Sunday, August 24, 2008

Top of the Food Chain (John Paizs, 1999)

Who would have thought that the warm, and probably fuzzy, hamlet of Glen Williams, Ontario would be the germinating epicentre of one the strangest and funniest movies to come out of Canada in the last twenty years? Well, for starters, I would never think about such things (such talk is the definition of uncouth). And besides, it's common knowledge that thinking about small towns on the Credit River is the epitome of counterproductive. Anyway, the tiny municipality hosts what I believe to be the crowning achievement in the realm of science fiction invasion movies that revolve around spastic dialogue; bubble-bath-ready he/she sex dolls; atomic scientists from the Atomic Academy (the number one academy for those dedicated to the study of cool fusion); and pantyhose-wearing, banjo salespeople who wear darkly coloured pantyhose. Did you know that their pantyhose-covered feet, despite being sheathed in a super tight pair of high heel shoes, are shielded from harm by the no-nonsense sheer energy emanating from organic structure of their skintight knit hose. (Excuse me, I've got to attend to something. Okay, that's better.) Now, where was I? Um, I think you were going on about some sort elegant realm where women wear close-fitting hosiery and sell banjos simultaneously. No, I mean, what movie was I writing about? Oh, yeah, Top of the Food Chain (a.k.a. Invasion!), it's a full-blown achievement in terms of precise funniness and unmitigated guile. The tongue-near-cheeks sci-fi farce about a small town overrun by flesh-eating aliens, who, strangely, inquire about copulation before they start masticating (it's just their way), is an utter delight.

Speaking of which, would you like to engage in the copulatory act?

The rusty doors of the nut factory have been closed for quite some time, all the men have feminine-sounding names (Leslie, Dana, Kim, Jan and Policeman Gayle - "He'll put you in jail" to name a few), and the town's televisions have stopped working, what the quiet burg of Exceptional Vista needs is an atomic scientist with intimacy issues, a leggy banjo salesperson, and a vacuum salesman whose territory includes: Bladdertown, Left Hemisphere, Dunk, Right Hemisphere, Walkadogathon, New Imbroglio and Foetus.

Awash with the kind of overstated dialogue that drives most stuffy playwrights mad with jealousy, tingling in the testicular anus with Campbell Scott's bizarre mannerisms (his Dr. Karel Lamonte seemed to be channeling a socially maladjusted archaeologist from the 1920s), boasting a thrown together brand of off-kilter sexiness (a brunette actress named Fiona Loewi kisses her brother passionately in a sundress), replete with Tom Everett Scott's sublime idiocy, and lightly seasoned with little surrealistic touches peppered here and there, this unusual mix gave the proceedings a minty air of transcendental absurdness. The churlish contents of the lodge banquet buffet and the part where that guy is watching a fishing show while fishing were a couple of my favourite touches.

However, the pinnacle of fancifulness had to be Scott's (Campbell, not Tom Everett) constant talk about the hilly, lumpy, bumpy part of town just outside of town. This bit of tomfoolery was so hilarious, that I almost forgot that he had a he/she sex doll packed in his suitcase.

It's a given that Campbell Scott's nonsensical performance is what drives this film all the way to Laughtown (a made-up place contrived to signify first-rate drollery). All the same, the cagey allure of Fiona Loewi (Love and Death on Long Island) cannot be ignored (you could try, but I'm afraid your efforts would be without a single piece of fruit).

Pluckily proportioning the moderately chiseled confidence of Mr. Scott (Campbell, not Tom Everett), Fiona is an inquisitive ball of sexual frustration in a floral dress. She plays Sandy Fawkes, the smartest resident of Exceptional Vista (she reads books and stuff). The lustful young lass takes a liking to the dapper scientist, but unfortunately, the only thing he likes to penetrate is a plastic doppelgänger with a female body; it's currently languishing in his motel room bathtub. Nevertheless, the odd relationship these two form is as fascinating as it is not fascinating. It gives the film its heart, but it also makes me think of how great it is to watch heterosexuals in their unnatural habitat.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the stellar work of the stunning Elisa Moolecherry (Degrassi: The Next Generation), one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. The moment she appeared on-screen I knew I was about to bask in something extra special. I mean, with a name like Elisa Moolecherry, you know she's gonna deliver the awesome. And boy does she ever deliver, and not just the regular kind of awesome. She brought the best kind of awesome, the kind that makes sane men stand up and say weird, mildly incoherent things; the kind of things that can, and will, get you arrested in the more puritanical parts of your useless, unauthorized pit stain of a town.

