Monday, November 7, 2022

"Even the Squirrels Are Scarce" - Invasion from Inner Earth (1974) - Film #241

We must again turn to the works of Wisconsin's Bill Rebane to discuss Invasion from Inner Earth (1974) aka They, another of the master's minimalist science fiction films. Like Mr. Rebane's later The Alpha Incident (1977), Invasion from Inner Earth is a tense exploration of a small group of isolated characters.

Some of your universe's critics fail to appreciate Mr. Rebane's work. For example, reviewer uljf writes, "Every cliche in the book is used, and the low budget assures terrible special effects. Bad all around." Reviewer Patchbunny writes, "The movie is a slogging morass of nonacting that has no real plot, coherence, or semblance of intelligence." And reviewer udar55 writes, "Even if this has a germ of a good idea, the execution is so terrible that nothing can be forgiven."

Of course, these reviewers do not understand the wonders of minimalist filmmaking. Read on for a true appreciation of Invasion from Inner Earth...

The film begins, as so many great thrillers do, in a windowless meeting room, into which a middle-aged man strides to give a group of people a briefing. “Ladies and gentlemen, two days ago we were still receiving some isolated reports from towns and cities still not touched by this dreadful disease.”

The filmmakers cut to people running and panicking somewhere in Wisconsin. They then cut to a shot of earth spinning in space—a shot that lasts about five minutes. 

The story itself begins as a hunter named Jake walks through the snow somewhere else in Wisconsin. He returns home to his cabin, where his wood-chopping teenage sister scolds him for not bringing back enough dead animals for food. He tells her hunting has been bad lately: “I haven’t seen a deer in a week. Even the squirrels are scarce.”

Helpfully, Jake explains the central conflict of his relationship with his sister as he eats some bread. He wants Sarah to move to town, marry a man, and “mother up a family” while he builds the family business, which involves flying people around in his twin-engine plane.

Later, Jake helps three visiting gentlemen on a research trip load their equipment into his plane. They take off back to civilization, but when they approach their destination, they hear from the airport representative, Sam, that something is wrong: “Whatever you do, don’t land! Just go back! Go back! I’m not sure what happened, but people are dropping like flies.”

Jake attempts to land the plane but Sam lies down on the runway, blocking it, so Jake takes them to a lodge in the wilderness, where they look for fuel for the plane. As the men manually lift a large steel garage door, one of the researchers asks, “How do they get gas up here anyway?”

“They’re wealthy,” replies Jake. “Filthy rich is the word.” (Nobody corrects him on his ability to count words.) Unfortunately, all the fuel is gone.

After two of the men leave to find a hangar, researcher Andy confronts Jake. “Before, uh, it sounded like you had something against rich people.”

Jake says sarcastically, “Why do you ask? Are you rich, Andy? Did I offend you?” Then he leads Andy out of the garage to meet up with the others. They decide to go into the lodge, but are surprised when another small plane flies overhead. It disappears behind some trees, and then we hear an explosion.

“This is beginning to get spooky,” says one of the researchers.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” says Andy.

His friend replies, “If it did, we wouldn’t be here. Obviously.”

In a terrifying sequence that could only be made more terrifying if it were light enough so the audience could see it, Andy and his colleague turn on the lights inside the lodge and find the radio. As it should be, this activity is scored with the most intense music imaginable. In addition to opening curtains, the men find the lodge’s generator in an outside cabin. After they turn it on and leave, we see a mysterious red light and hear mysterious UFO sounds inside the generator shed.

Meanwhile, Jake finds the burning wreckage of the plane. Director Bill Rebane inserts an unexpectedly (some might say uncharacteristically) artistic shot of an eyeball as Jake and a researcher walk around the wreckage.

Back in the lodge, Andy and his friend see a red light, but it vanishes suddenly. “This is incredible.”

“No, no,” Andy says. “We both saw this thing. I mean, the question is, where did it come from? What was it?”

