Bad Movie Monday: THE MCPHERSON TAPE (1989)

Most found footage films are pretty review-proof. Seriously, how could anyone dare criticize a movie like The McPherson Tape? It is the perfect example of a no-budget film made by people working with what they had and trying to make something interesting. Criticism in cases like this feels like a venial sin, worthy of the pillory. So obviously I am totally going to review it, but by now I like to consider myself an expert at this sort of thing. Don’t try this at home kids.

The McPherson Tape is a masterclass in no-budget filmmaking. It has a single location, a cast of about seven people (one of which is the camera operator/director) and a script that seems to have been written loosely enough to allow quite a bit of improvisation. To me, this is a pretty foolproof method of making something out of nothing. Because, as I’ve said before but which bears repeating, your movie WILL run into problems. Huge, catastrophic, ridiculous, shaking your fists at the heavens and screaming at God kind of problems. You have no money. You have no time. You have almost no experience. You have a microscopic amount of resources. You gotta work with what ya got and you don’t got much. So don’t give yourself any more headaches than you need. Simplify. Streamline. Strip your ideas down to their core. Ask yourself this: “What am I trying to do and how can I do in the most efficient way using what I have?”

So what is The McPherson Tape trying to do? Well, it’s trying to scare the holy bejesus out of you by showing an ordinary family encountering aliens during the youngest daughter’s birthday party. Is it successful? Well… no. Not completely. It gets the birthday party family home video vibe really good, but scares are a little on the light side for my taste. I don’t blame the filmmakers too much. One of the downsides of a found footage film is that you are somewhat limited on what you can do since the film is supposed to have been filmed by amateurs using home video equipment. That said, the upside of this is that the film can feel very real. So even if the scares are a bit light, the ones that do occur can hit deeper.

SYNOPSIS: This one’s easy. Imagine the Blair Witch Project shot 10 years earlier, except that it’s about Aliens instead of a witch, taking place in a cabin during a birthday party instead of in the woods while filming a documentary. Boom. Done. Explained. You don’t need to know more than that.


#1 – 63 minutes long. Glory be! So many movies would improve drastically at this length. The pacing is a bit slow, unhurried one could say, but at least it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

#2 – All found footage films have the same Achilles heel, which is that there’s no soundtrack. Yes, you can do a lot with sound design, but you just have to watch a John Carpenter movie to understand how the score can help elevate a film to the next level.

#3 – The same goes for cinematography. You can do a lot with lighting and blocking, but in the end it all has to feel naturally shot on a hand held camera. So you can’t go all Sam Raimi or Dario Argento.

#4 – I really like the cabin that McPherson Tape was shot in. If any of you ever wondered what the real 80s looked like, this movie will answer all your questions.

#5 – Most people will either fall into the “This is kind of interesting.” camp, or the “WHEN IS THIS SHIT GOING TO END???” camp. There can be no middle ground.

#6 – There was zero budget for this film, and so there are zero special effects more complex than rubber masks in dark atmospheric lighting and a “spaceship” prop seen from 200 feet away.

#7 – I’m sort of shocked this movie doesn’t have the same reputation as FEEDERS, another zero budget alien movie that had far more success. I genuinely believe that if some sleazy low brow channel had played this as “real” footage of an alien abduction, perhaps edited into a fake documentary hosted by Jonathan Frakes, this would have gained some traction. It would have been better than that ALIEN AUTOPSY bullshit they made anyway.

#8 – This movie can be slow, almost dull, but it is legitimately well made and is imbued with the kind of neo-realism that most found footage films only wish they could evoke.

#9 – The second half of the film, when there’s the most action, weirdly felt the slowest. I have to admit, I kind of liked the slow leisurely build up. It felt cozy. The second half of the film, while I also liked it, felt less real.

#10 – I’m not sure if I “enjoyed” this movie or not. I’m so on the fence. I liked the concept and it’s ethos, but I also did find myself bored often. That said, I’m proud of the people who made it. Because they made one more movie than I ever have. Besides, any movie that makes you wrestle with how you feel about it can’t be all bad.


I wouldn’t call it bad, not exactly, but it’s very slow. Do you like watching home movies? Because if you’re going to watch The McPherson Tape I certainly hope that you do. For your sake. That’s all the critique I can really give it. This movie can’t be described, only experienced, and I think it’s an experience worth having.

THE MCPHERSON TAPE is a 1989 found footage horror film starring Tommy Giavocchini as Eric Van Heese, Patrick Kelley as Jason Van Heese, Shirly McCalla as Ma Van Heese, Stacey Shulman as Renee Reynolds, Christine Staples as Jamie Van Heese, Laura Tomas as Michelle Van Heese (the birthday girl), and Dean Alioto as Michael Van Heese. It was written directed by Dean Alioto