Wednesday, September 27, 2023

‘Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County’ – This Early Found Footage Film Terrorized UPN in 1998

For this month’s installment of “TV Terrors” we revisit the found footage remake Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, which aired in 1998 on the UPN Network.

Found footage in its early days was a rare novelty that often astounded and confounded audiences. The overseas had bits like “Ghost Watch” while the States had television movies like Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County. The latter is an early example of found footage, coming along just before The Blair Witch Project, making it a notable entry in the genre.

A remake of Dean Alioto’s 1989 low budget The McPherson Tape, Alien Abduction aired on January 20, 1998 and became something of an urban legend. Not only was it aired without much preamble (preceded, however, by the TV special “Real Vampires: Exposed”) on a network known mainly for comedies, but allegedly the movie caused a stir among audiences that assumed that we were watching actual accounts of a family confronting aliens in a rural countryside. Not unlike “War of the Worlds,” people were confused – and scared – by the clever stunt.

You can’t really blame them as director Dean Alioto’s film watches very much like a camcorder account of a small family being terrorized by clever aliens who intend on abducting them. I vividly remember cruising through the channels one night and happening upon UPN which was right at the beginning of premiering Alien Abduction. As a young fan of all things strange and paranormal, Alien Abduction fed right into my appetite and blew my fifteen year old mind. It was scary, it was inexplicable, and it was an oddity in the world of primetime TV at the time. Back in the nineties, the paranormal was considered filler for time slots rather than the serious subject matter it’s treated as today. Alien Abduction was something special in 1998.

In Alien Abduction we follow the McPherson family, all of whom are celebrating an uneasy Thanksgiving with a reunion and some new developments. Tommy, the primary protagonist, shoots the dinner on his handheld camera which becomes the centerpiece of the film. It’s often passed around as a means of creating a sense of anxiety, especially as most of the events unfold in the darkness of night in a clustered house. After a sudden power outage, a few of the family members go out to see what happened, and they unwittingly capture footage of extraterrestrial beings.

Retreating, the aliens become aware of their discovery and now the family is trapped in their home with the aliens lurking about. Alien Abduction succeeds in being a claustrophobic and clever horror outing, one that works as a brilliant precursor to The Blair Witch Project. Like the aforementioned horror masterpiece, Alien Abduction is a traditional horror film dressed as a pseudo-documentary, tapping into the classic home invasion tropes that almost always guarantees a fright. The inexplicable aliens in the film (depicted as the classic “Grey” alien variants) are advanced well beyond anyone’s actual knowledge, so what they’re capable of becomes more and more horrifyingly apparent as the struggle for survival ensues.

Whether intentional or not, Alien Abduction seems inspired by the notorious Hopkinsville Goblins Case (one of my favorite cryptid incidents of all time), wherein a family was tormented and stalked by a group of extra terrestrials in their farm house. Most of the film takes place within the confines of the house, as the aliens infiltrate every corner and inevitably turn the family on one another, creating doubt within their stronghold. One of the spookiest moments in the climax involves camera man Tommy retreating to his bed room to change his pants, coming face to face with an alien lurking in the dark. It freezes him before he can react, putting him into a trance, with the camera panning over to his frozen body.

The camera then settles on the monster as it grasps the camera and flees as Tommy is none the wiser. Although the original TV ending is good, the alternate ending for the Director’s Cut (mainly released on video in Europe) is easily the superior version, as the McPherson family are all hypnotized and abducted by the aliens one by one at their dinner table after the Greys are let in by the youngest Rosie. It’s a satisfying, albeit bleak epilogue.

Alien Abduction was the perfect primetime programming at the time, especially for a UFO aficionado such as yours truly. Dean Alioto really took great pains to add to the novelty of the narrative by including interviews and analyses by actual UFO experts and skeptics. Although a few of them were obviously paid actors, it successfully contributed to the film’s experience. The film ends on a slew of questions posed to the audience, emphatically encouraging viewers to continue “investigating” the unusual disappearances at UPN’s official website.

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County fell into obscurity for too long after airing, and has only since regained some re-emergence thanks to hardcore found footage movie buffs and nostalgic nineties fans. It’s too bad as it’s such a stellar example of mixing the alien invasion film with the found footage sub-genre. And what with the big admission by the government of the existence of aliens in the news, Alioto’s film certainly warrants a second glance.

Is It Available? Sadly, Incident in Lake County is only available to view on YouTube. However, its equally chilling predecessor The McPherson Tape was given a special edition release by Vinegar Syndrome in 2020 and is still available on Blu-ray over on their website.

The post ‘Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County’ – This Early Found Footage Film Terrorized UPN in 1998 appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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