Friday, July 12, 2019

The Blair Witch Project: 20 Years Later

I noticed that there was a sudden resurgence of Blair Witch-related "stuff" lately and I didn't key into why until just this morning. A few weeks ago, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), a new Blair Witch video game was announced to be launching this August, and today Fright-Rags will be launching a licensed collection for the original film. My caffeine-ridden brain didn't even realize that this Sunday, July 14th, 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of The Blair Witch Project!


Once I realized that, I knew I had to write about it for a bit. It's hard for me to understate the importance of the film. I have rarely been as hyped for a movie as I was for TBP.

I spoke recently about the VHS release on VHyesterdayS. I mentioned that I had talked about The Blair Witch Project in a video a long time ago on my YouTube channel, but upon further inspection it appears that I must've deleted my content on The Blair Witch Project and its sequel at some point.


So all the more reason for me to jaw-on here for a bit!

It's been stated over-and-over again how effective the marketing was for it at the time, but I'll take a moment to talk about it again. There was nothing like it before. The very nature of the film being a faux-documentary lent itself so perfectly to a viral marketing campaign and it just took over the Internet. The website was top-of-the-line for its time and it was chock-full of Easter Eggs and information about the "case" of the Blair Witch and the missing students lost in the Burkittsville woods.

People believed it was real. I believed it could be real.

Then you add the element of the TV special! Airing a few days before the film's release, on July 11th 1999, Curse of the Blair Witch was itself a half-hour documentary about the legends of Burkittsville and the missing filmmakers. It completely doubled-down on the "authenticity" that the marketing campaign created. Was it real? Was it fake? Everyone had to go see the movie just to find out!


And it worked. People went to this movie in droves. I was there opening night to a completely packed theatre. I had found all the Easter Eggs on the site. I had piled through the Internet bulletin boards trying to glean every bit of information I could find out about the film. I had to know if it was real or not!

It was an experience I hadn't had before and haven't had since. Once you let this genie out of the bottle, you can never do it again. Film-goers now are too skeptical, likely because of TBP, to ever let this sort of marketing fool them again. But I was one of the lucky ones who got to experience this whole thing firsthand and it's had a lasting impression.

It didn't hurt that the acting was excellent. There are points where you get the "actor" vibe from the main cast, but for the most part their fear just seems so genuine. This is, of course, due in part to the nature of how the film was made, in which the filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick really put actors Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leondard through a course of psychological terrors in the dead of night, while the actors themselves filmed.

With all the "found footage" films this movie spurned, I'm surprised that I've never heard of any other filmmakers taking this specific aspect away from TBP; the idea of actually subduing the actors to unknown, unscripted scares. My guess is the unions don't allow for that! I didn't know about all this until well after seeing the film for the first time, but I think it's safe to say that their fear feels very real and tangible.


One thing I will note is that seeing The Blair Witch Project on the big screen was a double-edge sword. I was both so excited to see it, but absolutely sickened by it... literally.

The movie is shot on 16MM and Digital 8 from the perspective of the filmmakers. Save for the few scenes that are setup to be parts of their "documentary" its all handheld. Sitting in the lower bowl of my movie theatre, munching on my then new Crispy M&Ms caused my guts to lurch. I barely made it through the film, honestly. I had to run to the washroom at least once and when I got there, someone had beat me to it. To this day I can't eat Crispy M&Ms.

I try to recapture the experience a little each year around Halloween. That's when the VHS and DVD were first released, around October 25th, 1999 if my memory serves me right. I make the pilgrimage back to Maryland and the haunted Burkittsville forest and in absolute honesty I get chills every time.

The movie is a time capsule. Haxan Films managed to bottle up 1999 for me and I love them for it.

Say what you want about the franchise after, The Blair Witch Project manages to hold up, old technology and all. I'll keep up my tradition and take in my yearly viewing this October, but why not give it a watch this weekend?

The whole thing may have been an elaborate hoax, but what if it wasn't? What if the witch is out there, waiting in the dark? Hiding in an old abandoned house, deep in the forest, where the light of mankind has winked out of existence.

