat her

This is definitely an HD transfer and it obviously comes from a film print. There are specks, hairs, and holes that show up all the time during the film’s runtime. The film has not been remastered, but that is ok. There is always talk about why movies from the 70s and 80s play better on VHS than they do on blu-ray. People say that blu-ray takes away from the low budget factor of a lot of genre films because we can see the effects and how crappy a lot of them look. I will always take a blu-ray over a VHS, but some will say that The Alien Dead looks “better” on VHS or even DVD.

There is a lot of film grain here, but it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the film. There is very little in the way of detail, but this happens a lot when films are put through a remaster or the negative is lost, which is the case here. Still, I think that the film looks about as good as it can and I am ok with that.

THE SOUND [2 out of 4]

the alien dead attack the camera

The sound here is ok at best, and a disaster at its worst. The film was shot with sound and without it, so some scenes, like the opening swamp scene have overly fake sound dialogue (due to the dubbing in post). This dialogue comes through loud and clear, but there are times when I had to go back to see what a character said. The effects are well handled and sound pretty good. I would give the sound a higher score, but the times when you can’t understand what is being said is a killer.

THE FILM [2 out of 4]

An woman shows off her cool new look

There is always going to be some camp value in the films that Fred Olen Ray made in the 80s and 90s. Ray specialized in films that could be made fun of. He found his calling in the straight-to-video market and made a ton of films using this model. Biohazard, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Beverly Hills Vamp, Alienator, Bad Girls From Mars, Evil Toons, and Dinosaur Island are just some of the films that Ray made and is still making today. There was just something about seeing the VHS cover to one of Ray’s films that made you smile.

The Alien Dead is the second film that Ray directed and it is ok. It doesn’t have the craziness of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers or the cheesiness of Alienator because Ray is essentially making a zombie film. If you take out the space ship that crashes into a cabin boat, you find that the film is a zombie film. The “alien dead” of the title are nothing more than dead people who want eat living ones.

There is nothing all that memorable about the film, but that is ok with me. Sometimes I like being able to walk away from a film with nothing more than I came in with. It allows me to watch the film again like it was new to me. I know that sounds crazy but it works out sometimes.

That being said, the film is not all bad. There is a ton of bad acting (even from the “star” of the film Buster Crabbe) and scenes that make no sense whatsoever.

There is a scene where a woman is being chased by an “alien dead”. She runs into a place in the swamp where there is a walkway. She runs around this walkway while the “alien dead” stalks her. She hides underneath the walkway, but the “alien dead” finds her and kills her. This scene makes no sense because it wasn’t set up properly, nor was it shot with any type of skill. It is just a series of random shots that we can kind of make out if we really try.

With all the crap that I have flung at this film, why did I give it a higher score? It comes to heart. Sure, heart can’t make a film good, but it can help in the viewing of said film. Fred Olen Ray wanted to make a film about aliens eating people. He accomplished this goal because he believed that he could. Sure, the film is bad, but it is honest. Films like The Room or Birdemic are bad films, but they are not honest films. Fred Olen Ray was honing his craft and learning by doing. Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen haven’t learned anything from making their films. They are firmly in the belief that they are the best because they are the worst. Ray knows that he is making crap, but he does so with a talent that he learned over years of making films.

The Alien Dead is not all that entertaining, but is never boring. The film keeps moving even when it stumbles, which it does a lot.

OVERALL [3 out of 4]

One of the alien dead stalks a woman in a river

I am glad that I bought The Alien Dead. The film is a fun watch if you can get in the right mindset. The picture quality is not that great, but I don’t think that it can get any better. The sound is pretty bad, but still listenable. The biggest selling points are the three commentary tracks from Fred Olen Ray. Sure, you have to watch the films in order to follow the commentary tracks, but that is ok. The tracks are worth it and they are worth the price of this blu-ray. 


-The Alien Dead:

-The Brain Leeches

-Halloween Planet

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