Director – Philippe Mora, Screenplay/Based on the Novel Communion: A True Story by Whitley Strieber, Producers – Philippe Mora, Whitley Strieber & Dan Allingham, Photography – Louis Irving, Main Theme – Eric Clapton, Additional Music – Allen Zavod, Makeup – Michael McCracken Studios, Production Design – Linda Pearl. Production Company – Picture Property Co/Allied Vision/Pheasantry Films
Christopher Walken (Whitley Strieber), Lindsay Crouse (Anne Strieber), Frances Sternhagen (Dr Janet Duffy), Joel Carson (Andrew Strieber)
Author Whitley Strieber is spending a night at his cabin in the woods with his family when he encounters a thin, skeletal humanoid creature inside the cabin. Afterwards, he and a counselor try to piece together his traumatic half-blocked memories of what happened that night. Throughout this, Strieber discovers how he was abducted and sexually violated by aliens.
Whitley Strieber is a bizarre figure. For the first half of the 1980s, Strieber had a burgeoning career as a horror writer with novels such as The Wolfen (1978), The Hunger (1980), The Night Church (1983) and Cat Magic (1986), the first two of which were made into films – Wolfen (1981) and The Hunger (1983). Suddenly with the publication of Communion (1987), Strieber then revealed to the world that he had been abducted by aliens in 1985. Whitley Striebe. Strieber’s reputation as a horror/fantasy novelist certainly makes him suspect when it comes to writing seriously about authentic alien encounters. The film here pointedly neglects to mention exactly what type of novelist Strieber was – at one point, Christopher Walken’s Strieber talks about writing “the Great American Novel”, something that it takes a great stretch of the imagination to view The Wolfen, The Hunger et al, competent enough as they are, as. Since 1987, Strieber’s work in horror and fantasy has become of secondary importance and most of his output now consists of books (both fiction and non-fiction) centred around UFOs and alien abduction. He has produced some nine books on these subjects to date and has attained something of a cult following, despite the ridicule and debunking that has been placed on his claims by sceptics of the paranormal. One of his non-fiction works of speculative (pseudo)-science also became the basis of the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow (2004), while the tv series Hunters (2016) was based on another of his books about the FBI hunting alien visitors.
The surprise about the film is the thoughtful interest with which Whitley Strieber makes his case. I doubt that anybody is likely to come out of Communion any more convinced of the reality of UFOs than before they went in, but what is interesting is the calm reason with which Strieber approaches the encounters. He patently rejects any straight-jacketing of himself by familiar explanations. The actual term ‘UFO’ has been assiduously avoided throughout, for example. Instead, Strieber offers up a wealth of ideas about ‘masks of god’ – the intriguing idea that all we see of alien visitors are in fact only masks and Chinese boxes to hide their real selves from us. He even throws in an East European character to somewhat implausibly compare them to trolls.
Director Philippe Mora certainly conjures up some weird goings-on as Christopher Walken, the sleek bug-eyed insects and blue-faced trolls (that look like rejects from an Empire film) engage in an orgy, floating in a mist-filled spaceship where they shove a large blunt petrol bowser up Walken’s ass. Mora does seem to be wanting to open up into the type of cheesier horror that marked his previous films like The Howling II (1985) and The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987) – one scene aboard a bus with the passengers turning into insects has a tawdriness that seems to be invoking just the type of el cheapo UFO film that Strieber is trying to avoid writing.
The mistake the film makes is in the casting of Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken is an actor incapable of portraying a normal average American. His forte is playing psychotics – the way Walken can allow a smile to creep across and light up his face is indeed spooky. In fact, the casting of Christopher Walken and the portrait Strieber writes of himself actually becomes a case against Strieber’s claim. Walken’s ideas of playing everyday scenes are so whacked out – posturing about with video-cameras, decked out in fedoras and cowboy boots and laughing so madly it seems like he has been taking whiffs of laughing gas just before every shot – that he kills dead any potential conviction the character has right from the start.
The way Strieber writes the picture of himself and the way Christopher Walken plays it, the character is blank, all the emotions and reactions to the events happen externally, never seem to be felt by the character. The reaction of the Strieber character in the film to the aliens trying to break his mind is so cool and intellectually distant that it lacks any conviction at all. Strieber writes the screenplay and co-produces the film himself so you have to assume that what appears on screen is largely something he intended. Although, you would have thought somebody who had been through such a distressing experience should have been capable of depicting some of the trauma of it on screen. [Strieber later spoke out against the film and claimed that Mora had invented many scenes that had not in fact occurred in his experience].
Australian director Philippe Mora also made the genre likes of:- the horror film The Beast Within (1982), the witty, little-seen superhero spoof The Return of Captain Invincible (1983), The Howling II (1985) and The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987), Art Deco Detective (1994), the space opera Precious Find (1996), the deliberately silly Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1997) and the time travel film Continuity (2012). Mora later directed a documentary about UFOs and alien abduction with According to Occam’s Razor (1999).