Among regional filmmakers here in America, few have had quite the life and career quite like Bill Rebane. Among his many exploits including filming a documentary on the search for the arms of the Venus de Milo, running for Governor of Wisconsin twice (in 1979 and 2002), appearing as an uncredited extra in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), and turning the chassis of a Volkswagen Beetle into a giant spider for one of his movies (The Giant Spider Invasion of course); all this while running his own film studio based in the small town of Gleason, Wisconsin. Arrow Video has collected six of his films – plus a brand new documentary on his career – and given them their Blu-ray debuts in this exclusive collector’s set.
The Production: 2.5/5
Monster a Go-Go (1965; 1.5 out of 5 )
When the space capsule containing astronaut Frank Douglas returns to Earth, Douglas is missing from the landing site. After one of the doctors inspecting the site is killed, it becomes clear that Douglas has been turned into a giant monster that’s radioactive. As the terror mounts, scientists struggle to find an antidote while the military struggles to keep the monster captive and away from civilians. It leads to a climax in the sewers of Chicago, where the final twist awaits them all…
Invasion from Inner Earth (1974; 2.5 out of 5 )
While on holiday in the Canadian wilderness, a group of pilots start receiving reports of a deadly viral plague that’s sweeping the world. Holed up in a remote cabin, the group starts receiving radio transmissions from an unknown and alien lifeforce that’s unclear in their intentions; as time wears on and supplies start running out in the cabin, the group has to make some hard choices about either staying or venturing out into the unknown. Is it really a plague or the beginning of an alien invasion?
The Alpha Incident (1978; 3 out of 5 )
The space probe Viking II returns from Mars with an unknown and deadly microorganism that has lethal consequences for living creatures. While being transported to Colorado for further research on a potential antidote, a nosy and careless train employee accidentally releases the virus through a broken vial, cutting his hand in the process. Dr. Ted Sorenson arrives at a remote train station and promptly quarantines the place, leaving him and 4 others trapped, waiting on the government to take control of the situation. But it soon becomes clear that the answer to containing this outbreak might be more deadly than the disease itself!
The Demons of Ludlow (1983; 3 out of 5 )
On the town’s bicentennial anniversary, the people of Ludlow are gifted with an ornate piano that was owned by one of the descendants of the town’s founder. However, the piano plays a chilling tune: one which causes some citizens of the town to experience strange apparitions before being savagely killed. As the town’s preacher and reporter with ties to the town soon realize, the deaths are connected to the town’s past, stemming from an incident that involves the founder and the ancestors of the citizens. It’s an anniversary that will never be forgotten, if anyone is still alive at the end!
The Game (1984; 2.5 out of 5)
At a rural country resort, three millionaires have invited 9 strangers to take part in a game in which the winner will receive one million dollars. There’s a catch: it’s a game that tests the fear of the participants and those who leave the resort are disqualified. However, the game turns serious as some start disappearing or turning up dead, ratcheting up the stakes considerably as money no longer becomes a motivating factor; in this game, survival is the best prize of all.
Twister’s Revenge! (1989; 2.5 out of 5)
For cowboy and monster truck driver Dave, his pride and joy – besides his wife Sherry – is Mr. Twister, his truck which is outfitted with the latest in computer technology. However, three dimwitted mechanics – Bear, Kelly and Dutch – decides to steal the computer tech and hope to make a nice chunk of change, unaware that the technology also makes Mr. Twister a sentient truck that can also talk. When Sherry is kidnapped by this gang of bumblers, Dave and Mr. Twister set off to rescue her, leading up to a final confrontation involving them and a tank.
Who is Bill Rebane? (2020)
In this feature length documentary by David Cairns, the life and career of Bill Rebane (who’s still at work today) is examined through those who have worked with him, the filmmakers who’ve idolized him, and fans who’ve have the great privilege to experience his movies first hand. Immigrating from Latvia (where he was born), Rebane worked in a number of jobs as an actor, singer, and budding filmmaker, even becoming a millionaire on the 360° film process Cinetarium, which ultimately proved to be not just too expensive, but way, way ahead of its time. It’s after Monster a Go-Go (which was ultimately completed by fellow independent filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis) that Rebane made his home in Wisconsin, building The Shooting Ranch – the film studio located in the forests outside of Gleason – where his legend would be born and fostered over the 1970’s and 1980’s. Among those providing insight here include Rebane himself, filmmakers Randall William Cook, Cory Udler, Mark Cousins, and alumni of Rebane’s films including Jim Iaquinta, Randy Jurgensen, Steven Poster, Andy Romanoff, David Doyle and Brian Jennings, just to name a few.
The epitome of the DIY independent regional filmmaker, Bill Rebane created some of the most unique genre films that didn’t always play by the rules. The science fiction and horror genres were his stock and trade and each one of these films demonstrate a unique approach to telling stories; it appears that there’s more of an emphasis of character driven plot rather than straight up special effects and blood-and-gore dominated spectacles (Rebane had an aversion to the latter) in most of them. While most low budget features like these have their flaws, Rebane’s works have a strangely comforting feel to them – maybe because of these flaws and unique approach to storytelling – that have garnered a fanbase over the years. So, while you’ll never see these movies crack the greatest film ever made lists, each of these six films are bursting with character and charm that have maintained a cult appeal over the years and are worth discovering because of them.
