“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
— Revelations 5:9, from the film’s ending title card, because mixing aliens with the bible was a hot ticket in the 1970s
It all began with the 1970 film adaptation of the same name of Erich von Däniken’s 1968 worldwide best-seller Chariots of the Gods? — one that grossed $26 million in U.S. box office alone, and received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature.
The documentaries, as well as fictional movies — long before Close Encounters of the Third Kind came on the scene — were thou art loosed.
Rod Serling pulled a narration paycheck with In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection (all 1973) for Sunn Classics; he also lamented about all sorts of weirdness with Encounter with the Unknown (1973). American National Enterprises gave us Mysteries from Beyond Planet Earth (1975). G. Brook Stanford, one the world’s earliest UFO journalists (or “saucerians” as they preferred), used his own book, Space-Craft from Beyond Three Dimensions (1959) to make his own Schick-Sunn Classics-styled document with Overlords of the U.F.O (1976). Film Ventures International jumped into the fray with The Force Beyond (1978). Then, Jack Palance and William Shatner, respectively, earned paychecks hosting the films The Unknown Force (1977), which tossed in psychics, miracle healers, and Man’s and the Earth’s untapped energies, while Bill got into the ancient-biblical astronauts game with Mysteries of the Gods (1977).
While it didn’t speak of aliens, Sunn Classics jumped in the deep end of the pool with In Search of Noah’s Ark (1976) and the “science” of Christianity with Beyond and Back (1978). Knowing that, if people were into biblical arks, they’d want a movie about the Son of Man, too, so they gave us In Search of Historic Jesus (1979), as well as movies about the alien-infested The Bermuda Triangle (1979), and the predictions of the end of man by Nostradamus with The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981).
Of course, when documentary-reenactment films — which, in a way, UFO: Target Earth is — began to fizzle in the Lucasian ripples, out came the-very-on-the-cheap Star Wars ripoffs from Sunn Classics, by way of the VHS-rental cousin Starship Invasions (1977) starring Robert Vaughn battling Christopher Lee: he in a black Gumby suit as the alien leader of an underwater pyramid base in the Bermuda Triangle. Both actors returned in Hangar 18 (1980) and End of the World (1977), respectively, with Lee in the latter as an alien masquerading as a Catholic Priest lording over a convent of alien-nuns (no, really).
Ed Hunt, the man behind Starship Invasions, previous examined the concepts of the Bible, humans and aliens with Point of No Return (1976), another fictional — “based in fact” — sci-fi thriller about an investigator looking into a series of violent deaths, via suicide and murder, which are “somehow” connected to UFOs and nuclear research. Then Hunt was back with a documentary proper: UFO’s Are Real (1979), featuring insights from respected military and science professionals.
Then, there was producer Robert Emenegger, he who gave a documentary with the same title as the book on which it was based, UFOs: Past, Present, and Future (1974); in the midst of Sunn Classics, with their box office rally of documentaries, Emenegger re-released it as a 1976 cash-in. Then, when Close Encounters of the Third Kind broke box office records, Emenegger brought it back, again, as UFOs: It Has Begun (1979). Emenegger, of course, was also in the live-action business and, with Star Wars dominating between 1977 to 1983, he pumped out ripoffs that made Sunn’s Robert Vaughn’s and Christopher Lee’s romps look like a Lucas opera, with The Killings at Outpost Zeta, PSI Factor, Captive, Beyond the Universe, Warp Speed, Time Warp, Escape from DS-3, and Lifepod — which starred the likes of Cameron Mitchell and Adam West, along with plenty of sets, prop, and stock footage recycling.
Maybe, if Michael A. (Alessandro?) De Gaetano — the “power” behind UFO: Target Earth — secured the services of Cameron Mitchell, Adam West, Christopher Lee, and Robert Vaughn. Maybe if he booked Aldo Ray and Virginia Mayo, as he did for his second feature, Haunted (1977), this documentary-meets-reenactment-meets-live action (well, no action) drama amalgamate wouldn’t be so tragic.
Yeah . . . Michael A. De Gaetano, aka Alessandro De Gaetano, whose career I do not know and do not want to even bother Googling-out, made his producing, writing and directing debut with this UFO epic. Then, he did two more: Haunted (1977) and Scoring (1979), neither which I want to see or dig into any deeper: by titles alone, we’ll guess they are a ghost-horror and a T&A flick.