Back at Jake’s cabin, his teenage sister receives a bizarre radio message from a robotic voice. When she asks who is calling, the voice says, “It is not important. We are just checking our equipment.”

At the lodge, all found men gather in the radio room and discuss the red light before finally trying the now-powered radio. Jake contacts someone who says, “There’s just a few people left and they’re going fast, real fast.”

Jake then contacts his sister at the cabin, telling her they plan to leave the lodge and fly back to the cabin. Soon, the twin-engine plane is landing outside the cabin.

The filmmakers cut to a radio station, where a news announcer explains what is going on. Apparently, the power is out along the eastern seaboard, as well as locations in Argentina including “Bunos Aires.” Also, 5,000 people have died due to a mysterious disease. 

At the cabin, the men try to map out the disease and the disturbances. One of the researchers says, “Whatever this thing is, a carrier could spread it with him wherever he goes. All it takes is one person. Or it could be carried in the air. Through food.”

The others are skeptical, remembering the red light in the lodge. One of the researchers, Stan, theorizes about UFOs. “The evidence is overwhelming. You can find it anyplace.” Then Stan, for some reason, talks about a giant rose bush eating the eastern seaboard and blotting out the sun. “So much for the red light.”

Later, in a weirdly inappropriate scene, Stan asks teenage Sarah to take a walk with him in the moonlight. “We might even see something.” She rejects him, fortunately for everyone involved.

On the radio, Jake receives a call from the same robotic voice that spoke to Sarah earlier, but they quickly lose the connection. They find a short-wave radio and batteries so they can reestablish the connection.

The filmmakers cut to Sarah and Eric watching television, where a newscaster makes light of the current situation with the mysterious deaths and power outages and so on. “Remember when the little green creature came to your door was probably a Girl Scout selling cookies? Well, that’s all changed. Today, all over the world, there have been UFOs sighted and other strange occurrences. Strange diseases have popped up. Just so you won’t think the local area has been left out of the action, we have two very interesting guests today here to talk about that.” He introduces two people with UFO stories. One man encountered little men from Uranus, and a woman encountered a UFO and concluded, “With all the astronauts that we’re sending up there and those rocket ships and everything, I think they’re just getting mad at us, that’s what I think.”

Suddenly, the TV studio experiences strange signals and odd UFO-like noises. Also, someone watching TV in their home seems to disappear.

There follows an extended sequence in which Stan and Sarah (apparently separately) go outside in the snow with hunting rifles. They meet each other and talk about the situation. Stan says, “It’s beginning to make more and more sense as I put things together.”

Back in the cabin, Eric finds a pop music station on the short-wave, so Andy begins dancing.

Everyone is initially happy about the music, but they realize the radio is playing the same song repeatedly, which indicates civilization is not, in fact, saved. With nothing happening, Stan begins reading from a book about UFOs. “In most cases, red lights were sighted in conjunction with the UFO reports.”

At night, Andy decides to run off and take the plane to civilization, despite his lack of experience as a pilot. He starts the engines. He takes off, leaving Jake, Sarah, Stan, and Eric to shake their fists at him. In the cockpit, however, he sees red lights, then screams and crashes Jake’s plane.

Elsewhere, outside a bar, a drunk man sees a cloud of red smoke which kills someone and envelopes the bar. Of course, this incident is never referenced again.

Back at the cabin, Stan tries to make Jake laugh by playing with a bandana. 

Stan and Jake get serious. Jake reveals he wanted to get away from the cabin by joining the Air Force, but he was unsuccessful. He also seems to reveal he arranged his father’s fatal airplane crash for the insurance money so he could buy a new twin-engine plane, but this potentially fascinating point is dropped immediately and never mentioned again.

The next morning, Jake takes a snowmobile through the snowy forest toward town.

