Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Invaders: Beachhead & The Experiment

The X-Files gets credit for taking paranormal paranoia mainstream, but Quinn Martin got there first. Keep in mind, his alien infiltration series was created by future low-budget genre master Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff), which makes sense, doesn’t it? It is interesting the revisit the two-season series, post-X-Files and post-Men in Black. You can get in at the beginning when Me TV resets their reruns of The Invaders from the beginning, in its super-convenient Time-slot: 5:00 AM, on Sunday mornings.

In the pilot, “Beachhead,” architect David Vincent pulls over exhausted, while driving home late at night from a business conference. Instead of shut-eye, he gets an eyeful of a flying saucer landing. He tries to alert the authorities, but they do their best to discredit him. His partner Alan Landers similarly tries to assure him it was all in his pretty little head. Of course, Vincent has seen too much to forget, so he sets out in search of the witness who contradicted him. In the suspiciously empty town of Kinney, he finds a decommissioned power plant retrofitted for nefarious purposes and Kathy Adams, a widow, whose late husband may have learned too much.

Frankly, all the gaslighting of the first act gets a little boring. However, the scenes in the ghostly looking Kinney are surprisingly cinematic (and impressively helmed by Joseph Sargent). In addition to tapping into the Cold War paranoia of classics like
Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars (which Cohen himself identified as influences), rooted in the loss of individuality and free will, Beachhead also appeals to the mounting anxiety over the vanishing small-town way of life. Here, the insidious aliens represent urbanization as well as Communism.

As Vincent, Roy Thinnes had already perfected the dogged earnestness that would make the lonely crusader a minor genre icon, but he sounds awkwardly overwrought when making his case to others. However, Diane Baker really stands out for her subtly turned guest appearance as Adams.

The stakes quickly increase in the second episode, “The Experiment,” when the aliens blow up an airliner full of passengers in a failed attempt to assassinate Prof. Curtis Lindstrom, who claims to have proof the Invaders are here among us. Naturally, Vincent wants to talk to him, but the aliens are out to get him first. Roddy McDowell’s resemblance to Anthony Perkins serves him well playing Lindstrom’s squirrely son Lloyd, who eventually has some Shatner worthy freak-outs. This episode also starts to establish a groovy 1960s look for the alien technology and d├ęcor, which should be pleasing to sf fans, in a retro kind of way.

Based on the first two episodes,
The Invaders looks considerably ahead of its time and seems to hold up relatively well. Beachhead is particularly recommended in the extended cut that only appeared on DVD. It is nostalgic, yet it still feels timely (albeit, in an unfortunate way, but that’s not a reflection on the show). Recommended for old school alien invasion fans, “Beachhead” airs this coming Sunday morning (12/27) and “The Experiment” airs the next week (1/3), on Me TV. The Invaders is also available on DVD, but it is not readily streamable.