Thanksgiving horror movies are hard to come by; Turkey Day fright flicks just aren’t as plentiful as those set on Christmas or Halloween, and those that are out there are, well, turkeys. In past years, Cinema Fearité has featured Home Sweet Home, Blood Freak, and Blood Rage. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your dinner table, we’ve dug up another hidden holiday horror. This year’s Thanksgiving offering is a science fiction/horror T.V. movie from 1998 called Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.
After a scrolling titlecard narration explaining what the viewer is about to see, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County begins with a teenage aspiring film director named Tommy McPherson (Kristian Ayre from Bang Bang You’re Dead) shooting video of his family’s Thanksgiving dinner preparation. Suddenly, the power goes out, and Tommy (still rolling, obviously) follows his brothers Kurt (Aaron Pearl, who has had bit parts in everything from the X-Men movies to the Godzilla remake) and Brian (Michael Buie from “Grey’s Anatomy”) out to check the fuse box. After finding the fuse box destroyed, they hear a loud boom. Thinking that it’s the power transformer on the neighbor’s property, the three guys head over to investigate. When they reach the area from which they thought the sound came, they find a spaceship with a couple of aliens milling about outside. The guys are spotted, and Brian is shot in the hand with a laser beam. They run home, but are followed. The aliens lay siege to the house with the family inside for the rest of the night, using hi-tech weapons as well as telepathic tricks to torment the family. The McPhersons have to find a way to last through the night so that they can get help in the morning.
Directed by Dean Alioto (Lizzie Borden Had an Axe), Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County is a remake of the director’s 1989 film U.F.O. Abduction. The premise is basically the same, but the execution is a bit slicker. Screenwriter Paul Chitlik (who wrote for the eighties rehashing of “The Twilight Zone”) based his teleplay on Alioto’s original film, but added a bit of soap-opera dramatic padding and a few talking head interviews in order to beef it up to a television movie running time. Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County is Alioto’s earlier film on a bigger budget, made for a bigger audience. It reached its bigger audience when it was broadcast on the United Paramount Network (UPN) in January of 1998. At the time, the movie caused a big controversy when audiences believed that the camcorder-shot footage was real. Of course, with today’s oversaturated climate of found footage films, that could never happen. But, in its day, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County terrified the masses in almost an Orson Welles kind of way.
There is a distinct similarity between Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County and The Blair Witch Project. While The Blair Witch Project is generally credited with popularizing the found footage subgenre, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County was made a year earlier. Add to that the fact that Alioto’s film on which Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County was based was made almost ten years earlier, and The Blair Witch Project stops looking so revolutionary. Indeed, both films have the same nauseatingly shaky camera work and the same amateurish production values. Both films use relatively unknown actors, even though Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County actually did cast people with known credits while The Blair Witch Project chose to go with completely fresh faces in order to add to the realism. Both films did manage to fool the public as well. There’s even a coincidence-defying scene in Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County were Tommy turns the camera on himself and directly addresses it, very similar (although not nearly as effective) to the way that Heather does her confessional in a late scene in The Blair Witch Project. It’s entirely possible (even likely) that The Blair Witch Project was conceived independently of Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, but if Alioto’s movie had been a little more popular, there would have been no room for The Blair Witch Project in the public’s eye the next year.
An interesting technique that is employed by Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County is the inclusion of a handful of talking head interviews with authorities like a sheriff, a film director, a musician, and a videographer. Some add to the mystique of the film (the sheriff says “I found the tape and they haven’t been heard from since”) while others try to debunk its authenticity (the videographer claims that the technical aspects of the tape look faked). The interviews give the film a documentary feel, but they are awkwardly placed, most likely to accommodate the commercial breaks of network television. The interviews are part of the padding up to television movie length, as they are not in Alioto’s U.F.O. Abduction, but they do add “expert opinions” that help to sell the film as a true story.
One thing that doesn’t help Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County’s authenticity is the acting. There’s nothing realistic about it. Most of the actors are wooden and stiff. There are places where the cast seems like students in a theater class, where the teacher gives an instruction like “okay, now you’ve all got a lit cigarette burning into the back of your neck, go!” and they all interpret the direction differently. Add to that a few ludicrous scenes, such as one where the whole cast gets nosebleeds at the same time or another where Tommy pees his pants, and the film’s acting becomes laughable. There is one performance that isn’t laughable, however. The youngest girl, Rosie (played by Katlyn Ducharme, who also had a small role in Saving Silverman), is downright creepy. As the only family member who seems to connect on a psychic level with the aliens, Rosie remains calm, cool, almost parental towards the adults, as she becomes possessed by the aliens, icily stating lines like “there’s nothing to be afraid of” and “let’s all go downstairs now.” Katlyn Ducharme doesn’t exactly carry her castmates, but her performance is easily the best one in Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.
Another aspect of the film that looks hilariously unauthentic is the aliens themselves. The actual landing area and the U.F.O. itself looks cool, but the aliens are obviously just actors in dark clothes with white masks on their heads. There are no creature effects at all. The filmmakers try to hide the low budget aliens with the amateur darkened camera work and some convenient editing, but enough of the beings are shown for the audience to see that the costumes are cheap. What little credibility that the film had is lost when the aliens show up.
The only thing that would be worse than a slasher killer crashing Thanksgiving dinner would be if the meal were to be interrupted by a group of un-thankful aliens. Let’s hope everyone has a better Thanksgiving this year than the McPhersons had back in 1997 when “Tommy” shot the footage that would become Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!