At the cabin, the robotic voice makes contact again with the radio. Stan immediately tells the voice the exact location of the cabin. He asks who the others are, but the voice says nothing. “Look,” Stan says, “I know who you are. Why don’t you clue us in?”

Again, the robotic voice says nothing.

“It’s an alien voice,” Stan concludes. “You can bet your life on it.”

Out in the snow, the film takes a depressing turn as Jake encounters a red ball emitting some kind of gas. Jake stops the snowmobile, passes out, and then flashes out of existence.

In shots with a great deal of production value, the film cuts to a town where people run away from a red cloud.

The filmmakers also show what appears to be a UFO flying over town.

At the cabin, Sarah, Stan, and Eric decide to walk to the nearest town together. They walk and walk, eventually building a fire as night falls. Stan explains his theory about the situation, based on the fact that the problems have been radiating from both the north and south poles. “I don’t believe that UFOs come from outer space. I think they come from…the inner earth.” He explains further, “About 8,000 years ago, the planet Mars came within very close proximity to the Earth, even closer than our own moon.”

“You mean like the comet Kohoutek,” Eric says, “just passing us by?”

“No, nothing like that. See, in this case, Mars stayed close to the earth for approximately 2,000 years. Now, it’s just a fact of science that because of the electromagnetic fields it just can’t have two immense heavenly bodies like that in such close proximity for any length of time. And so what happened, all hell broke lose. Now, the inhabitants of Mars knew that the end was near, so the only thing they could do was to get out. Make a split. So the obvious place to go was planet Earth.” He also explains this was the Biblical period of the seventh seal, with earthquakes and floods, so the Martians discovered the interior of the earth was like the Martian atmosphere.

Sarah and Eric take in all this information thoughtfully and seriously. 

Later, in a powerful metaphor for the isolation of all people, the three survivors get separated in the snowy woods. They all look for each other unsuccessfully, even though they are only a few yards from each other. In a bleak finale, Eric falls to the snow and his body vanishes. Then Sarah leans against a tree and tries to stay awake.

The film cuts to the radio station and its isolated DJ. He plays “As the Saints Go Marching In” as he gives a bleak, depressing monologue: “The phone rang yesterday. Once. Nobody on it, though. It’s been dead ever since. Everything’s dead. Except me. Me. I’m the one that never wanted to die. I wanted to live forever. And I’ve won. You know that? I’ve one. I’m the last living creature. I’m the last living thing on the face of the Earth. Somebody talk to me! Please!”

In the final sequence, Sarah stumbles upon a road and runs toward another figure. She realizes it’s Stan. He takes off his hat and smiles. They walk together through a deserted town.

The film cuts to a green meadow, where a little boy and little girl walk through the grass wearing only loincloths. 

The End

Not many filmmakers can make a film in which nothing really happens, but we are fortunate that Bill Rebane has that ability. Those critics who throw around words like "boring" and "tedious" completely miss the point that Mr. Rebane has successfully captured the boredom and tedium of surviving an apocalypse caused by Martians from the earth's core who use flying saucers to spread mysterious diseases through red lights and clouds of gas. What would such an invasion really look like? I venture to say it would look exactly like Invasion from Inner Earth.

I must now put forward my briefly considered hypothesis that The Alpha Incident (1977)--which is about a  pathogen from Mars causing havoc after being carried back to Earth by astronauts (though it is almost entirely people sitting in a train station trying not to fall asleep)--is a direct sequel to Invasion from Inner Earth (1977)--which is about a pathogen from Mars causing havoc after being weaponized by Martians living in Earth's core (though it is almost entirely people sitting in a cabin trying to use a radio). I leave this hypothesis here for anyone who would like to pick it up and run with it by turning it into a dissertation or a best-selling book, or something like that. (All I ask is a modest paragraph in the dedication.)

Note that we have not reached the end of Mr. Rebane's films, though we are getting close. Below are links to other films of his we have covered on Senseless Cinema, placed here on the remote chance that you have not committed all of these appreciations to memory: