Unwatchable #30: “Alien from L.A.”

Your fearless – and quite possibly senseless – movie janitor is watching every movie on the IMDb Bottom 100 list. Join us now for another installment of Unwatchable.

Back at the former home of Unwatchable, the late, lamented Screengrab, the venerable Leonard Pierce was moved to pen a tribute to Albert Pyun, perhaps our most underrated terrible director. “Both in his ridiculously prolific output and his utter lack of talent and shame, Albert Pyun leaves Uwe Boll in the dust,” Pierce boldly proclaimed. Urban Menace, Brain Smasher…A Love Story and Captain America were among the Pyun titles cited by my esteemed colleague, but somehow this early effort got off without so much as a warning. The time has come to correct this egregious oversight.

In fairness to Leonard, it’s entirely possible that Alien from L.A. isn’t in the same league of crapulence as the likes of Brain Smasher (which has, so far at least, astoundingly not made an appearance in our survey of the Unwatchable). In fact, I would go so far as to speculate that there is one overriding factor responsible for this particular Pyn picture’s appearance on the Bottom 100 list..but we’ll get to that.

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kathy Ireland makes her motion picture debut as the mellifluously named Wanda Saknussemm, a mousy, nerdy L.A. gal with thick glasses and a squeaky voice. Soon after being dumped by her surfer boyfriend for being such a nervous Nellie, Wanda learns that her archaeologist father has passed away in Africa. Summoning all her courage, Wanda flies to the site of his latest dig, where she discovers that he has not died after all, but merely fallen into a bottomless pit. Wanda herself then falls into the pit, which turns out not to be entirely bottomless, in that she reaches the bottom. She soon discovers she has arrived in the lost land of Atlantis, where the men are sweaty and speak with thick Australian accents.

Wanda has now become the titular alien from L.A., and with the help of gruff miner Gus (William R. Moses), she attempts to find her father while evading the local authorities who believe her to be a spy from the surface world. In order to accomplish this goal, she must navigate her way through a world that looks like The Road Warrior by way of a Duran Duran video, as Pyun’s Atlantis is your typical ‘80s industrial-neon new wave mishmash of a sci-fi civilization.

Actually, “typical ‘80s mishmash” pretty much sums up Alien from L.A. It’s a junkyard retread of better movies, with no particular wit or flair of its own (aside from the highly disturbing long pink eyelashes of its chief villain played by Deep Roy, later to achieve some fame as the Oompa Loompas in Tim Burton’s Chocolate Factory), but it probably would never have found its way onto this list if not for the nails-on-chalkboard performance of Kathy Ireland. Her previous acting experience in the pivotal role of “Woman in Line” in a 1985 episode of Charles in Charge apparently did not prepare her for the rigors of carrying a motion picture, but Pyun is to blame for allowing – for all we know, even encouraging – Ireland to squeak out all of her lines like a six-year-old. He’s also to blame for never showcasing her primary talent – filling out a bikini – until the movie’s final minute; clearly he still had a lot to learn about exploitation filmmaking.

The most stunning thing I learned about Alien from L.A. after the fact is that it actually has a sequel of sorts. Golan and Globus, the producers of this epic, later launched a big-screen remake of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. After only a few days of filming, however, the production was shut down and director Rusty Lemorande (who wrote Captain EO and Electric Dreams) was replaced by Pyun, who somehow re-jiggered the story to include the return of Wanda Saknussemm. On the IMDb forum, Lemorande writes: “Only the approximately first 8 minutes of the film were written or directed by me. The remainder of the film is actually the sequel to Alien in LA which was tacked on and renamed Journey to the Center of the Earth in order to fulfill contractual commitments by the production company to foreign distributors. The remainder of the footage I shot (my film) has never been seen by the public (and few others) due to the lack of funds at the time to shoot and insert the many special effects shots required.”

Yes, it’s another bizarre but true tale from the realm of…the Unwatchable.

Previously on Unwatchable:
31. Snowboard Academy
32. Car 54, Where Are You?
33. Glitter
34. House of the Dead
35. Santa With Muscles (unseen)

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8 Comments on “Unwatchable #30: “Alien from L.A.””

  1. Adam says:

    hey man – glad you’re still around, these are a lot of fun!

    fyi i think Arne Saknussem was the character name of the scientist who discovered the pathway to the center of the earth in the Verne novel. he was also an Icelandic Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, so really Ireland was an obvious choice.

  2. Albert Pyun says:

    Wow…great review of my Aliens From LA. Appreciate all mentions good and bad (mostly bad it seems) because I am that shameless. Yes, the story you relate to it’s “sequel” is correct. I enjoy your blog and Leonard’s as well. When I made many of these films I thought they’d die in obscurity (along with my lack of talent!) but somehow the films, like my own relentless filmmaking seem to take on a life of their own. My next abomination is a loose follow up to my first film “The Sword and the Sorcerer”. I’m sure “tales of an Ancient Empire” has a shot at your Unwatchable List…in fact I know it does!

    Best,
    Albert Pyun

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