Stranded (1987)

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“What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know, but it’s got tits and a ray gun.”

I’d be lying if I said “Stranded” has aged well, but then I’d also be lying if I denied loving it mostly based on nostalgia. “Stranded” is a childhood favorite I recall borrowing a billion times from my cousin and loved every minute of it. Today it’s still a solid science fiction horror film, but one filled with flaws. Surely, it mixes “ET” with “The Desperate Hours,” but its charms are undeniable. And it’s tough to hate anything with Ione Skye. There’s just no arguing that.

“Stranded” is set on an average farm where orphaned Deirdre lives with her well meaning grandmother Grace. After a botched attempt by Grace to fix her grand daughter up with a boy, Deirdre storms off in to the night and bears witness to an apparent crash in her backyard. Before long, she and her grandmother realize the denizens of the crash have entered their house, and they’re not human. A confrontation with locals has rendered one of the alien travelers with a mortal gunshot wound, and police have tracked a lynch mob to the house. The mob intends to murder the aliens, but Grace suspects they’re harmlass, and may be just as terrified as she and Deirdre are. What ensues is a typical hostage movie paired with heavy handed themes about racism and prejudice. The alien friendship sub-plots inside the house amount to interesting dramatic material, but outside a lot of the cop drama feels forced.

Joe Morton plays a new sheriff in the town who has to gain his fellow officers’ respect, based solely on the fact that he’s African American. He wages an uphill battle to control his men and aim for their respect, all the while the lynch mob has other ideas. The attempted irony is that the sheriff begins judging the aliens based on their appearance, which is quite disastrous, to say the least. The make up is pretty solid all things considered, especially with the character the Jester, who is the epitome of the friendly alien who bonds with grandmother Grace. There’s also the very sleek soldier Warrior, who is a deadly female alien with a wrist blaster who poses a real danger to anyone that threatens the stranded group. That said, there is zero explanation as to who these travelers are, why they’re running, and why they’re being chased by an assassin.

There’s the implication that they’re either royalty, or the remnants of a doomed planet, but there’s absolutely no clarification. I’d chalk it up to ambiguity, but it just feels like a poorly developed tacked on back story. There’s also a really silly plot twist mid-way where the officers are overruled by a militant female government agent intent on seizing and murdering the aliens, who ends up being something else entirely. It just doesn’t make sense someone would pop up during a crime scene claiming to be a government agent and they’d just be taken at their word. In either case, “Stranded” is a fine science fiction thriller with a spooky atmosphere, great action, and spirited performances by the entire cast. It’s a shame this doesn’t garner a lot more attention, these days.