Retrospective: 35 Years Since ‘ALF’ Crash-Landed into our Living Rooms

By: Jesse Striewski

It cannot be expressed enough how special being a kid in the mid to late 1980’s (and even early ’90s) truly was. With literally out-of-this-world cartoons, toy lines, and video games geared at children in the form of Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, and Transformers (among many others), it felt like nearly anything and everything was possible.

But it wasn’t just the Saturday morning cartoon shows that caught on to marketing to younger audiences as far as television was concerned; prime time shows such as Growing Pains, Charles in Charge, and Head of the Class, were aiming more and more focus towards its younger viewers. And when ALF first premiered on NBC on September 22, 1986, network executives clearly scored a hit that was “out of this world.”

I remember watching it in New Jersey with my entire family that very same night (back when something as simple as a TV show’s premiere still felt like an event – something that sadly seems light years away these days), and being completely invested in it. I instantly feel in love, and, like many of the previously-mentioned franchises, ALF merchandise soon became sought-after items in our household.

The plot was simple enough in it’s own E.T.-type way; Gordan Shumway (a.k.a. “ALF”) crash-lands into the garage of a suburban California family, the Tanners, after his home planet Melmac is destroyed. Rather than report this to any authorities, the Tanners decide to keep him hidden, and ALF becomes a reluctant house guest, much to the jargon of the parents, Willie (Max Wright), and Kate (Anne Schedeen). All this was the creation of Tom Patchett and Paul Fusco (who also voiced ALF, as well as performed head puppeteer duties). An animated series also landed on Saturday mornings the following year, and ran until 1989.

This still shot of actor Benji Gregory (who played Brian Tanner on the show) during the show’s opening credits, clearly shows a missed (or possibly just overlooked) light in the background.

Over the course of his four years on television, ALF managed to drive a Ferrari, make a music video (where he played all of the instruments, of course), blow up a kitchen, and get Willie detained by the FBI, all the while plotting to eat the family cat, Lucky (albeit never succeeding). This would go on until March 24, 1990 (my ninth birthday), when the series was unexpectedly given the axe and aired its last episode.

Dean Cameron, who had a recurring role as Lynn Tanner’s boyfriend Robert Sherwood in the show’s final season, painted a vivid behind the scenes picture of the show. (Cameron had corresponded with me several times via email; though a full interview never did transpire in time, he did send me a link to a piece he penned called “I Was on ALF” on his personal website.) “I received a sort of “rule sheet” with my script. The main one being, ‘Don’t refer to ALF as a puppet. ALF is ALF.’ Yep. When talking about ALF (a puppet), you don’t say, The Puppet, you say “ALF.” He also described a tense moment on set when Wright lost his cool and uttered one of the “greatest lines” he has ever heard, “PUT US ON STICKS!!! WE’RE THE PUPPETS! WE’RE THE PUPPETS!!!”

Actor Dean Cameron (with ALF cast member Andrea Elson) in a 1990 episode of the show.

But things did not end there entirely for ALF. In 1996, a TV movie, Project: ALF, helped wrap up the character’s journey a little better than it’s original anti-climatic finale (though none of the Tanner family appeared). Sadly, Max Wright passed away in 2019 at the age of 75. Michu Meszaros, who also portrayed the costumed ALF in the none-puppet scenes, also passed away in 2016. But thirty-five years later, we’re still here talking about the show they helped make so memorable, and propel us all into another orbit. Not too shabby, guys.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been nearly sixty years since the last time two of the silver screen’s greatest titans ever faced off against one another. Godzilla vs. Kong no doubt delivers on the over-the-top, larger than life, escapist entertainment in the best way possible.

A little Sc-Fi heavy at times, the plot focuses on a now-captive King Kong being released to more or less save humanity from a seemingly hostile Godzilla, who’s really just peeved by the creation of a Mechagodzilla by the evil Apex Cybernetics. Meanwhile, an Apex employee and conspiracy theorist named Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) who is hell bent on exposing the truth, teams up with a couple of kids (one of them once again being Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame, joined this time by Julian Dennisen) to get the job done. This aspect gives the film a very real, ’80s-adventure feel to it in the same vein as E.T., where the kids must ultimately save the day from under the adults who only know about half of the actual story.

The other portion of the main storyline involves an expedition to “Hollow Earth” with Kong lead by a couple of doctors (portrayed by Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall) to find some magical “power source.” And if you think that all sounds somewhat nerdy, you’re absolutely right, though there is a somewhat touching relationship between Kong and a young girl (played by Kaylee Hottle) that helps add a much-needed dramatic element to the film.

In short, Godzilla vs. Kong is far from flawless. But as far as modern action films go (which I’m truthfully not too big on, especially the countless superhero flicks churned out these days), it’s at the head of it’s class. It is without a doubt the ideal type of flick to take the fam out to, sit in a dark theater, and just forget about the rest of the world for a night.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Interview with Actress Dee Wallace By Jesse Striewski

By all accounts, actress Dee Wallace should need little to no introduction. In the world of horror films, she’s regarded as one of all-time top scream queens, appearing in such classics as The Howling (1981), Cujo (1983), and Critters (1986). But of her nearly two-hundred acting credits, she will perhaps forever best be known for her role in the 1982 Steven Speilberg blockbuster E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Last week, I had the chance to speak with Dee over the phone from her California home, where I was honored to ask her about many of said previous films, as well as her more recent, inspiring work in the self-help field.

