The McPherson Tape, aka U.F.O. Abduction was shot in 1989 ten years before The Blair Witch Project supposedly, and nine years after Cannibal Holocaust actually did, invented the found footage genre. With a budget of $6,500 writer/director Dean Alioto (Portal, Watch Over Me) shot and edited it on tape which gave the film the look of authentic footage rather than a movie. Ironically, that would work against The McPherson Tape in the coming years. The reasons for that being part of a story almost as strange as the plot of the film itself.
The film starts with the now standard title card telling us the origin of the footage we’re about to see.
“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.”
The McPherson Tape
They turn off the lights and light the candles on the cake, and then the lights won’t turn back on. Michael (Dean Alioto), Eric (Tommy Giavocchini, Legally Exposed, American Streetfighter) and Jason (Patrick Kelley) go out to the barn to check the circuit breakers and see some strange lights in the sky. When one seems to come down nearby, they go check it out. What they see is a spacecraft and several aliens. Unfortunately, the aliens also see them.
What follows is a siege on the family’s house based on The Kelly–Hopkinsville incident, an alleged encounter from the 1950s between a backwoods Kentucky family and several aliens. Unfortunately, the script tosses in a few original elements that are less believable than the aliens. First and foremost being the family’s decision to continue on with the birthday party rather than get the hell out of there. Then, after the aliens show up, and they kill one of them, everyone sits around the table playing cards and waiting to see what happens next. That pretty much kills any tension the film might have built up.
However, it’s what happened after The McPherson Tape was completed that’s the strangest part. Alioto made a deal with a small VHS company, and sent the master tape to them. Their warehouse promptly burnt down, putting the company out of business and destroying all but a handful of the tapes which had already been sent to video stores.
Someone saw it and got the bright idea to cut off the credits and pass it off as proof that aliens were not only real but abducting humans. Amazingly, it was widely accepted as real due to the way it was filmed and probably familiarity by way of the case that inspired it. When the director found out about it and produced an original copy with credit, he was accused of being part of a government cover up.
While Alioto would go on to a career in film that included directing Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, a larger budget remake of it, The McPherson Tape itself remained hard to see until relatively recently. And seen from a contemporary perspective, The McPherson Tape isn’t anything special, there are a few tense moments mixed in with a lot of talking, yelling and making bad decisions. It’s also hard to imagine anyone could believe this was real footage once you finally get a good look at the obvious masks on the actors playing the aliens.
Viewed from a historical perspective, though, it’s amazing just how accurately it predicted the style of the found footage film. From the opening title card through scenes of multiple conversations occurring simultaneously and video glitches at significant moments. It also unfortunately features the same stretches of tediousness before anything happens and amateur performances that would plague the genre as well.
At just over an hour long, The McPherson Tape is worth a watch. If you’re a fan of found footage films, you may well enjoy it, and it should hold some interest for its place in the genre’s development. If you’re curious about its reputation, you may be a little less entertained, but the short running time stops it from becoming dull. AGFA released a restored version of the video on Blu-ray, and that version is also available on various Digital Platforms, including free with commercials on Tubi.