Bruce Campbell Squares off with evil Aliens in the World’s Most Embarrassing Airport
DIRECTED BY SEAN S. CUNNINGHAM/2002
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: APRIL 25, 2023/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
There are exactly two clever things about Terminal Invasion, director Sean S. Cunningham’s unexpected 2002 SyFy (then “Sci Fi”) channel hit. One is the title. Sure, maybe naming one’s airport-contained hostile alien insurgence movie “Terminal Invasion” is the “clever” equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. But considering the rest of what we’re considering here, this will have to happily qualify…
Any measure of success that Terminal Invasion can claim is largely due to its star, Bruce Campbell’s ability to key in on any given project’s limitations, and then simply own them. Here, Campbell is playing Jack, a convicted murderer who finds himself holed up in the world’s jankiest airport after his prison transport vehicle wrecks in a snowstorm. (The shots of the vehicle smashing into a tree are purchased footage from the film Long Kiss Goodnight, with the make and model changed in Photoshop. That’s right, this bit culminates with a still picture of the transport smashed into a tree once chosen by Renny Harlin). And wouldn’tchaknowit, a pack of diabolical shapeshifting space aliens have selected the same airport to launch phase one of their plan to enslave humanity. Kinda ambitious for a simple handful of homicidal humanoids if you ask me, but then again, it is specified that phase two will be even worse! Whatever. It’s up to Jack and the arbitrary group of strangers trapped in the airport (no communications, no safe way out, of course) to put aside their selfish motivations and fears and nip this insidious plot in the bud. And this being a made-for-TV movie, they’ve only got about ninety minutes to do it. (With commercial breaks).
Let’s talk about this “airport”… Never mind that I myself have done set decorating on two different made-for-SciFi movies, meaning I have firsthand understanding of what the crew of Terminal Invasion is up against. But even then… when the screenplay says, “INT. AIRPORT”, and all you’ve got is a large room, maybe it’s time to change the screenplay accordingly. Instead, most of this film takes place in a bizarre enclosure we’re told is a privately owned professional charter airport but looks like an airport themed amateur escape room. Crammed into this single area are many of the conveniences one would find in a typical airport (a help desk, a ticket counter, a gift stand)… and a few that might be stretches. (A pie counter… with no pie? A model airplane shelf??) On top of that, the whole thing is also a construction work zone, signaling that the set probably didn’t get completely built on time. It is, as they say somewhere, a real hoot. A real head-scratching, way overdressed hoot.
Horrendous early-2000s cheapo digital visual effects plague the entire movie, but then, what did you expect? On his audio commentary track (repurposed from some earlier release), director Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th) cringes audibly at every shoddy-pixeled misfire. At one point, he actually warns up-and-coming filmmakers to not let their reach exceed their grasp, because only a moat of stinky cheese awaits. (My words, not his). The aliens’ freakishly empty CG eyes look like moving pictures of freakishly empty eyes transposed on the actors’ faces… which is what they are. When the aliens die, they melt into a quickly evaporating puddle of goo- but not before going noticeably blurry seconds prior. For whatever practical reason, this is a tell that a digital effect is about to happen.
Cunningham is joined by the film’s executive producer, Chuck Simon, who’s more interested in discussing the history of the made-for-Sci Fi original movies (a not uninteresting topic) than this movie in particular. They talk about how Terminal Invasion actually launched a planned series of inexpensive and increasingly deliberately hokey Saturday night movies for the channel. The Canada-based model as pioneered by Simon and Cunningham didn’t last, as production gravitated overseas and the “creature feature” formula took over. Anyhow, I suppose that on some level, Terminal Invasion is of historic note. Maybe a footnote… or a luggage tag.
Somehow, this movie got itself an R rating. The folks at the MPAA must’ve been feeling particularly sensitive that day. There’s barely any blood, only a few mild swears, and no skin at all, human or otherwise. Which might as well bring us to the other clever thing about Terminal Invasion... The whole trick of pulling off one of these ultra-low budget twelve-day shoots is making the most of whatever you’ve got. At a certain mid-point, this screenplay calls for everyone in the cast to pass through a luggage x-ray machine. (Do charter airports have or need x-ray machines? This one does, although it looks like something hastily built by the film’s art department. Which, I’m sure there’s a good reason for). This process stops the movie cold (such as it is), but will will reveal who has a human skeleton and who’s a blob of alien slime in a person suit. Anyhow, when the alien among them is found via x-ray, a struggle inside the darn machine erupts, causing it to start exploding. The readout screen switches to flashing still x-ray images of the alien blob fighting the human skeleton. As the machine is failing, the image refreshes only every second or two, revealing the extent of the carnage inside. This bit is the lone conceit that really stands out as successful low-budget film making, as it would’ve been far too cost prohibitive to animate a skeleton fighting the outline of a slime humanoid. Way to go, everyone.
Terminal Invasion, shot digitally before that technology was necessarily ready for prime time, as it were, looks only so-so at best on this KL Studio Classics Blu-ray release. Again though, what did you expect? In a movie that only has two clever things going for it, neither of which would register if there was anything else at all complimentary to say, it’s only fitting that an ideal transfer would also exceed its grasp. Actually, I’ll say this: Bruce Campbell not only holds this thing together on screen, he sets the tone and bar level for the rest of the cast (including Chase Masterson, Sarah Lafleur, and C. David Johnson), which also get the job done as well as possible. Perhaps to compensate for the transfer, we get six minutes of stand-alone bonus footage of some poor soul wearing the movie’s barely-glimpsed full alien costume posing umpteen different ways. (Gee, thanks). The costume looks okay when certain poses are struck, but a second later, the seams are literally showing. And often, failing duct tape. Again though, for this movie, not quite fitting is fitting.