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John’s Horror Corner: The McPherson Tape (1989; aka UFO Abduction), a very early found footage film about alien abduction that paved the way for Signs (2002).

May 5, 2020

MY CALL: An important film for any fan of found footage horror, and great for such a micro-budget. But if you’re not a fan of the subgenre, I doubt you’d enjoy this.

MORE MOVIES LIKE The McPherson Tape: My gut response is to first tell you to see Signs (2002) if you haven’t already seen it. For more alien abduction films, strongly consider seeing Communion (1989), Fire in the Sky (1993), The Fourth Kind (2009), Dark Skies (2013), Skinwalker Ranch (2013) and Extraterrestrial (2014). But I’d skip Alien Abduction (2014) and especially Xenophobia (2019). For more good quality found footage horror, go for The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity 1-2 (2007, 2010), Lake Mungo (2008), The Last Exorcism (2010), Grave Encounters (2011), Grave Encounters 2 (2012), The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), Exists (2014), Demonic (2015), Hell House LLC (2015), Blair Witch (2016), Ghost Stories (2017) and Butterfly Kisses (2018). And even though it’s not purely found footage, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was still ahead of its time with respect to the found footage subgenre.

IMDB summary—“On a typical fall evening in 1983, a young man was videotaping his niece’s 5th birthday party. As the night’s strange occurrences took place, he kept his video camera running, recording the entire event.”

After witnessing flashes of bright lights in the sky, the brothers search the woods to find a spaceship landing and several extraterrestrials on foot.

The very premise of this film smacks of the scene in Signs (2002) when they capture footage of the shadowy alien figure during a children’s birthday party. And it seems Signs (2002) owes more to its predecessor—for example, the scene of the panicked family listening to the aliens on the roof trying to find a way inside the house.

The acting largely feels very candid. When the aliens approach the house, the family yells and argues and makes quick erratic decisions. The power goes out, people go missing, there are hints of possible telepathy and mind control, and no one knows what to do.

As we start seeing them up close, these aliens don’t look awesome. The budget is meager, so the creature effects feel no greater in quality than a mid-to-low-priced “grey” alien costume from the discount section at Walmart the day after Halloween.

Honestly, director Dean Alioto (Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, Portal) did alright. I mean, can we remind ourselves that this is a found footage movie from the 80s!?!?! I’m no expert, but I doubt there were any “true” found footage (i.e., 100% found footage) horror films before this—at least, very few anyway. Even Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was only perhaps 30-50% found footage despite being transformative for the subgenre.

Much of the alien scene execution feels hokey even if purely by fault of the budget, and it may very well violate your suspension of belief. And some of the acting felt a bit forced (particularly the mother character). But, really, the overall frightened mania of this film works. And while I doubt I’ll ever feel the need to see this again, I’m glad I saw it.

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