Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection
directed by Bill Rebane
starring Ralph Meeker, Barbara Hale
The name may not be as familiar as Roger Corman, Ed Wood, or H.G. Lewis, but tucked away in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, William Rebane carved out a film studio and a niche cinematic legacy that still resonates today. Rebane was the mastermind behind glorious schlock like The Giant Spider Invasion, Monster a Go-Go, and The Demons of Ludlow populating late night TV, home video, and providing fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Arrow Video has assembled a half dozen of Rebane’s films in Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection which spans four Blu-ray discs and a 60 page book by film historian Stephen Thrower who penned several of the go-to books on exploitation/grindhouse/drive-in movies. First of all this set is not exhaustive. Two of his best known works, The Giant Spider Invasion and Blood Harvest are not included as their rights are owned by other companies and have terrific Blu-rays of their own. Arrow has teed up an impressive slate of films with Monster A Go-Go (1965), Invasion from Inner Earth (1974), The Alpha Incident (1978), The Demons Of Ludlow (1983), The Game (1984), and Twister’s Revenge! (1988) along with a feature length documentary Who is Bill Rebane? by historian and critic David Cairns which does yeoman’s work in putting Rebane’s colorful career into historical perspective with the assistance of Rebane and those who worked with him.
Out of his ten feature films The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) and The Alpha Incident (1978) are his most fully realized and, probably not coincidentally Rebane’s most well known and financially successful films. The Alpha Incident gets compared to The Andromeda Strain (1971) and George Romero’s The Crazies (1973) but I think it really fits more with that peculiar strain of British sci-fi like Island of the Burning Damned (1967) or Devil Girl From Mars (1954) where a small group of people are trapped in a remote location have to stop fighting with each other to face the threat that threatens all mankind if it gets beyond their tiny spot on the map. The Alpha Incident focuses on a small railroad depot that gets placed under quarantine when a microbe from Mars accidentally gets released. A small group of people waiting outside aid from the government struggle to keep their wits about them as they force themselves to stay awake since the microbe attacks people’s brains while they sleep. The acting is credible and the film doesn’t try to do too much and keeps things simple. That simplicity adds to the tension making The Alpha Incident a comparably cerebral film but must have been a thudding bore when it was distributed as a drive-in second feature paired with Star Wars.
The most unlikely film in his filmography is Twister’s Revenge! (1988) which is basically what if Larry, Daryl, and Daryl from Newhart run afoul of a sentient monster truck? Wacky hijinks ensue including cars and building destruction, a tank battle, and more b-roll of monster truck rallies than you ever wanted to witness. It is a deranged, almost unbelievable movie, that Rebane actually thought he could make into a series. It was pretty quickly forgotten until Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s RedLetterMedia featured Twister’s Revenge on one of their Best of the Worst shows and created new interest in Rebane’s work.
Rebane’s career is pockmarked with unrealized potential and disappointment. His films always seemed to be bursting with concepts and potential. That due to lack of budget or luck never seemed to be realized. He was not an incompetent filmmaker but always seemed to be need more polish on the script, more time to shoot, or more budget for his effects. He isn’t nearly a eccentric as Ray Dennis Steckler, Al Adamson, or Andy Milligan and his movies lack that maniacal energy. In many ways Rebane is a bit of a square. He was a maverick, but not a rebel and many people are likely to know multiple William Rebane movies without realizing that they are the same creator. A set like Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection goes a long way in rehabilitating Rebane’s legacy as a slightly renegade regional auteur behind some of the more memorable if confounding films ever to grace a drive-in or VHS rental shop.