Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Vintage Review Spotlight :: The Truth is Out There. And Sometimes It Hurts :: Dean Alioto's Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998)

Back in 1988, fledgling filmmaker Dean Alioto was staring down his 25th birthday. With nothing really on his resume yet, and with the Welles-Coppola-Scorsese-Spielberg-Wood Jr. crucible upon him, and with about $6,500 burning a hole in his pocket, Alioto hit upon the notion for a low-budget fright flick about a family being abducted by aliens told through the video-eye of the youngest sibling's camcorder. And so, nearly ten years before the found-footage sh*t-storm of The Blair Witch Project hit, Alioto filmed and starred in his opus, UFO Abduction; a fairly guerrilla affair, with a minimalist script, starring some local improv actors, with the spit 'n' duct tape special-effects provided by a guy who would eventually work as a production designer on the likes of the live-action Scooby Doo films and the first Fantastic Four. And their end results were solid enough to land Alioto a distribution deal, but the VHS tapes were barely set for shipping when the distributor's warehouse burned to the ground, leaving the filmmaker with only one solitary copy of the film. A hard luck tale, for sure, but the director took in stride and moved on.

But the film wasn't through with our amateur auteur just yet as our tale takes a turn, gets a little twisted, and a lot more weird ... Apparently, someone at the distributors had taken Alioto's film, chopped off the credits, and started circulating it around as an actual, bona fide recording of a real alien abduction caught on tape. It quickly caught fire in the UFO community, and was even screened at the International UFO Congress Convention in 1993, where it "brought down the house" and was declared to be authentic by no less than a Lieutenant Colonel. Amazing.

Alioto had no idea who started this frenzy, or how it eventually got traced back to him, but soon enough, his phone was ringing off the hook; with calls ranging from Unsolved Mysteries to Encounters (-- a show about aliens and UFOs, produced by the same guy who would go on to do the notorious Alien Autopsy video.) By now, Alioto was working as director on a crime re-enactment program, whose scriptwriter, Paul Chitlik, got wind of his dubious claim to fame and wanted to take a look. Intrigued by what he saw, Chiltik felt he could get them both a TV movie deal for a possible remake. Alioto was skeptical, but told his friend to have at it. Turns out it was an easier sell than he thought. And when a proposal with Showtime fell through, the project wound up at the UPN Network under Dick Clark Production's umbrella.

Armed with a much larger budget, Alioto and Chiltik set out to make something equivalent to Orson Welles' radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, which had sent part of the nation, not realizing that what they were listening to was a fabrication, into a mass panic back in 1938. Alas, while filming The McPherson Tapes, which only lasted five days, bad luck hit Alioto again when UPN suffered a cataclysmic regime change, leaving the production with no champion at the network. To make matters worse, the new head of programming thought the film was the dumbest thing he'd ever seen.

Thus and so, the project was wrested away from Alioto and Chiltik, and instead of letting the film stand on its own, the decision was made to drastically re-cut it and paste it into several segments stuck in-between testimonials by a motley collection of so-called experts in the field of UFOology, alien encounters, and special-effects, to *ahem* enhance its authenticity, with a few conspiracy wing-nuts and naysayers thrown in to balance things out. The end results were fairly risible, but when the newly dubbed Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County finally aired, basically thrown away on a cold January night back in 1998, it quickly blew up into one of UPN's highest rated programs to date (-- I know, I know: from squat to squat-and-a-half), and set their website on fire with a ton of hits when they held a poll, asking viewers to chime in on whether it was real or not.

I was one of those folks who tuned in back in 1998, by happenstance, when the title and description caught my eye while scrolling through the viewer guide on my TV. It was all bullsh*t, of course, but it was highly entertaining bullsh*t. (I even taped the thing and was so enchanted I immediately showed my roommate when he got home from work.) And here's where my story starts to get a little weird...

Several years later as I started knuckling out and publishing reviews on the World Wide Web on the Mothership, I unleashed a review of Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, which quickly became the bane of my online existence as I was inundated by folks rabidly looking for a copy and the tinfoil hat brigade who personally drubbed me over and over again for my failure to believe in the tape's authenticity. It got so bad I was ready to purge the review from the website but then, amongst all that disposable and whackadoodle correspondence, came a brief message from the man claiming to be behind it all: Dean Alioto. And after several e-mail exchanges, he agreed to give me the whole skinny and permission to publish his spleen-venting on the old website. And so, for your perusing pleasure, I have gone back and unearthed these old reviews and write-ups, dusted them off, added a little spit and polish, and republished them for you to judge for yourselves. (Just don't ask me for a copy. It's long been taped over.)

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998) Dick Clark Productions :: UPN Network / EP: Neil Stearns / P: Dean Alioto, Paul Chitlik, Don Wollman / D: Dean Alioto / W: Dean Alioto, Paul Chitlik / C: David Pelletier / E: Scott Bloom / S: Kristian Ayre, Gillian Barber, Michael Buie, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Marya Delver, Aaron Pearl


Matthew St. Cyr said...

I reviewed this one a couple of months ago, but I had no idea of the back story on it! Fantastic stuff!

W.B. Kelso said...

Thanks! A pleasure to share.

Felix said...

Great article. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi. I wrote the screenplay and produced Alien Abduction. I was not aware of a DVD release. Can you tell me where you got this? I do know of a pirated edition, but I don't think this is the same. Thanks.

W.B. Kelso said...

The review was based on a VHS rental in a dubious Windows-Paint box way back in 2002 that I got from a now long defunct local grocery chain. I discussed this sketchy and prolly illegal version with Alioto when we exchanged a few emails many years ago. I do not actually have a copy of the movie. The update and vidcaps were snagged from several YouTube vids. As for that final DVD cover, that's just an image I found online for some needed art to spruce the review up. Wish I could help you more.

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