Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE ALPHA INCIDENT (1978)

Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE ALPHA INCIDENT (1978)

At last! This week brings us the first of several Chilling Classics from the multi-pack auteur himself, Wisconsin's own Bill Rebane. To call Rebane an acquired taste is...well, I cannot decide if that's an oversell or an undersell. Let's just call it a sell, shall we? The films of Bill Rebane are, in a word, weird. They're often dull affairs only sporadically livened up by some left-field choices that can only be explained with a "Forget it, Jake. It's Rebane-town (Wisconsin)." The more bonkers moments of his films remind me of William Girdler's The Manitou, but with 98% less budget and 100% more crew members with the last name "Rebane." (Seriously, don't make a drinking game out of this, do not do a shot every time a Rebane family member pops up in the end credits, you will die long before they are over.) To the more--or the way less, I suppose--discerning among us, these movies are home-grown, home-cooked charmers. I'm a big fan of another Chilling Classic that'll be covered whenever RNGesus makes it so, but today's flick, The Alpha Incident, was new to me and reader, it did not disappoint! Except in all the ways it's disappointing. But hey, that's Rebane-town, baby!

A space probe returns from Mars, arriving with a guest: a "disease organism" that leaves scientists baffled but yours truly delighted as this laboratory uses hamsters for some reason? I don't understand the science of this decision but I do understand the cuteness of it.

As they try to figure out what they've got on their hands, vials of the stuff are put on a train bound for Colorado. When the government agent assigned to escort the package (Stafford Morgan) decides to take a nap, a nosy train worker (George "Buck" Flower, last seen in Chilling Classics Cthursday's Drive-In Massacre) messes with a vial and drops it.  He cuts his hand on broken glass and unknowingly gets infected with a mystery...well, no one knows yet.

George "Buck" Flower, seen here with his frequent co-star Booze

The train stops at a small station in Moose Point to switch engines. The agent and George "Buck" Flower, apparently the only two people on a whole long-ass train, disembark to wait. The agent finds out what George "Buck" Flower done did, and they, along with three train office employees, end up quarantined at the station as the scientists at the lab race to find a "counter-agent." Eventually the survivors are told one thing only: don't fall asleep under any circumstances because...something bad will happen.

Side note, about 25 minutes into the picture, a buzzing began, so loud that it drowned out the dialogue. For a moment I thought it might be a new addition to the film's Casio-flavored sci-fi "soundtrack," but then I realized that it was the disc and that the buzzing may never end so, full disclosure: I watched the rest of it on Tubi. On the downside, I had to suffer through some commercials for diapers and psoriasis medication. On the upside, Tubi has what I assume is the transfer from the Arrow Blu-ray release (can you believe it??), so I got to see it in its correct aspect ratio and in colors that Mill Creek would never allow me to dream up. I felt like Dorothy stepping into Oz when I got a load of the pinks and blues and a whole Skittles' worth of rainbow in the laboratory and the office of Lieutenant General Poor Man's Raymond Burr in Rear Window! (Please note that his official name is "The Official.")

I would also accept "Lieutenant General Poor Man's Roger Ebert"

Now, a movie full of people sitting around talking doesn't sound very exciting, I'll admit ("Unless it's written by Aaron Sorkin!!" -- you, probably haha lmaoooo). But the dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Ingrid Neumayer, is rife with that patented Bill Rebane weirdness that had me invested in the small-town drama of Moose Point, as centered on its train station office. Give me a Moose Point night soap stat!

The drama centers around a woman named Jenny (Carol Irene Newell) who comes in to "do the books" at the station every Friday. Yes, it is truly a cosmic joke that she is there today of all days, the day when the train full of space stuff is due. 

After she arrives, her co-worker Charlie (Ralph Meeker) watches her pour herself some coffee and we get this shot, accompanied by what can only be described as "floozy music." Not raucous burlesque or nudie film-esque music. Floozy music. It's...quaint. Which is fitting, in my opinion.

