B&W, 1965, 68 mins. 40 secs.
Directed by Bill Rebane
Starring Henry Hite, June Travis, Phil Morton, Peter M. Thompson
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA/RB HD), Image Entertainment / Something Weird (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Color, 1974, 94 mins. 8 secs.
Directed by Bill Rebane
Starring Paul Bentzen, Debbi Pick, Nick Holt, Karl Wallace, Robert Arkens, Arnold Didrickson
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA/RB HD)

Color, 1978, 94 mins. 42 seccs.
Directed by Bill Rebane
Starring Ralph Meeker, Stafford Morgan, John F. Goff, Carol Irene Newell, John Alderman, George "Buck" Flower
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA/RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color, 1983, 92 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Bill Rebane
Starring Paul Von Hausen, Stephanie Cushna, Carol Perry, C. Dave Davis, Debra Dulman
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA/RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color, 1984, 83 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Bill Rebane
Starring Tom Blair, Jim Iaquinta, Carol Perry, Stuart Osborne, Don Arthur
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA/RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color, 1988, 89 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Bill Rebane
Starring Dean West, Meredith Orr, David Alan Smith, R. Richardson Luka, Jay Gjernes
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA/RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Having Monster a Go-Goplumbed the depths of regional Monster a Go-GoFlorida-centric filmmaking with a set devoted to the swampy antics of William Grefé and dedicated two essential sets to regional American horror in general, Arrow Video turned its attention to the work of another familiar name from the '70s drive-in scene: Bill Rebane, the Wisconsin-based writer, producer, and director who churned out a string of homegrown sci-fi and horror films, scoring perhaps his most notorious success with The Giant Spider Invasion. Now the lion's share of his work has been collected in one handy four-disc package, Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection, which comes with a wealth of bonus features providing some much-needed context for films that can leave even the most seasoned drive-in viewers scratching their heads.

Disc one is devoted to the first two Rebane films, whose productions were separated by over a decade. First up is the infamous Monster a Go-Go (or Monster a-Go Go to go by the title card), a ramshackle alien attack film Rebane began in the early '60s. Apparently jinxed by bad luck, the film ran out of funds and, thanks to Chicago connections, ended up being acquired and finished by none other than an uncredited Herschell Gordon Lewis to play with his Moonshine Mountain. Monster a Go-GoThe loss of a huge amount of shot footage along the way (half of it, according to Rebane) was one of the many issues that led to a very Monster a Go-Gobaffling finished product, with Lewis shooting additional scenes with other actors including a random attack scene involving some young picnicking girls. The plot, what there is of it, feels like a psychotic rip-off of The Quatermass Xperiment as returning American astronaut Frank Douglas (Hite) who seems to vanish upon landing, only to turn into a towering, murderous monster hunted by a variety of scientists and members of the military across the city with a number of shriveling victims left in his wake.

Originally released on VHS and DVD by Something Weird Video, the latter as a 2002 double feature DVD with the equally mind-melting Psyched by the 4-D Witch, this one has earned a reputation over the past few decades as one of the worst monster films of all time (including the obligatory ribbing via Mystery Science Theater 3000) thanks to its murky audio mix, total disregard for character continuity, and unsuccessful attempts to tie it all together with random bursts of narration like "Fate and history never deal in 'if'" (supplied by Rebane himself). That said, it does have some scrappy charms like a lo-fi theme song (which justifies the title, more or less) and the undeniably striking presence of Hite, a stage performer and TV spokesman who makes for an imposing alien menace even if the film can't quite seem to decide what he is by the end. Arrow's presentation is taken from a theatrical print (presumably the best element around) that's in generally good shape with just some baked-in scratches here and there; contrast levels are good, and detail looks satisfactory enough for what it is. The DTS-HD MA English 1.0 mono track can only do much with a film that's always sounded like was recorded on a Invasion from Inner Earthcassette player under a pillow, Invasion from Inner Earthwhich makes the addition of optional English SDH subtitles even more welcome than usual. This film and all of the other features are decked out with an entry in a video featurette series called Straight Shooter, with this first installment clocking in at 10m46s with the director chatting about his time in Chicago, H.G. Lewis, and his issues with the final product.