The sexiest banjo salesperson to grace the surface of this greenish earth, Miss Moolecherry plays Chris Marlow, a mysterious presence who vexes the holy mimosa out of everyone she comes in contact with. Maybe it was the black pantyhose (accentuated by the modest slit down the front of her skimpy black skirt) or maybe it was the bob hairdo (sculptured to perfection by bob-sculpting artisans). Either way, there's no denying that Elisa Moolecherry was an expert at extracting simplistic joy from this extremely simplistic viewer.

Always lurking in the background, Chris Marlow arrives in Exceptional Vista with a hidden agenda. You see, while she says she sells banjos, you don't actually see her with any banjos. Sure, she could have a stash of banjos tucked away in her room at the Fawkes Den Inn (a quaint Exceptional Vista establishment run by Sandy and Guy Fawkes), but like the like vacuum salesmen, you never see her with the product she purportedly hawks for a living. Observing the sleepy town from a distance (I'm not exaggerating, as we see her using binoculars at one point), her luscious gams encased in the blackest, tightest pair of pantyhose the perverted world has ever had the pleasure of penetrating with their discerning gaze, Chris seems to be gathering information. What could she be looking for? Lizard creatures from the Third Dimension? Boz Scaggs' heavy duty nose hair trimmer? Moon men, perhaps?

Well, whatever she's looking for, the big question is: Will Dr. Karel Lamonte be able to stop whoever is masticating the residents of Exceptional Vista in the nick of time? And will the atomic scientist be able to comfort a distraught woman without it coming across as creepy and awkward? Only time will tell.



  1. "Invasion" is a really good movie, as you have written. I thought Nigel Bennett (who also played "Prince" on "Lexx") was noteworthy in it as well.

    People who enjoyed "Invasion" might also enjoy the John Paizs movie "Crime Wave" (

  2. "We found the remains of a dead human corpse, deceased, in the hilly, lumpy, bumpy part of town outside of town."

  3. Gosh! With only 12 years on its neck and a relatively famous cast, this film has proven to be pretty hard to get a hold of. It could just be the confusion surrounding any multi-titled film (it was called "Exceptional Vista" here in Sweden btw), but I can't think of any good reason why the computer-people on the other side of my cyberspace screen won't overwhelm me with quality DVD-rips of this seemingly amazing movie.

  4. Sergio - try going to and contacting Frank Norman there. He might be able to get a copy of "Top of the Food Chain" for you. I like "Crime Wave" even better and he should be able to provide a copy of that as well. "Springtime in Greenland" is pretty good too and one might as well get as much John Paizs as one can, while one can.

    If you do get in touch with Frank for this, please let him know that I said "Hi!".

  5. First comment here. This is really one of the best movie blogs I've encountered on the internet.

    I'd been reading it for a few weeks, and eventually it occurred to me that 'Top of the Food Chain' (aka 'Invasion!' -- a shame about its confusing distribution history) must be here somewhere -- and so it is!

    TotFC is one of the funniest I've ever seen -- it's funny in odd, surprising ways.

    You are the only critic who noticed all the androgynous names, and it fits with all the other weirdness. But there's still something kind of inscrutable about this movie, and its unforced weirdness. I have never yet figured out why, for example, Guy Fawkes has the only name that's not gender-neutral.

    And then all of it is dropped in a legitimately funny, note-perfect parody of 50s-era monster movies. Almost all of Dr. Lamont's lines are laughable. 'You want to capture their advanced space rocket, and its hyper advanced scientific advances in advanced weaponry.' I like to say some variation of this sometimes when I'm talking science (and being a jackass about it), and it almost always elicits a laugh.

    This movie deserves a better place in history! Thanks for the review.

  6. You're welcome, rootandanchor.

    I've seen Top of the Food Chain/Invasion! multiple times over the past few years. But I don't think I picked up on the name thing until at least my third go around the hilly, lumpy, bumpy head-trip that is this outre movie.