Wednesday, January 3, 2024

#2,941. The McPherson Tape (1989) - Films of the 1980s


The uncut video footage you are about to see contains the most important evidence yet made public regarding the UFO abduction phenomenon. This footage is from the North Woods UFO CASE 77.

On the evening of October 8, 1983, a young man videotaped his niece’s 5th birthday party. As the night’s strange occurrences took place he kept his camera running, recording the entire event

Released originally as U.F.O. Abduction, The McPherson Tape is something of an oddity. It is a found footage-style sci-fi / horror movie from 1989, a full 10 years before The Blair Witch Project would rekindle (or some might argue - and rightly so - single-handedly ignite) interest in that particular subgenre.

According to writer / director Dean Alioto, The McPherson Tape was shot on video for around $6,500. Yet, despite its meager budget, it stands as one of the most intense, intriguing found footage movies I have seen, centered on a family that, thanks to the wonderful job of its cast, we come to care about.

October 8, 1983. The Vane Hesse clan has gathered at the remote mountain cottage of their recently widowed mother (Shirly McCalla) to celebrate the 5th birthday of young Michelle (Laura Tomas), daughter of oldest son Eric (Tommy Giavocchini) and his wife Jamie (Christine Staples). Also in attendance are Eric’s younger brothers, college student Jason (Patrick Kelley) and 16-year-old Michael (played by Alioto himself) as well as Jason’s girlfriend Renee (Stacey Shulman).

Michael, who just purchased a new handheld video camera, spends the evening videotaping the party (making Alioto not only the film’s writer / director and co-star, but also its cinematographer).

When the lights unexpectedly go out, the three brothers head to the garage to check on the fusebox, and while outside spot a bright red light flashing across the sky. The brothers rush into the woods to investigate, and are amazed to discover that a spaceship, harboring three aliens (played by young girls Ginny Kleker, Kay Parten, and Rose Schneider), has landed nearby!

When the aliens spot them, the three brothers dart back to the house to warn the rest of the family, kicking off a terrifying chain of events.

During one of the DVD commentaries for the [POV] Horror release of The McPherson Tape, it was mentioned that Dean Alioto is a big fan of Steven Spielberg, and how his E.T. was as much about a broken family as it was an alien visitor. In turn, It is the family at the center of Alioto’s 1989 movie, inspired, no doubt, by Spielberg’s classic, that brings us to the edge of our seats.

All of the performers do an amazing job of building that “family” chemistry. During the opening scenes, as they’re sitting around the table eating dinner, they are bickering with one another (both playfully and with a little passive-aggressiveness behind it) and constantly talking over each other. The relationships between the characters are not laid out at first, and it takes us a while to figure out who is who, but then why would they spoon-feed it to us? It’s supposed to be a family's home video! And director Alioto does a fine job of eventually bringing his audience up to speed.

Even after the film’s pivotal event, when the brothers go into the woods, then rush home in a panic after making a startling discovery, things eventually quiet down (for a while, it looks as if nothing will come of it) and they get back to the party. The tension does mount again, of course, and doesn’t let up until the shocking finale (which is also the only moment in the film that feels contrived).

Those who have a problem with shaky cam might find themselves nauseous during the forest scene with the brothers, but it’s what transpires both before and after it that makes The McPherson Tape a hidden gem, and a movie that fans of found footage horror will surely enjoy.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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