Director: Bill Rebane
Scripts: Bill Rebane (All films) Jeff Smith, Dok Stanford (Monster A Go Go); William Arthur (The Demons of Ludlow); Larry Dreyfus & William Arthur (The Game); Larry Dreyfus & William Arthur (Twister’s Revenge)
Cast:  Phil Morton, June Travis, George Perry, Lois Brooks, Rork Stevens, Peter Thompson, Henry Hite (Monster A Go Go), Paul Bentzen, Debbie Pick, Nick Holt, Karl Wallace, Robert Arkens (Invasion from Inner Earth), Ralph Meeker, Stafford Morgan, John Goff, Carol Irene Newell, George ‘Buck’ Flower (The Alpha Incident), Paul Von Hausen, Stephanie Cushna, James P. Robinson, Carol Perry, C. Dave Davis, Debra Dulmar (The Demons of Ludlow), Tom Blair, Jim Laquinta, Carol Perry, Stuart Osbourne, Don Arthur, Debbie Martin (The Game), Dean West, Meredith Orr, Dave Allen Smith, Jan Gjernes, Richard Luka, Liz Grey, Joanne Krantz, Willie Dexter, Tina Murren (Twister’s Revenge)
Running time: 69 / 94 / 95 / 92 / 84 / 89 minutes
Year: 1965 / 1974 / 1977 / 1983 / 1984 / 1988
Certificate: 15

This eclectic collection from Arrow Video includes everything you could ever want to see from a director that you’ve almost certainly never heard of, namely Wisconsin-based Bill Rebane. Bill is the epitome of the eccentric independent filmmaker who is so crazy about making films that he even built his own studio out in the wilds of Wisconsin, a strange place full of even stranger people; a place where necrophilia only became unlawful as recently as 2008!

Bill’s films tend to feature some cool kit – snowmobiles, planes, tanks, etc. – pervy male protagonists; establishing shots that often establish the wrong thing; characters giving long, information-dump styled speeches; and strange narrations that don’t really help to fill the gaps in the storyline narrative.

This special edition Arrow boxed-set brings together six of Rebane’s strangest films, which feature the likes of a haunted piano (actually a harmonium); a talking monster truck; alien invasions with no visible aliens; crazy millionaires playing with desperate lives; and an alien virus that causes people’s heads to explode, literally! The films are:

Monster A Go Go (aka Terror At Halfday) (1965, 69 mins)

An astronaut returns to Earth (in perhaps the smallest space capsule known to man) having been mutated into something that looks distinctly monstrous. Said ‘monster’ then spends the rest of the movie wandering around, randomly scaring various people until he sort of disappears – or does he? We will never know since good old Bill ran out of money and the film was eventually renamed and finished by Bill’s mate, and fellow film auteur, Hershall Gordon Lewis, who followed Rebane’s bad example and cheated the audience out of any coherent ending – the creature just kind of disappears into the shadows of a tunnel and never reappears, with the sombre narrator (Bill himself) declaring that: “There was nothing in the tunnel, but the puzzled men of courage, who suddenly found themselves alone with shadows and darkness.” Mmm, can I have my money back, Bill?!

Basically, a very badly done rehash of The Quatermass Experiment, Monster A Go Go is considered, by many, to be one of the worst films ever made, and it certainly lives up to that dubious accolade – I fell asleep a few times while watching it, since it was sooo boring! The only thing of real note is the use of Henry Hite as the monster, as Henry was seven foot, six inches tall and was the world’s tallest man at the time. His make-up makes him look quite creepy too.

Considering the age of the film, Arrow have done a pretty decent job of cleaning it up; there’s some damage to the print and there’s some audible hiss on the soundtrack, but that could have been on the original recording, knowing Rebane…

Rating: 0.5 star

Invasion from Inner Earth (1974, 94 mins)

Bill didn’t make another feature film for nine years after Monster A Go Go (he focussed on corporate films instead) and he broke this lengthy hiatus with this, cough, gem. The invasion (from ‘Inner Earth’, no less) consists of weird voices over the radio, and some red smoke and lights materialising occasionally, while a small group of people, based in a remote cabin in snowy woods, react/act badly to these manifestations. The group’s intellectual character, Stan, randomly comes up with the theory that these ‘aliens’ have actually originated from the Earth’s core and his mates all seem to take this as gospel truth, with no questions asked; as you do!

