Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Burr’

I tend not to buy many films on DVD any more, mainly to do with things like space and how often I can see myself sitting down to re-watch them (didn’t stop me picking up Theatre of Blood the other day, of course). Other people have a different approach, amongst them my landlady’s extended family. They sometimes seem incapable of passing a DVD without buying it, leading to regular chuck-outs of vast piles of films most people will never have heard of. Some of these get pushed my way, and, very occasionally, I will actually sit down and watch one, just out of a terrible and misguided sense of curiosity.

Which brings us to Jeff Burr’s Alien Tornado, which apparently started life as a TV movie for whatever the Sci-Fi Channel is calling itself nowadays. The original title is what is known in our house as ‘a dead giveaway’, but for the DVD release which this extraordinary piece of work managed to land in the UK, it has been retitled Tornado Warning.


As you can see, despite the tweaking of the title, the cover is fairly upfront about what the viewer can expect: fleeing crowds in a major urban centre, which is in the process of being devastated by tornados summoned into being by flying saucers. And all of these things are indeed present in the film, apart from the fleeing crowds, urban devastation and flying saucers. This is still more accurate than the blurb on the back, which describes a story bearing no more than a passing resemblance to the one in the film.

Speaking of which: Jeff Fahey, whom you may recall from various Robert Rodriguez movies and Psycho III, plays Judd Walker, an Illinois farmer and – it would seem – complete idiot. Judd’s teenage daughter Kelly (Stacey Asaro) has just been admitted to university, and the two share a touching, exposition-crammed scene outlining who they are, what happened to Judd’s wife, Stacey’s future plans, and so on. This is truncated when a neon-green whirlwind pitches up and causes them all sorts of trouble: Asaro runs and hides in the cellar, while Fahey has himself dragged slowly across the frame, prone, by a couple of out-of-shot chargehands, to represent him being sucked along by high winds.

The funny green tornado also comes to the attention of Gale Morgan, an – you’ll like this – investigative weather forecaster, played by Kari Wuhrer (whom you may recall from Eight Legged Freaks and various soft-core 90s films). Gale heads down to the scene where she is met by her local contact, an incredibly annoying woman who shouts all her dialogue. Many silly zeitgeisty lines about global warming are exchanged (loudly).

Meanwhile, Judd and his friend, local sheriff Norm (the magnificently-named Willard E Pugh), are surveying the aftermath of the eerie tornado. ‘Is the damage as bad as it looks?’ asks Sheriff Norm. ‘Worse,’ replies Judd. It would really have to be worse than it looks, as – to judge from what we actually see on screen – the eerie tornado has eerily caused no damage whatsoever. Nevertheless, we are assured that all Judd’s livestock is now dead and the farm is dire straits. It also turns out that, in addition to not having any insurance, Judd has already spent Kelly’s entire college fund fixing the damage from a previous tornado, without telling her. Needless to say Kelly is not pleased to hear this and strops off somewhere. An oppressive silence settles upon the devastated farm and a disconsolate Judd. Only Sheriff Norm is there to offer a few helpful words. ‘I really don’t know what to say,’ is what Sheriff Norm eventually comes up with. Nice one, Sheriff Norm.

Sheriff Norm really is the outstanding character in this movie, by the way, as he is quite possibly the most determinedly inert lawman in cinema history. Norm meanders his way through the entire film in a state of ineffectual bemusement, never apparently troubled by an idea of his own as to what to do, or any real objection to simply doing exactly what he’s told by any other character. He becomes a rather touching, everyman figure, cast adrift on the tides of fate and plot requirement.

Anyway, Gale and her annoying friend have meanwhile met some mysterious government types led by Armstrong (David Jensen, who plays the part rather like an extremely camp avant-garde fashion designer). Armstrong and his men are tracking more of the mysterious green tornadoes, but while watching them do so, the annoying shouty woman is sucked off. (By a tornado, I mean.) Due to the heroically low CGI budget, it’s quite hard to tell what’s going on when this happens, so Gale gets lots of scenes sobbing her heart out and telling everyone when it does occur.

For a while it looks like Sheriff Norm has been disintegrated by a malevolent tornado, too, but this is thankfully just another quirk of dodgy CGI and Norm continues his odyssey of inarticulate bafflement. Kelly has used her iPod to record mysterious signals coming from the tornados, and after an appropriate interval of Judd being an idiot and not letting her share this news, she gives the recording to Gale. Gale in turn passes it on to a friend of hers, ace cryptographer Barney (Caleb Tourres). In an interesting piece of inclusivist casting, Barney is a dwarf, but – fair do’s – no-one makes a big deal out of this. On the other hand, everyone basically treats Barney the dwarf like a very clever pet dog, so I’m not sure this really qualifies as a triumph for egalitarianism.

It turns out the tornadoes in Alien Tornado are, in fact, alien tornadoes. When Judd and Gale figure this out, Armstrong gets Sheriff Norm to lock them up as it is supposed to be secret. Rather wonderfully, he doesn’t bother telling Norm not to listen to them once they’re in the clink, which means for the next section of the film the sheriff just drives around at his prisoners’ behest, grumbling a bit but essentially doing everything they ask of him and keeping their bit of the plot going. (I’m guessing this is just because Fahey and Wuhrer were being paid by the day, and sticking them in jail for twenty minutes cut down the number of filming days they were required for.)

The alien tornadoes continue to attack vital Earthling targets like, ah, buses, and, er, sports stadiums, before arriving in Chicago itself. As is traditional, all the characters – Judd, Gale, Kelly, Armstrong, Sheriff Norm, even Barney the crypto-dwarf – gather in a vital location. For Alien Tornado, this location is a small and apparently disused TV studio, but never mind. Kelly puts her head together with Barney and – let’s pause to remember here that she’s apparently only just out of high school – within minutes cracks the alien code. All they need to do is broadcast a signal switching off the tornadoes and the world is saved!

Except – insert dramatic orchestral sting here – no-one has refuelled the old generator running the TV studio’s transmitter in ages! So we get to Alien Tornado‘s epic climax, in which various characters stagger around a rooftop car-park carrying jerry-cans, while looking apprehensively at a surprisingly clear sky. Needless to say the tornadoes are banished, Kelly gets a scholarship to the University of Malaysia, Judd and Gale get it on (off camera), and Sheriff Norm gets to stroke a horse (on camera). No idea what happens to Barney; I’m holding out for a spin-off movie – Sheriff Norm and Barney the Crypto-Dwarf Investigate.

Oh, boy, is there any real point in attempting to give a serious assessment of a movie like Alien Tornado? This is a Z-movie by any rational standard, never entertaining in the way the makers appear to have been hoping, and absolutely the best thing you can say about it is that the special effects tornadoes are just about mediocre most of the time. Apart from that, the acting runs the gamut from bizarre to imperceptible, the continuity is hopeless, the plot is absurd, and the dialogue is hokey. The general level of achievement of the thing is so consistent that if it were actually any good it would be praised as a bit of a triumph. This might well please story writer, producer, and executive producer Ken Badish (whom you may know for Flu Bird Horror, Swamp Shark, and Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators, but I doubt it), who is clearly not a man short on ambition. Or ideas for catchy titles. Alien Tornado clearly wants to be epic genre entertainment, something very Spielberg. Instead it ends up being micro-budget unintentional comedy, and very, very Badish. And to be perfectly honest, I think the ‘ish’ is dispensable.

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