By 1980 the UFO and Occult resurgence of the 1970’s was already winding down. There wouldn’t be quite that level of UFO mania until the early 90’s, spurred on by the tremendous success of ‘The X-Files’. In the 90’s aliens and strange craft were portrayed in a much more menacing light, while the 70's often portrayed them as enlightened “space brothers,” frightening only because we didn't understand them. ‘Psi Factor’ bucks this trend by showing us a group of aliens who are neither dangerous, nor helpful. Mostly they’re just jerks.
Edgar Hamilton (Peter Mark Richman) is a civilian scientist working for the Air Force. He monitors a space probe and while staying late one night at work he records what he thinks is a communication from an alien intelligence. He’s eager to tell his girlfriend, Lt. Shelia Foster (Gretchen Corbett) about his discovery but she’s drunk and doesn’t care. In the middle of the night their house is beset by a strange annoying orb. The next day Edgar discovers his recordings of the communications are gone, and by convincing Shelia to steal some top secret files, he discovers the very same events happened to his predecessor who now lives in a remote part of the desert. Edgar and Shelia find themselves in a race to find some answers before the Air Force catches them or the burning orbs set their newspapers on fire, crash their plane, or keep them up all night...
This film was in part created and produced by the team of Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler (creators of ‘The Killings at Outpost Zeta’ (1980)). Emenegger also did the music, and like most of his films it’s the best part. It’s filled with wonderfully creepy analog synthesizer tones. I would really love to see a compilation of his film music released sometime. The special effects are not especially notable, the burning spheres tend to not match the camera movements very well, but there are a few shots where they move behind objects before reappearing that work well enough.
‘PSI Factor’ is basically what would happen if you took ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ remade it on 1/20th of the budget and cranked up the humor. The journey there does have some high points, most notably when Edgar and Shelia employ an insane pilot played by Tom Martin, who takes an already light story and throws it into full blown comedy. The alien beings, while a little strange, are never really threatening and the grand discovery of what their motives actually are lands somewhere between nonsensical and monumentally stupid .
There is a kind of beautiful bathos at the end of this film, the final moments are presented as a grand revelation filled with awe, but really it's a dude we've never seen before standing in a field talking to bad special effects about how pure and innocent it is to be a jerk-ass flying ball of fire. It seems our enlightened space brothers occasionally have nothing to say at all.