Numerous weird tales have circulated within UFO legends. Some are credible and backed up by solid facts, while others are more ambiguous and still others fall somewhere in between. When discovered footage filming was almost non-existent, a strange movie began to circulate that propelled itself into the lore of UFOs and managed to maintain its credibility even as those who created it actively attempted to refute it, The alleged video was popularized as McPherson tape.
The Real Story Behind The McPherson Tape
In 1989, a pretty unusual VHS video began to circulate, simply titled UFO Abduction, and it was presented as a home movie filmed at the McPherson family’s secluded country estate in the highlands of Northwoods, Connecticut, in the United States.
The video, which Michelle’s uncle claims was shot on October 8, 1983, begins normally, with a humdrum, and a very usual birthday party, complete with chatter and fighting among family members.
It was actually quite boring until the electricity goes out. After a brief period of worry and conversation, the guys head out to check the breaker, when they encounter a UFO out in the field, complete with gray aliens roaming about. The camera shakes as the filmmaker attempts to fight off his fright while filming, and when the aliens turn to them, they run inside and inform everyone what has happened in a chaotic exchange of panic and fear.
Once inside, they shut the door and things swiftly escalate. Outside, there was a movement and it appeared to be someone walking up on the roof, prompting the men to grab shotguns for protection. At one point, one of them fired through the ceiling at one of the aliens, and they hear it fall to the ground below.
One of the men dares to walk outside to get the body, despite his family’s pleas not to, and he then places the body in another room, where it is subsequently discovered to have vanished. The remainder of the film follows the family as they attempt to escape the alien siege of their home, and the video concludes with the rather foreboding shot of videographer Michael setting down the camera, which is still running, in the corner of the room, after which three aliens can be seen filing into the room stealthily.
As the image becomes distorted by static and interference, one of the aliens turns to face the camera directly. Following this, there are no credits; instead, there is a title card that states that the family has vanished without a trace. The video includes a phone number to call if anyone has information about the family’s location.
At the time, when an unmistakably creepy video circulated, found footage films were not a thing. This was a full decade before the Blair Witch Project, so it was all quite convincing to those who saw it for the first time.
The natural unscripted banter between family members, the amateurish framing, the overlapping voices, the shaky camera, the low lighting and genuine sense of palpable fear and utter confusion when the alien menace makes its presence known, the number for people to call at the end, and the fact that the 60-minute film is largely shot in one take were all firsts in film, and all contributed to the film’s extreme realism and gave the impression that this was an actual video.
There is even a title card at the opening of the film stating that the footage is legitimate, and there is never any indication that what is being seen is fictitious. Given that found footage films were unheard of at the time, the film had not been widely distributed, appearing mostly as bootlegs, and the footage’s sheer, uncompromising realism, people had no reason not to believe it was a genuine home video, and so what became known as “The McPherson Tape” quickly spread throughout the UFO community as an authentic film of a family being abducted by aliens.
Many were convinced of the validity of the tape, with much discussion and argument devoted to dissecting the film frame by frame in search of clues. The film would even appear on an episode of the paranormal television show Encounters, where numerous experts came forward to testify for the film’s legitimacy, including an Air Force Colonel who was confident it was not fabricated. In truth, the picture was created on a shoestring budget by director and film school dropout Dean Alioto after reading Whitley Strieber’s book Communion. He scraped together $6,500 to make it, and states as follows:
All my favorite directors had made their debuts by that age and I didn’t want to be left behind. By that point, I had dropped out of film school and was just eager to make films. I made a producer who said he wanted to invest $6,500 and I kind of laughed it off and said the only thing I could do for that money is a home video. At the time I had been reading this memoir called Communion by Whitley Strieber, who described his own abduction by aliens. So, I decided to take the abduction storyline and embed it into a home video. I wrote out a 10-page beat sheet with the description of every scene. Everything outside of that was improvised. I gave the actors short backstories, but they filled in the blanks themselves. I thought I could just cue people by screaming ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ and pan the camera over and everyone would know to go to the next scene.
A still from the video
Alioto then gathered a group of friends to act in his film, including himself and his children as the aliens. Ironically, it is this shoestring budget that lends to the film’s impressively realistic vibe, with the film’s shifty gloomy lighting and wobbly camera giving it an air of macabre legitimacy.
Other variables also aided in the video’s ascension to the realm of reality. Shortly after the McPherson tape was completed, a fire destroyed almost all of the copies, as well as the master print, ensuring that the movie saw a very limited release, consisting primarily of a handful of advance copies provided to a few mom-and-pop video stores and generally appearing as bootleg versions.
Additionally, the video bears no credits, implying that it was not associated with Alioto. All of this ensured that the McPherson Tape achieved a prestige comparable to that of the The War of the Worlds broadcast, and that Alioto did nothing to prevent it. Indeed, he had no idea that reports about his film were spreading, and was as astonished as the rest of us when he discovered that it was being taken seriously in the UFO community. He would say the following about this:
I got a phone call for a guy saying that he just found this footage. I kid you not, he actually said that. Then he says that my name came up and describes the movie. I tell him that I didn’t find the movie, I made it. He tells me that he saw it at the International UFO Congress Convention, which is the biggest UFO convention in the world, and that the movie was presented with no credits. It gets better. The guy that told me all this then said that there are some TV shows that want to do a story on the movie, including Unsolved Mysteries, Hard Copy, and a FOX show called Encounters. I told him the first one was out because this mystery was pretty much solved. But we went with Encounters and they did this seven-minute segment that they did on ‘The world’s greatest UFO hoax’ for their program in the early ‘90s. I went on national TV and debunked my own movie.
He essentially reappeared on Encounters to disprove the first episode, claiming it was all true, which is rather weird. Following his appearance on the show, he became an overnight celebrity, earning a larger budget to remake the original as a 1998 made-for-TV film titled Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, which changes names and locations, as well as certain beats, and incorporates numerous new elements such as alien ray guns and cattle mutilation, and is frequently confused with the original.
Surprisingly, all of this just helped to increase the original’s popularity and mystique and to convince conspiracy theorists that the McPherson Tape was indeed real. For example, it was noted that the aliens depicted are far too slender and willowy to be youngsters, and that the performers’ reactions are far too genuine to be fabricated. Not only were many adamant that it was genuine, but Alioto was being used to disparage it. Alioto would say the following about this:
Things got blown out of proportion. News channels did exposés on the movie, and people started believing that the original VHS footage was real, and that the government had hired me to make the TV remake as part of a disinformation campaign to discredit the original.
Indeed, Alioto has spent a significant amount of time trawling film communities that are still debating the McPherson Tape to this day, attempting to disprove his own film, largely in vain. Indeed, a sizable number of people remain convinced that the McPherson Tape is genuine and that Ariolo’s debunking is part of a cover-up attempt.
Whether true or not, the film has become a cultural phenomenon within the area of Ufology, a phenomenon that was heightened when the remake’s Blu-ray release in 2019 coincided with an interview on the Joe Rogan podcast by famed purported Area 51 insider Bob Lazar.
Unfortunately, the original film has no surviving master copy, is exceedingly difficult to locate, and has been altered and spliced with CGI portions over the years. It has since taken on a life of its own, and it is at the very least the first discovered footage film to be accepted as perhaps authentic, firmly establishing its place within the realm of strange stories in the UFO field.