It’s amazing how much this really FEELS like a Donald G. Jackson film. The improv, the crimped corners on the lens, the locations and the mild premise. It’s always weird to see a found footage film in the days before Blair Witch. They existed certainly, Cannibal Holocaust immediately comes to mind. But there’s a commitment to the casually shot found footage here than was present in Holocaust.
It’s interesting to note that this is billed as a Scott Shaw production. Shaw’s contribution is mostly in releasing the film (and thus trying to profit off it. Good job, you did get my $2.12 from Amazon prime rentals). He may have had a hand in some of the cutting of this VHS shot movie, but for this is really Donald Jackson’s show. It’s a lost film, shot in 1986, abandoned and then unearthed towards the end of Jackson’s life. Still, even though it was released in 2007, it’s definitely early (and therefore better) Jackson.
This psudeo-documentary starts off with a woman pleading with the camera for whomever is watching the video to help her find her lost daughter. It fades out and then switches to a girl in a towel “Susan” who is arguing with the camera operator “Jeff Nixon”. Jeff is a newspaper reporter, and she doesn’t want to help with whatever project he is on. Jeff for this part, is certain it’s his big opportunity to be rich and famous. Susan dosen’t care. She’s late to an audition and is mad.
Gunmen emerge from a car outside and try and break their way into the house. Susan and Jeff escape out to the garage in a cherry red classic Plymouth. Jerry suggests that these are government agents but they didn’t want to be seen shooting people on camera. (which is also a convenient excuse considering the production didn’t have any live ammo and didn’t want to draw attention to themselves by firing guns in the middle of Hollywood). He keeps the camera on the agents as they trail the car, which does nothing to improve Susan’s mood.
Jeff, still on scene, tell Susan a story about how he was at the park taking photos… The photos came out black, and it caught the attention of the agents who must’ve followed him there. Susan looks at him exasperated
“I don’t understand anything that’s going on!”. Join the club Susan, join the club.
They stop for fast food, giving the agents chance to catch up. They flee again in a scene that might be full of tension if it weren’t one continuous static shot. The car next arrives at a parking lot elevated above the street. It’s a great shot, with the fisheye lens now permanently affixed and beautiful lens flares that once again are messed up by losing the corners of the screen as well as sudden audio problems (The film is in a single channel – for instance if you are listening on headphones, you’ll only hear from one side).
The sound mix comes and goes, but we finally get a look at Jeff Hutchinson in the reflection of the shop door. The agents catch up with Jeff and Susan on an escalator and they’re forced to make a run for it. They find a fire escape and ascend to the roof of the building, with the camera firmly aimed at Susan’s tuchas. Presumably they shake off the agents before they return to the car. Their new destination is Rodriguez Rocks where Jeff had his UFO encounter. Jeff uses the rocks as a backdrop for his report, telling the audience that they’ve been pursued by gunman shooting at them trying to suppress the truth about UFOs.
“Um, no one actually shot at us.”
“They tried too! This has got to be exciting or it won’t make the news!”
Jeff and Susan explore the scenic locale, passing by a cave entrance that Jeff uses to deliver a tense report about his hidden evidence. He rolled back some rocks and digs in the dirt angrily searching then running off to another section of cable where he claims to have hidden a n alien artifact – a silver cylinder. It’s not there – the cylinder has obviously been removed. They rush off back to the car to hunt down more evidence. Susan is obviously humoring him at this point. There is a quick cameo from Roller Blade, as one of Jackson’s nuns skates passed the car across the crosswalk.
“What planet do you think she’s from? Hehe!”
They head out to find Jeff’s cameraman Sam – he always hangs out at the beach. The camera is just along for the ride, Jeff letting his arm hang down naturally (Messing again with the sound) and not even going to the viewfinder until we hit the waters edge. He hands it over to Susan and then inserts himself in the frame, trying to conversed with two beach goers. The man is Jed’s photographer, Sam. inside Sam’s home they have an impromptu conference, and Sam denies even being out with Jeff the previous night much less taking or having any photographs. Susan just sits in the corner and videotapes it all. It’s ironic watching Sam accuse Jeff of being high… Sam acts pretty intoxicated himself. Either way, it’s the first real taste of paranoia inserted.
Sam kicks Jeff and Sarah out when he realizes Jeff is recording the entire encounter. Back in the car, Jeff obsesses about the missing artifact, growing more and more agitated. Susan strips down to her bikini top while seductively eating a popsicle while Jeff Rambles about time traveling UFOs and conspiracies.
“Nothing about this is logical!” Susan says, and again, I can’t help but agree.
They head to Jeff’s office to retrieve his notes. They pull up to a beautiful Hollywood building, only to descend into the basement backdoor. In Jeff’s office he finds all his stuff has been cleared away. His editor Stu (who bears an uncanny resemblance to J. Jonah Jameson) demands to know where Jeff has been for the last three days (apparently he’s been missing, though that’s the first we’ve heard about it). The argument devolves into a fight with Susan cold cocking the editor as he chokes Jeff out and they’re back on the run.
They head back to Rodriguez rocks to try and find a witness, Delmore Osborne – the one who originally tipped Jeff off. He interviews Osborne, and discovers the UFO came back, suggesting the artifact Jeff is searching for was retrieved by the extra terrestrials. They climb the hill to search for the UFO landing site when suddenly…..CLIMAX!
There is almost a Blair witch meets the X-Files feel to the film. The whole lone investigator (reporter) with the camera heading out to look for something mysterious while battling the conspiracy. It could have worked with better sound mix and some pacing to add to the tension. It might also have benefited from a narration or wraparound sequence to explain what is happening (again, like Cannibal Holocaust did). It’s a fun ride, but an unpolished one.