The McPherson Tape 1989 Cover Photo

In a previous article of mine, I mentioned the creation of found footage and incorrectly attributed this title to Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s The Blair Witch Project (1999). Although it is true that The Blair Witch Project thrust the genre into the mainstream limelight, there were actually a number of entries to genre much early, including the 1989 alien abduction film discussed in this article. 

The McPherson Tape is a 1989 American found footage sci-fi horror, written and directed by Dean Alioto at the start of his directorial career. Before this, Dean had worked on multiple features as an editor and cinematographer as well as many other roles ,and has since written and directed a number of films and TV shows.

The Mcpherson Brothers

On October 8th, 1983, the McPherson family gathered together to celebrate the 5th birthday of Michelle, the youngest member of their household. Everything was captured on VHS by Michael McPherson and his new camcorder — including the alien invasion.

The McPherson Tape was relatively unknown around the time of release due to a warehouse fire that prevented any sort of official theatrical unveiling . However, this lack of awareness for the film aided the belief that it was actual evidence of an alien abduction rather than a found footage movie. There were many bootleg copies of the film replicated and swapped between UFO enthusiast groups as they studied the footage, with many ultimately deciding that the film was legitimate. So much so that Fox News featured a news segment on the film, featuring members of UFO groups. Also interviewed in the segment was as a retired colonel who oversaw UFO investigations in the military, who refused to believe it was fake, even after the director made a public announcement to say otherwise.

The majority of this believability solely resides on the shoulders of the actors, who have natural chemistry and a diverse range of emotions that feel incredibly organic in nature. As the family is besieged in their house they give a credible performance that is reinforced by panic and fear, as characters talk over each other and flub lines yet remain in character for the scenes’ entirety. As such, it was a shock to discover the cast was actual actors and not family members of the crew, which is common for a film with a budget of $6,000.


Additionally, a well realised creature design sustains the film’s already strong credibility, designed around accounts and testimony from eye-witness accounts that claimed to have come into contact with aliens. This solid basis bridges the gap for a viewer with plausible knowledge on the subject at the time, the specific visual for the extra-terrestrial visitors in The McPherson Tape was already well embedded in popular culture, with the first description of grey aliens going as far back as the late 1800s.

Working alongside the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) once again, 101 Films release of The McPherson Tape is the superior way to enjoy the film. Featuring a new transfer from the original ¾” master tape and a brand new 2017 director’s cut, the release is also brimming with extra features including a commentary track with director Dean Alioto on original cut, 1989 Theatrical premiere introduction, an “Encounters TV” segment, Fantastic Fest Q&A session and reversible cover artwork available to purchase here.

An incredibly tangible piece of cinema, The McPherson Tape is an impressive genesis of the found footage genre. It’s congenial cast and excellent use of one-shot cinematography, along with its intentional lofi quality, reaffirms the film’s plausibility throughout it’s run time. Furthermore, an unscripted feel and incredible ability to fool an audience are a testament to the film’s realism. I would recommend to fans of found footage or those interested in exploring the genre’s earlier works.

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