And I was lucky enough to catch her just at the right time; at the very start of our conversation, Wallace informs me with glee; “I’m heading out to do a film, so you’re my very last, good little thing I get to do before I hop on a plane!” I also wanted Dee to know how much I had learned about her prior to our interview while doing background research, to which she delightfully chuckled before proclaiming, “That’s funny, everybody says that! Well thank you for doing your research!”

One of the first things I wanted to know was what made Wallace decide to step into the world of motivational speaking. She tells me; “Well, when you’re called, you have to answer that call! That’s the best way I can put it. Really when I look back on my entire life, it’s all lead up to this. I used to get messages when I was a little girl – which a lot of kids do. Then later in life when I met Christopher (Stone, Dee’s late husband), he and I got involved in a philosophy called conceptology, and we studied that for a couple of years. Cut to later in life; when he died, I basically dropped to my knees and said, ‘I don’t want to be a victim or angry.’ And the first message I got literally within seconds was to ‘use the light within you to heal yourself.'”

She continues; “So I’ve kind of been expanding on that ever since. I had the largest acting studio in LA at the time, and I would start getting downloads about stuff, and they were always right-on. So then families began wanting to work with me once they saw my students lives’ were changing, and now here I am 30 years later with clients all over the world. I’m quite an oxymoron, actually; half my life I do horror films, the other half I try to teach people how to deal with fear (laughs)! But it’s pretty empowering work, I can tell you that. It’s definitely changed my life!” Dee also hosts a worldwide radio call-in show discussing many of these subjects, which airs online every Sunday at 9am PST.

By now I felt like it was as good a time as any to finally segue into her film career, and I wanted to know if the horror genre was something Wallace had pursued personally, or if it had more or less ‘found’ her. She tells me; “It definitely found me! That genre is one of the easier ones to get started in when you’re beginning your acting career. Ironically, the first film I ever did was a religious one called All the King’s Men – and then I booked The Hills Have Eyes – which again, it sort of explains the dichotomy of Dee, here! (laughs). But I love doing emotional work, and the horror genre gives you the opportunity to do that better than many others. It found me, and then I found out that I loved it!”

I was curious what it was like stepping back into the Critters film series last year when Dee appeared in the fifth entry, Critters Attack! (her first time returning since the 1986 original). She informs me; “It was a lot of fun. My first question for them was ‘are you doing the Critters CGI?,’ because if they were I wouldn’t have done it, and I think the fans would have been disappointed. But I read the script and met with the director, and I got to go to Cape Town, South Africa, so how bad could it be?!” (Laughs). I was also curious if Dee had kept up much with the various other sequels in the series, as well as the other long-standing horror franchise she had kicked off the original with (The Howling). She says; “Yeah, I was kind of like, been there, done that (laughs). Especially with The Howling series, they just had a different quality that didn’t really fit with who I am.”

I also wondered if it was odd for her at all to step into the role of a villain for the 1996 film The Frighteners. She says; “Oh God, I had so much fun doing that! I love to explore all of the different sides of me, and the psyche, and I just loved that arc of going from the little victim, to becoming the killer towards the end!”

Dee has also done a number of films with director Rob Zombie (who, coincidentally, I had also interviewed when I first got into journalism), and I always wondered how that relationship had originally developed. She explains; Well, “Rob loves to work with older, established, actors. He came after me for Halloween, and then he wrote the part of Sonny for me in Lords of Salem. And more recently he wanted to know if I would do this tough gal-type for 3 From Hell. He just always brings me interesting things, and doesn’t lock me into the same cubby holes a lot of people want to put me in.”

Knowing by now Wallace has probably been asked every question under the sun about her legendary role in E.T., I wanted to ask her something that perhaps she hadn’t heard before. So, I simply inquired what it was like to re-visit such a classic film all these years later. She tells me honestly; “I still cry, I still laugh. As we all know it’s just a magical movie, and has become a part of our consciousness. I never get tired of it, or talking about it – and I can’t say that about all of my movies (laughs). It opens hearts and reminds people of what’s really important, and we just need a lot more of that these days.”

And lastly, with Halloween just around the corner, I wanted to know if Dee considered E.T. a ‘Halloween’ movie. She replied; “It’s an everyday movie! It crosses all of the years, and all of the holidays, no matter what time of year it is!” Oh, and as far as that movie Dee was setting off to film? She leaves us with a cliffhanger; “I wish I could tell you what it is, but I can say it’s part of a franchise that hasn’t been visited in awhile, and I think fans are going to be very excited!” I can however say to check out the short film Stay Home, which Dee produced during the quarantine (check it out on Bloody Disgustings website today!).