The McPherson Tape
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Films and TV
In 1989, a young aspiring film director named Dean Alioto set out to make his first film. Inspired by stories he read about supposed alien abductions, such as Whitley Strieber's Communion, he decided he could make a film on the subject with his limited budget. Calling the film UFO Abduction, Alioto made the film in what would later be called the "found footage" style, photographed and edited to look like the events were video recorded by one of the characters.
The film depicts the home video of a family named the Van Heeses celebrating the birthday of their young daughter Michelle. During the party, the power to the house is lost prompting the men of the family to go outside to investigate, along with cameraman Michael (played by Alioto). While they're examining the breakers outside, a flash of light passes overhead into the nearby woods. They follow the path of the light and find the landing site of an alien spacecraft and its occupants, depicted as the stereotypical gray aliens (played by children in masks). The aliens notice the men, causing them to run in panic back to their home, locking the doors and grabbing shotguns. Soon, the sounds of movement are heard outside and on the roof, prompting one of the men to fire his gun, hitting one of the aliens, who apparently falls off. One of the Van Heese men decides to quickly run outside and recover the corpse of the dead alien, much to the horror of the rest of his family. The body is placed in a separate room, but several minutes later it is discovered that the body has disappeared. At the end of the film, Michael places the camera down in the corner of the room (getting a wide shot of the interior of the house) to play cards with the rest of his family. At that point, three aliens march in single-file order out of the spare room towards the family. The last alien stops to look at the camera, which then cuts out. The film ends with still images of the family members along with a (fake) telephone number for viewers to call if they have information on their whereabouts.
The film saw a very limited direct-to-video distribution, but the distribution warehouse suffered a fire, resulting in a complete loss for the company. The master print of the film was among the assets lost and Alioto simply decided to move on with his career.
Sometime around 1992, someone began distributing a bootleg copy of the film in UFO circles, where it was called The McPherson Tape. However, this copy edited out the opening and closing credit sequences and was passed off as an actual recording of an alien encounter. As Alioto used abduction stories he read in UFO books as a plot outline (and the found footage style wouldn't become popular until the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999), a number of UFO enthusiasts became convinced that it was real, since it followed the pattern and "script" of other encounter stories. A showing of this version was apparently the highlight at the 1993 International UFO Congress Convention, where a retired Lieutenant Colonel declared it genuine. Within a year, the video became the topic of a number of tabloid news and unexplained mystery television shows, including a Japanese special where the studio audience laughs at the prescience of the aliens. Eventually, Alioto found out what happened and came forward with an explanation, but naturally, the true believers rejected this, claiming that this was misinformation presented by whatever masterminds they think are behind UFO conspiracies.
In 1998, Dick Clark Productions approached Alioto to remake the film, this time as a TV movie for the fledgling United Paramount Network (later folded into the CW network) with a bigger budget and the title Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County. However, the network edited the film from two hours to one and removed the commercial bumpers that identified the film as a work of fiction, creating even more confusion. The full two-hour version was rebroadcast later. Unsurprisingly, those who think that the original is real are convinced that the remake was an attempt by "them" to discredit the notion that the 1989 version is genuine footage.
To this day, one can find clips of the 1989 version posted online by UFO enthusiasts, often with notations pointing to various elements that "prove" that the film is real. To be fair, though, for such a low-budget film, the fact it is believed to be real is a testament to the work of the editors of the film itself. It is worth a watch.
- (Interview) Dean Alioto Discuss UFO Abduction and Aline Abduction: Indicent in Lake County (a.k.a. The McPherson Tape) - FoundFootageCritic.com
- 3B Bad Movie Planet: The True Story of Alien Abduction -- Incident in Lake County (Wayback Machine) Interview with Dean Alioto about the original film and the remake.
- Dean Alioto at IMDb
- U.F.O. Abduction at IMDb
- Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County at IMDb