When I was younger my family would go camping in the beautiful Arizona desert. My father and his friends are big train nerds and there’s a perfect spot to see them and engage in the kind of wild, and explosive, shit people do out in the middle of nowhere.
On one of these camping adventures, after the big fire had started going and it being otherwise pitch-black, some lights appeared in the far off distance.
I’ve been wanting my entire life to see a craft from another world. This was it! I thought. In the brief few moments when the entire camp was abuzz about these lights just seeming to hover off in the distance. It was confusing, everyone talking over one another, pointing fingers trying to use binoculars to figure out what it could be. I was hyped, to say the least. A mixture of fear, excitement and anticipation. I was going to finally see a UFO!
What do they look like? Are they peaceful? Will they ignore us? Are we going with them?
It was a highway patrol car. But, man, at that moment it was a rush. I sill want to see one.
So, what the hell is all this about anyhow?
Found footage storytelling has been the domain of horror for as long as the style became popular. I can’t think of a single found footage romantic comedy. It makes perfect sense for this style to be so easily embraced since it is easy to do on a tight budget. The lack of multiple cameras means the viewer is limited in what they are going to be seeing, the filmmaker gets to dance with your senses and tantalize you with just enough to keep you going, as they slowly ratchet up the tension until it boils over into terror.
Assuming you do it right.
Blair Witch Project is still my favorite of the genre. To this day I consider it one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. I watched it again a year or so ago and it is still effective.
Before that, however, and actually not too soon before there was a nearly forgotten TV movie that only aired once on the old UPN network.
Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County
The McPherson family had gathered for Thanksgiving. One of the children uses his new camera to record the whole thing. Things seem fine, there’s normal family banter, gossip, etc. For a TV movie, they act as a family just enough to be convincing. It doesn’t feel like they are just saying lines from a script or anything, but there is some rehearsed movement. But, let’s not nitpick the damn thing to death.
A while into the dinner the power goes out in the house. Now we are starting to get somewhere. Candles are lit and the family goes about their dinner while some of the brothers go to the power box to check things out. The damn thing has fried and they see a powerline basically explode before deciding that it’s a good idea to see what’s what.
Bad Idea City, USA.
When they get over a ridge the see a giant craft looking thing with some little people walking around it. One of them happens to be giving a cow a lobotomy when it notices the three brothers on a ridge and gives them a little laser blast diplomacy which scares the living shit out of them (or piss) and they go running for the house.
From here on out it’s Panic City, USA for the McPherson family. They arm themselves with shotguns, yell at one another — the family inside didn’t believe the brothers until it was too late. They try to flee but the truck doesn’t start and that’s when people begin to disappear.
The family put on a brave face for the kids but the panic is everywhere. At one point a red light puts one of the party into a coma or some damn thing, and she dies.
At some point, the camera gets put down as the family members who are left try to play cards. The camera is left perfectly for the viewer to see creatures come in and begin to take them all away. The end.
The thing about this movie is that it occasionally cuts away to a police officer from the area, someone who works in Hollywood and reasonably well known UFO investigator Stanton Friedman. The purpose of this was clearly to give the show some extra feeling of authenticity. The show even ends with a screen crawl asking for anyone with information on what happened to the family, to call the authorities. That’s hilarious considering the tape ends with them being hauled off, but whatever.
What’s interesting about all this, aside from the fact that it was a pretty fun, little curiosity to watch, that it is a remake of an already existing movie.
The McPherson Tape
This is a home video shot movie from the 1980s. Both films are made by the same guy, Dean Alioto. It’s the same movie as Alien Abduction, with someone minor changes, this one thankfully didn’t have the weird racial undertone Alien Abduction had. The family interaction in The McPherson Tape is better too. At the beginning of the tape, the family are all sitting around the table having some drinks and talk over one another, for example. The scares and jumps are just as good.
Both films employ an interesting trick to hint that something is about to happen. As anyone who follows UFO’s and alien contact will remember how often times electronic equipment typically shorts out, stops working or what have you. In both of these, the camera itself begins to have static issues, or the good old fuzzy snow appears, to signal that they are on the way.
Why didn’t I start off with The McPherson Tape? Well, I saw Alien Abduction first. I saw a commercial or something for it one night. Being a UFO junkie at the time it was something too good to pass up so I recorded it when it aired.
In the end, I think it’s worth watching. They are both available online, all you have to do is look. You can find copies of both on eBay or Amazon the last time I checked. Both films are lean, and basically, get down to business as quickly as possible. There’s not a lot of development of characters or anything like that because these movies don’t have time to mess around with that stuff.
Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County gets 3 beers out of 4
The McPherson Tape gets 3 1/2 beers out of 4.