I’m a fan of the found footage genre. The genre gets a lot of sh*t from people, but honestly, I think some of these movies are scarier than the “splatter” or “serial killer” movies that are currently released. Anyway, I’m prepping for an appearance on the awesome podcast, The Bloke Show, in which we are going to discuss found footage films so I was trying to think of the first examples of found footage movies I remember seeing. Obviously, Blair Witch Project popped in my head first, but that wasn’t it. I remember seeing something else first. I have a vivid memory of it, especially the ending. But I’ll get to that.
In January 1998, the UPN Network aired the special presentation; Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.
I don’t remember how or why I watched it, but I did. It was presented very similarly as the Alien Autopsy footage, ie it was promoted as being real. I know we get things like this all the time now, but in 1998, this was, if not unheard of, it was not common.
One thing I want to say to put this in context. This special is, for lack of a better word, “trope-y”. It has all the hallmarks of found footage and cheesy horror movies. However, many of the found footage tropes hadn’t really been established at this time. This special aired over a year before The Blair Witch Project was released in theaters. In actuality, the special was a remake of an independent movie called UFO Abduction from 1989. So in a sense, it was creating a lot of these tropes we now find so prevalent. And the special created a sort of sensation and controversy when it aired because many people didn’t get that it was fiction. There really was no context for something like this before. So, just keep that in mind as we go through it.
So, I was recently able to watch this thing again and I simply have to talk about it. The beginning of the special had several talking head “experts” discuss what you are about to see.
Experts like the uber cool, black shirted video EFX editor who, while sitting next to a powered down computer monitor, explains that the things you’ll see in the upcoming video couldn’t be done with the consumer video technology available (well of course not, UPN created the effects). And the “former government agent” who can’t be shown on camera because of the stuff he’s “seen”. I love how they actually give him a fake name, “Al James”. Why?
UPN also brought in a nuclear physicist awesomely named Stanton Friedman to help explain “electromagnetic interference” for whenever the footage gets all static-y or to explain to us how this footage is the most important scientific discovery of the millennium (which hadn’t actually happened yet). Or the “certified” hypnotherapist to explain what everyone is “feeling” during the video. Lots of heavy hitters in this segment. To balance out these experts who are clearly actors we have actual alien abductees discuss their experiences as well in sequences which are even more staged and less believable than the “experts”.
So, the footage is setup by these experts. A young man named Tommy McPherson is filming Thanksgiving dinner with his new video camera.
It starts off with normal family stuff. Lots of goofing off and bickering. Really boring as balls. I don’t want you to seek this out and waste your time watching it so I’m going to show you the good parts. The alien parts. And then the ending which for some reason had a big impact on me. So, to begin, the power goes out in the McPherson house. Some of “the men” go out to check the fuse box and see a giant explosion in the distance. Of course, they go check it out and find, in the distance, an alien ship. And a few aliens come out of the ship. The guys keep far back from the action so Tommy has to zoom in on the aliens with his camera.
The aliens spot the guys in the distance and shoot a “laser” towards them. I created an animated GIF for you to see that this incident looks just as ridiculous in the footage as it sounds when I describe it. Below is what it looked like in the “footage”. The alien is blasting the cow on the ground with a laser, stops, looks up at the camera and shoots it WAY to the left of the camera. And, of course, the footage is replete with static from “electromagnetism” (Thanks, Stanton).