By C. Michael Forsyth
A long time ago, I read a science fiction story about a knight who sets out to take on a roaring dragon with two glowing eyes — only to be creamed when the thing turns out to be a train! Ever since reading this “time slip” tale, I’ve thought it would be neat to write a story about medieval knights versus space aliens. The appeal to me is that the odds would be stacked against the heroes even more so than in a typical invasion flick like “Battle: Los Angeles.”
In “High Plains Invaders,” the cowboy protagonists are not quite as badly outgunned, but the smart money certainly is on the E.T.s.
The plot in a nutshell: a small Old West town is besieged by a legion of space aliens bent on wolfing down every ounce of uranium on Earth. It’s up to a handful of townsfolk to round up the invaders and send them to Boot Hill.
This movie, which originally aired on the Syfy channel, is entertaining and well-constructed. The aliens — giant, scorpion-like critters — are scarier and more convincing than the usual CGI monsters. And James Marsters makes a good hero as Sam Phoenix, a train robber with a very, VERY strong honorable streak. (Macho and all-American, he’s unrecognizable here as the guy who played Spike, that bleached blond English bloodsucker in TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).
That having been said, the film is quite pedestrian. Apart from the novel setting, it is a strictly-by-the-book monster flick. The workman-like script delivers the goods, but I wish the filmmakers had taken advantage of the somewhat goofy premise — cowboys versus aliens — and injected a bit more color and humor. It could have been as fun as “Tremors.”
If you’ve seen your share of monster movies, there are few surprises. In the beginning of the film, when you see a square-jawed prisoner behind the bars of jailhouse, awaiting hanging, you have no doubt that he will emerge as the hero. When you see a wimpy guy with glasses, you can tell he’ll be the brain who provides the solution to the crisis. It’s a foregone conclusion that the pompous sheriff will turn yellow. The people who die, die in the order you’d expect them to die, and you won’t have much trouble guessing who’ll survive. There is the siege, the giant mother ship, the heroic act of self-sacrifice at the end.
It is rare that I’ll single out the performance of an unknown actor in a modestly budgeted horror movie for a bad review. But Sanny Van Heteren is truly awful as Rose, a Calamity Jane type female bounty hunter. I mention it only because she’s on screen a lot and almost sinks the movie single-handedly. The only kind thing I can say is that on top of the phony acting, Miss Van Heteren is too pretty for the butch role.
One could question whether the lumbering, easily outwitted aliens would be capable of interstellar flight (or even inventing the wheel). But I figure that the creatures are merely the servants or pets of brainier aliens aboard the mothership.
The western blends well with other genres. There have been musical westerns like the old Gene Autry movies and “Get Your Wagon” (in which Clint Eastwood SINGS); comedy westerns like “Blazing Saddles”; even previous horror westerns like “Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula.” And the cowboys-versus-aliens theme will be revisited in the upcoming “Cowboys & Aliens.” Directed by Jon Favreau of “Swingers” fame, it promises to be less dead-serious than this one. Can’t wait to see it. But “High Plains Invaders” definitely earns its spurs.
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