As hardcore horror fans, sometimes it feels like you’ve seen it all. There are no surprises left to discover, no classic slasher film waiting around the corner to thrill you and slap a childlike grin on your face. You try to feed the fix by searching through lists of “The Scariest Films You’ve Never Seen” only to come across titles like “May”, “The Descent”, and “Suspiria”. These are, of course, films that us diehards know and love all too well. That’s where I come in, dear reader. We’ll be taking a deep dive into the bowels of obscure horror from decades past and uncovering titles that might have fallen “Through the Cracks”…sometimes imitated but never duplicated. 😉
Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998)
AKA: The McPherson Tape,
Directed By: Dean Alioto
It’s slim pickings’ when it comes to Thanksgiving horror films. Everyone knows (or should know) about the over the top gory-glory that is Blood Rage. Beyond that, there’s only a smattering of other titles worth calling attention to. Our own Meagan Navarro did just that. In an attempt to discover a worthy “Through the Cracks” entry for Thanksgiving, I plopped down with 1981’s Home Sweet Home starring Body by Jake as a wild eyed, maniacal slab of beef of a man who goes on a killing spree during a dysfunctional family’s festive get together. Unfortunately, I found it to be a complete slog to get through. Half way into the runtime, I hit “stop” on that one. As I’m sure you’re aware, I have a high threshold for cruddy 80s trash, but even I couldn’t handle this one. That said, I’m sure there’s a situation where watching it with a group of like minded midnight movie fans could make it more palatable. I quickly needed to switch gears and find something else.
Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County is something of a trailblazer for its time. Originally aired on UPN January 20th 1998 to much audience confusion as to its validity, Lake County is a found footage flick that predated the release of The Blair Witch Project by one year. Sure, Cannibal Holocaust was really the first horror film to adopt the narrative style, but Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez put the subgenre on the map. But, even before we dive into this made for television shaky cam fest, it should be noted that Lake County is a remake! Ten years earlier, director Dean Alioto was itching to make his first feature. He had no money and one great idea, “War of the Worlds with video.” A simple conceit was turned into a truly authentic hour long feature aptly titled UFO Abduction.
Alioto provided a fantastic interview to the gang over at Found Footage Critic last year chronicling the making of both films. If you’re interested in the films at all, or in true no-budget filmmaking, I highly recommend giving it a read. In the film, a five year old girl’s birthday party is interrupted when three Greys show up and start picking them off one by one. The film is a success in the sense that it often feels real and hardly anything is seen (or at least can be seen in the VHS rip that remains of the film’s release). It falters, however, in being painstakingly boring. It really carries the air of being forced to watch that guy at work’s family video that he is certain you will for some unknown reason enjoy. The production was carried out in one night using mostly improvised dialogue and untrained actors. Despite the film’s drawbacks, it’s an exciting experiment that went on to spawn numerous conspiracy theories as people began to “discover” the tape in UFO believers’ circles.
Cut to 1995, and a deal with Dick Clark Productions was struck to remake the UFO Abduction as The McPherson Tape as UPN premiere movie. The budget was $1.5 million dollars, a far cry from the original’s $6,500. The title was changed to the far more straightforward Alien Abduction. The basic premise is the same, only this time the special family gathering has been transposed from a birthday party to Thanksgiving. The actors are all far more conventionally attractive professional actors (a baby faced Emmanuelle Chriqui shows up in one of the more thankless roles), most of them ill suited for the cinema verite’ approach. The stagey performances are by far the biggest drawback for this remake. The characters are about as stock as they come. The sensitive teenage boy is our cameraman. The oldest brother is a hothead racist, the middle a horndog, and the mother a drunk. Despite the obvious colors they may be painted with, it’s this sense of the cliche that makes Lake County one of the more perfect entries in holiday horror. We’ve all been to those terrible Thanksgiving dinners that will inevitably go awry. This one just so happens to do so because of an alien invasion as opposed to a drunken argument.
Where the original sailed, this one sinks. The reverse is also true. Lake County moves with a sense of immediacy that can almost exclusively be found in some of the best found footage flicks. Not every thrill lands, but there are more than enough bumps throughout this one terrifying night to keep viewers on edge. I was literally yelling at the screen as the characters continuously made terrible decisions. On a narrative tip, such actions by your leads is often a major misstep. “You keep saying you need to leave. So LEAVE!” But in regards to suspense, stupid people surely make for white knuckle cinema sometimes.
Despite being one of the first and seemingly lesser known efforts in the POV subgenre, Lake County offers up many of the same cliches that one has grown accustom to seeing in this type of film. The characters bicker incessantly, there’s never a legit reason given to keep rolling the camcorder, and our cameraman makes a weepy appearance to provide his final confession direct to camera. Still, for fans who haven’t yet completely tired of the structural conventions of found footage, Alioto keeps things moving at a decent clip and several set-pieces will send a cold shiver straight down your spine. Until someone like Scream Factory snatches this up for a cleaned up modern release, you can find the film streaming on Archive.org Just don’t get confused like the thousands who viewers who believed the film was real back 98′. Apparently they missed the closing credits where the actors’ names were clearly listed next to their characters…not to mention those “written” and “directed by” credits. Happy Thanksgiving!