Dare you take a walk in the woods after!

Cheers,
R

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Stranger Things Re-watch - Season 2 (2017)

Image result for stranger things season 3 banner

We're back in the Upside-Down this week with my re-watch of Stranger Things 2!

I don't think I brought it up when I wrote about Season 1 (due to spoilers), but it ended with all sorts of loose ends and burning questions about the future of Hawkins, Indiana and our favourite rag-tag band of heroes. What happened to Eleven after here battle with the Demogorgon? Is Sheriff Hopper in bed with Hawkins Laboratory? What effect will being stuck in the Upside-Down for so long have on Will?

Well, you've got questions? Season 2 has answers!

When I first watched Season 2, I had a lot of misgivings with the way the creators went about fleshing out the characters in this second arc. I must say that during this re-watch I have a much great appreciation for the decisions they made. It makes a lot more sense to me the second time around. This is why I'm glad I went back and got reacquainted the first two seasons before Season 3 drops!

This season was really all about tying up the loose ends of Season 1. I think just about everything you can think of gets a nice little neat bow by the time Episode 9 draws to a close.

There were some interesting paths the show's creators took in Season 2 that I think are worth noting:

New Characters



Instead of just focusing on the beloved cast from Season 1, a few new characters were added to spice things up.

First off there is Max and her step-brother Billy. I think Max is as great addition to the group and really tests the dynamic of the boys and their party. Billy... I could give-or-take. Honestly, I think he was only interjected to flesh out Max's story and to insert some sort of earthly antagonist, but in my opinion he was just filler and really wasn't needed. It honestly wasn't until the last two episodes that his story got even slightly interesting and I'm hoping they do more with the character in Season 3.


With Brenner apparently dead by Demogorgon in Season 1, a new scientist has been sent into Hawkins Lab to fix the mess, which is Dr. Owens played by none other than Paul Reiser. I think this was an ingenious choice for this character, because of one of Reiser's most famous roles: Burke in Aliens. The whole season you're on the fence about where his allegiances lie, because you know him as the ultimate, smarmy asshole, Burke. Even though his character always seems to be on the right side, you can never be sure about his true intentions, and I loved that.

Next we have Kali a.k.a. Eight. She's introduced right away in Season 2 and gets your mind boiling with possibilities. We all knew that Eleven was likely the 11th in a series of experiments, but did you think about anyone else who might have been a part of Hawkins Labs prior tests? Well, now you are! She stands as a way of fleshing out El's character arc and on my first viewing I couldn't have cared less about Kali's role or her episodes. I felt like it was all just filler and was unnecessary. After this re-watch I totally get why the writers added this story arc and it makes a lot more sense to me. Will Kali make an appearance in Season 3? We'll see!

Finally, and probably most importantly, is Bob the Brain. Bob is Joyce's new beau who is a tech whiz and works at the local Radio Shack. He is played by Sean Astin, which I think was a brilliant choice considering The Goonies (in which Astin was the main character) most definitely inspired Stranger Things. You'll fall in love with Bob as he is almost as lovable a character as Dustin and his story will surprise you!


Oh, and I almost forgot Murray Bauman, the conspiracy guy. He's really just there to push along Nancy and Jonathan's story for Season 2, but he's pretty funny and injects a little levity into the season, which I definitely appreciated.

New and Interesting Pairings



Another thing the writers did for Season 2 was to pair up certain characters. You have the expected pairing of Nancy and Jonathan, which isn't a surprise, but you have some interesting mash-ups, like Hopper and Eleven and probably the coolest, Steve and Dustin! Or Dustin and a Demo...dog?

I think the creators of the show really took a look at the characters they had and thought of interesting ways to flesh them out and who best to pair them up with to achieve this. Like I mentioned above, just about every character touches on a new person, as well, as a way of interjecting the unexpected, but they also found a way to match some of the people we know and love in the same vein. It was really well done!