Sharing space on the same disc is 1974's extremely budget-conscious Invasion from Inner Earth, which depicts a global apocalypse as experienced by a small group of people holed up in a cabin with occasional cutaways to extras running up and down the street. It certainly scores points for ambition though as a mysterious plague and random interference with airplanes causes escalating panic heard on the radio, executed like a stage play as a young Canadian brother and sister, pilot Jake (Holt) and Sarah (Pick), out in a snowy cabin take in visitors affected by the catastrophic invasion. Meanwhile a strange voice and uncanny lights indicate something truly out of this world is taking place. The actual sci-fi material here is almost entirely delivered via dialogue, with just some insert shots of colorful smoke pouring in the streets indicating the scale of what's going on; then there's the way-out ending, which is certainly a novel narrative approach. The craziest element here has to be the Casio-performed music score, which features a wonky cover version of Invasion from Inner EarthThe Invasion from Inner EarthGood, the Bad, and the Ugly over the main titles; it's enough to almost make you forget about how extremely talky and uneventful the film is for the vast majority of its running time. The idea of interstellar invaders attacking from a hiding place in the Earth is always a fun one, of course, even beating Steven Spielberg's version of The War of the Worlds to the punch by decades.

Never the prettiest of films, this one's looked pretty rough on video over the years including several VHS releases (most trimmed down in some form or another with alternate titles like They or Hell Fire) from labels like Regal Video, API, and Platinum, not to mention a very dupey DVD from Mill Creek (as part of a 50 Movie Pack Madness set) ripped from the They VHS. The version here is Rebane's complete director's cut, likely looking about as good as it possibly good with far more detail and more accurate color than we've had before. It's still a very grainy, scruffy-looking film, but the upgrade value here is significant. Again the mono track is limited to the source, which is also very poorly recorded with those subtitles coming in handy often throughout. Again you get a Straight Shooter installment (9m58s) about the creation of what amounts to the first bona fide Rebane film, his decision to capitalize on the Wisconsin winter scenery after relocating there to live on a farm, and the "itch" to do sci-fi that got it all off the ground. Also on the disc are a bemused appreciation by Kim Newman (15m7s) about the director's place in B-movie history and his mix of vintage actors with "community theater" players and a gallery of posters and stills (3m40s). However, the best thing on this disc by far is a collection of three early Rebane short films starting off with 1961's Rebane-produced "Twist Craze" (8m49s), an energetic and extremely colorful snapshot of the dance craze that was sweeping the country -- as represented by folks at a swanky Chicago dinner club who get surprised with a special "twist program" for the evening. If you're into vintage '60s hair, shiny clothes, and outrageous decor, this one will have you in pure ecstasy for eight astonishing minutes. A sequel of sorts is 1962's "Dance Craze" (14m41s), shot in much the same style with the added value of a framing story about a portly guy being treated at the doctor's for a raging case of twist fever. You also get some stylized tableaux showing dance fads over the centuries for good measure, too. Finally, 1973's "Kidnap-Extortion: Robbery by Telephone" (14m28s) is a compact and surprisingly compelling industrial short from "Minimum Risk Banking" about how to thwart The Alpha Incidentcriminals' attempts to rob banks and perform other forms of The Alpha Incidentlarceny by snatching innocent citizens. (This would make a really great supporting programmer with Brian De Palma's Obsession.) All three shorts are newly restored and look gorgeous.

Following the relative success of 1975's The Giant Spider Invasion, Rebane stuck with the alien attack idea three years later with The Alpha Incident, which upped the ante a bit with a Hollywood star Ralph Meeker (looking very rough here) rubbing shoulders with drive-in stalwarts like John Alderman and George "Buck" Flower. After returning from Mars on a quest for new life, the craft Viking II returns to Earth carrying an alien organism that can infiltrate mammals and unleash nasty symptoms like bulging eyeballs and exploding craniums. While in transit on a train sent overnight by Dr. Sorenson (Morgan) and Dr. Rogers (Alderman), the test sample ends up being unleashed by a snooping railway employee, Hank (Flower), that ends up causing a quarantine at the nearest train station with a motley crew of employees including Charlie (Meeker), Jenny (Newell), and Jack (Goff) fending off an invisible The Alpha Incidentthreat that strikes when they fall asleep.The Alpha Incident

Though still very rough around the edges, this is a more polished film for Rebane with competent acting (Flower easily takes top honors but vanishes way too early) and some sparing but fun special effects including an ill-fated lab rat and a climactic pre-Cronenberg head splitting that won't win any awards but does push that PG rating about as far as it'll go. The formula here is pretty much the same as Inner Earth (lock up a handful of actors in a confined setting while a mostly unseen alien invasion is waged), but the result here is stronger and far more downbeat than expected all the way to the very grim shock ending. The transfer here is a big leap over what we've had before (including the Media VHS and a detour through bargain basement Mill Creek-ville), and the Straight Shooter piece (9m24s) is a solid one as Rebane chats about his move to more mainstream moviemaking sensibilities and his eligibility for Oscar consideration(!).

