Alien Beasts (1991)

Directed by Carl J. Sukenick
Self-released VHS

Human beings run on empathy. It’s what keeps our emotions healthy and our minds sane. But what happens when there’s an experience that no human being can relate to? What happens when this experience has the potential to erase the concept of empathy from the face of the earth?

The answer is Alien Beasts.

Alien Beasts is the most disturbed shot-on-video (SOV) horror movie of the 1990s. And also the most essential. It’s not disturbed like Zombie ’90: Extreme Pestilence is disturbed; there’s no vagina mutilation in this movie. And it’s not essential like Scary Tales is essential; live-action Dungeons & Dragons battles between a dad and a Dark Overlord are nowhere to be found. Alien Beasts is disturbed because it’s foreign to life as we know it on every level imaginable. That’s also what makes it essential. Filmed by director-writer-editor-star Carl J. Sukenick somewhere in New York, this movie seems to be the product of a mentally troubled brain. Initially, it feels like Jonas Mekas’s Walden as remade by David “The Rock” Nelson in the style of Psyched By The 4-D Witch — a child-like, experimental document in the guise of a backyard horror movie. But as Aliens continues, any chance of comparison disappears. The repetitive, patchwork footage drones on. Sukenick screams at people. Madness trumps all.

Two people have a kung-fu fight on a front lawn. The camera captures the action from across the street. Someone keeps coughing off-camera. We see a shot of a window in negative. A voice with a thick New England accent and a speech impediment (Carl Sukenick) says, “Sarah! We are delivering weapons to a top-secret weapons base. There’s a radiation storm. We must stop the monsters.” We see flickering freeze frames of men sitting at a table and a child on a swing. For no reason, blood shoots out of a latex dummy’s eye-socket, which has an arrow in it. Then purple blood pours out of a man’s shirt. The man is wearing a silver mask. This message appears onscreen for sixty seconds:

“Security camera inoperable.”

Then this message appears onscreen for sixty seconds:

“The base is under attack by foreign enemy agents working for Iran.”

If you have trouble reading, Carl Sukenick recites each sentence several times.

After that, a woman wearing a purple mask strips to her panties. She puts on camouflage pants, plays with nunchucks, and succumbs to a man in a hobo mask (Carl Sukenick) who rubs her breasts and says, “Stop moving or I will punish you.” This scene lasts for eight minutes.

There’s no point in describing what happens during the rest of Alien Beasts. Of course, it’s amazing when a lit sparkler goes off on someone’s chest. And who doesn’t want to see a styrofoam head that catches on fire and explodes in negative? Arbitrary things happen constantly throughout this movie. Trying to understand why they happen is a lost cause. This is a crude assemblage of vector video effects, people who mumble, severed hands, roundhouse kicks, stolen horror soundtrack music that was recorded from the grill of a TV, and a recurring shot of a middle-aged man staring directly into the camera. In Alien Beasts, the plot is secondary. Everything is secondary to Sukenick’s mental chaos. Except for his ambition. The climactic explosion of no-fi stop-motion gore and animation, which was shot on Super 8, is a testament to that.

There’s a long history of low-budget horror movies that feel cold, sickly, and isolated from the outside world. They make us feel uncomfortable, like we’re caught in a limbo that we can’t escape. But we have to see these movies because we’ll never see anything like them again. Dementia aka Daughter Of Horror. The Last House On Dead End Street. Black Devil Doll From Hell. Alien Beasts takes this idea to the next illogical level. It’s a freeform, psychotropic anomaly that was made to entertain no one. It has the ability to make five minutes feel like two hours. But the fact that this video tape exists — that somehow, Carl J. Sukenick completed this alien beast — is a victory. It might take the population of our planet a few more years to empathize with that victory. That’s OK. We’re not going anywhere.