“Purple People Eater” is a movie I vividly remember watching when I was a kid. I’d seen it on a fuzzy VHS tape from a local video store, and suffice to say I hated this movie when I was five, and I kind of hate it now. “Purple People Eater” is from the decade where studios either cribbed from “Gremlins” or “ET” in order to create their own kids oriented cash cow, and “Purple People Eater” is one of the laziest of a sub-genre consisting of “Mac and Me” and “Meatballs, Part II.”
Billy Johnson is left in the care of his goofy old grandfather when his parents and big sister go on vacation to Europe. While learning about the joy of classic rock and roll, a UFO crash lands on his lawn and from it emerges a very short, alien, with a single eye, purple fur, and a single horn on its head. Or… well you know the chorus of the damn novelty rock song. The monster ends up being friendly and social, and Billy names it “Purple” (ugh). Purple has no desire to eat people, or take over the world, he does however want to join a rock band. When he and Billy form a rock band, they decide to help his grandpa when they learn his retirement home is going to be demolished by the greedy owner.
“Purple People Eater” wants to be one of those classic kids films from the eighties, but it’s so low budget and badly conceived that it’s hard to find any entertainment value. The direction from Linda Shayne is awful, while the script has absolutely no pacing or any sense of whimsy. For a movie about an alien that can play sax music from its horn, the movie is bereft of any kind of entertainment value. It takes almost an hour before the alien appears, and before that it’s mostly a family drama about Billy learning to unwind thanks to his grandfather. Along the way granddad teaches him about classic rock, and begins falling for a female resident, played by Shelley Winters.
There’s absolutely no explanation or sound reason why the parents would leave for Europe during the summer and leave their son and youngest daughter with their eccentric grandfather. Everything from the set up, the delivery, and premise are lazy and nonsensical. Neil Patrick Harris is also tasked with poorly lip synching to rock music, while most of the extras can inexplicably barely help acknowledging the cameras. “Purple People Eater” feels like a bunch of ideas pasted together. It’s a family dramedy, a musical, and an awful ET rip off. If anything you can at least have a good time pointing out the various cast members like Neil Patrick Harris, a young Dustin Diamond, Shelley Winters, and a toddler Thora Birch. “Purple People Eater” has been mostly out of print and obscure for decades and I think we’re better for it.