The Mind Flayer



I would be remiss in not mentioning the new big bad from this season. In Season 1, we had a solitary monster that managed to breach into our dimension, by way of Eleven's powers, but in Season 2 the scary was ratcheted up to, well, 11?

The Mind Flayer is positively Lovecraftian in nature. It's like a monster you couldn't quite dream up in your worst nightmares and, as a result, it sets you on your hackles right from the first time you see it. And, did I mention he seems to control all the other monsters in the Upside-Down?


One of the best parts about Season 2 is probably Will and his battle with the Mind Flayer. In Season 1, we don't get to see much of Will. He's likely the most important character, but actor Noah Schnapp doesn't require much screen time, as he's been lost in the murky abyss of the Upside-Down. In Season 2, Schnapp gets to shine and show he's probably the best actor out of the whole crowd of kids. His story arc, once again, drives the entire season and it was well-rested on his shoulders.

As I mentioned before, there were a few spots in Season 2 that I found were filler initially, but now taking a sober second look I get why the writers made the decisions they made. I still think that Season 1 is a tighter package overall, but Season 2 is a great addition to the Stranger Things universe and well worth the watch.

So, now it's time to look forward to Season 3! From the promotions and teasers I've seen, I can't even guess at what's going on... and I'm happy about that. I can tell for sure that something is rearing its ugly head from the Upside-Down (you can clearly tell that Eleven and Will can sense it) and that all of our favourite characters are back in the fold and there may even be at least one new character joining the crew. The biggest piece to the puzzle appears to be the Starcourt Mall, which looks to play a major part in whatever Season 3 has to show us.


July 4th will be upon us before we know it! It's only a week away! I'll hopefully ingest the show within the week of its release and be able to jot down my thoughts. Either way, my hype levels for Stranger Things 3 are at full capacity! Break out the full-sized 3 Musketeers bars and Eggo waffles!

Let's get strange,
R

Friday, June 21, 2019

Stranger Things Re-watch - Season 1 (2016)

Image result for stranger things season 3 banner

The third season of Stranger Things is creeping up on us! The drop date on Netflix is July 4th, 2019, which is just around the corner.

I don't think I've expressed my enjoyment for Stranger Things here on the site, so let me do that right now; I love this show.

It speaks to be on pretty much every level. I'm a big fan of synthwave music. The show features a heavy-synthwave soundtrack. I'm obsessed with just about anything from the 1980s and 1990s. The show is set in the early- to mid-80s. I love horror and sci-fi. The series is steeped in horror and sci-fi. Some of my favourite movies are The Monster Squad, The Goonies, Stand By Me; just about anything that features a group of young friends on an adventure and that is the very crux of Stranger Things.

If you take all this, throw it in a pot, add an excellent cast, impressive set design, great special effects, and an awesome storyline, and you've brewed up a perfect blend of TV, in my humble opinion.

With my anticipation for the next season already brimming, the media blitz around Saison Trois has my at full hype levels. H&M and Nike have Stranger Things promotions for clothing based around the new season, which isn't really my thing, but is worth noting. There's also a partnership with Baskin-Robbins, where they are offering all sorts of amazing Stranger Things ice cream treats, which I would devour if there was one near me. And let's not forget the Upside-Down Whopper on offer from Burger King in select US locations. Sure, it's just a Whopper that is literally wrapped upside-down, but it's paired up with retro packaging and let's face it, this sort of stuff is just fun!


The one that is really killing me is the New Coke promotion. You see, the next season of Stranger Things is set in the summer of '85, which is also when Coca-Cola infamously introduced New Coke to the masses. The creators of Stranger Things, in keeping things as authentic as possible, didn't let this slide and instead partnered up with Coca-Cola to bring New Coke back as a cross-promotion for the two brands! There were pop-up events across the US, where lucky individuals could experience the "Upside-Down" and actually get New Coke out of upside-down pop machines for free! You could also order a promotional kit from Coca-Cola, for a limited time, which included a bottle of Coca-Cola Classic, a bottle of Coke Zero, and two cans of New Coke, all with Stranger Things 3 branding.


