This piece originally appeared in the Flyingsaucery column of Fortean Times 210 (2006) to mark the release of the movie Alien Autopsy.
UFOlogists are always keen to play down the amount of hoaxing that goes on within the subject and to be fair, hoaxes only account for a small proportion of UFO reports. But many of the central planks of the subject such as ‘good’ photographs, contactees and ‘leaked’ Government documents containing evidence of secret conspiracies are rooted in hoaxes of varying complexity. It is only now, after more than a decade, that one of the most complex and influential UFO hoaxes has finally begun to unravel.
On 5 May 1995 a large group of people, mainly UFOlogists but also representatives of various religions, journalists, MoD minions and others gathered in the hushed darkness of the Museum of London’s film theatre. They were there at the invitation of video entrepreneur Ray Santilli, to view a film that would change the face of UFOlogy for more than a decade. A film showing an autopsy on a non-human creature possibly, it was hinted, from the infamous 1947 Roswell Incident.
Santilli later related how he had been offered the film whilst on a visit to the USA to buy up film of Elvis Presley and other early rock’n’roll stars. When a retired military cameraman showed him the special film he had harboured for over 40 years Santilli was indeed all shook up. It was too good an offer to turn down and so he raised the cash and brought the film, all 22 reels of it, back to the UK where it was edited down into usable material and the rest is history. Until now.
Santilli’s story, and the subject matter of the film came at just the right time for UFOlogy. The hit TV show The X Files was making cultural waves and clueing the general public into the possibility that alien craft really had really crashed and were in the possession of the military. Conspiracies were everywhere and the western world was primed and ready for some actual evidence. Santilli’s film appeared to deliver just that.
Despite warnings issued by more wise and experienced UFOlogists the mass media saw the film as easy, punter-grabbing copy. The AA film (as it became known) was seen by an estimated 1.2 billion people across the globe. It was splashed across a thousand newspapers and eventually turned into a mega-selling video.
Since 1995, UFOlogy has been arguing over the film’s authenticity and some diehards have been desperately trying to shoehorn the footage into one of the many ‘crashed saucer’ scenarios. Along the way, a number of professionals and experts from the fields of model making, forensic pathology and other disciplines came out in vocal support of the film being the real thing. But none of their questions could be answered because Santilli consistently refused to allow the film stock it to be properly analysed and changed portions of his story over the years.
Time passed and during 2005 rumour had it that Santilli was involved with making a movie about the AA film. Not a “serious” movie but a comedy directed by Jonny Campbell starring the UK’s answer to Pinky and Perky, former child actors Ant and Dec (Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly). Surely not? Why was the man who discovered The Greatest Story Ever Sold considering selling out by making a comedy – even one billed as being “based on true events.” The reason soon became clear, Santilli was finally going to reveal the real ‘truth’ about the AA film and it could be no coincidence that this ‘truth’ was to be revealed just two days before the comedy hit the cinemas. More worryingly, both these events were taking place days after the most important date in the hoaxer’s calendar, April 1st!
Santilli had conspired with the incestuous TV industry to feature on a programme called Eamonn Investigates…The Alien Autopsy film. The Eamonn in question, former Breakfast TV anchor man Eamonn Holmes, revealed the ‘truth’ at 8.00pm on April 4th  on Sky One, playing the part of a hard nosed investigator, keen to learn the truth about the AA film. This was post-modernist docu-comedy at its best, with all parties clearly in the know and hamming it up to create yet another ‘truth’ about the AA film.
But what lay behind the alien on the autopsy film itself? Well, it’s not so much what lay behind as what lay within – sheep’s brains in jelly. No prizes for guessing that the alien, the autopsy and the hype surrounding its 1995 was a hoax. However, Santilli didn’t like the word ‘hoax’. He much preferred the term ‘restoration’, for the simple reason that whilst his film had been a mock-up there really had been a real AA film after all! What? Santilli was patient with Holmes (no Sherlock, this one) and carefully explained that there had been an original AA film and there had been a genuine military camera man.
Nevertheless, by the time Santilli and co had raised the cash to buy the film stock it had deteriorated, so the only way to show the world (and recoup the investment of course) was to make ‘restoration’, the kicker being that tiny parts of the Santilli AA film were from the original AA film. ‘How much?’ asked Holmes. ‘I don’t think any of us knows anymore,’ smirked Santilli’s sidekick Gary Shoefield. ‘Less than 5%,’ Santilli smirked back. Santilli and Shoefield did more smirking than was strictly necessary as they told the story of how they made shed loads of money from human gullibility. It’s their apparent glee at making money from the gullible that will cast a shadow over their hoaxing achievements.
