The folks at Arrow follow up last year's tremendous He Came From The Swamp William Grefé-themed box set with a four-disc collection of films by Wisconsin's Bill Rebane, another regional director / outsider auteur who might not have experienced the most success or recognition but made up for it with enthusiasm and... erm... well, enthusiasm's enough, isn't it? Six films are on offer, (almost) all produced in Rebane's home state of Wisconsin, newly-restored and appearing here on Blu-ray for the very first time.
Possibly Rebane's most well-known film, 1965's Monster A Go-Go, kicks off disc one. Starring the world's tallest man as an astronaut who returns to earth as... something else... it's a cobbled-together mess of a movie that, at 68 minutes, is at least 30 minutes too long and very much deserves its reputation as one of the worst films ever made (something that Rebane readily but wearily admits to in the extras). This monstrosity is followed by Invasion from Inner Earth (1974), an exposition-heavy sci-fi / horror in which a group of stranded college kids have to contend with evil aliens (a torch covered with red cellophane shone against the wall) while getting patchy radio reports about entire towns and cities being overcome by a mysterious deadly virus.
The sci-fi theme continues on disc two with The Alpha Incident (1978), where a group of people have to stay awake as they've been infected by unidentified space organism that attacks humans' nervous systems when they fall asleep. Staying awake isn't just the main challenge for the characters in the film – it might be your biggest test as well, as nothing much happens until the last 10 minutes. Make it that far, though, and you'll be rewarded with a few seconds' worth of eye-poppingly good practical effects...
The second feature on disc two sees the genre change from sci-fi to full-on horror, and there's also a noticeable increase in the overall quality of the rest of the films in the set. A cursed piano causes great upset to the residents of a small backwoods town in the surreal and unsettling Demons of Ludlow (1983) and, moving on to disc three, a troupe of cruel and twisted millionaires offer nine people the chance to win a million dollars by facing their greatest fears in The Game (1984). "It's kind of a favourite for some people... I don't know why", says Rebane, who also describes the film as “a brain fart”, but its haunted house vibe, complete with campy seaside fairground sound effects and delightfully gleeful performances from the aged millionaires, definitely marks the high point of this collection.
Lastly, in another genre shift, we're treated to Twister's Revenge (1988), a goofy comedy about three useless crooks who hatch a half-baked plan to steal a monster truck and the super-powered computer that controls it. Dumb one-liners, exciting shoot-outs, massive (ish) explosions and scenes of Mr. Twister smashing its way through buildings are the order of the day, and the cast go all-out to make the whole thing as enjoyable as possible in the daftest ways.
Disc four offers a two-hour documentary by film historian David Cairns, featuring tons of behind the scenes footage and photos alongside interviews with fans, filmmakers and people who worked on Rebane's films. Superfan Stephen R. Bissette (known to DC Comics fans from his work on Saga of the Swamp Thing) talked so much during the making of the documentary that his entire two-hour conversation is included in the extras, and he also gets a separate half an hour to talk about what it was like to see Rebane's films at the time they were originally released (and how difficult they were to track down in the pre-internet 1970s and 80s).
Elsewhere, there's a hefty amount of extras to wade through. Each film is given its own individual 5-10 minute featurette where Rebane gives the kind of behind the scenes info you'd expect, but in a refreshingly honest way – he isn't shy about the fact that his films weren't likely to win any awards... We're also given three short films that Rebane made to fund his features: Twist Craze and Dance Craze, in which people dance like lunatics for no reason, and the very important public information film, Kidnap Extortion: Robbery By Telephone, which teaches you how to tell the difference between a standard kidnapper and a kidnap-extortionist. Trailers, image galleries, a lively 15-minute visual essay by critic Richard Harland Smith and 35 minutes' worth of outtakes (quite amazing that these exist, all things considered) round off the special features.
It's likely that none of the films are what a modern mainstream audience would consider “good”, and the audio / visual quality varies wildly from film to film (as you'd expect, with source material such as this), but fans of lo-fi independent productions from the fringes of 70s and 80s filmmaking should be able to easily find the charm in most of the films included in this set. It's true that one or two of the films might prove hard work for even seasoned viewers of such fare but, nevertheless, Weird Wisconsin is a real treasure trove of rarely-seen (or even talked about) lunacy from a bygone era.
Release date: May 24th