Twenty-five years ago in this rural community, a strange event occurred as an alien spaceship arrived there and scouted the land looking for three people. The first two were a couple of little kids, a boy and girl, who happened to be standing in the street at night waiting for their parents to finish running errands, and as they watched the sky they noticed a trio of lights appeared and sent down a beam which enveloped them, then moved on. Although they sometimes thought of that incident, they never could make head nor tail of it, though the third person was rather more affected, a prospector (Vincent Schiavelli) in a mine who was also caught in a beam but emerged rather more violent than the children...
The same year he released Without Warning, a science fiction horror combination that gave some small children nightmares at the time, director Greydon Clark was also hard at work on The Return, inspired by Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind though it did head off on its own direction once the space brothers had contacted the central trio. However, Clark had far less luck with this, suffering all sorts of production issues and then the results were barely released at all, which may have pointed to how his style of low budget genre effort was going to have to find other outlets as the video age really began to settle in. No longer were grindhouses and drive-ins to be the sure bet they had been in the nineteen-seventies.
If you are looking for a perfect summation of that end of an era feeling... well you're not particularly going to find it here, as it came across as what it was, a barely completed cheapie that couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be a spooky alien invaders yarn for the younger viewers or a more adult shocker complete with gore effects. That latter path may have been taken because Clark and his screenwriters had happened upon news reports of a story that energised those interested in UFOs and associated weirdness for the next decade or two: cattle mutilations. So pleased were they to be including this subject that they took every opportunity to place the phrase in the characters' mouths, to ultimately comical effect.
It was like a child learning a new, big word that they insisted on dropping into every conversation to make themselves sound knowledgeable. The farmers suffering such a possibly alien blight on their livestock were represented by Neville Brand, just one representative of a cast of hasbeens seeking to take any job that might sustain their career a little longer. Some of these, like Martin Landau, would enjoy a career renaissance, but others, like Jan-Michael Vincent were stuck on a downward spiral: fair enough, when he moved to television he had Airwolf to temporarily revitalise his fortunes, but his struggles with alcohol are so well-documented we need not pore over them again here. Maybe the most surprising member of this forlorn band was Cybill Shepherd, the female lead to Vincent's protagonist (they were the adult versions of the kids we saw at the start).
Only four years before she had been in Taxi Driver, a very well-regarded movie, but in the short time afterwards she had hit rock bottom and was propping up a frankly shoddy enterprise. She too would have her comeback in romantic comedy detective show Moonlighting, though her "difficult" reputation took hold there that she found hard to shake (or did she embrace it?). Therefore for star spotters, The Return contained some interest (Perry Mason himself Raymond Burr played reporter Cybill's father, for instance), but otherwise it was a confused experience that just did not come across as if everyone was on the same page as far as the plot went. The prospector had gone feral and was apparently mutilating those cattle, with a light pole that burned through flesh, so no prizes for guessing how long it took him to apply that to human victims. But the duo who had been blessed by interest from the aliens, she investigating and he a hard-drinking patrolman drawn in to the mystery, so that took us to... a disco laser light tunnel in a cave? And a conclusion that explained absolutely nothing? Be aware of that should you choose to give this a go. Music by Dan Wyman.