Some familiar faces turn up in this set of films, which you should keep your eyes peeled for. In Monster a Go-Go, the most notable of the cast include former Hollywood actress June Travis as a friend of the missing Frank Douglas and the imposing Henry Hite as the titular monster. Invasion from Inner Earth features the first of three appearances (in this set) of Rebane favorite Paul Bentzen – who also contributed additional dialogue to the script – and a notable appearance by Nick Holt, who, after this film, embarked in a tragically short career in Hollywood, ended by a fatal motorcycle accident in 1979. For The Alpha Incident, cult favorites George “Buck” Flower (as the nosy train employee) and John Goff (as the hotheaded Tiller) stand out as does character actor Ralph Meeker (Mike Hammer himself) as the train station manager Charlie. In both The Demons of Ludlow and The Game, Don Arthur and Carol Perry are notable as – in the former – the town’s demonic founder and a descendant of one of his accusers of witchcraft, respectively, and – in the latter – as two of the three millionaires orchestrating the eponymous game. Also, some of Bill Rebane’s family make appearances in his movies either on screen or behind the camera. Look for his daughter Angelica in The Demons of Ludlow as the daughter of Efrain Ludlow and in Twister’s Revenge! as a dancer in the Love Bird bar; his wife Barbara served in a number of roles such as writer, producer, editor, assistant director and wardrobe while his son Randolph has worked as music editor, grip and in the sound department. And last but not least, Rebane himself made an appearance in one of his movies; he’s the boyfriend of a dancing girl who becomes one of the unfortunate victims of the monster in Monster a Go-Go and also serves as the film’s narrator.
3D Rating: NA
Monster a Go-Go is presented in its original 1:33:1 aspect ratio, while the other five films in this set are presented in their original 1:85:1 aspect ratios (The Game is also presented in an alternate 1:33:1 aspect ratio), all taken from brand new 2K scans of the best existing original film elements. Film grain is organic with color palette, gray scale (on Monster a Go-Go) and fine details for the most part given faithful representation; there are instances where scratches, dirt, vertical line and some fading are present, but given the fact that some of the materials used were in poor shape, that’s not entirely unexpected. All in all, each of the six films are likely given their best visual presentation here, surpassing previous home video editions.
All six films’ original mono soundtracks are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. Dialogue is mostly strong along with the sound mix and music; like the visual material there are instances of hissing and crackling present (also likely due to that state of the materials utilized), but nothing that’s too distracting. Overall, this set likely represents the best these six movies will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 5/5
Disc 1 – Monster a Go-Go/Invasion from Inner Earth
Straight Shooter – The first two of this six part series of interviews with Bill Rebane focuses on the making of Monster a Go-Go (10:46) and Invasion from Inner Earth (9:58).
Interview with film historian Kim Newman (15:07) – Newman examines the work of Rebane and why he holds such an unique place in regional filmmaking in this newly filmed interview.
Twist Craze (8:49) –
Dance Craze (14:41) –
Kidnap Extortion (14:28) –
Stills Gallery (22) (3:40)
Disc 2 – The Alpha Incident/The Demons of Ludlow
Straight Shooter – Parts 3 and 4 showcase Rebane’s honest and unadulterated view of the making of The Alpha Incident (9:24) and The Demons of Ludlow (7:44).
Rebane’s Key Largo (16:05) – Film historian Richard Harland Smith looks at Rebane’s use of different incarnations of the Key Largo story structure (a group of people forced together under extraordinary circumstances) in this new visual essay.
The Alpha Incident trailer (3:20)
The Demons of Ludlow trailer (2:40)
Stills Gallery (20) (3:20)
Disc 3 – The Game/Twister’s Revenge!
Straight Shooter – The final two parts have Rebane sharing his candid views on the making of The Game (6:57) and Twister’s Revenge! (8:10).
Discovering Bill Rebane (28:16) – Film historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette shares some of the personal connections he has to Rebane’s films as well as some of the memorabilia from the films in his collection in this new interview.
The Game trailer (1:27)
Twister’s Revenge! trailer (3:39)
Stills Gallery (17) (2:50)
Disc 4 – Who is Bill Rebane? documentary
King of the Wild Frontier (1:33:39) – In this nearly two hour conversation, Bissette shares a lot of his impassioned and honest opinions on the films of Bill Rebane, quite a few of which didn’t make it into the documentary included on this disc.
Invasion from Inner Earth outtakes (16:42)
The Alpha Incident outtakes (9:41)
The Demons of Ludlow outtakes (11:12)
The Giant Spider Invasion trailer (3:55)
Still Galleries – Six additional still galleries include A Rebane Miscellany (31 stills; 5:10), The Giant Spider Invasion (34 stills; 5:40), The Capture of Bigfoot (7 stills; 1:10), Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (6 stills; 1:00), Blood Harvest (9 stills; 1:30), and memorabilia from the collection of Stephen R. Bissette (24; 4:00).
Perhaps one of the most interesting filmmakers you (probably) haven’t known about, Bill Rebane has given regional cinema some its most off-the-wall and interesting movies to ever be shown in a drive-in theater. Arrow Video has turned in a terrific Blu-ray box set here, with solid HD transfers and a great wealth of bonus features going into the movies and the man himself. A contender for best Blu-ray box set of 2021 comes very highly recommended and worth seeking out if you’re curious or a big fan of regional cult filmmaking.
Amazon.com: Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection [Blu-ray]: June Travis, Stafford Morgan, Nick Holt, Ralph Meeker, Paul Bentzen, Phil Morton, Carol Perry, John F. Goff, Bill Rebane, David Cairns: Movies & TV
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