During a child’s birthday celebration, the Van Heese family finds their rural Connecticut home under attack by aliens. Without a way to leave the home or call out for help, the family tries to fight back, as the youngest of three brothers videotapes the entire frightening incident.
Written and directed by Dean Alioto, U.F.O. Abduction is a 1989 found footage horror film inspired by popular books such as Whitley Strieber's novel Communion and other stories of alien abduction from the time period. Wanting to get his first film under his belt, Alioto took the idea of alien abduction and spun it into a film that – mixed with an inexpensive home-video style of filmmaking – could be made for the extremely modest budget of $6,500. The result is a film that has an authentic feel to it, at least in terms of the visual aesthetic. The situation the characters face and the way they sometimes react to it, however, is an entirely different story.
The film opens with a simple dinner table scene, where the Van Hesse family is enjoying a 5th birthday celebration for the youngest of the family. There’s a fairly natural family dynamic at hand, at least in terms of how everyone is interacting with one another. Many conversations are going on at the same time, which is a normal occurrence at many a family table. Though as much as it adds a realistic feel to the film, it doesn’t make for interesting viewing when looking in from the outside.
Shortly after the family sing happy birthday, the power goes out, at which point the film becomes dark and a little discombobulated, adding to the realism of the situation. This leads to a scene where – while out trying to fix the circuit breaker – the three brothers notice some strange lights coming from the woods. The three men decide to investigate the area where the lights were coming from, but what they discover, however, is a spaceship and a handful of grey aliens.
Afraid for their life, the brothers take off running back to the house after the aliens noticed the three men spying on them. Back at the house and fully armed with shotguns, the brothers argue as to whether or not they should all stay put, leave the house for safety or go out and kick some alien ass. Indecisive, the family realizes they need to cool down for a minute, and they do so by eating some birthday cake and having the little girl opening her birthday presents. This is a huge standout in a film that is trying to portray a sense of realism. At what point can a person ignore, even for the briefest of moments, that they just had an encounter with an alien lifeform? Yet, somehow they do. In fact, it gets to the point where they act as if the occurrence had never even happened.
This seems to be a bit of a theme in U.F.O. Abduction. The characters react in one of two different ways: freak out and become completely irrational in the silliest of ways, or act completely lackadaisical as if everything is okay USA.
Outside of the previous example, these varied reactions come to play during two key scenes in particular. One being the reaction the brothers have when the little girl shows them a picture she drew of an alien she saw outside of the window. This sends the brothers into a frenzy, meaning they act like raging lunatics running around with loaded shotguns. What’s really funny about this scene is, up until this point, everything was hunky dory, which is interesting considering they had already “made contact” with the alien life forms.
As this is happening, the aliens begin to attack the home, at which point one of the men shoots and kills one of the aliens. The men decide to bring the alien’s corpse inside the house and store it in one of the bedrooms, which leads to my second example of the two extreme reactions that the family has to this alien invasion. Shortly after the three brothers leave to hunt down the rest of the aliens, the remaining family members, all female, decide to play a game of go fish. WHILE A DEAD ALIEN IS IN THE NEXT ROOM. No need to expound upon that, as I think the situation speaks for itself.
U.F.O. Abduction pre-dates The Blair Witch Project by ten years, though the film was hardly seen by anyone other than U.F.O. enthusiasts. This is really where the film becomes most interesting, at least in terms of historical merit. Shortly after seeing a truncated direct-to-video run, the master print of the film was lost in a fire and the film was basically forgotten about, even by the director, Dean Alioto. It wasn’t until a few years later where a bootleg version of the U.F.O. Abduction began floating around U.F.O. circles under the title The McPherson Tape. This bootleg was conveniently missing the opening and closing credit sequences of the film as well as was presented as a true event of an alien invasion, convincing many people that it was a real event caught on tape. In fact, there are many people out there who still believe that the footage is indeed that of fact.
As crazy as that sounds, the tale of U.F.O. Abduction grows all the more wild nearly ten years later when Dean Alioto was approached to helm a remake of the film to air on the UPN network. After completing the movie, Alioto ended up getting pushed out of the picture by unhappy (and new) studio heads, who disliked what Alioto had delivered. Before releasing the film as a one-hour TV special titled Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, the studio had the film edited down, added some new interviews and removed bumpers that warned viewers that the film was a work of fiction. Their intent clearly aimed at making people believe that the remake of a fake film was in fact real. And guess what? Many people believed it, and still do to this very day.
I highly encourage reading Dean Alioto’s vastly more detailed explanation of the events that led to Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, as it’s quite fascinating:
In the end, U.F.O. Abduction is most certainly ahead of its time in terms of concept, but as a film it doesn't deliver much of a punch. However, much of that can be blamed on the fact it doesn't really try to throw too many. it is, after all, a low-budget film trying to go for as much realism as possible. In that sense, it succeeds. Unfortunately, however, some may find the film a tad underwhelming, especially when there have been so many found footage films that have nailed the technique (and plenty more that haven’t). Nevertheless, with a storied background that proves to be more interesting than anything the film could deliver on its own, U.F.O. Abduction is an interesting piece of film history that will forever be discussed and analyzed deep within the confines of the internet.