Directed by Bill Rebane
Written by Ingrid Neumayer
Starring Stafford Morgan, John Goff, George “Buck” Flower, Carol Irene Newell, and Ralph Meeker
All is well in the world of science, except for the fact that all is NOT really well in the world of science! Two government lab coats are working on the development of a deadly virus, one that has the rather nasty effect of causing the brains of rodent specimen to erupt from their skulls. What’s even worse is that a shipment of the death-in-a-bottle is headed to Denver, Colorado (a location that just stinks of biological warfare, smacks one scientist).
And if all this wasn’t enough, one of the men on the shipment train is a silly old rustic coot named Hank (George Flower) who is just itchin’ like a hound dog to find out why the cargo is being kept such a secret. But the stoic Sorenson (Stafford Morgan) isn’t letting George in on any of the fun, so the rube naturally goes poking around in the dark while Sorenson naps. Cutting his hand on the vial containing the bad mojo, George covers up his spill and swears to Sorenson that he won’t ask any more questions.
Pulling into the country town of Moose Point for a layaway to Denver, Sorenson eventually figures out the mishap and soon calls in to his superior who likes to use his official Big Red Phone. The official tells Sorenson that the disease organism is highly contagious upon touch and that he must quarantine the area if he is to prevent the potential spread of the virus. Thus everyone is locked into the small train station, including gruff blue collar worker Jack (John Goff), the pretty secretary Miss Jenny (Carol Irene Newell), and Old Charlie the bookkeeper (Ralph Meeker).
But things begin to fall apart faster than an agitated row of dominoes. Fearing for his fate, George runs into the woods, wounded from Sorenson’s bullets used in an attempt to stop him. The inhabitants of the station begin to become more agitated as the Powers That Be try to figure out exactly what the hell is going on and how they can stop it. And through it all the group wrestles with a lot of Big Questions. Are any of them really infected? How long will they have to wait for help to arrive? Could they drop dead any minute now? And, most significantly, why the hell was Clone High cancelled?
The government official soon makes a terrifying revelation known to the group: if any one of them falls asleep, they’ll die. It won’t be a peaceful death either. Remember Algernon from the beginning of our story? If these people get so much as a wink of shut eye, their brains will cease to find their skulls comfortable living quarters and plan to evict themselves from the premises. Immediately.
The night that I sat down to watch The Alpha Incident was fraught with indecision and indigestion. There are many movies that adorn the voluminous shelves of my humble cavern, most of them ones that I never bought myself. So that invariably means that there is a plethora of titles that have squatted in the dusty eaves, lost to the sands of ridiculously overused clichés. The Alpha Incident was a part of the 50 Chilling Classics put out by Mill Creek and, as I placed the disk into my laptop with sweaty, shaking fingers, I clenched my nose in preparation for the odious endeavor that I was about to take on.
Luckily for me, this little story of backwoods infection surprised me. And I mean in a good surprise way. Like coming home from a long day of work and discovering that there’s a huge sandwich in the fridge for you that has a hundred dollars rolled up inside. With a penguin next to it. Doing the Cupid Shuffle. Not to say that the film was an experience that transcended both physical and mental ecstasy, but it was certainly a revelation compared to the horrors that I thought waited for me.
The Alpha Incident does drag out at times, moments where the action takes a backseat and the suspense is brought to a slow boil. But in a way this is to be admired, as The Alpha Incident harkens back to a time when eco-unfriendly car chases and exploding robots weren’t littered in films willy-nilly. Instead this movie chooses to focus on the relationships between the characters and the central dilemma that ties them all together. It could very well have been adapted from a stage play, as seen in the focus on simple sets, dialogue, and human drama. It all works pretty darn well, even if there are a few scenes that creak.
One particular moment just worth noting for its slightly comical timing (probably due to the shoddy cut of the film than the original purposes of the editor) is when our good pal Hank, bloody from his bullet wounds and distressed at his disease dilemma, stumbles into the forest at night and begins weeping on the ground. His will just about spent and cries for his mother bubbling in his throat, he lets out a sobbing “MAMAAAAA!” that rings out in the air… the scream carrying on into the next scene which shows Sorenson casually sitting at a desk and lighting a match for his cigarette. I was hoping he’d give a few furtive glances around the room just to complete the effect.
The final piece of this satisfying picture comes with the arrival of the bleak climax. By this time several of the main characters have died from the gruesome disease, mistakenly swallowed poisoned tablets, and blown their heads off in order to escape their fate of having their heads blown off. In the end it’s just Sorenson and, hearing the squealing tires of a Jeep pull up outside, he rejoices when he realizes that he has just woken up and has remained uninfected. Hooray!
It’s really unfortunate though that the drivers are not part of a rescue team but instead are cardholding members of a Hazmat-wearing annihilation squad! That’s right, poor Sorenson goes through the entire ordeal of dealing with a bunch of backwater townsfolk teetering on the edge of insanity (and worse, caffeine withdrawal) only to be mowed down like a little bitch at a 50 Cent concert. It recalls the jarring ending of Night of the Living Dead, and the same shock value is utilized just as effectively here. The downbeat ending comes as the perfect complement to a well-constructed, low-key thriller that leaves just the right taste in your mouth. A taste a little like mouse brains.