Then, our ol’ Uncle Mike, aka, Al, vanished . . . and I am of the opinion that’s where his career, ended. And he went of to sell used cars in Atlanta.
Did he return after a decade? No, I don’t think so.
I never trust the digital content mangers at the IMDb, as they’re constantly splitting resumes, due to film artisans using alternate names and aliases during their careers, or they’re database-merging unrelated artists due to similar names. I always look for a second source. But for Mike-Al, there is no second source.
So, no: I don’t believe the Allessandro deGaetano, the one who emerged ten years later to give us Bloodbath in Psycho Town (1989), is one and the same. And no, I do not want to see that film or dig into it any deeper: by title alone, I’ll guess it’s a slasher ripoff.
Then, our crazy Uncle Al (aka Michael?) — not Brescia, but we wish he was Alfonzo Brescia, for at least Star Odyssey was entertaining with its spunky awfulness — vanished, again, for another six years.
Then he came back, to give us . . .
Something called Project: Metalbeast (1995), then Butch Camp (1996), and wrote another one called, Neowolf (2010). The latter is about a band and a werewolf, well, just like — but admittedly better — than Alice Cooper’s Monster Dog. The first two are self-explanatory: yes, the latter is about gay men and lesbian women at a summer camp. And, if not for us diggin’ up obscurities for our latest “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week,” we wouldn’t have broached that wolf rocker, at all.
So, are they all the same “De Gaetano” auteur? Or two. Or three? Magic Google Ball says, “No” to the 8-Ball. I think we have three different Mike-Als IMDb-jumbled.
Okay, so, anyway . . . .that’s mysterious Michael/Alessandro De Gaetano resume in a nutshell. No “Exploring” career featurette is required. Done and done.
Yeah, I know I sound pissy.
I’m acting like a dickhead bully kicking the dorky kid of the twin-plex set in the nuts, leavin’ Micheal De Gaetano wallowing in pain on the playground, as I hit the 7-11 for a Cherry Slurpie and nuked Bean Burrito with a smile on my face for a bully-job well done.
In my defense: my cinematic bullying, is warranted. You’d think, with enough American International and Crown International sci-fi flicks under my belt, I’d know better. (But I’ll still blame Mike-Al.)
Alas . . . I was infected-beyond-cure by Star Wars Fever and the Boogie-Woogie Battlestar Galactica Flu. So, me, the naive movie goer obsessed with all things Lucasian and Grand Larsony, went to see UFO: Target Earth, as well as Star Pilot (1977), aka the decade-old repack of Mission Hydra: 2+5 (1966), at my local twin plex. And both sucked, not only Dianoga ass, but Wompa balls. (I even went to see — in its very-limited, one-week U.S. theatrical run — the sequel-Battlestar Galactica film cut from the series, Mission Galactica: The Cylons Attack (1979), and drove 15 miles to do so. It was a sickness.)
So, yeah. I am still a little bit pissed off that Michael-Alessandro “stole” my sweated-my-ass-off yard work money for this UFO biblical-aliens boondogglin’ hornswoggle.
So, yeah. This review is going to hurt, Mike. You know, like those mike booms that keep popping your actors in the head. What’s the deal, Mike? Did you hire the world’s shortest boom man in the history of film? (The more experienced film critic in me now knows this was shot-on-video, then blown up for theatrical distribution: thus, the boom mike pulled into the frame. So that settles that, 50 years later.)
“On the afternoon of March 26, 1974, Alan Grimes, a young teaching fellow at the University of Gainesville, attempted to make a telephone call to a colleague to discuss some academic business. It was a call which was to change his life!”
— More cost-cutting voice overs, leading us to believe we’re to embark on a docu-reenactment flick of the Sunn Classic variety
So, while this all takes place two years before Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind . . . don’t worry. Steve didn’t rip off UFO: Target Earth; the origins of CE3K date to his first full-length indie, Firelight, made in 1964 while still a teenager. However, let’s say we have an ersatz Roy Neary (aka Richard Dreyfuss) in Dr. Alan Grimes (aka the-dryer-than-toast Nick Plakias), and our faux-Jillian Guiler (aka Melinda Dillon) is Vivian, the psychic-abductee (cat-screeched to thespian nauseam by a thankfully one-movie-and-done Cynthia Cline).