Sadly, being in Canada has meant that I couldn't join in on the New Coke excitement. Ordering the New Coke package internationally wasn't available and re-sellers have cans of New Coke floating around the $40 price point shipped here to Nova Scotia, and that's too rich for my blood.


But, the intended affect of getting me hyped for Stranger Things 3 certainly worked! So much so, that I decided I'd go back and re-watch Seasons 1 and 2 to get properly ready for Season 3 on the 4th.

Today we'll talk about Season 1, which - and not to be anticlimactic - is my favourite of the two seasons. That's not to say that I dislike Season 2, as you'll see, but I just think that Season 1 is a more concise package.

My immediate thought that I want to convey is that this show is utterly re-watchable. I think some people avoid going back and watching old TV shows, because of the time commitment. As a guy who has watched the entirety of The X-Files several times, this may need to come with a grain of salt, but re-watching Stranger Things is certainly not an arduous task. I mean, we're talking 8 episodes a season, not 20+ like in a traditional television series.

My favourite thing about the show are the kids and their friendship. Will, Dustin, Lucas, and Mike, their connection, and their surroundings just remind me so much of my childhood. It's not a 1:1 thing. I didn't play D&D or anything like that, but swap Dungeons & Dragons with - say - Final Fantasy and things really start to click. I just can't help but imagine myself as one of their party, which helps me to connect to how they feel trying to find their lost friend and meeting their newest member, Eleven.


Its for this reason among others that I felt like nothing was lost in experiencing this story again. Sometimes a plot point or a reveal only works once and going back and re-watching a movie or series really needs that hook, but that's not the case here. Even knowing what was coming beat-for-beat didn't cause me to be any less engaged. For instance, the ending of Episode 4 - which I won't spoil for those who haven't watched - is still incredibly poignant. I felt every emotion I had the first time around even knowing the outcome.

And, as is usually the case with a well-crafted property like Stranger Things, there are all sorts of fun nods and Easter Eggs there for those who invest the time to watch again.  For example, in the beginning of Episode 1 Will and Dustin mention Uncanny X-Men #134, which is in middle of the Dark Phoenix storyline, and the connections between Stranger Things and that issue became more and more apparent as you continue on.


One of my favourite things about Season 1 is the lack of filler. Literally every moment on screen is important in fleshing out the story. All the subplots work their way back to the main story in a timely fashion. I kind of felt like the ending was a little abrupt this time around, something I hadn't keyed in on when I first watched, but I think that's really just because I didn't want it to end.

And that's all thanks to the characters. You often hear cinema junkies like myself grump about new horror films and saying, "I didn't care about the characters! Why would I care if they die?" It comes up all the time and for good reason; it's important. If I don't care about anyone in the show then I can't invest any sort of emotion toward their plight and at that point I'm disconnected.

Stranger Things is loaded with likable characters. Even the secondary and tertiary cast makes you care. I mean Benny the guy who owns the diner, or the rest of the police force that work for Chief Hopper? They all bring us both emotional pangs and good laughs.

Image result for stranger things hopper joyce season 1

I could gush on and on about Season 1, but I'm sure I'm nearing a thousand words as it is. If for some reason you haven't watched Stranger Things and you're thinking about jumping on the bandwagon before the third season hits in a few weeks, do it! Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

Unless, you know, you get scared by monsters and the dark and creepy children with mind powers and stuff...

We'll talk Season 2 soon!

Cheers,
R

Friday, June 14, 2019

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES) - 1989

Do you remember the very first video game you ever played? I know mine! It was Super Mario Bros. Do you know the second? Ooh, I do! It was Duck Hunt. But can you recall the third video game you ever played?

Mine was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!


It was Christmas 1989... but also possibly 1990? I'm a little nebulous on this. I know that my mother has a photo from the Christmas morning in question, but I haven't been able to find it to confirm. Either way, that Christmas I received a Nintendo Entertainment System Action Set, which came packed in with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, but I also got another game, which was TMNT.

