Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection
Monster A-Go Go / Invasion from Inner Earth
FROM THE WILDS OF WISCONSIN HE CAME…
Alien Invasions! Haunted Pianos! Sentient Monster Trucks! Arrow Video is proud to present the first ever collection of works by Bill Rebane, the epitome of an independent regional filmmaker who built his own studio in the wilds of Wisconsin. He acted for Hitchcock, he searched for the arms of the Venus De Milo, he turned a VW Beetle into a giant spider and he’s still at work today!
Bringing together six films, all new to Blu-ray and in brand new restorations, Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection packs in a mutant astronaut bothering blissful sunbathers (Monster A Go-Go), a contagion apocalypse as seen from the vantage point of a remote mountain cabin (Invasion from Inner Earth), deadly alien spores from the rocks of Mars (The Alpha Incident), rural gothic and outright horror (The Demons of Ludlow), an eccentric ‘body count’ movie (The Game) and a comedy smash-‘em up that pits three hillbilly stooges against a talking Monster Truck with artificial intelligence (Twister’s Revenge).
Loaded with new interviews and extras, this is an essential collection of features from one of America’s most tenacious outsider auteurs!
The first dual-layer disc in Arrow’s new Bill Rebane box set, Weird Wisconsin, presents two of the director’s first features: Monster A-Go Go and Invasion from Inner Earth. Both films are presented with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and given a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
In what’s going to end up being a common theme around the presentations in this set, the end results for each of the films comes out to about “not bad at all!” Much to my surprise, all of the films in the set have received new 2K scans, with these two sourced from 16mm prints. The digital presentations themselves end up being incredibly sharp and clean, rendering the grain beautifully, and they end up doing a decent job replicating a projected look. The black-and-white photography of Monster A-Go Go manages to deliver decent gray levels and contrast, though there can be a bit of a blown-out look to it here and there, which I’ll simply attribute more to the original photography. Blacks can get a little heavy as well, but crushing isn't an issue.
The companion colour film, Invasion from Inner Earth, manages to deliver some half-decent looking colours, reds managing to stick out, but they do look washed out for the most part (though a lot of that could be a side effect of the winter setting). Black levels are a little weak, and they can look grayish, but it appears some of this may have to do with fading around the print, and some wonky lighting during filming; one shot is lit by a single match, but it doesn't end up looking all that bad, all things considered. Grain can look a little heavier here at times in comparison to the previous film, but it keeps a natural look as well. Digital artifacts aren't an issue.
Detail levels for both films are decent, but the original photography and source materials do limit things, so there is a general softness inherent to the photography.
While the digital presentations themselves are solid, a welcome outcome for sure, one of the more pleasant surprises about the presentations is the fact that it looks like, at the very least, some restoration work has been done. To be fair, I think the restoration efforts have been kept to a minimum, maybe just a basic digital clean-up/run-through; smaller marks and bits of dirt aren't all that common, but the larger issues, the ones that would more than likely call for more manual effort, are left in place. For example, Monster A-Go Go features a lot large scratches and tram lines raining through, and the same occurs during Invasion, though to a milder degree. I’d assume this was a cost-saving measure in the end, but that's more than fair as I'm unsure of the overall appeal this set will have and the end results are still quite good.
Ultimately, yeah, these both could probably look better, but the films shouldn’t even look as good as they end up looking here.
Monster a Go-Go (1965): 5/10 Invasion from Inner Earth (1974): 6/10
Both films come with DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural soundtracks. The sound quality is generally terrible for both films, but this really comes down to the original recordings and it has nothing to do with the restorations. Both tracks are flat and they can come off a bit edgy and harsh. The films sound to be using the live audio, which wasn't set-up properly during the original filming (it's possible Rebane originally intended to loop dialogue during post-production) so a lot of dialogue can be hard to hear, either because the actors are speaking too low, environmental variables are interfering, or the acoustics are just terrible. Of the two, Monster A-Go Go sounds worse, but the other film isn’t really that much better in the end.
Monster a Go-Go (1965): 3/10 Invasion from Inner Earth (1974): 4/10
Arrow packs on a number of supplements across the set’s four discs, with the film-specific ones accompanying their respective films. In a series of interviews called Straight Shooter spread across the four discs, the man himself, director Bill Rebane, shares his “unadulterated, honest opinions” for each film. He isn’t terribly fond of Monster A-Go Go, which isn’t a huge surprise, and he recounts how he had to abandon it due to the rising of costs of using a union crew in Chicago, and explains the long gaps between shooting, which didn’t help to keep his cast (a reason why the cast keeps changing, I'm sure). Gore master Herschell Gordon Lewis ended up coming along and picking it up, shooting new material to “finish” the film, releasing it as a double-feature with one of his other features. Invasion from Inner Earth came about due to his interest in wanting to take advantage of the Wisconsin landscape (in the snow) and make something that would reflect the feelings (or, at least, his feelings) of the time. Though he was able to more-or-less complete the film, he did lose footage, and to this day he has no idea how that happened. Though he addresses that it obviously lacks “production value,” he seems far happier with the end results, and a lot of that seems to have to do with the actors he was able to get. The interviews run 11-minutes and 10-minutes respectively.
Kim Newman next pops up to give a 15-minute appreciation for Rebane, providing some background around the filmmaker and his work. Newman shares a number of more-than-fair criticisms of the films (I had the same issue he did trying to get through Invasion), but he still finds plenty to admire and thinks they do deserve some form of reassessment.
The best inclusions on this disc end up being a small a collection of early shorts that involved Rebane in some capacity: Twist Craze (with Rebane listed as producer) and Dance Craze (directed by Rebane), running 9-minutes and 14-minutes respectively. Both are looks at the popularity of the then-new dance “the twist.” The first feels a bit staged, at least based on audience reactions, but it still looks to be documenting a performance of the dance and its music at a local “fashionable” theater night club. The second one, on the other hand, has more of a narrative drive, featuring a character who hurts himself doing the dance, going to the doctor, only to pass out and have some fantasy that appears to be some sort of look at the evolution of the dance. Neither are great, by any means, but I enjoyed the time capsule aspect.
A bit crazier, though, is the industrial film Kidnap Extortion: Robbery by Telephone, funded by Minimum Risk Banking and aimed towards bank employees. The 14-minute film goes over a possible robbery scenario where the robber will simply call a bank employee and claim to have kidnapped a loved one (in this case, a bank officer’s wife) and then threaten to harm them unless they deliver a specified sum of money to them. After this enactment (where the bank officer complies) the film goes on to show how the employee should have responded, even explaining the signs to look out for to figure out whether the threat is real or not. The film is a bit of a trip thanks to a number of dated aspects (like where the narrator tells the viewer they should consider that their wife, who doesn’t appear to be home, could be someplace else, like the hairdresser) and some questionable advice, especially for how the employee’s wife should have handled the scenario, yet I have to give Rebane credit: though some acting is questionable (as I expected) it’s actually a well-directed, tightly edited little film.
All three films are great inclusions, and they all look to come from new scans. I don’t think much in the way of restoration has been performed, but they’re in good condition.
The disc then concludes with a self-playing gallery featuring posters, newspaper clippings, comic book covers, stills, video art, and more!
Though not a plentiful set of features, they work to ease newcomers into the films.
My expectations were admittedly low coming into this set but the first disc has managed to raise my expectations for the rest. The first disc delivers presentations that, while still problematic, are far better than they probably ever should be. I'm certainly game to get through everything else this release has to offer.