After The Alpha Incidentthat film Rebane went on to direct two titles that seemed to be everywhere on VHS but are AWOL here presumably due to rights issues, 1979's The Capture of Bigfoot and 1981's Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (probably still with Troma). That means The Alpha Incidentthe next film here is 1983's The Demons of Ludlow, Rebane's one excursion into Gothic horror and a surprisingly decent contribution to the genre. This one has a very strong Ulli Lommel vibe, which makes sense given that his horror film that same year, The Devonsville Terror, was shot in the same location and shared much of the personnel. While celebrating its bicentennial with lots of banjo plucking and dancing, the town of Ludlow takes its festivities to the next level with the arrival of an antique piano sent from England by the estate of its original founder. The gift is greeted with joy for the most part, but the local preacher (von Hausen) realizes something might be up during the big piano performance (which sounds an awful lot like a synthesizer), during which a young couple sneaks out to the barn only to get attacked by a creature with a glowing hand. A former Ludlow resident herself, reporter Debra (Cushna) and cohort Winfred (Robinson) start sorting through clues about the piano, which had been on the premises before, and realize the mayor (Davis) knows more than he's telling about the vengeful supernatural threat that could The Alpha Incidentconsume the entire town.

Just weird and bloody enough to grab your interest back in the VHS days, this is one of the stronger films in the set and looks great here with a nice, fresh scan that's far more watchable than the old TWE tape and obligatory Mill Creek The Alpha Incidentcheapo DVD. The vast majority of the film is very dark and shadowy, which made it a real chore to watch before but a far more legible and impressive here with some nifty in-camera effects during the big finale. As with Alpha, Rebane was handling sound far better by this point, and it sounds nice and crisp here. The Straight Shooter interview (7m44s) here goes into his rationale for doing a straight-up horror film, the enjoyable shooting conditions thanks to his new sound stage at his Shooting Gallery in Wisconsin, and his friendship with Lommel that had them sharing resources (as well as one maggoty Rebane idea that got tossed into Devonsville). The second disc also features "Rebane's Key Largo" (16m5s), an analysis of The Alpha Incident as a progression of his previous sci-fi and monster mini-epics using the pressure cooker setting as a way to deal with cinematic catastrophe in an idiom very much within the director's wheelhouse while tipping his hat to prior Hollywood productions. Also included are trailers for both films (Alpha's looking great in a new HD scan and Demons pulled from VHS), along with a The Alpha Incidentgallery featuring some nifty preliminary art designs.

On we go now to disc three with The Game, better known to VHS-philes as The Cold, and possibly the most obscure title in the set. Rebane himself seems less than enthused with this one, but even if it makes little sense, The Alpha Incidentthere's a lot of fun to be had here in what amounts to The Most Dangerous Game transposed to a modern hotel with a semi-supernatural twist. Three jaded millionaires -- George (Osborne), Maude (Perry), and Horace (Arthur) -- amuse themselves by recruiting players for a yearly weekend contest in which young people are pitted against each other to face their worst fears for a million dollar prize. After some dance floor shenanigans with the seven new arrivals, the fun begins as tarantulas, saunas, swimming pool snakes, shark fins, and other handy elements are used to torment the guests at a remote resort, including a particularly sadistic version of Russian roulette.

From its gloriously '80s fashions to its unpredictably cracked plotline that swerves in so many directions you have to assume the last twist is meant as a joke on the viewer, this one may not be to everyone's taste. However, it's extremely entertaining in a Norman J. Warren sort of way and finds Rebane still honing his craft by tightening up his pacing while delivering sharper cinematography and editing. There's a stronger emphasis on sex than usual here with some The Alpha Incidentlingering cleavage shots and a bit of full-on sauna nudity, while the actors seem to be having fun without losing The Alpha Incidentthat amateur feeling you'll have grown to embrace by this point in the set. Here the fresh scan is taken from what seems to be a pristine element in Rebane's possession with beautiful saturated color, a great way to make the acquaintance of a film you had to go out of your way to find either via that Mill Creek set or the scarce TWE VHS tape. You also get the option to watch it open matte at 1.33:1 or matted to 1.85:1; either option is workable, though the extra image info and roomier compositions on the 1.33:1 option allow you to really savor those incredible teased hairstyles to the fullest extent. This one's Straight Shooter (6m57s) finds the director acknowledging the positive response among some viewers while taking the "scary little fairy tale horror picture" itself to task a bit, explaining how it was shot in a week or less and found him appeasing a demand for more graphic horror and nudity at the time. (That said, it's still pretty tame in both respects.)

