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Weird Wisconsin: Are you ready for The Bill Rebane Collection?

You may not immediately recognise the name Bill Rebane, but the Wisconsin-based indie film-maker was the person responsible for The Giant Spider Invasion. With its lame acting, cheap special effects and the use of VW Beetles to create the titular creatures, this 1975 sci-horror has gone on to become a cult classic of the highest order and I still have fond memories of seeing it at the cinema (aged 11). Now, when I heard that Arrow had collected six of Rebane’s features spanning his 30-year-career, I had to take a look. Now that I’ve seen them, all I can say is that they are all pale in comparison to Rebane’s career-best success.

Each film is presented in a brand-new restoration and the 4-disc box-set is loaded with new interviews and extras, including a 60-page tribute written by diehard fan Stephen Thrower. Now, there’s no doubt that Rebane put his heart and soul into each of his efforts, which were all produced at his farm-based studio, The Shooting Ranch, in Gleason, Wisconsin. But they’re all quite a chore to get through. The highlight of this box-set, however, is David Cairns’ feature-length documentary, Who is Bill Rebane? I suggest starting with that before dipping into the main attractions, as you’ll get a better appreciation of Rebane’s outsider approach to film-making. He may not be the best indie director but he sure did it his way.

DISC ONE
MONSTER A GO-GO! (1965) An American astronaut (played by 7 ft 6¾ Henry Hite) returns to Earth as a radioactive monster and bothers blissful sunbathers while some military types try to track him down. This monster’s a ‘no-go’ and so slow. It doesn’t even have an ending as it was bought by Hershell Gordon Lewis (as Terror at Halfday) and he just changed the title and added some narration. Great title though.

INVASION FROM INNER EARTH (1974) In the Canadian wilderness, two pilots and a young woman barricade themselves in a cabin when they hear a plague is wiping out humanity. Talky, with some snowmobiles racing about in the snow. The film’s lead, Paul Bentzen, gives a masterclass in improvised overacting here, and would go on to become Rebane’s No.1 leading man.

EXTRAS
Straight Shooter: newly filmed interviews about the making of Monster A Go-Go and Invasion from Inner Earth with director Bill Rebane
• Brand new interview with historian and critic Kim Newman about the films of Bill Rebane.
Twist Craze, and Dance Craze, two early short films by Bill Rebane
Kidnap Extortion (1973), a newly restored industrial short directed by Bill Rebane
• Stills and Promotional Gallery

DISC TWO
THE ALPHA INCIDENT
(1978) When deadly alien spores are accidentally released while in transport, a train station is placed under quarantine. It’s then a waiting game for those trapped inside to try and keep awake while the government tries to find a cure. This could have been Assault on Precinct 13 meets The Thing, but it’s not. It’s a sci-fi snorefest.

THE DEMONS OF LUDLOW (1983) As the folks in a small rural town prepare to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of its founding, the ghosts of its past return to seek retribution via a haunted antique piano. This rural gothic horror is a bargain-basement take on John Carpenter’s The Fog. Slow going as usual, with only minimal frights on offer.

EXTRAS
Straight Shooter: newly filmed interviews about the making of The Alpha Incident and The Demons of Ludlow with Rebane
• Rebane’s Key Largo, a visual essay by historian and critic Richard Harland Smith
• Original trailers
• Stills and Promotional Gallery

DISC THREE
THE GAME 
(1984) Three jaded millionaires gather nine people at an old mansion to play “The Game” … if they can meet and conquer their fears and they’ll receive a million dollars in cash. This comical body count movie is just plain silly, and the ending is a right cop out.

TWISTER’S REVENGE (1988) Three bumbling idiots try to steal the artificial intelligence control system of a monster truck called Mr Twister. This Knightrider meets Death Wish rip-off is the most bizarre offering here, and have to admit I rather enjoyed its infantile slapstick humour. It’s also one I’d like to see Rebane remake, but with those fur-covered VW spiders added into the mix.

EXTRAS
• Two presentations of The Game (aka The Cold) in 1.85 and 1.33 aspect ratio
Straight Shooter: newly filmed interviews about the making of The Game and Twister’s Revenge with Rebane
Discovering Bill Rebane, historian & critic Stephen R Bissette discusses his personal connections with the films of Bill Rebane and their importance to regional film making in America
• Original trailers
• Stills and Promotional Gallery

DISC FOUR
Who is Bill Rebane? An exclusive new feature-length documentary by historian and critic David Cairns
King of the Wild Frontier, historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette on the films of Bill Rebane
Invasion from Inner Earth, The Alpha Incident and The Demons of Ludlow outtakes from the shoot
The Giant Spider Invasion original trailer
• Gallery of Behind the Scenes stills
• Stills and Promotional Galleries for the rest of Rebane’s filmography

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