Courtesy of poor editing — and the film opening with UFO photographs as its opening title cards role, then cuts into Blair Witch-styled, “eyewitness account” documentary interviews — it may not be perfectly clear to most, so we’ll clear it up. The young boy we meet in the opening of the film — dismissed by his mother when he complains, nightly, about the strange lights in his bedroom (“It was like a big star and it hurt” . . .”Oh, it’s just dreams, dear.”), is our hero-doctor.
Now, about that “strange light”: we don’t see it. Nor any saucers, or aliens, or any special effects: as we shouldn’t, since Michael A. De Gaetano — we come to learn these 50-years later — shoestringed his debut film, sans permits, for $70,000. (But I still won’t cut him a break. I’m celluloid-dicky that way.) So, to that end, and as is the case with any ultra-to-low-budget film, we’re exposition-heavy, as characters spew dialog about what they’ve seen. Yes, instead of seeing saucers that couldn’t escape Earth’s gravity (the “strange lights” in the bedroom) we’re told about them.
So, anyway . . . that kid grew up to become a Dr., or some type of communications specialist at a Georgia University . . . which allows him to accidentally intercept a top-secret government phone call (?) about UFO activity near a power plant that’s near a lake (plot point), with jets scrambled (again, we do not see this event).
So, obsessed with the event (again, young Alan’s been obsessed with UFOs since the bedroom lights, natch), he chats up his old astronomy professor (in an obvious, bad grey wig) — who gives us some exposition-babble via a lecture regarding the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1066 A.D. coinciding with William the Conqueror’s conquest of England and the rise of the Islamic Empire. Oh, and the comet also caused the Crusades, the Great Black Plague, the Reformation, and the discovery of the New World. Oh, and that, always, after a comet arrives, there’s a flurry of UFO activity.
So the professor leads Doc Al to a UFO skeptic-inclined professor, Dr. Mansfield (another one-and-gone actress in LaVerne Light), as they discuss the old testament story about Jonah and the whale . . . and that a whale’s throat is too small to swallow a man — so it must have been an underwater UFO. And that leads us to our faux-Melinda Dillon (Cynthia Cline): a UFO abductee left “cursed” with psychic powers that gives her the ability to feel “dimensional energy.” That “feeling,” in a bit that predates Meg Ryan in When Harry Meet Sally, her joke-of-a-psychic-episode-with-the-aliens performance is more “fake orgasm” than alien-psychic episode.
So, with a psychic abductee on his side, Alan now has the “link” to the aliens he needs to track then down — and possibly stop an alien invasion. And he does, since the military officer he met with earlier to discuss linking the university’s and military’s “systems” to research the ongoing UFO sightings plaguing Atlanta, gives him the bum’s rush with a smile and handshake. Meanwhile, the skeptical Dr. Mansfield, who knows a thing or two about psychic abilities, but doesn’t buy Vivian’s gifts, tags along with Alan and Vivian to document the area’s UFO sightings, while also disproving Viv’s abilities, all of which takes them to a mysterious lake that may or may not have an alien craft at its bottom.
So, while at the lake, our trio (well, four, lets not forget Nick’s buddy, Dan Rivers) sets up some electronic equipment . . . and the oscilloscope’s patterns, apparently, indicates “something” is down there — and we know this because Vivian has one of her Meg Ryan faux-orgasms. Only the acting is so awful, it’s more like Elaine Benis, the Seinfeld-ripoff of Meg’s character. You know, the way George Costanza was a ripoff of the great Woody Allen.
Anyway . . . there is something below with “an energy force with a flight pattern,” Alan tells us. . . . So, with that flux of the oscilloscope, Alan is summoned by an alien presence (again, heard, not seen). The alien also calls out “Viv-i-ian” over a walkie talkie, so she can have another Julia Louis-Dreyfuss bad-thespian freakout-moment.
Finally. Plot movement.
The alien tells us the story of his becoming trapped on Earth as “formless energy” over 1000 years ago. And that Alan is one of only four in the history of the human race to “ascend” the human form to understand alien life (it’s not mentioned via dialog, but if you know your bible: the other three would be Enoch, Elijah, and the Virgin Mary). Now, Alan must set aside his fear and die, as a “sacrifice” to give the aliens the energy they need to return home. And while he’s not ripping of CE3K, De Gaetano pinches 2001: A Space Odyssey: for as Alan walks to — and into — the lake, he ages.
