The McPherson Tape (1989) – Film Review
Director: Dean Alioto
Cast: Tommy Giavocchini, Patrick Kelley, Shirly McCalla
By Sarah Morgan
Found footage movies are ten a penny these days, and while some observers think we can blame the massive success of The Blair Witch Project for that, there are other, earlier entries in the genre.
The McPherson Tape predates Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s movie by an entire decade and was made for far less money – writer-director Dean Alioto had a budget of just $6,500, a pittance at the side of Myrick and Sánchez’s $200,000–500,000.
In terms of the quality of the film, it’s about the same; both are grainy, shot with hand-held cameras. The resulting jerky pictures are at times enough to give motion sickness sufferers nightmares.
I rewatched The Blair Witch Project a few months ago and wasn’t impressed, and The McPherson Tape isn’t great either, but at least at just over an hour in length, it’s not around long enough to be boring, although the constant screeching of the main protagonists is rather grating.
The film actually reminded me more of a movie that used to terrify me as a child. The Legend of Boggy Creek purported to be a docu-drama about a big-foot-type creature which had supposedly been terrorising the inhabitants of a small Arkansas town for decades.
Both movies have a sort of hand-made feel about them and feature amateur actors in leading roles. However, in The McPherson Tape, it’s little green men from outer space who are the villains rather than hairy, man-eating apes.
When all the lights go out during a family gathering, three brothers set out to find the source of the problem, and stumble upon a spaceship in the nearby woods. One of the siblings has just bought himself a camcorder, so is able to record everything that happens during the course of the terrifying evening.
The clan is eventually targeted by the aliens who can apparently exert mind control on humans, using it to infiltrate the family homestead…
This is not sophisticated storytelling by any means, but it’s fairly well thought out and shot, with the murky natural light adding to the atmosphere and sense of unease. The aliens somewhat let things down – seeing less rather than more in their case would have been better.
Why The Blair Witch Project was a huge success and The McPherson Tape wasn’t is a mystery, but what is certain is that the latter proves that productions really can be made on a shoestring.
• New transfer from the original 3/4ʺ master tape
• UFO ABDUCTION: The 2017 director’s cut
• Commentary track with director Dean Alioto on original cut
• 1989 theatrical premiere introduction
• ENCOUNTERS TV segment
• Fantastic Fest Q&A
• Reversible cover artwork
The McPherson Tape is released on Blu-ray by 101 Films, £15