Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection
The Game / Twister's Revenge! / Supplements
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 third dual-layer disc in Arrow’s Weird Wisconsin box set presents two or Rebane’s later films, The Game (aka The Cold for some reason) and Twister’s Revenge! Both films are presented with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Game also comes with a full-frame 1.33:1 option. I am assuming that we are getting the director’s cut of Twister’s Revenge!, which is supposed to be shorter and "less cringey."
In an interview with Rebane he mentions that the original elements for Twister’s Revenge! are lost so Arrow had to make use of a general 35mm print for their 2K scan. On top of having a very dupey look, it also looks like the film was, at some point, blown up from 16mm to 35mm, at least based on how thick and coarse the grain is.
The materials are not ideal, yet Arrow still manages to deliver a pleasing enough image. There are a handful of flaws throughout, from wear along the sides to larger—though faint—scratches running through the middle, but the picture is otherwise clean, minor blemishes like dirt rarely popping up. Colours aren't much to write home about, though the film’s colour scheme is limited primarily to dirty browns and greens, so this aspect had little chance to shine as is. Blacks can crush a little but are otherwise fine.
Detail isn't terrible but it's still incredibly weak, with those limitations again coming down to the dupey elements. The digital presentation, at the very least, does a commendable job in rendering the film’s heavy grain, and the picture does have a decent film-look to it. Out of Rebane’s filmography this film appears to be the real “oddity” (at least on a scale with his other films) and looking at its history, where it appears to have only received a decent release in Japan, it probably all comes down to luck for Rebane that this still exists in some form.
While Twister's Revenge! ends up on the weaker end of the presentations in the set (though far from the worst), The Game can take the minor prize of being the best looking presentation, and that probably comes down to where the 2K scan was sourced from: Arrow was able to get their hands on the 16mm original A/B negative. For the full-frame version grain is very fine and cleanly rendered most of the time (the opening credits look a bit noisy), and this leads to a nice rendering of the finer details in the picture, from the landscape of the film's central property to the textures found on some of the dated clothing. The strong detail doesn't help some of the film's effects, though, like that monster/hand-puppet thingy that inexplicably pops up randomly.
The film can have a warmer look but colours are still saturated well, blues managing to pop. Blacks can get a little heavy but range is still decent enough. Restoration efforts also seem to have gone the extra mile here, with only some occasional wear along the sides, and some faint scratches here and there. Overall this is the cleanest looking film in the set.
For the 1.85:1 version I assume Arrow has simply just zoomed in on the 1.33:1 version and reframed it appropriately. The same blemishes present in the alternate version are here and the picture has a similar look overall. Grain can come off a little bit blockier in comparison, especially in the opening credits, but it still retains a photographic quality. Compared to the full-frame version, the top and bottom have been trimmed off, but it does look like there may be a little bit of extra info on the left and right of the frame, though not an excessive amount.
In all, Arrow’s work should be commended. They’ve found the best materials available to work with and have done an admirable job in cleaning things up, even when the elements weren’t exactly up to snuff.
The Game (1984): 8/10 Twister's Revenge! (1988): 6/10
Both films come with DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural soundtracks. The Game ends up coming off sounding the best in the whole set, though that is ultimately faint praise: the acoustics can still be terrible and some of the louder moments are a bit harsh. Twister’s Revenge! is the more action-packed Rebane film, but there is still a flatness to the whole affair, dialogue especially. I’ll have to put that down to the materials in the end. Both are probably about as good as they’re going to get.
Arrow again includes a couple of interviews with director Bill Rebane, each specific to one of the films on the disc, running 7 and 8-minutes respectively. The story for The Game was a “brain fart” (a term he uses often throughout this set) and he explains how that whole film came together, and none of what he says (like having to change the story around while shooting) are surprising. The details around Twister’s Revenge! prove a bit more interesting, as Rebane was able to call up old favours and got lucky in finding places he was able to destroy and demolish, all for the good of the film. I also must admire how he explains he just decided he was going to put a bunch of “stupid stuff” into the film. According to him, both films also did very well on video in foreign markets. Again, I like Rebane’s blunt and dry delivery, and both interviews are amusing.
The disc also features a gallery for both films, containing stills and video art, followed by trailers for each film. But one of my favourite supplements in the set is found on this disc, and that’s a very passionate presentation by historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette, who, for 28-minutes, talks about his relationship with the local filmmaker’s work through the decades, and proceeds to talk his way through the films and how he was able to see them, from seeing Monster A-Go Go late at night thanks to a Canadian broadcast he was able to get (and for a time he swore he dreamt the whole thing) to being able to track down some of his work in discount bins. He steps through every film (even the films not in this collection), talks about them, explains how and why they did well with locals, and shows off memorabilia from his collection.
Bissette participates remotely for this presentation (so there’s a choppy quality to it) but it may also be pieced together from material David Cairns recorded for his just-shy-of 2-hours documentary found on the fourth dual-layer disc of this set, a documentary that gets its title from the opening question to Mark Cousins: when asked how Rebane fits into Cousins’ Story of Film, a puzzled Cousins replies “Who is Bill Rebane?” From here Cairns does a deep-dive into the life and work of Rebane, all through interviews with those that knew him and worked with him, along with fans and other filmmakers, including a number of familiar faces, like cinematographer Steven Poster. Rebane even shows up himself. While some of the content here is familiar, covered in other supplements, the big bonus is that there is an in-depth dive into content around the films not in this set, including Blood Harvest, Rana, The Capture of Bigfoot, and, of course, The Giant Spider Invasion. The documentary also offers a slight look at the impact of regional independent filmmakers in the States and how they’ve influenced filmmakers since. I can’t say this set has made me a fan of the films, and the documentary doesn’t sugarcoat their shortcomings (Rebane’s mishandling of exposition for starters), but I rather enjoyed this documentary, and its passion around the subject matter manages to be rather catching…
Which can also be said about 93-minutes’ worth of outtakes from Bissette's interview for the documentary, all taken from Cairns discussion with the man. The material found here ends up mostly expanding on his interview on the previous disc and what’s in the documentary, but his conversations here also touches on other notable regional independent filmmakers, like Al Adamson, and he also shares some of his personal thoughts on Rebane’s works, using The Alpha Incident to show off his strengths, and then he addresses of the social aspects in his films that have aged like milk. It doesn’t add a lot of new material after everything else, but fans may find it worthy to skim through, and I find Bissette's passion around Rebane just wild, so getting more from him is a bit of a blast.
The disc then closes of with a collection of silent outtakes from Invasion from Inner Earth (17-minutes), The Demons of Ludlow (11-minutes), and The Alpha Invasion (10-minutes). They’re rather nice scans I have to say, but there isn’t much here, or at least nothing I found all that interesting. There’s some behind-the-scenes material for Invasion but the rest just shows rough framing and set-ups, and Alpha’s footage is primarily made up of train footage.
Arrow then provides some more material for the films not in the set, including a trailer for The Giant Spider Invasion and then a gallery featuring material around those other films (stills, video art, posters, etc.) along with miscellaneous pictures of Rebane. Bissette, in his interview on the previous disc, mentions that this set would include scans from a local newspaper’s comic adaptation of The Giant Spider Invasion, along with scans from a Manga adaptation of the same film, and those are included in this gallery, so no need to worry.
And that closes off all of the disc content for this set. Whether many would say the films are worth it or not, Arrow have put in an incredible amount of effort and really pulled together a great collection of material around the director, with Cairns’ documentary probably being the stand-out. Should more than please fans.
The set closes off impressively, with a couple of decent presentations (despite any limitations) and some great material around the director, including David Cairns’ rather loving tribute to the man and his work.