It emerged that the AA film was shot in flat in Camden’s Rochester Square, using a manikin built by a model maker in just three and a half weeks. This was sculptor John Humphreys, the unsung hero of the AA film, who explained how he made the model and packed it with bits of dead animal spare parts, all bought from Smithfield market. Sheerluck Holmes duly questioned the butcher who had sold Humphreys the meat. He cheerfully ‘fessed up that he knew it was for making the model of an alien. Humphreys also played the surgeon in the AA film, so he could be sure that his model was treated like the cosmic cadaver it was supposed to be. But the blood on the knife as he sliced the critter – how did he do that? Glad you asked. Quite simply he smeared animal blood on the unseen side of his surgeon’s knife which trickled off as he made the ‘cut’, giving the illusion the blood came from the newly opened body.
By all accounts they had a real laugh making the AA film, even when the first ‘alien’ didn’t work and they had to create a new one. A ‘fun atmosphere’ was how Humphreys described the experience, which also involved some of Santilli’s work colleagues playing other roles. The recreation of this sequence in Campbell’s film Alien Autopsy really is the highpoint of the movie, with its farcical depiction of dotty relatives, actors slipping on gore and extras fainting on the set.
A model, some genuine instruments, shaky film and lots of raw meat, all obvious now you think about it. But at the time, when seen together in the context of the prevalent Roswell myth, well, it all seemed to make sense to a great many people. UFOlogical sleuths were quickly on the case in the late 1990s seeking to track down the original cameraman, as he held the key to the whole story. Only he could back Santilli’s claims up and give his story the authenticity it needed. And lo, Santilli came up with the goods, organising a TV interview with the cameraman who, obviously, supported Santilli’s story of the film’s provenance and subject matter (played effectively in the movie by Harry Dean Stanton). UFOlogists not being too bright this put them off the scent.
In Eammon Investigates the elusive snapper was revealed to be yet another twist in the Santilli created hall of smoke and mirrors – just a bum picked up off the street and given lines to speak to camera. Another hoax, but one which put ufological sleuths off the scent of the real cameraman. Confused? Well you should be keeping up then!
Was any of this contrived expose true? Who can tell. The AA film is surrounded by so many layers of falsehood and deceit that it would be unwise to take Eamonn Holmes’ ‘investigation’ as the final word. That the AA film was a hoax is about all we can deduce for certain. And whatever you may think about hoaxing and hoaxers credit must go to ray Santilli and his chums for being shrewd, highly manipulative masters of popular culture who had the Big Idea, the cash and, most importantly, the cojones to carry it off, fooling and making millions along the way. The Never Ending Story, with its tantalizing promise that genuine alien footage still exists will allow them to milk the easily gulled for years to come, whilst adding yet more layers to the mish-mash of disparate elements that comprises UFOlogy.
In the early days of their attempts at marketing the film the hoaxers approached a number of tabloid newspapers, all of whom offered them largish sums of money to tell the film’s story. The News of the World offered the most, a rather tempting £50,000 and Santilli was all set to go with it until the editor revealed that he would want the film verified first and payment wouldn’t be forthcoming until after publication. Oddly – or perhaps not – Santilli severed further communication and decided to market the film himself, largely through dupes in the UFO field.
UFOlogists, for all their self styled investigative rigour had been waiting for years for something like the AA film which, at last, give them the credibility they craved. The British UFO Research Association’s (BUFORA) Sheffield conference in 1995 was largely given over to promoting the film to UFOlogy and to the media. Unfortunately the media, whilst happy to sell papers on the back of the AA hype, decided the AA film was risible and the film’s corrosive influence set serious UFOlogy back many years and was effectively the beginning of the end for BUFORA. The media once again associated UFOlogists with cranks, crackpots and people desperately seeking something.
All in all there was a lot of talk and little analysis in Eamonn Investigates. Forteans, when they see the program, will be mulling over what it tells them about the power of the media and human credulity, which is seemingly limitless. The expose also spoke volumes about the degree to which we put our faith in so called ‘experts’ when they tell us that a rubber mannikin, sheep’s brains and buckets of animal blood compose an alien and that ham-fisted Londoners are trained military autopsy personnel.
Perhaps we should leave the last word to the UK’s Philip Mantle, UFOlogical maven and one of the unwitting pawns in Santilli’s game, who did much to help publicise the AA film: “After watching this tonight I can honestly say that I do not believe one word of either Santilli or Shoefield and I have no doubt that the film is nothing more than a complete fake. There is and never was any original film and there is and never was
any US military cameraman. Santilli & Shoefield had little credibility as it was but now they have none.”
Alien Autopsy was released in UK cinemas on 7 April 2006.
Text copyright 2006 David Clarke and Andy Roberts