The acting is mostly bad, although a couple of the actors just about passed muster; although no actor could really shine with the script that they’ve been given here. Once again, little sense can be made of the metaphysical ending involving two almost naked kids, (wearing fig leaves), once the rest of humanity has vanished due, it’s inferred, to alien interference. I blame 2001; A Space Odyssey on such pretentious guff!

Once again I fell asleep a few times, but rewound the film, only to discover I’d missed sod all, so I shouldn’t have bothered! On the plus side, some of the characters are fairly likeable and there’s a plane explosion. Oh, and some silly shots of city-based extras running around, randomly screaming, after seeing some red smoke lazily heading their way.

Rating: 1 star

The Alpha Incident (1977, 95 mins)

Allegedly, Rebane’s favourite of all his own films, The Alpha Incident, has all the makings of a good film, but Bill squanders the opportunity to create a slice of tense human drama, with a sci-fi/horror twist, and, yet again, creates a film that is, frustratingly, mostly boring – yep, I fell asleep again, at least a couple of times!

The plot, such as it is, sees a returning space probe, from Mars, crash-landing on Earth and bringing with it a micro-organism that quickly causes problems for all those who have contact with it. The shady authorities quickly quarantine five remote contactees, leading to lots of footage of them just sitting around, trying not to fall asleep – mmm, too late for me then – to prevent their noggins from exploding. To be fair there are some interesting human personality dynamics on display and the performances are mostly pretty decent, but nothing of note really happens, leaving the viewer in a sleepy fug, not certain if it’s worth watching the film to the end or going to bed. I watched it to the end, because I had to – but YOU don’t; so don’t!

Plus points about The Alpha Incident include an OTT performance by George ‘Buck’ Flower, who mysteriously disappears part-way through the film, with no further explanation; Carol Newell squeezing herself into a slinky dress and showing her boobs; and a cool head-exploding effect, replete with an eyeball dripping down the cheek.

Rating: 2 Stars

The Demons of Ludlow (1983, 92 mins)

This The Fog wannabe sees a young female journalist return to her place of birth to get back to her roots and to set up a local rag about local issues. She discovers that there’s not much going on except for a bicentennial celebration party, which seems to be the catalyst for several nasty murders at the hands of some demonic apparitions that emanate from a haunted harmonium that has been sent to the townsfolk as a gift, to help celebrate the town’s two hundred years of existence. Or something like that… it was sometimes hard to keep tabs!

The Demons of Ludlow is actually quite entertaining at times, and some of the set-pieces are fun, including a demonic attack in a barn and another attack on an older lady in bed. The dialogue is pretty, err, dire though, and most of the ‘actors’ seem to be phoning in their performances, but I guess that’s all part of the film’s dubious charms. Along with some spectacularly bad visual effects that given Plan 9 from Outer Space a run for its money. There are also plenty of unnecessary shots, or shots extended beyond what is necessary, but it’s also gorier than Bill’s other films so if you like to see some crimson grue, as least this has some.

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Game (1984 84 mins)

Three rich people, Horace, Martha and George, amuse themselves every year by running a contest at a run-down hotel, whereby the winner (he/she who doesn’t scream all weekend), is given a million dollars. Several money-hungry young people turns up to take them up on the challenge; essentially of mastering their own deepest-seated fears and being brave enough to make it to the end of the competition. Amongst the group are members of a band, a couple of miss-matched friends, and a southern-friend blonde bimbo. Once the rules have been explained ‘The Game’ begins, and soon the contestants start disappearing, one-by-one.

The Game is a kind of cut-price version of The House on Haunted Hill, but only with a fraction of the budget and a fraction of the talent. It features some awful performances and equally awful music, but again it still entertains, and the pacing is better than many of Bill’s other films. On a more positive note, one of the ‘contestants’ has a great body, which is nicely displayed a time or two, and there are some funny or memorable moments dotted throughout the runtime, including a disturbing torture scene involving OAP torturers!

