Found Footage 101: ‘U.F.O. Abduction’ (USA, 1989)

❉ The first genuine ‘found footage’ film, and one so convincing that some people still believe it’s real. 

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Plot Teaser

“This evidence is from the Northwoods, Connecticut, U.F.O. case 77.  On the evening of October 8, 1983, a young man was videotaping his niece’s fifth birthday party.  As the night’s strange occurrences took place, he kept his video camera running, recording the entire event.” (Opening Text.)

You’ll Like This If You Like…

Seeing the first found footage film, The X-Files and films in which aliens menace people then abduct them.

Spoiler-free Review

The first genuine ‘found footage’ film, and one so convincing that some people still believe it’s real.  I have no idea why they would believe this (particularly as the actors, writer, director and visual effects crew are credited at the end), but the film is as credible as any depiction of such an event could be.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Location

A remote country house in the mountains of Northwoods, Connecticut, USA.

Enemy

Well, aliens, obviously.

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Why Are You Still Filming?

Everyone’s favourite question to ask during a found footage film is never asked outright here (and, to be fair, nearly everything filmed is the sort of thing you would be filming under the circumstances), but towards the end our cameraman’s mother does demand he “put the Goddamn camera down”.  Within three minutes the whole family has been abducted.  Lesson to learn: never put the Goddamn camera down.

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Review and Analysis

The first truly found footage film establishes the genre and its conventions with a brisk 60 minute running time: some people are recording one thing with a camera (in this case a birthday party), stumble across something else (a group of aliens on – presumably – a research trip) and fall prey to it.

That many people (even today) believe this to be a genuinely documented case of alien abduction speaks volumes for the authenticity of the production.  The production is very credibly mounted.  The alien spaceship looks very authentic, despite the budget (helped, in no small part, by being very sensibly shot in the dark, at a distance, and on video) and the aliens look suitably alien (we barely see them – even when they’re lying dead in the house).

For all the authenticity, some of the characters do make some rather odd decisions to fulfil the requirements of the plot.. After having a close encounter of the third kind, the three brothers who are the main protagonists run back to the family home in horror, where they proceed to sit down and eat birthday cake.  This seems like an odd thing to do, even if there’s a power cut and the phone lines are down.  Naturally, being Americans, the house is full of guns, so they quickly decide the best thing to do is shoot at the aliens in the dark – apparently killing one.  Whereupon they bring it into the house and leave it in the spare bedroom.  They don’t bother to examine it, which is probably something you’d want to do – particularly if you have a video camera.  The rest of the family don’t fare much better.  Mom, girlfriend and wife all behave as if this is an almost daily occurrence – at one point they sit down to play cards.  True, people behave differently under pressure to one’s expectations, but even so some of their actions are downright baffling.

The cast vary in their abilities – the actress playing the mother is the weakest – but for the most part they manage to convince the audience that this is really happening, the key factor in the success or failure of any found footage film.

The director’s own remake of the film is far more satisfying, but this still has moments of interest, and for its sheer influence alone it cannot be ignored.

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Availability

Briefly released on VHS in 1989 by distributor Axiom Films, a serious fire destroyed nearly all copies before they could be distributed and also destroyed the masters.  Some copies had already been sent out and these form the basis of all prints available ever since.

Never re-released, and unavailable on DVD (although some European cable channels have shown the film) the original is extremely difficult to track down, but this does sometimes appear on YouTube.  N.B. Many torrent sites do offer this, but most of them are simply misidentifying ‘Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County’.


❉ At the time of writing, ‘UFO Abduction’ can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.

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