Regardless of the year, at this point in my life nothing mattered more than the Ninja Turtles. I was the prime demographic for the show when it launched in '87. By the time '89/'90 rolled around I would've been watching the Turtles almost every day in syndication, had plastered my walls with TMNT memorabilia, and swam in a bucket full of Playmates Turtle action figures. The video game, however, couldn't have been further from my mind.

I was around 6 and I actually had no idea what a Nintendo was. I can still recall getting it for Christmas and having no idea what I was looking at. My parents actually had an Intellivision when I was really young, but it had stopped working, so they were familiar with the concept, but I was totally in the dark.

As I recall, the first game I booted up was, of course, Super Mario Bros. It took a while to get used to how to move - which included a lot of me jumping with my controller, like I was somehow tethered to Mario himself - but I eventually got the hang of it. The controls in SMB make it easy. They are so tight. Once you get used to the idea of pushing buttons at the same time and how gravity works in the Mushroom Kingdom, you're well on your way to mastering the game.

This is, unfortunately, not the case with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The controls were a little bit "floaty". It takes some getting used to, but I would argue that the controls for TMNT get a bad rap. They are a little off, but the same could be said for countless other video games at the time and not just on the NES.

Another thing that jumped out at me while playing TMNT NES for the first time was how batshit crazy it is! The first enemies you encounter have some familiarity. There are Mousers and Foot Soldiers, but also killer bees? After a few moments, however, one of the game's weirdest features will rear it's ugly head. The enemies in the game will swap randomly. The other sets of baddies you face are out of some crazy nightmare.

Do you remember when the Turtles faced off against the Human Torch? Or a chainsaw wielding maniac in a hockey mask? Yeah, me either, but they're in there! There are also giant mutant frog men, robots with flying heads, a creepy hunchback that turns into smaller creepy hunchbacks, and these Lovecraftian jumping leg things that cling to the ceiling, just to name a few.

Honestly, I appreciate the creativity with the bad guys in the video game. Sure, the programmers had a lot to work with, having access to already established comic and cartoon universes, but there's no reason the monsters and enemies they created couldn't have existed in any other TMNT canon. I mean, there's a character in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comics that is literally a flying, talking cow's head that slurps up/spits out its passengers and can cross whole dimensions of time and space.


You're my boy, Cudley!

I thought for years that the game must have been in development before the cartoon launched and that explained all the crazy bad guys that didn't marry up with the show, but that wasn't the case. The video game was certainly put into motion because of the fervor the cartoon stirred up and wouldn't have existed without it.

The game was developed by none-other than Japan's video game powerhouse, Konami. It was published by Konami in Japan, but under the Ultra Games imprint in North America and PALCOM in Europe, which was just a super hinky way for Konami to release more games in other regions than Nintendo would allow for at the time.

A quick note that the game was so popular in the PAL regions it actually got it's own NES bundle. Everything you needed to play Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles! Yeah, apparently ninjas are frowned upon overseas.


The game was released in Japan ahead of the Japanese dubs of the cartoon show, so maybe my theory about the progammers having to make up their own ideas holds some weight, but I'd say its just another case of Japanese developers doin' they thang.

The story is basically ripped from the cartoon: The Turtles find out that the Shredder has a "life transformer gun" (uh-huh...) and that they can use it to turn their master Splinter back into a human, so they're seeking out the Shred-dude to find it. Along the way they have to save April O'Neil from Bebop and Rocksteady, stop the Foot Clan from blowing up a dam on the Hudson River, save Splinter from Mecha-Turtle, find the Turtle Blimp at JFK Airport, chase Shredder to a hidden base, and finally face off against their enemy in the Technodrome. And eat lots of pizza along the way!


I think the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES is the box art. It was incredible. I had no idea at the time that it was ripped from the cover of the comic book! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1 Issue #4 featured cover art by the original artists/creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (I honestly don't know who drew the cover). When it was re-issued years later, Michael Dooney re-imagined the artwork and took it to the next level. It was this artwork that was lifted for the game's box and label art and it's just so iconic.


