Release Date(s)1981 (October 31, 2023)
Studio(s)Jadran Film/Kinematografi/Zagreb Film (Deaf Crocodile/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
So-called “Iron Curtain” science fiction and fantasy films of the 1950s-‘80s tend to beguile western-world viewers while simultaneously leaving them more than a little nonplussed. Visually they’re often incredibly imaginative yet very different from their western counterparts, while their storylines have completely different interests and emphases. As the late Bill Warren wrote in his essential Keep Watching the Skies!, in American sci-fi pictures Russians characters usually were hard-hearted antagonists while in these Iron Curtain films Americans or other westerners were often heroes. In several of these films, astronauts or other leading characters were played by black actors or other racial minorities when such parts were virtually unthinkable in a Hollywood film.
These films often played at film markets and international festivals, but in the 1960s most Americans saw them in versions prepared by low-end distributors like Crown International and AIP. Some examples include First Spaceship on Venus (from the East German-Polish Der schweigende Stern, 1960) and Queen of Blood (1965), which shot an entirely new narrative around prime footage from the Soviet-madeNebo Zovyot (1960), already mined for Battle Beyond the Sun (1962). Insatiable film buffs, some inspired by a series of articles in Filmfax magazine by Robert Skotak, began locating the original versions of these films during the height of the DVD era, when long-unseen (or never-seen) titles like Amphibian Man (1962) began turning up.
One late entry into this field is Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy (Gosti iz galaksije, 1981), also known as Visitors from the Galaxy, a genuinely strange but colorful and very entertaining sci-fi/fantasy comedy, a Yugoslavian-Czech production quite unlike anything made by Hollywood before or since.
Žarko Potočnjak stars as Robert, a hotel front desk receptionist and aspiring science fiction writer. He drives his girlfriend Biba (Lucié Žulova) crazy with his obsessive writing methods, including wearing a toy space helmet while he dictates into a tape recorder, and his endless prattle about his story, aliens from the Arkana Galaxy including Andra, a female android, and two alien children (or childlike adults?), Targo and Ulu.
One evening, he hears their voices on his tape recorder, beckoning him to a nearby island for a meet up. After borrowing a small outboard boat from friend Toni (Ljubiša Samardžić), Robert sheepishly explores the island, where he’s both frightened and fascinated to see Andra (Ksenija Prohaska), Targo (Rene Bitorajac), and Ulu (Jasminka Alic) brought to life, along with their pet monster, Mumu (a creation of master surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer).
What follows is rather episodic but so peculiar the entertainment value never lags. Bibi becomes jealous of sexy Andra, who looks like the robot Maria from Metropolis from the neck down, and the Borg Queen from Star Trek after a substantial makeover from the neck-up. Bibi has good reason to be jealous (“Go back to your own planet, you cosmic floozy!”), and Robert and Andra are clearly attracted to one another and eventually commit some kind of intergalactic sex act. Elsewhere, townsfolk visit the island en masse to search for the aliens, and in a sequence unimaginable in Hollywood film, someone suggests demonstrating they mean the E.T.s no harm by having everyone strip. No one questions this, let alone hesitates, and for maybe 30 seconds audiences are treated to full-frontal nudity by men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. (In a review for Variety, the film’s inattentive reviewer suggested Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy would make a swell children’s release.)
The climax, virtually a stand-alone set piece, has the indescribable Mumu (Sid & Marty Krofft meet John Carpenter’s The Thing?) running amok at a dinner party, cutting the heads and limbs off dinner guests, spraying them with poisonous gas, and setting them aflame. Gruesome yet comical, the seemingly fatally wounded guests act as if only mildly inconvenienced (e.g., one guests keeps talking casually, even after being decapitated). The overall effect is somewhere in-between Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Mars Attacks!.
Other than laser beams that make the same “Pew! Pew!” sound as their American counterparts, Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy exhibits almost no Hollywood influences. Its strangeness and unpredictability are part of its appeal, and the ambitious special effects, under the supervision of director and veteran cartoon animator Dušan Vukotić, are as good as anything Hollywood was capable of when the film was made.
For western viewers, another point of interest is simply seeing ordinary contemporary living in Soviet-era Croatia. Certainly, my generation was taught to believe everyone behind the Iron Curtain lived in a state of perpetual drab oppression, like characters in Orwell’s 1984, but the Dubrovnik locations look much like other Western European seaside communities.
Deaf Crocodile Films’ Blu-ray of Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy presents the film in its original 1.37:1 standard aspect ratio with DTS-HD Master Audio mono 1.0, in Croatian with optional English subtitles. A minor criticism is that the subtitles are also SDH-style, with things like sound effects also noted; there are a lot of “[science fiction noises]” in this one. The video transfer, a new scan, is bright and colorful. I suspect many of the optical effects were done in-camera, because rarely does resolution suffer in the big special effect shots. The disc is Region “A” encoded.
Supplements include a full-color 12-page booklet that includes an essay by film professor and animation specialist Jennifer Lynde Barker; a new audio commentary by Samm Deighan; and five earlier short films by animator Vukotić: Cow on the Moon (1959), Piccolo (1959), 1001 Drawings (1960), The Substitute (1961), and Ars Gratia Artis (1969). These shorts are reminiscent of upstart Hollywood cartoon studio UPA, albeit with a more surrealist touch.
For those with a taste for the bizarre, note that few films are quite as bizarre as Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy. Highly Recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV