Director Eduardo Sanchez seemed to fall off the end of the earth following the staggering amount of hype that accompanied the release and subsequent box office orgasm of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Collective horror fans seemed to assume that Sanchez was either a one-hit wonder who had shot his creative load and now sat at home in his boxers playing foosball, or he had fled to an underground lair in abject humiliation after seeing his name included in the opening credits of Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Either way, the three missing students last seen near Burkittsville, Maryland, soon faded from our collective conscience, as did the cinematic potential of director Sanchez.
It’s a shame, really, since the recently released Altered serves as a clear indicator of the secret wealth of directorial talent Sanchez has been keeping to himself for all these years. As this DVD release begins, 3 vehement rednecks with harpoon guns and popping veins manage to bag some sort of humanoid creature out at Nixon’s Farm. They wrap it tight with chains and a tarp and throw it into the back of their van with the intent of driving it on over to Wyatt, a nearby acquaintance who seems to know a lot about the extra-terrestrials that frequent the Nixon place. Otis, the more recessive of the 3 rednecks, is instructed not to look in the creature’s eyes, and a tinted welding mask is duct-taped to the creature’s face as a precautionary measure.
Wyatt isn’t pleased at the unexpected arrival of the van, or it’s cargo. It is revealed that Wyatt shares a history with the 3 rednecks, that a close friend of theirs was killed by one of these same infernal aliens years before, and now that the hunters have managed to bag one of the enemy, they figure it’s time to enact some revenge. Wyatt is hesitant, insistent that killing this one lone alien will start a war that can only result in the eradication of the human race. One of the rednecks, Cody, argues that because they so easily kicked the ass of this single alien, they are almost certain to kick the ass of all.
Most of the resulting action takes place at Wyatt’s farm, with the alien chained to a table in the garage as the group tries to decide how best to respond to a series of increasingly bizarre and gruesome events, all the while fearing that a whole legion of aliens will come crashing into the garage at any moment to retrieve their fallen comrade. Altered is actually a lot like Suicide Kings, now that I think about it, except it’s an alien instead of Chris Walken tied to the chair, and that weird dude from Powder isn’t in it.
There are plenty of opportunities for gore, and Sanchez doesn’t disappoint. The alien’s bite is deadly, resulting in the victim’s flesh painfully rotting away over the course of several hours. The aliens have bony, 3 fingered transmitters, perpetually clicking, that must be attached directly to an intestine (human or alien) before they will function, and this is a horror movie, so nobody bothers going through an orifice. Suffice it to say, I’m almost trained to give a home colonoscopy based on all of the intestines I viewed during the course of Altered’s multiple disembowlings.
Although the script is merely average, the cast was more than adequate, with Paul McCarthy-Boyington as the standout as the intense and conflicted Cody, who gets his comeuppance just as you feel yourself starting to like him. Adam Kaufman provided a calm narrative center as Wyatt, turning in a performance reminiscent of Jake Weber in the Dawn of the Dead remake.
The film starts strong, looses its footing in an overly-dramatic middle third, and then finally brings home the gore in its final 30 minutes. I was consistently impressed with Sanchez’ ability to work around his budget ($8 million), abandoning needless wide shots and an overzealous sense of scope in favor of quality gore and solid set design for his intimate shots. Altered works because it’s a small movie that knows it’s small, and it uses those limitations to its advantage.
I’m not saying Altered is a masterpiece, but in the cluttered world of straight-to-DVD horror films, it stands out as an involving and highly enjoyable creature feature, well-directed, well-paced, and very rarely boring. Let us roast the fatted calf, my brethren and sisters… I believe that director Eduardo Sanchez had finally returned home.