The co-feature on disc three is the single craziest film Rebane ever made, 1988's Twister's Revenge!, which is really saying something given it came on the The Alpha Incidentheels of his Tiny Tim-starring slasher film, Blood Harvest. Imagine a comedy version of Christine with a monster truck, plus a splash of Knight Rider, and that'll give you some idea of what to expect. Three auto mechanic hillbillies decide they The Alpha Incidentcan make a killing by pawning off the artificial intelligence in a new truck, Mr. Twister, that's being shown off at a big fair. Unfortunately their plan turns out to be more than their pea-sized brains can handle so they end paying a visit to Twister's owner, Dave (West), and kidnap his new bride, computer whiz Sherry (Orr), who's the brains behind the miracle truck. That leads to Dave and Twister going on a vengeance spree by running over pretty much any vehicle and building in sight before the criminals decide to use a tank for their own nefarious purposes, leading to a demolition derby finale.

Best watched late at night with friends and a large quantity of beer, Twister's Revenge! is a film that truly defies description. The dopey crooks, slapstick comedy, and plentiful monster truck feats all coalesce into a bizarre viewing experience seemingly geared for 12-year-old boys who just wanna see stuff get rolled over real good, and on that level it succeeds with flying colors. You also get some baffling little flourishes along the way, like a stop at a bar for a spandex-laden stage performance complete with dancers in gas masks. Of course, by 1988 there was no way this thing would ever get a legit theatrical release, so off it went to VHS (barely) from local Wisconsin-based outfit Video First Entertainment before going the Mill Creek route (as well as bootleg DVD labels like Synergy). That means the Arrow edition is another big step up for this one with the HD scan (from the sole print remaining) wringing way more detail and bona fide film grain than The Alpha Incidentwe had in that moldly old video master, keeping that gritty Rebane aesthetic intact but feeling much more like a real The Alpha Incidentmovie. The final Straight Shooter (8m10s) finds Rebane recalling the genesis of the project thanks to a monster truck-loving buddy, the real resources that gave the film extra production value like explosions and building demolitions, and the sad fate of the original negative. In "Discovering Bill Rebane" (28m16s), comic book legend and longtime horror movie enthusiast Stephen R. Bissette goes into his genre credentials and his passion for Rebane's cinema, pointing out how growing up with his films had an impact on him and made him appreciate their personal, off-the-wall charms complete with a slideshow lecture showing off his collection of Rebane artifacts. Standard def trailers for both features are included as well, plus a gallery of video art and a small sampling of production photos.

Finally disc four is centered around Who Is Bill Rebane?, David Carins' feature-length (115m18s) documentary about the filmmaker with a variety of mostly Zoom-recorded guests (Bissette, assistant Andy Romanoff, cinematographer Steven Poster, gaffer David Doyle, author Jim Knipfel, monster maker Randall William Cook, the Wisconsin Film Festival's Jim Healy and Ben Reiser, producer Randy Jurgensen, camera assistant Jim Zabilla, actor Jim Iaquinta, script supervisor Sarah Auerswald, jack of all trades Brian Jennings, sound recordist Peter Clemence, and filmmakers Mark Borchardt, Charlie Roxburgh, Cory Udler, Matt Farley, and Mark Cousins, ), plus more interview footage with Rebane himself, charting his entire career from Chicago to Wisconsin while reveling in the sometimes eccentric artistic choices along the way. Given the indulgent length you may want to split it in to two viewings as it's a lot to take in at once, but there's a lot of fun to be had including a cute sign-off at the end with all the participants. Presented as a separate extra is "King of the Wild Frontier" (93m39s), which presents Bissette's entire standalone interview in its entirety for your enjoyment as he goes into his lifelong passion for regional horror films. After that you get three separate silent outtake reels for Invasion from Inner Earth (16m42s), The Demons of Ludlow (11m12s), and The Alpha Incident (9m41s), plus the theatrical trailer for The Giant Spider Invasion and three separate image galleries (A Rebane Miscellany, The Giant Spider Invasion, and The Capture of Bigfoot, Rana the Legend of Shadow Lake, Blood Harvest, and "From the Collection of Stephen R. Bissette, SpiderBay Archives"). The limited edition packaging also comes with a booklet featuring liner notes by Stephen Thrower and a reversible poster featuring new artwork by The Twins of Evil.

Reviewed on May 9, 2021.