Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection
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!
Arrow Video's latest director focused box set explores the works of Wisconsin's own Bill Rebane, aptly titled Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection. Sadly (for some) this set doesn't gather together all of the filmmaker's works, I assume due to rights or reasons similar. Still, Arrow has managed to gather together six of his films, spreading them across the first three dual-layer discs of this four-disc set: Monster A-Go Go, Invasion from Inner Earth, The Alpha Incident, The Demons of Ludlow, The Game, and Twister's Revenge! Unsurprisingly, the elements used for each film vary in quality, yet Arrow has still seen fit to scan each film at 2K.
The links and drop downs provided will lead to more detailed coverage of each disc/title, but the overall quality of the presentations is "not bad!" Some presentations are severely limited by the quality of the source elements (the best Arrow could find), Monster A-Go Go, Invasion from Inner Earth, and Twister's Revenge! being the weakest. The latter has an especially dupey look to it, while the other two are just in rough condition, Monster A-Go Go laced with scratches.
The other films come out looking pretty good, but The Game, the only one to be sourced from an original negative, manages to come off looking the best. It's also presented in two aspect ratios: 1.33:1 and 1.85:1. It's clear that Arrow has restored the full-frame version and then zoomed-in and recropped that picture for the 1.85:1 version. Though there are some minor artifacts from that (the grain can look a little less natural and a bit more blocky) both presentations are still quite sharp and detailed. Colours are really good as well.
Despite the source elements being limited to varying degrees across each film, the digital restorations and final presentations are all consistently strong. Even when the source is lacking the digital presentation still manages to deliver as sharp and as film-like an image as possible, and Arrow's restoration efforts, while minimal on a few titles, still clean up a lot of the smaller marks and dirt, and I'm sure the films have never looks as good as they do here.
Monster a Go-Go (1965): 5/10 Invasion from Inner Earth (1974): 6/10 The Alpha Incident (1978): 7/10 The Demons of Ludlow (1983): 7/10 The Game (1984): 8/10 Twister's Revenge! (1988): 6/10
All of the films are given DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural soundtracks. It's hard to judge these on a restoration level because the acoustics are pretty awful in just about all of the films. Monster A-Go Go is especially bad thanks to those acoustics and the fact the audio is picking up everything that was in the background at the time of filming. The audio is also so distorted it's near-impossible to hear any of the dialogue (though this may not actually matter much). In all cases, I think we're getting about as good as we ever will.
Monster a Go-Go (1965): 3/10 Invasion from Inner Earth (1974): 4/10 The Alpha Incident (1978): 6/10 The Demons of Ludlow (1983): 6/10 The Game (1984): 6/10 Twister's Revenge! (1988): 6/10
Arrow packs in a number of supplements across all four discs. Bill Rebane himself pops up to offer his "unadulterated, honest opinions" for each film, and they're spread across the first three discs. You'll also find trailers for the four latter films, and galleries featuring stills, poster and video art, and even comic adaptations of Rebane's The Giant Spider Invasion, one of the films not included in the set. There are also some outtakes for Invasion from Inner Earth, The Demons of Ludlow, and The Alpha Incident.
The first disc, featuring Monster A-Go Go and Invasion from Inner Earth, also features a short appreciation by Kim Newman, along with some early shorts by Rebane. The two shorts around the then-popular twist dance, Twist Craze and Dance Craze are interesting but the real gem is Rebane's industrial film around how bank employees should handle a type of robbery called "kidnap extortion," Kidnap Extortion: Robbery by Telephone. This 14-minute short, loaded with wonderful dated material while showcasing both Rebane's strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker, is one of the highlights of the set.
Disc two, housing The Alpha Incident and The Demons of Ludlow, offers a nice 16-minute video essay by Richard Harland Smith called Rebane’s Key Largo, which works to not only show how Rebane's film The Alpha Incident shares quite a bit in common with Key Largo, it also works to argue for Rebane's natural talents as a filmmaker, at least when he's not killing it with lengthy exposition and dialogue that can go nowhere. None of the other films get anything like this, but I can't argue against it being the best film in the set, so if any film was to get a feature like this, it makes sense it's this one (it's also Rebane's favourite film).
Stephen R. Bissette throws in his own appreciation for Rebane on the third disc, which features The Game and Twister's Revenge! Bissette talks about how he came across each of Rebane's films through the decades (some harder to find than others), and he talks about each one, explaining their appeal to Wisconsin audiences and even sharing some of his memorabilia.
The stand-out supplement, though, is found on the fourth disc, and that's David Cairns' 115-minute Who is Bill Rebane?, featuring interviews with fans, those who know Rebane, those who worked with him, and Rebane himself. Cairns looks at Rebane's life and work in painstaking detail, from his shorts and industrial film work, to his backfire first attempt at a feature with what would become Monster A-Go Go, through all his other works, even the ones not in this set. Though Cairns and the various interviewees don't hold back on the shortcomings of the films and Rebane's weaknesses as a filmmaker, I was taken by the passion of it all. Even if it doesn't really change my mind about the films in the set, I think I get the fondness many hold for them, and the passion in this documentary (along with the passion of others throughout the supplements, like Bissette) is catching.
The set also comes with a 56-page hardbound book put together by Stephen Thrower. The lengthy essay works as a nice companion to Cairns' documentary, covering the films, his studio, and the tail winds he faced along the way. It also features complete cast and crew details around each film in the set, along with details about the restorations.
Arrow has put together some wonderful material for this release, and I'm sure fans will get a big kick going through everything here.
I admit I'm unsure as to the general appeal this set will have, but Arrow has put a great amount of effort into it. Though the source elements can limit things I think the restoration work has been impressive and the final presentations look far better than I was expecting, warts and all. The supplements were also quite a bit of fun to go through, leading me to believe Rebane's fans will be thrilled with everything Arrow has put together. While I can't recommend this set to people unfamiliar with Rebane's work, I think this one is a no-brainer for his fans.