Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Overlords of the UFO
One aspect of more advanced cheesy movie appreciation is the way time can render the very tools a filmmaker uses to compose their art obsolete. Time can also turn their subject into so much hooey it can make your head spin. Which means it is time to discuss the our first cheesy documentary: Overlords of the UFO.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Oregon newsman W. Gordon Allen and his research into the mysteries regarding the UFO phenomenon in the United States from the 1950s to the time of production in 1976. As the film opens, Allen tells the viewer he has passed on “hundreds” of stories about the UFO (a term almost always uses in the singular) across his twenty years in the news game. But, as he states, no credible agency has ever offered a convincing answer to his primary question about the reported flying crafts: Who are the Overlords of the UFO? Set against a wood panel backdrop, Allen promises to give you the answer to that question and provide true facts about various governments’ knowledge of the UFO and their standing orders in regards to encounters with the UFO.
Honestly, he uses the phrase that often and as clumsily.
But the film is more of a series of local news packages retelling some of the early UFO lore: from Ken Arnold’s report of what he called “inverted saucers” in 1947 to the abductions of Betty and Barney Hill to the disappearance of Travis Walton. Allen also attempts some dramatizations with stock footage and questionable voice overs, but much of the film relies on panning across file photos while an ominous electronic soundtrack plays. The technique is quite common in documentary and television news reports, but looks quite dated here; which is more the sad consequence of advancing technologies than anything else. Ancient Aliens, for example, pans across artifacts and photos constantly, but does so with glossy high definition digital resolution instead of muddy 16mm film. The end result just looks more credible while Allen’s work looks amateurish. And when photos were not available, the production commissioned some truly terrible illustrations to stand in for “verified” photo evidence.
Throughout the film, Allen sets up a number of interviews, but very little of that footage ends up being used for more than B-Roll purposes. Some of the people who do get to talk about their viewpoints on the UFO included Stanton T. Freidman, one of the first experts in what would come to be called Ufology, Walton’s brother Duane, and the infamous spoon-bender Uri Gellar. Gellar, oddly enough, gets the most screentime despite waffling on the whole subject of aliens. Nonetheless, his apparent metaphysical abilities — which James Randi later exposed as fraudulent on live television — back up Allen’s most important thesis: the UFO may come from other dimensions.
And then, halfway through, the documentary becomes a different film complete with its own title card — Space Voyage from Ummo. Still narrated by Allen, it purports to be a dramatization of transcripts between Spanish researchers and representatives of an alien race called the Ummo. Via some trippy graphics, the short film recounts the Ummos’ journey to Earth and some of their early impressions of the solar system. It is a ten minute digression which Allen immediately walks away from to discuss the “telepathic” abilities of dolphins and underwater UFO sightings. Nonetheless, the Ummo story is presented as evidence of inter-dimensional travel, linking back to Allen’s key assertion.
Unfortunately for Allen, the Ummo story was revealed to be a hoax shortly after the release of the film.
But he soldiers on to discuss a group known as the Ethereans, an interdimensional intelligence sending androids and the UFO to stop some unknown innovation of man in the 20th Century. He suggests their aims are benevolent and claims we will one day meet these Ethereans as the film cuts to stock footage of a nuclear test in the South Pacific before announcing “The Beginning” and ending.
If the whole thing sounds like a poorly assembled mish-mash of Ancient Aliens‘s favorite fables presented in the driest manner possible, that is part of the charm. As a newsman and the credited writer of the film, Allen knew one way to present his information — like an investigative report for the local news. Consequently, the film offers the effect of a Quaalude without terrible side-effects. As narrator, Allen’s voice is oddly lulling even as he spouts utter malarkey which often contradicts earlier ideas. During Ummo, he mentions their UFO has an “I-H symbol, unlike any alphabetical symbol on Earth” on its underside. If it is unlike any human-made glyph or letterform, how can he describe it as looking like an I and H mashed together?
For the moment, let’s ignore the obvious man-made nature of the Ummo craft seen in the accompanying file photo and that the whole thing was a fraud.
It is unclear if Allen was a true believer or another con-man looking to find loot from those hoping for an extraterrestrial savior. Overlords of the UFO suggests he was, at the very least, a believer in the alternate dimension hypothesis as a way of explaining the bizarre events government officials and local police admitted happened at the time the documentary was produced. And that solid belief in intelligences from another dimensions is where the cheese cultivates. While his recounting of the Ken Arnold story and the Travis Walton incident feel about as clinical as a 1975 nightly news segment on corn yields, Allen comes alive whenever he can talk about the possibility of cosmic energies, traveling via black holes or the more esoteric elements of the Ufology field. But his supposed bombshell — the revelation that the Ethereans are the Overlords of the UFO — gets all of six minutes at the very end of the film. By then, most of his audience is guaranteed to be asleep. Why not get to them sooner?
Maybe some of his newsman training told him he couldn’t talk about them any earlier as there was only a few minutes worth of material to cover. If he opened with them, he’d have nothing else to say for almost 90 minutes. But that’s the real beauty of Overlords of the UFO, Allen doesn’t really have anything to say. He jumps from topic to topic without any real investigative thrust or strong connections to his more metaphysical thesis. And once he finally gets there, it is an empty promise of more information on the horizon. It’s definitely the game Ufologists and Ancient Astronaut Theorists have been playing at for decades, but the presentation sinks him as a “credible” expert. The fact Allen was not more successful in the emerging industry just illustrates his glaring inability to organize information for a documentary. And that’s the fun of watching the film. It is a lot of silly ideas packaged in a confusing and yet tranquilizing way. If you can stay awake, you’ll enjoy this flashback to the early days of UFO research.
Overlords of the UFO is not available from any legitimate outlets, but lurks on plenty of online video sites.