I’ve been watching movies for the alien abductions chapter of Alien Visitors and man, it’s one dark subgenre. Sure, Independence Day and War of the Worlds have millions of people dying, but humanity wins in the end. In abduction movies, there’s no winning: the Greys will take us whenever they like and there’s nothing we can do about it. The real reason the government is covering up is because they can’t stop it and they don’t want us to know. There’s also a strong Chosen One element in these movies: individuals targeted by alien abduction discover it goes all the way back to childhood, or that their kids have been marked as the next victim. Another factor is disbelief: unlike, say, Day the Earth Stood Still, where Klaatu’s reality is obvious, sometimes even the protagonist isn’t certain where the truth lies. Quite a few of the films claim to be Based On A True Story most of the ones I’ve seen so far are dreadful.
Case in point, the first abduction movie, THE UFO INCIDENT (1975), based on the first alien abduction account, by Betty and Barney Hill (Estelle Parsons, James Earl Jones). The couple underwent hypnotherapy (Barnard Hughes plays the doctor here) to make sense of a two-hour time gap on a long drive home and discovered they’d been abducted by aliens clad in Nazi-ish uniforms. This film spends too much time on the Hills’ mundane lives and therapy sessions, resulting in a dull film even a talented cast can’t salvage. It does show how times have changed that the whole concept of abduction is treated as inconceivable. “I thought of that standing out there in the field — I’m that bunny.”
A team of loggers see A FIRE IN THE SKY (1993) when buddy D.B. Cooper is abducted by a giant, glowing spaceship — but can they convince their small town, or state investigator James Garner, that they’re not covering up his murder? Can Robert Patrick get over his guilt at abandoning his buddy? Another well-acted but unmemorable film. “We’ve been telling you the truth from the beginning — and now we’re ready to prove it.”
Adapted from Whitley Strieber’s memoir, COMMUNION (1989) has Strieber (Christopher Walken) slowly becoming aware that a weird nightmare he had on vacation might be real; once again hypnotherapy makes him realize he’s been abducted by aliens who look like comical SF dwarves or rather gumbyish grays. Despite Walken’s talent and Lindsay Crouse as his baffled wife, the personal dramatic side of this is just as tedious as The UFO Incident and the ending slides into muddled, murky mysticism. “This is the tough part — they did not appear to be human.”
THE RECALL (2017) might double-bill well with Evil Dead as it launches with a group of teenage friends taking a weekend break at an isolated cabin and encountering evil — in this case, jellyfish-like aliens renewing a battle with retired astronauts Wesley Snipes before launching a mass abduction (“The past 60 years have just been a test run.”). This actually explains the ETs’ end game, which like Marvel’s Celestials is to advance us up the evolutionary ladder; this makes it a little more interesting than the rest. “You cannot fight them, colonel — all you can do is prepare for the aftermath.”
Like The Recall, DARK SKIES (2013) is SF as horror; despite starting out as a Poltergeist knockoff (“They’re coming” as a tagline invokes “They’re here”), it’s the best of this lot. Keri Russell’s family discovers mysterious intruders messing up the kitchen (“What kind of animal takes the lettuce and leaves the bacon?”), followed by sudden blackouts and random bird swarms due to their home becoming a Petri dish for the Grays’ experiments. This suffers from having no real logic to explain everything beyond The Greys Did It, but it’s better made than most of them; there’s an amusing scene in which one UFOlogist mocks the idea an invasion would resemble War of the Worlds (“People think of aliens invading our planet as a great cataclysm, destroying our monuments — but the invasion already happened.”). “The presence of the Greys is now a fact of life, like death and taxes.”
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