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The ultimate conspiracy movie, a mind-roasting collage of found footage documenting CIA intervention in South America during the 1980s, presented as a nutty account of an alien invasion. The result is an unforgettable mix of fact and fiction that succeeds in imparting both a thought-provoking look at media representation and a profoundly kinetic piece of entertainment.

The Package
     The Other Films DVD release of TRIBULATION 99: ALIEN ANOMALIES UNDER AMERICA (1990) helpfully includes two previous films by its creator Craig Baldwin, WILD GUNMAN (1978) and ROCKETKITKONGOKIT (1986). While neither is up to the standards of TRIBULATION 99, both showcase Baldwin’s gift for taking stock footage and using it in service of politically-minded ends.
     Baldwin is a lifelong collector of found footage, from industrial and educational shorts to vintage commercials and discarded movie outtakes. His films, which include O NO CORONADO! (1992), SONIC OUTLAWS (1995) and SPECTRES OF THE SPECTRUM (1999), all make excellent use of Baldwin’s archive, and all come highly recommended. But his masterpiece in my view remains TRIBULATION 99, surely one of the foremost underground films of the nineties, and a fascinating companion-piece to another conspiracy-minded early-nineties release: Oliver Stone’s JFK, which has much in common with TRIBULATION 99.

The Story
     In 1000 AD the distant planet Quetzalcoatl explodes. Several of its inhabitants manage to escape in a flying saucer and take refuge in the Earth under South America. But after ten centuries the “Q’s” are agitated by underground nuclear tests carried out by the United States, and the pissed-off aliens vow to destroy the U.S.!
     President Truman creates the CIA in an effort to intercept Q signals. This leads to all manner of mayhem, including numerous flying saucer sightings, bloody human sacrifices and the abduction of President Eisenhower. The madness extends to the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco and 1963 execution of President Kennedy, carried out by Lee Harvey Oswald--who’s apparently an android. Other such automatons include Fidel Castro (the “Unkillable Beast”) and Howard Hughes, who in the late sixties became involved in the CIA’s anti-Castro crusade.
     The Q conspiracy continues into the seventies, with E. Howard Hunt investigating an alien pipeline in the Democratic National Headquarters, only to be stymied by the “trivial technicalities of a local burglary law.” The Q’s use the resulting strife as a smokescreen, allowing them to punch a hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole, spew poisonous gasses into the atmosphere and momentarily stop the Earth’s rotation.
     This causes the CIA to redouble its efforts. Various supernatural forces materialize to oppose them, including psychic vampires, Satanists and voodoo sects who resurrect the corpse of Jim Jones. Nicaragua is rocked by an electro-gravitational pulse sent by the Q’s, destabilizing the region and inspiring President Reagan to supply Nicaraguan freedom fighters with “humanitarian weapons.”
     As the nineties commence the insanity escalates: zombies invade Panama, the U.S. owned Panama Canal falls into enemy hands, and, in 1999, the build-up of plutonium by-products causes mass flooding. Not to worry, though, because the “Chosen Ones” simply leave the planet and head for Mars--“the rest be damned!

The Direction
     To fully catalogue the sheer multitude of images Craig Baldwin packs into this 48-minute montage would take a summation longer than the film itself. The proceedings are dense to a near-psychotic degree, imparting a ceaseless barrage of information spiced with onscreen intertitles that appear at a rate of about one every ten seconds, and breathless narration that sounds (as a previous reviewer has pointed out) like Martin Sheen on helium.
     Among the documentary snippets are clips from the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, American TV news pieces and various government propaganda films from the 1950s and 60s. But what really stands out is the B-movie footage from GODZILLA, THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, etc. Such images are used to illustrate this collage, often standing in for actual historical figures (the Wolf Man for Noriega, James Bond for Barry Goldwater, etc).
     That, however, is just one way Baldwin ingeniously recontextualizes his footage. The images are also made to seem ironic, satirical, or at times simply illustrative of what’s being imparted by the narration. That narration mixes fact and fiction in crazy-quilt fashion, imparting real facts about the CIA’s involvement in South American politics alongside insanely far-fetched conspiracy theories, all of it presented in the same confident, know-it-all tone.
     It’s left to us to make our own way through this minefield of fact and fiction, just as we do with most mainstream “news.” Baldwin’s foremost point appears to be that in any media presentation truth is always suspect. But TRIBULATION 99 ultimately works simply because it’s such an entertaining ride, one that’s guaranteed to leave you enlightened and exhilarated in a manner no mainstream movie could possibly achieve.

Vital Statistics

Other Cinema

Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Editor: Craig Baldwin
Cinematography: Bill Daniel
Cast: Godzilla, The Hideous Sun Demon, The Wolf Man, Ronald Reagan, Maurice Bishop, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon, Vincent Price, Howard Hughes, George Bush Sr., Sean Connery, Jimmy Carter, Oliver North, et al