Rating: 2 stars

Twister’s Revenge (1988, 89 mins)

The plot of Twister’s Revenge is paper thin – three dumb rednecks overhear that a monster truck, replete with all its on-board technology, is worth a lot of money so they decide to steal it. When this doesn’t work out they kidnap the girlfriend of the truck’s owner and demand a ransom. Unfortunately, for them, they didn’t bank on the owner’s tenacity in hunting them down and smashing up everything they hold dear with his monster truck, called Twister. Oh, and Twister is also sentient and can talk; not that it makes much difference to how the story plays out…

Clearly inspired by the likes of The Dukes of Hazard and Knightrider, Twister’s Revenge should have been a fun comedy action film, but instead doesn’t seem too sure what it wants to be and ends up being an unfunny mess most of the time. The three ‘bad guys’ are also kind of the ‘heroes’ as they go about their business of being really dreadful at being bad. Yes, there are some cool sequences of the monster truck running over buildings and cars, or being pursued by a military tank, which also crushes stuff under its tracks, but, sadly, Rebane’s editor uses some bizarre editing choices and the movie meanders all over the place. It’s still definitely worth a watch if you’re into weird vehicular mayhem and have a very childish sense of humour. I particularly enjoyed the line delivered by one of the villians trying to reassure one of his mates sat on top of the tank with him as they join a colourful family street parade: “Just act natural…” he says!

Rating: 2.5 stars

Who is Bill Redbane (David Cairns, 2021, 115 mins)

This in-depth documentary is probably the boxed set’s most outstanding feature and is well worth your time, whether or not you’re a fan of the man himself. Director/writer and historian David Cairns takes us through Bill’s life and his movies, bringing in various collaborators of Bill’s to flesh-out the details, and to provide some memorable and sometimes funny stories about the great man. We find out that Bill, a Latvian, was forced to join the German army, that his dad created Beer Nuts, that Bill ran for the job of governor of Wisconsin, twice, (and failed) and that Bill’s “as crazy as a bed bug!”

Watching the film one wonders why Arrow didn’t also include a few more of Bill’s films with the ones already selected, including probably his most famous film, namely The Giant Spider invasion. I guess it’s probably due to rights issues… I’d also quite fancy watching Blood Harvest and The Capture of Bigfoot. Despite the rather sketchy nature of Bill’s films it’s good to know that there’s still a lot of interest and goodwill towards him and his oeuvre.

Rating: 4 Stars

Special features

Straight Shooter: Bill Rebane on Monster A Go Go, The Devils of Ludlow, etc. (approximately 6 x 10 mins): Interview snippets with Bill talking about each of his films in turn. Bill brings much extra detail about his experiences working on the films; fascinating stuff.

Kim Newman on Bill Rebane (15 mins): The ever reliable Mr Newman provides an insightful critique of Rebane and some of his films.

Short films, including Twist Craze (9 mins), Dance Craze (15 mins) and Kidnap Extortion (14.5 mins) – An interesting glimpse into cultural norms now long gone.

Bill Rebane’s Key Largo (16 mins): An interesting visual essay by historian and critic Richard Harland Smith discussing The Alpha Incident in depth.

Image galleries – Featuring some excellent cover art and posters for all his films.

Discovering Bill Rebane (28 mins) – A lecture by historian and critic Stephen R Bessette on his personal relationship with Rabane and his work. This is interesting stuff and Stephen is engaging and enthusiastic.

King of the wild frontier (93 mins) – Stephen R. Bissettes’ thoughts on Bill Rebane. Having watched Bill’s films since the age of eight Stephen’s a big fan; one who knows that Rebane’s films have their faults. As before Bissette is enjoyable and informative company.

Outtakes (30 mins) – Silent outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage from the films The Demons of Ludlow, Invasion from Inner Earth, and The Alpha Incident. Of interest to completists only.

The Giant Spider Invasion trailer (3.55 mins) – Cool trailer for a seemingly cool film.

 

Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection
Justin Richards reviews the Arrow Video boxed set: Weird Wisconsin: The Films of Bill Rebane.
3.5Overall Score
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