After abducting British audiences in May, the aliens-versus-gangsters comedy is set to invade U.S. theaters

Growing up in South London, Joe Cornish adored creature features like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Gremlins (1984) as well as gang movies such as The Warriors (1979). His one complaint? None of them were set in South London. ”I used to wonder why those stories never happened where I lived,” says Cornish, 42. ”Twenty-five years later I’m trying to put that right.”

The writer-director’s Attack the Block is a geekgasmic fusion of monster and gang genres that has already proved a hit in the U.K. and opens here July 29. The horror comedy starts with a white nurse (Jodie Whittaker) being robbed by a gang of mostly black teens. The muggers and their victim must then reluctantly cooperate to battle a horde of hairy aliens. Also caught up in the mayhem is a stoned trustafarian type (Luke Treadaway), who Cornish admits is based on himself. ”I spent a lot of my early 20s in housing estates scoring weed,” he says sheepishly.

Attack the Block was executive-produced by Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright, who worked with Cornish on the script for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (out Dec. 23). Cornish says when he first met the Jaws director, he ”had to try not to remember his body of work because I would have been in danger of passing out.”

Cornish faces off against his idol next weekend, when Attack the Block opens opposite the Spielberg-produced Cowboys & Aliens. But he jokes that only his movie will teach you how to talk to British teens during an alien invasion. ”When you come out of the theater,” Cornish says, ”you will be ready to come to South London and kick alien arse!”

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Movie
  • 135 minutes