Artful Schlock, Arty Dreck

‘Under the Skin’ & ‘Only Lovers Left Alive'

As I watched Jonathan Glazer’s critically acclaimed Under the Skin, I suddenly found myself wanting to write an essay titled “In Praise of Schlock.” For the basic story unfolding on the screen—an alien who has taken on the appearance of an attractive female human seduces and destroys hapless men who wander into its clutches—was the very stuff of schlock. In fact, this story had served as the basis for more than one gratifyingly cheap entertainment. Remember the first and best of several versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed with no-frills savvy by Don Siegel and culminating with lovely Dana Wynter arising from her transformative pod to seduce a bewildered Kevin McCarthy into sharing her new extraterrestrial soulessness. And even closer to Under the Skin’s plot, there was Species, an unabashed roll in the cinematic gutter by the talented Australian director Roger Donaldson. Species featured supermodel Natasha Henstridge as a drop-dead-gorgeous compound of human and alien DNA who goes club-hopping through Los Angeles in search of horny men to help her procreate. No one who’s seen that movie can forget Forest Whitaker staring at a slime-oozing cocoon on a wall and muttering, “Something bad happened here.”

Yes, cinematic schlock can be ridiculously...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.