Alien from the Abyss Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: June 27, 2023
Audio: Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 91:42
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Greenpeace environmental activist Jane (Marina Giulia Cavalli) and her cameraman Lee (Robert Marius) travel to a remote island where they attempt to expose an evil corporation led by Col. Kovacks (Charles Napier). There, they team-up with a local snake wrangler named Bob (Daniel Bosch) and discover that Kovacks and his crew are dumping nuclear waste into a nearby volcano, destroying the local environment and awakening a biomechanical creature.
With its simple story, unique aesthetic, and gut-punching shocks, few classic blockbusters have been as regularly and easily mimicked as Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). In keeping with their reputation as Europe’s longest reigning cinematic copycats, Italy contributed its share of Alien-esque thrillers, namely Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (aka: Alien Contamination and Toxic Spawn, 1980) and Ciro Ippolito’s faux-sequel, Alien 2: On Earth (Italian: Alien 2: Sulla Terra, 1980). Fair play, since Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (Italian: Terrore nello Spazio, 1965) was among a number of B-science fiction films that Alien drew inspiration from. Later, James Cameron’s similarly influential sequel Aliens (1986) was also ripe for redux, though its bigger, action-centered scope was a bit more difficult to ape on a shoestring. This didn’t stop trash merchant Bruno Mattei from attempting to twice: first with Shocking Dark (1989), which, as the alternate titles Terminator 2 and Aliens 2 indicated, was half Terminator, half Aliens, then with Zombies: The Beginning (Italian: Zombi: La creazione, 2007) – an unauthorized prequel to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (Italian: Zombi 2; aka Zombie Flesh Eaters, 1979) that recycles Cameron’s script, replaces aliens with zombies and replaces the space marines with the Filipino army.
Like Shocking Dark, Antonio Margheriti’s Alien from the Abyss attempts to mash up two James Cameron movies, again, as indicated by the title, Aliens (with a dash of Alien) and The Abyss (Italian: Alien degli abissi; aka: Alien from the Deep, 1989). The twist is two-fold. First, Alien from the Abyss premiered in the Philippines in May of 1989, assuming IMDb is accurate, then Italy in October. The Abyss premiered stateside in August of 1989 and December in Italy. That means that there’s basically no way Margheriti or writer Tito Carpi could have seen Cameron’s movie before completing theirs. Perhaps they saw a trailer, where they learned that it took place underwater and that some of the characters were scientists. They just had to make up the rest and it’s pretty obvious, because the storyline really spins its wheels and stalls in its middle section, once all of the fun, nonsense sci-fi jargon and exposition is out of the way. The lack of budget also means that they couldn’t actually set any of it underwater. Given the fact that Cameron had one of the largest budgets of all time at his disposal and still almost drowned his cast & crew and that the Italian film industry was famously not concerned with safety regulations, it was indubitably a good thing that Margheriti couldn’t follow suit.
The other twist here is that Margheriti, unlike Bruno Mattei, was a good filmmaker. Along with Enzo G. Castellari and, of course, Mario Bava, Margheriti was among the greatest Italian workmanlike directors from the ‘60s through the ‘80s. He had a habit of staying on top of trends, redefining his own style, and sometimes leading said trends into their golden years. Sure, he was past his prime (he only made three more movies after this one), but the uninspired script combines his greatest strengths (Gothic horror, pulp sci-fi, and gritty war action) and ensures that his talents can prop up and carry the project, even if he was half-assing it with zero resources. As in the case of his other ‘80s sci-fi adventures, namely Yor: The Hunter from the Future (Italian: Il mondo di Yor, 1983) and The Ark of the Sun God (Italian: I sopravvissuti della città morta, 1984), the most fun is derived from his cheesy, but clever and resourceful use of mechanical effects and miniatures. The climax, where the gigantic, Giger-inspired monster finally emerges and fights the heroes (driving old-fashioned bulldozers, instead of walking power-loader armor), is particularly worth the wait. Margheriti was never big on gore, but tosses in a couple of juicy bits to please the ‘80s Eurohorror market, fronted by sequences where the people who come in contact with the creature either melt or are grotesquely transformed.
Alien from the Abyss doesn’t appear to have been released on US VHS or Beta, but was released on tape all over Europe and Asia, so there were bootlegs available for Margheriti fans to order from the back pages of Fangoria. The first stateside DVD, under the Alien from the Deep title, came from One 7 Movies (a company with weird ties to both Mya and No Shame) in 2011. Like that disc and discs from other countries, Severin’s Blu-ray is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The German BD from Daredo (which premiered practically alongside this one) has a 1.78:1 option, but it seems clear that Margheriti and cinematographer Fausto Zuccoli were aiming for the home video market with these compositions. The 1080p transfer is derived from a new 4K scan of the original negative and it’s nice and clean throughout with particularly strong dynamic range in its darkest, moodiest interior shots. The scenes shot outdoors, under bright sunlight don’t look as impressive, but still have nice color quality and decent grain texture, though there are small hints of machine noise in the lightest moments.
Aliens from the Abyss is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Italian movies were still largely shot without sound in 1988-89, so there wasn’t an official language track, though it does appear that most of the cast was speaking English on set and few of them might have even been dubbing themselves, including Charles Napier, who is easily the biggest Hollywood name in the cast (he might have actually been recorded on set during certain scenes). The English track also has slight volume advantages when it comes to effects and music, but not really enough to make a difference. The score, which features a standard, symphonic main theme, but is mostly funky electronic music, is credited to Robert O. Ragland and Andrea Ridolfi. It’s too low on both tracks, but still adds plenty of charm.
From the Center of the Earth (12:52, HD) – A new interview with director Antonio Margheriti's son, Edoardo Margheriti, who discusses his and his father’s careers, unrealized projects, and the making of Alien from the Abyss, focusing on the lack of budget and resources, the environmental theme, and special effects.
The Outsider: The Cinema of Antonio Margheriti (61:32, HD) – I believe that this is the US home video debut of Edoardo Margheriti’s 2013 documentary on his father’s life and work. The interview subjects (some of which are archival) include Margheriti himself, filmmakers Enzo G. Castellari, William Lustig, Luigi Cozzi, Ernesto Gastaldi, and Steve Della Casa, writer Dardano Sacchetti, and actors Barbara Bouchet, Corinne Cléry, Alberto Dell'Acqua, Richard Harrison, Franco Nero, Frank Pesce, John Steiner, and Fred Williamson.
Son of The Outsider (13:31, HD) – Another interview with Edoardo Margheriti on the making of his documentary.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.