If nothing else, the cover art confused every child that saw it. "Why are all the Turtles wearing red!?" Considering the wave caused by the TV series it is certainly surprising that they went with a comic book cover depicting the brothers in all red face masks, but that was how things were in the early comic books.

The player takes control of all four Turtles, each armed with their weapon of choice. This will lead you to a team hierarchy, whether you like it or not. Leonardo uses the katana, which are a great mid-range weapon that deal decent damage. Michaelangelo uses the nunchaku, which I would say makes him arguably the exact same as Leonardo, but sacrificing some range for speed. Donatello uses the bo staff, which while it is the most powerful of the stock ninja weapons is a little trickier to aim. Finally, Raphael uses the sai, which seem to be the least powerful and have almost no range. For Raphael fans, like myself, this sucks as Raph basically gets relegated to the "Turtle you're okay with sacrificing". I personally try to reserve Don for boss fights where his bo can get a few extra powerful hits in and for the most part I play as Leonardo or Mikey interchangeably, leaning on Leo since he's the first Turtle on the pause menu.


You can also collect sub-weapons. Most of them appear is random drops from enemies, like shuriken, triple shuriken, and the boomerang. You can select and de-select them with the... wait for it... select button. The most coveted sub-weapon is the Kiai - or as everyone else knows it - the scroll weapon, made famous by the greatest Nintendo commercial ever created, The Wizard! This bad boy was the most powerful and took up a lot of pixels for maximum effectiveness. You couldn't get this one from a drop, however. It was hidden somewhere in the game!


Another handy item you'll find along the way are the missiles, which you can launch from the Turtle Van. That's right, you get to drive the van! In the third stage you'll find it waiting for you on the overworld map. It protects you from Foot Soldiers roaming around the streets of NYC (just run them over!) and the missiles can break through roadblocks that keep you from finding Master Splinter. The last item that comes to mind is the rope, which you'll need to cross from rooftop to rooftop in a few places.

At the end of the day, even if you can master the controls and know where all the best weapons and items are hidden, this game is still so friggin' hard. If you've beaten Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES then you've earned a badge of Nintendo Honour, my friend. Most people I talk to can't get past the Hudson Dam.

Now, the NES wasn't the only place you could play this TMNT game. In addition to being available on Playchoice-10 arcade machines (essentially just arcade units with an NES in them), in anticipation for its popularity the game was ported to just about every PC platform available at the time. There were ports for the Amiga, Amstrad, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS DOS, MSX, and ZX Spectrum. There is a lot of varying quality here, as some of these were written by one or two coders at most and under strict timelines.

I haven't played any of the PC ports of the game, but the MS DOS port was one of my most coveted games when I was a kid. Back in the early-90s my local K-Mart had a really cool video game section, which none of the other stores around me had at the time. In it, behind glass, was a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for MS DOS in this beautiful big box and, boy, did I want it.

And, boy, am I lucky I never got it. From what I can tell it's easily the worst port of the game. The Amiga, Amstrad, and Atari ST versions seem to be the best graphically, and the C64 and ZX versions appear to be somewhat playable, but the MS DOS version just looks like hot garbage. The Pause Screen images are some of the most hilarious I've ever seen. April looks like some kind of insect woman.


Even better is that the QA behind the North American DOS version wasn't up-to-snuff and there is an impossible jump in the game. Some people have discovered a "no clip" code that allows you to bypass the jump, and some even more industrious individuals have written files from the European releases, which contain a fix for the issue, onto their NA copies of the game, but at the end of the day I doubt most people had enough patience to play the DOS version enough to give a damn.

So, like I said in the beginning, I think that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES gets a bit of a bad rap, because its fairly difficult and has slightly wonky controls, but it is without a doubt one of my favourite video games. It's probably the nostalgia talking, but only a handful of games can really take me back in time and this is one of them. I think, just like with many NES games, with a little practice and patience it's just as playable as most games on the system. It's a bright, colourful, and interesting take on the Turtle Universe and I love it.

But, there's more! In the near future we'll be talking about the sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game!