As ol’ buddy Dan pulls Alan’s skeletal remains from the lake, Alan’s “energy,” i.e., spirit, departs into space. And we actually do “see” the alien face from the poster: it appears on a TV monitor at the lakeside camp. And yes, we do, finally, get some (not so) special effects: three-minutes worth of a pre-Windows screensaver light show via a TV monitor — which represents Alan’s “light-spirit” ascending to the stars.
Okay, I’ll give credit to where credit is due.
De Gaetano — as I watch this almost five decades after the twin-cinema fact — was certainly Erich von Däniken-ambitious in his debut endeavor. He worked in Halley’s Comet, bible parables, and psychic phenomenon, and is certainly a student of all of those Sunn Classics documentaries we spoke of, earlier. The Spielbergian concept is there: the budget, sadly, is not.
Sure, now, all these years later, it’s not all that bad, but still: not having any aliens — expect that color-smudgy face that shows up on a TV — or spaceships — all supplanted by awful, exposition-thespians — kills it. The script, however, has its intelligent and insightful moments. The alien(s) abducting Alan as a little boy, for their own, nefarious purposes of getting home, is both both creepy and, yet, sad. And some of the locations De Gaetano secured on his $70,000 budget are budget-impressive (the bar scene is well-done), and the outdoor shots are competent, as well. So, it’s not a total Ed Wood-meets-Larry Buchanan loss. No doubt, there’s a lot of volunteer (background) acting and location-donations, afoot, so now: my more knowledgeable film critic-side gives Mike-Al a lot of critical slack that my once film-loving child, did not: I now see this as a more ambitious, intelligent-inversion of a Don Dohler faux-Star Wars joint, such as The Alien Factor.
According to Howard Hughes, in the pages of his book Outer Limits: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Great Science Fiction Films (2014), god bless him: he dug deeper into Alessandro De Gaetano’s film. Double-H tell us the film shot-on-location in and around Atlanta, Georgia, at the Fernbank Science Center (Wikipage), the historic Manuel’s Tavern (they have a Wikipage!), and Stone Mountain Park (website).
The ’70s Progressive Rock Sidebar: Now, in this writer’s quest to chronicle all things Kim Milford (Song of the Succubus, Rock-a-Die, Baby), Kim Milford’s post-Moon band from those films — which he formed with remnants from Genya Ravan`s Ten Wheel Drive (recorded for Polydor and Capitol) — called Eclipse, provides the song “Between the Ceiling and the Sky” for the films opening credits, a film else rife with utterly awful, electronic noodling.
As for the (too loud) background music heard at the bar: We’ve been unable to track down the song “Country Love.” Sadly, between the muddy-washed opening titles and lack of ending ending credits on the upload we’ve watched, there’s no way to identify the artist of that song — if it was credited at all.
Okay, I lied. I Google just a Little Bit Sidebar: I can’t believe all of the black & white promotional stills for this film available for sale online. You can check them out for yourself: Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4, Photo 5, Photo 6. And we found these two DVD covers:
As you can tell from the above Star Pilot and Eyes Behind the Stars (unlike UFO: Target Earth, which predates CE3K, Eyes actually is a ripoff of CE3K) two-fer repacks: UFO: Target Earth is easily found on DVD as a standalone film, in multi-packs, and yes, even on Mill Creek Box Sets (in this case, their Nightmare Worlds 50-Film Pack/IMDb track listing). It’s also, very appropriately — if you know your Larry Buchanan’s works — packed with Creature of Destruction (1967). And beware: all of those presses are copies ripped from either the 1989 VHS or grey-marketed off the film’s numerous online rips.
Ugh. As we go to press, Tubi pulled their upload of the full film — which is odd, considering UFO: Target Earth is in the public domain and the reason why Mill Creek keeps recycling it on their bargain box sets. Currently, the only upload we’ve got — and are grateful for (but it’s still a piss poor ripping) — is this two-part Daily Motion upload, HERE . . . but the 10-minute, second-half climax is missing from the 80-minute rip. In fact, there’s three cuts floating on the web at 77, 80, and 86-minutes. Right now, all we have are truncated 55-minutes uploads that cut off the ending — where we finally “see” the aliens.
I know brevity is not my forte, but I’m writing for the web-only and not a hard-copy print magazine, so I do critically indulge — and also dive deeper than other web critics. However, passionately-made films like UFO: Target Earth deserve that little-extra, special effort in preserving them for later film lovers to discover. So, as always, I appreciate your indulgences in coming this far to read this last sentence.