I have no way of knowing if I was the only 15 year-old who spent a weekend afternoon sitting alone in an empty theater watching Blake Edwards' remake of the Vincente Minnelli's 1964 Goodbye Charlie, but I'm pretty sure that if I was, I was probably the only one who knew who Edwards or Minnelli even were. That said, the real reason I decided to bike on over to the Londonderry Mall theater and plunk down my $6 had everything to do with the blond on the poster. I had seen Sea of Love and The Adventures of Buckeroo Banzai and was all over anything with Ellen Barkin in it.
A member of a dying alien species, the mysterious Mr. Johnson is on a mission to determine whether or not the human race can be harvested to provide the blood his people need to survive. To continue his mission he himself requires daily transfusions administered by a beautiful young nurse named Nadine Story, who quickly becomes suspicious about her employer’s activities. Blood is shed, breasts are bared, stuff explodes and the film ends with a question mark regarding the fate of mankind.
46. Historically, books written solely to settle a bar bet seldom make it to print, especially if they were written during a seven-and-a-half-hour period in the same bar where the bet was made.
I mention this because Wynorski freely brags in both of the two commentaries he’s thus far done for Not of This Earth that before production began on the remake, Roger Corman bet him he couldn’t get it filmed in the same 12-day schedule in which he shot the original. Wynorski took the bet, filmed his movie in 11 and 1/2 days and promptly took home a new car for his achievement.
Had I not listened to the commentaries I think I honestly might have guessed this was the case, because the resulting film very much looks and feels like a movie shot very quickly and indifferently by its director because he had something other than telling an interesting story on the line. At just barely 80 minutes (a nominal running time which he only actually achieves by creating a long opening credit montage of scenes from other Corman sf movies and by outright stealing a full scene from Joe Dante and Alan Arkush’s Hollywood Boulevard) the movie still manages to feel sluggish and dull, despite the clear intention to turn it into a lightly entertaining drive-in pastiche.
Between this and Deathstalker II it becomes clear that one of Wynorski’s greatest faults is his inability to transcend his production limitations. Many other directors have achieved great things under similar budgetary and time restrictions, but in their cases they were all invested in the outcome—they truly cared how the movie would come out. Wynorski, however, wanted to win a new car.
I’ve always found something interesting about the existence of journeyman directors. Without them Hollywood couldn't exist, since so much of their product couldn’t be made by filmmakers who actually cared about what they were doing, yet there’s something paradoxical about their very existence. Given the stress and personal depravation required to make any movie, it seems incredible that there are men and women out there who have worked so long and hard to achieve the position of director only to then subvert their personal vision in order to produce executive-friendly studio pabulum. Those of us outside the movie industry often wonder why its participants earn as much as they do, and the answer is obviously tied to the industry’s acknowledgment of the profound and soul-crushing ambivalence required by its workers just to make it through the day.
But this doesn’t apply to our subject. You cannot accuse Wynorski of “selling out” because he’s spent his entire career making the kind of films he wants to make. Nor can you accuse him of being an egoless director who lacks pride in his achievements. As seen in Popatopolis his home is a monument to his career with posters from all of his films decorating his walls. And unlike other directors who are reticent to discuss their films in DVD commentaries, he’s gone so far to provide them for films he’s directed under pseudonyms.
At this point I can only guess at the reasons behind the disconnect between his equally evident pride and disinterest in his work. The one that currently makes the most sense to me is the idea that the only project that truly interests Jim Wynorski is the myth of Jim Wynorski, but I have no idea if this project will truly bear this out.
Working from the original script by Mark Hanna and frequent Corman-collaborator Charles Griffith, Wynorski and R.J. Robertson (who previously worked together on the script for Big Bad Mama II) did little to the story of Not of This Earth but up the T&A quotient as high as they could.
And while his previous four films were all too happy to thrown in as much sex and nudity as they could get away with, Not of This Earth marks the first time where it starts feeling truly gratuitous. Part of this is because the script remains so true to the original that the film has a slightly dated, out-of-touch feel that is shown in strong relief each time a pair of large breasts intrude upon the screen. Also to blame is the film’s extremely limited production values, which gives the film the kind of low-rent ambiance typically associated with soft and hardcore pornography.
Which makes the presence of former underage hardcore icon Traci Lords, in the role of Nadine the nurse, more than a little ironic, because her performance is easily the freshest, most appealing aspect of the entire movie. Rather than make Not of This Earth feel more sordid than it already is, Lords manages to elevate it to a level it never would have achieved if, for example, Deathstalker II’s Monique Gabrielle had been cast as Nadine (complete with anachronistic white cap and uniform), instead of merely being regulated to a short, unrecognizable cameo as a crazy bag lady.
Wynorski actually deserves some credit for not only giving Lords her first mainstream film role, but for also casting her against type as the good girl heroine. Throughout the rest of her career filmmakers had difficulty looking past her infamy and sultry physical presence and cast her in a series of vixen and bad girl roles. Not of This Earth suggests she could have easily gone another way.
Unfortunately her character is betrayed by a climax that finds Nadine lost in the thrall of her alien employer and about to transport herself to his home planet for immediate vivisection only to be saved at the last minute when her policeman boyfriend’s piercing siren causes the noise adverse “Mr. Johnson” to plunge his car off a bridge. It’s a repeat of the distressing situation I reported in The Lost Empire, where Wynorski takes a strong, self-sufficient female character and turns her into a helpless victim who requires her boyfriend’s intervention to save her.
Despite this, Lord’s performance is almost good enough to redeem the rest of the film. While the most disappointing of his films thus far, Not of This Earth isn’t a complete disaster. Had Wynorski the time, money and inclination to make a better film I think he could have matched the charm of his first two films, but by this early point in his career he had already decided that he was more concerned with winning a bet than making an interesting film.