Steve Bissette's trading card on the Rendlesham alien envounter, featured in Kitchen Sink's "Saucer People" set of 1992. Bissette's illustration focuses on one of the many traits of this infamous 1980 UFO incident: the observation by American and British personnel of creatures suspended in beams of light working on their spaceship.
SHORTLY after Christmas 1980, Suffolk became the location of an apparent UFO crash; dubbed "the British Roswell," mystery still remains what actually happened in Rendlesham Forest, near RAF Woodbridge. At around 3.00am on the 26th of December, RAF Watton in Norfolk registered an "unknown" flying toward the coast. Disappearing from scopes in the vicinity of the forest, security police at the RAF base - then under the control of the USAF - saw lights fall from the sky. Patrolmen discovered a metallic object with "a pulsating red light on top and a bank of blue lights underneath ... hovering or on legs." Case studies are blighted by witness contradictions and disparities, particularly the extent of people involved: one maintains that before a second sighting, a large number of personnel gathered to await the UFO's arrival at a prearranged spot. Consequently, facts have been shrouded by exaggeration and misperception; UFO researcher Jacques Vallee has even suggested that the story was a complete fabrication to monitor servicemen's reactions to a potential alien attack.
Since the Autumn of 1980, Eastern England had been a hotspot of UFO activity. Incidents included strange lights over Fylingdales radar station and the NSA communications base at Menwith Hill, and even a police officer was reported abducted from his patrol car in Yorkshire. On Christmas Day, the British Astronomical Association stated that sightings of moving lights were in fact meteors and inert space debris; even on the 26th December, the RAF Watton "unknown" coincides with the passage of a bright meteor. Yet by the following day, stories had spread between the twin NATO bases at Woodbridge and Bentwaters of aliens, ground traces from their craft, strange marks left on trees, and significant increases of radiation. USAF airmen claimed that they discovered triangular depressions in the clearing where the UFO landed, yet British police officers noted that "the impressions were of no depth and could have been made by an animal." Similarly, the marks on the trees were in fact made by forester's axes identifying trees due to be felled.
If you go down to the woods today ... THE RENDLESHAM UFO INCIDENT creates some wonderfully ethereal images.
While the facts of the Rendlesham UFO encounter are still muddied thirty-five years on, explanations follow two main paths. As Jenny Randles notes in her piece 'Rendlesham Evolving Theories' in Fortean Times #204 (December 2005), "there are hints ... that conditions could have made the [nearby Orfordness] lighthouse look more mysterious and difficult to recognise. The trigger for this confusion may have been a mirage caused by the lighthouse beam shining through a patch of low mist, splitting the light and smearing it. Some of the military witnesses were using night vision scopes to observe the glow, and these can cause optical distortion effects." Another plausible theory is that the lights were caused by a "fireball" created by the rocket-body of Soviet satellite Cosmos 749 re-entered Earth's atmosphere around the same time. Indeed, it was subsequently revealed that twelve satellites decayed during the week of this particular UFO flap.
Daniel Simpson - who made the squatter-horror SPIDERHOLE in 2010 - filmed THE RENDLESHAM UFO INCIDENT without a formal script as HANGAR 10. The picture is shot in found footage style, following metal detector enthusiasts Gus (Robert Curtis) and Sally (Abbie Salt) in their quest for Saxon gold. Their expedition is shot by Jake (Danny Shayler), who captures incredible UFO footage while the three drift increasingly lost into MoD land. Eventually stumbling upon a disused military complex and linking tunnels, mutations of a spiky viral-fungus are revealed, and alien life itself. Found footage pictures are thematically disadvantaged by generic characters and sluggish pace; THE RENDLESHAM UFO INCIDENT suffers from both these factors, but is saved by its sound design (metallic groanings and aircraft screeches) and SPFX (allegedly achieved by Simpson on his laptop) which are refreshingly non-obscured and genuinely eerie. The sheer vastness of the forest is photographed effectively with washed-out tones, but Ufologists expecting a film steeped in Rendlesham folklore will be disappointed. Its triptych of protagonists, disillusioning movement and foreboding are more direct lifts from the picture's real inspiration, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.