I'm not sure if this is "Bill Rebane film" lascivious or strictly "Moose Point" lascivious, mind. But either way, it introduced what would become the true saga of The Alpha Incident; no, it's not about any "disease organism"s from Mars. It's about the sexual politics and love games of the Moose Point Train Station, which I have yet to figure out, quite frankly. I doubt I ever will. 

By the way, Ralph Meeker, who is ostensibly the closest thing The Alpha Incident has to a "name" actor, isn't given much to do or more than a handful of lines of dialogue until the final ten minutes of this thing, when it all goes off the rails (get it?). We'll get to that, of course. The important thing to note now is that through the whole movie he reminded me of Wilford Brimley as Blair in John Carpenter's The Thing.

Okay, but hear me out: Charlie's co-quarantined co-worker Jack is played by John F. Goff, who was Al Williams (aka Mr Janet Leigh) in The Fog. George "Buck" Flower was also in The Fog. Clearly John Carpenter is a fan of The Alpha Incident and did, in fact, model Blair after Ralph Meeker. Right? RIGHT?! 

In further red string conspiracy board news, John F. Goff was also in Drive-In Massacre AND John Carpenter's They Live, both alongside George "Buck" Flower. Maybe it's not so much that John Carpenter is a fan of The Alpha Incident as he is a fan of The Chilling Classics 12-DVD Collection 50 Movie Pack from Mill Creek Entertainment. Right? Or maybe...maybe...I'm John Carpenter? Hmm, I sure do love video games...the evidence grows and grows.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Moose Point After Dark.

So we've got Charlie ogling Jenny's gams--which go all the way up to here her tasteful knee-length hemline, and Jack incessantly making lewd comments at her. Sometimes she tells him to knock it off, other times she drapes herself all over him. But she insists she's not interested, as she has a big weekend date with Ted Sheffield, a man whom she's been seeing on-and-off. Jack is unbothered and continues to hit on her relentlessly.

For her part, Jenny takes an interest in the government agent, Sorensen, who does not take an interest in her. Not even when she decides to change her clothes and put on makeup! The nerve. The space infection that may or may not be coursing through her veins is bad enough, imagine getting rejected by the man who has been in town for five minutes and is also infected and Jenny, please remember that you are all quarantined and maybe dying?

In light of all of this, she decides to go have sex with Jack in an empty train car. What! It seems that Jenny's phone number is 867-53-OH NO amirite?

She immediately regrets the decision to sleep with Jack, but don't worry, it's not because she feels bad about maybe-cheating on Ted Sheffield. She later reveals that Ted Sheffield doesn't even exist?? He's like a George Glass...? Again I say: WHAT.

See, the Jenny storyline is just part of where the Bill Rebane weirdness comes in.

The quarantined group must stay awake, right? That's part of the whole space infection deal. Well, they can barely pull one single all-nighter before they start coming apart at the seams and Jenny has--or tries to--have sex with most of the men. But no worries: the government very helpfully air drops some amphetamines to them, along with some Slim Jims and plastic bags to poop in. (We don't want the infection seeping into the environment, do we?) It all leads to those final ten minutes I mentioned earlier, ten minutes which are kicked off by poor Charlie starting to doze and...well, let's just say that it's too bad Nancy Thompson hadn't been invented yet, for perhaps she could have reminded him: Don't. Fall. Asleep.

Oh man, that last screenshot really sends me! It's not the end of the sequence, mind you. Trust me when I say that it gets way grosser, but no more realistic. The "Wait...what?" that starts running through your mind won't stop until the whole thing ends on a lousy freeze frame ten minutes later. 

To those of you who are not partial to the character actor-laden cast list or the task of parsing Jenny's sad, small-town love (?) story or Bill Rebane in general, I don't know if those final ten minutes would make sitting through all of The Alpha Incident worth it.  

But as for me, John Carpenter, well. Maybe it's just the "disease organism" talking but I loved it? I can't wait until the next time we get to partake in some Wisconsin weirdness on a Cthursday. I'm a bona fide Rebane-iac and proud of it!