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Alpha Incident, The (1978)

Directed by Bill Rebane
Media Home Entertainment VHS

THE FILM
A microorganism from Mars is being transported by train across the U.S. The crusty fellow (played by George “Buck” Flower) who works on the train ignores the scientist’s warnings and decided to examine the cargo. He drops a vial, becoming infected. When the train stops at a small station to change engines, quarantine is placed around the crusty guy, the scientist, a female secretary, the guy in charge of the station and some other guy with a beard. As the government races against time to find a cure for the deadly affects of the virus, the quarantined are given one bit of advice:

Do Not Fall Asleep!

Bill Rebane! How are ya? I liked The Andromeda Strain, too. It’s nice to see you gave it a try. Instead of a big government installation, though, we have one medium-sized room and a bit of Night Of The Living Dead thrown in.

This one has some similarities to Rebane’s previous extravaganza, Invasion From Inner Earth. A bunch of people isolated in a small area, trying to stay alive and sane. The difference is that in Inner Earth, the world is being destroyed outside the cabin. The people inside are gradually being chosen to become the future of mankind. In The Alpha Incident, the people at the station are being destroyed while the world outside is trying to keep them out. I think the Inner Earth scenario works better because it’s less cliché and far more interesting. The characters are also more interesting and varied.

The characters in The Alpha Incident are:

Sorenson, the scientist — Never says much. When he does, it’s usually more info on what’s happening.
Crusty Guy — He says a lot but runs off early and doesn’t come back.
The Station Master — Kind of a vague guy who never does anything interesting.
The Beard Guy — He talks a lot. And, he’s pretty annoying.
The Secretary — She turns out to pretty interesting but not until the very end. Most of the time she seems a bit confusing.

One character that dies early. Two who barely talk. One annoying one who doesn’t stop talking. And, a fifth who is tough to pin down. Not much happens in this movie and the characters don’t help as much as you’d like them to.

Part of the slow drag here is that every time we cut away from the station, there is nothing interesting going on. In Inner Earth, we would cut away to strange little vignettes or low-budget scenes of destruction. Here, the cutaway scenes start to feel real redundant. So, it’s up to the station scenes to carry the film along. And, the underwritten folks who are trying to stay awake just can’t do it. In the end, I didn’t dislike the film but I wish it would have been about 72 minutes. At that length, it may have been brilliant.

I know I’ve said it before but I get a commission: I like Bill Rebane films. Even when they’re deathly dull or tough to pay attention to, he is doing his own thing. I think all of his films should be watched once. Some (like Inner Earth or The Game) can be watched several times. They all feel very similar and several actors pop up again and again. There’s something strangely cozy about his films. The Alpha Incident is a very definite “Thumbs Up” in his library of films. But, it may be a bit too darn slow for everyone else.

One last thing: To focus your attention on the film when things are going slow, watch the secretary. She has the best backstory with a last second twist that made me rewind and rewatch her final scene. Well done, Mr. Rebane.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
My copy stank. Ghosty picture that occasionally got real mushy in the dark. I had to do some guessing as to what was going on. 9 times out of 10, I guessed right. The audio was rough, too. During the scene when Sorenson enters the station to report the viral outbreak, a loud, grinding buzz started on the soundtrack and carried on for three-or-so minutes. At first, I thought it was part of the film. It’s not.

EXTRAS
There is an autographed photo of Bill Rebane included with every tape.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I enjoyed The Alpha Incident, but it is slow. Some better writing could have really brought out the characters and tension. As it stands, things go really deliberately from calm event to calm event. It picks up in the last ten minutes and has a pretty good ending so that’s something to look forward to. Not my favorite Bill Rebane, but I might watch it again someday.