Stay tuned,
R

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Memory, Blog: The Fake Alien Abduction Show



Although my family had Cable TV when I was a kid we didn't always have all those really cool Cable channels. You know, the ones you still had to pay extra for? Do you remember that magic little black box the Cable company would provide you with to de-scramble the premium stuff? Yeah, we didn't have that. That is until I was in my teens.

Pure magic!

That glorious box provided me with more channels than I could even imagine. Sure, compared to today's standards it was a paltry serving, but to teenage me I was mind-blown. I now had access to a wide assortment of channels including TBS, which was chock-full of movies and all the Saved By The Bell re-runs I could handle, Family Channel, with loads of great Disney cartoons, Kids' WB, which fed my already unhealthy Batman: The Animated Series obsession, and UPN, which had pretty much nothing that I cared about.

On one fateful evening in the winter of 1998 I was channel surfing (man, I miss that) and I came across this schlocky "news report"-style show on UPN called Real Vampires... Exposed! It was basically a walk through the underground vampire scene in the 90s, where those so inclined wore a lot of black leather, drank each other's blood in neon-lit bars, and listened to industrial techno. I was half-interested in this show, but it was during this broadcast that an ad appeared for a new alien show that would be on within the hour!


You see UPN was claiming that they had acquired footage of a real-life alien abduction caught on home video and that they had experts analyze the tape. They were going to show the whole thing that night (January 20th, 1998 to be exact) and let you, the viewer, be the judge if it was real or not. The show was called Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.

I was a pretty TV savvy kid and I had my finger on the pulse of the comings-and-goings of the all the major networks, but I had always just passed by UPN, which in my mind only had episode after episode of Moesha. As my luck would have it I landed on the channel just before it began airing Alien Abduction and my excitement (and trepidation) was brimming.

I grabbed a blank tape out of the entertainment console, popped it into the VCR, and set the show to record, even though I had no intent on waiting until the next day to watch it. I was glued to the TV set for what would become one of the most spine-tingling television events I ever witnessed.

I just want to start by saying that airing Alien Abduction with Real Vampires... Exposed! (which aired in lieu of an episode of Moesha, I kid you not) one after the other could not have been an accident. The network execs were trying to create the illusion to the viewer that this alien video was the real deal without coming right out and saying it.


There was a lot of controversy surrounding this little one hour special. There are those who would compare it to the War of the Worlds radio broadcast by Orson Welles in 1938, although I think that's rather extreme. This was some seriously campy TV on a cable specialty channel.

That said, the presentation was setup to lead the viewer in the belief that this tape was legitimate. The producers had actual "experts" in the fields of ufology, like physicist Stanton Friedman* and famous skeptic Michael Shermer, speak to the tape (or "a" tape, more on that at a later date) to lend credence to its authenticity. Couple that with it airing back-to-back with a show exposing "real life vampires" and there were all sorts of folks who thought this tape was the real deal.

One viewing of the segments of the tape, however, and your innate "these are actors" Spidey-sense will tingle. It also didn't help that actress Emmanuelle Chriqui, who at this point had at least one film and several TV acting credits under her belt, was clearly one of the members of the "family". Then at the end of the show the credits roll and you can see that the MacPherson family were casted and the whole thing was a film by director Dean Alioto.

I never thought the tape or the show was real, of course, but I will be damned if I didn't love it. Like most alien shows, I watched this for the scares and it delivered! For me it was like a little mini horror movie. Even to this day the scenes with the aliens in them raise the hairs on the back of my neck. I used to watch that tape recording I made of the show every year or so and it always had the same affect. Unfortunately, that tape is lost to time. *sniff*

Now you would think with the bad acting and credit roll that anyone watching this show would immediately understand that this was just a TV ratings stunt, but the controversy surrounding Alien Abduction actually started long before this UPN special. This was not Dean Alioto's first brush with alien conspiracy, but I think I'll save that story for another day.

Hope you enjoyed!,
R

*Stanton Friedman sadly passed away May 13th, 2019 at the age of 84. He lent his research and opinions to countless UFO-related features of the years, so I just wanted to say rest in peace, Dr. Friedman.