Bruce Campbell is a convicted murderer and he’s the only hope for mankind in Sean S. Cunningham’s Sci-fi Channel classic Terminal Invasion. Part The Thing part traditional whodunit, it's an entertaining low-budget made-for-tv chiller featuring the greatest-chinned actor to come out of Michigan. Now on Blu-ray from KLSC, the transfer is decent, the audio is solid, and the bonus features are pretty good. For Die Hard Bruce Fans Only
“You don’t have to worry about who I killed before. Just worry about who I’m going to kill next.”
There was once a time when “Sci-Fi Channel Original” wasn’t a badge of shame. In the early 2000s and looking to expand their range of original content, The Sci-Fi Channel (“SyFy” for you modern kids who can’t spell) was eager to launch originally-produced content with Saturday Night Original Movies. These were obviously going to be low-budget features but land within their oeuvre of science fiction storytelling. To kick things off, they called up Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and Producer Chuck Simon to see what they had on hand. Originally titled “Devil’s Pass” the film was the first Sci-Fi Original starting a run of wildly entertaining, albeit cheap, movies to fill their slate.
Hail to the king baby! For Bruce Cambell fans, having Terminal Invasion on disc is a genuine treat. Always the working actor, Bruce is never above the material and makes any production better for it. From small television appearances on shows like Hercules and Xena to low-budget movies like Icebreakers, if there’s a fun interesting part for Bruce, you can count on him to deliver. Hell, he managed to help make a better version of Battlefield Earth with Sci-fi Channe’s Alien Apocalypse for roughly 100th of the budget. For Terminal Invasion, Bruce gets to play the quintessential tough guy who actually has something resembling a heart. He’s a criminal, but he’s dependable. He even gets to sport his iconic “Ash” look with a blue shirt and tan pants - minus the chainsaw.
The film is part The Thing, part Petrified Forest, part classic Agatha Christie-style whodunit. We have a group of strangers trapped at a small regional airport held hostage by an escaped murderer as a force of shape-shifting aliens are preparing Earth for an intergalactic invasion! Now these “people” will have to figure out how to trust each other, uncover the identity of the aliens, and find a way to survive. It’s earnest, slightly campy, but a hell of a lot of fun.
Deep Space Nine's Chase Masterson stands in as Cathay Garret, the tough-as-nails pilot determined to save as many people as possible. The rest of the cast are fun in their ways as you never know who is a creepy alien. This little piece of classic whodunit character casting leads to some fun setups to figure out who could be a deadly intergalactic invader. The problem with the film given its television movie-of-the-week format is that it’s too quick to expose the aliens. Our “humans” don’t really have to put in a lot of work to solve that particular mystery nor do the aliens work that hard at dissuading anyone of their actual identities. They're very "Whelp, you found me!" before trying to kill someone.
As someone familiar with working on a slim budget, Sean Cunningham manages the film with tight plotting and simple staging. The characters are a bit thin, but they serve their purposes. The film finds its pace and rumbles along ably building tension and suspense - even if some of the goofy CGI effects for the era deflate a lot of that effort. However, the practical effects aliens are pretty cool. We just don’t get a lot of time with those creations due to the film’s budget constraints. Certainly not an amazing piece of work, but for a product of its era, it has some pretty clever setups and remains a good bit of fun. I hadn’t seen this movie since its original Broadcast and honestly, it doesn’t age particularly well, but if you’re a Bruce fan, it’s certainly worth taking a gander at.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Terminal Invasion crashes onto Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics in a single disc release. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Terminal Invasion hits Blu-ray with an overall pretty good 1080p 1.78:1 transfer. Part of the issue affecting this film - beyond its low budget - is that it’s an early example of digital filmmaking at a time when the High-Def cameras of the era simply couldn’t keep pace with big major motion pictures shooting on film. Cunningham actually goes into a lot of detail about that in the commentary track and the issues they faced avoiding a “Soap Opera” appearance. This isn’t to say the image is bad, often it’s quite good with sharp clear details, but at the same time, it’s limited by its own technology. There’s quite a bit of motion blur, black levels can be a bit chunky or oppressively pitch-black to the point of crush. This is especially true for the opening car crash sequences - which was actually digitally altered footage from The Long Kiss Goodnight. Colors are pretty healthy with some nice primaries, blues, and reds getting the most attention, and skin tones look healthy and accurate.
This release of Terminal Invasion sees a pair of audio tracks, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. Overall the 5.1 mix isn’t bad, there’s just not a lot of call for a full-fledged surround track like this. Much of the film is front/center channel focused with occasional bleeds into the sides. Harry Manfridini’s score is what tends to fill in the extra channels. Action sequences, especially the film’s opening, see the most surround activity. Also, the post-commercial break establishing shots of the airport sounded pretty good with the storm wind effects filling in those channels. Not the most dynamic and amazing track ever but it gets the job done.
Tot the most robust selection ever, KLSC does assemble some nice extras. The biggest and best is the Sean S. Cunningham and Chuck Simon commentary track. I’m not sure when it was done, but it wasn’t recent as they’re referring to Bruce’s term on Burn Notice in the present day. Regardless, it’s a very informative track discussing making the movie, shooting on digital, and making it at a time when Sci-Fi Channel wasn’t yet known for all of the cheesy original movies. There are stretches where no one says anything, or they'll stop mid sentence, but it's still a solid track to listen to.
No one is going to accuse Terminal Invasion of being either the best Sean S. Cunningham or the best Bruce Campbell movie. It’s a pretty basic by-the-numbers Sci-Fi Channel made-for-tv cheaply produced film that fills an entertainment void. Today it’s probably more of a curio for Bruce Campbell fans. It’s enjoyable, I had fun, and it was a nice throwback to the good old days of late-night made-for-cable entertainment.
Terminal Invasion comes home to Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The A/V presentation is serviceable enough, pretty average for an early shot-on-digital made-for-cable movie. Bonus features are thin but the Commentary is well worth listening to. Ultimately, this one comes down to being a fan of Bruce Campbell’s range of work; for that reason, it really is For Bruce Fans Only.