Focus the Damn Camera: A Brief Look At Cinematic Sasquatch

Focus the Damn Camera: A Brief Look At Cinematic Sasquatch

Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! Let’s talk about a true American icon.  Standing between six and nine feet tall, covered with thick hair regularly described as dark brown, gray or black, and featuring eyes that reflect light, I’m talking about the cryptid commonly known as Bigfoot.  Known in the Pacific Northwest as Sasquatch, in Florida as the Skunk Ape, in Missouri as Momo, West Virginia as Cousin Bob, and by various other local names, these giant hairy hominids have been seen in every one of the continental United States and every province of Canada, with reports dating back to the earliest days of Native American legendry.  Similar creatures are reported in Russia, China, Nepal, Tibet, Australia, and other regions where one would not expect to find a big, stinking ape-man.

But I’m not here to tell you about Bigfoot sightings.  To do so would be exhausting, and to cover sightings in my home state alone would (and has) filled an assortment of books.  No, instead I’m going to talk about a handful of Bigfoot-related movies, including some of the best and worst I’ve seen.

The Best

First up, the BEST piece of cinema ever made dealing with the subject of Sasquatch, 1972’s THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, from director Charles B. Pierce.  This docu-drama, which swept the drive-through circuit in the 1970s and made a bundle, tells the story of the small community of Fouke, Arkansas, which has experienced sightings and encounters with an aggressive, vicious Sasquatch that, interestingly enough, leaves three-toed tracks (an old injury? Birth defect?), and tells the story in the words of residents who have seen the beast, through staged interviews and re-enactments of encounters.  It’s a fascinating watch, and plain to see that these people are not hungry for fame or anything like that.  They genuinely believe they’ve encountered something outside the normal bounds of human existence, and it scares them.

While Bigfoot’s actual presence in 2011’s DEAR GOD NO! is marginal, his stink permeates the entire film.  Coming at the audience like a meth-fueled lovechild of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, DEAR GOD NO! is my favorite entry in the nascent “Retrosploitation” subgenre, being an off-the-wall gonzoid psycho biker film that takes a hard left into Sasquatch Territory.  Blood, beer, urine and vaginal discharges flow freely in this crazed piece of independent cinema.

1977 got us the made-for-TV movie SNOWBEAST, which was basically JAWS transplanted into the Colorado mountains.  Set around a big ski lodge that’s on the eve of celebrating the 50th annual Winter Carnival, a sort of mini Winter Olympics with an attached beauty pageant, one by one skiers are getting picked off by something that leaves big footprints in the snow.  Naturally, the big-wigs won’t close the lodge for fear of losing tourist dollars.  While derivative in terms of story, SNOWBEAST is one stylish little production, with the attacks filmed from the titular Snowbeast’s perspective, giving the film the vibe of an early slasher flick.  There’s not much suit to be seen — you see the creature’s arms during the attacks, and you get two brief glimpses of the creature’s face — and hey, even Bigfoot was sporting big ’70s hair!

The Worst

I would rather try to get a blowjob from a starved, diseased wolverine than watch 1978’s CURSE OF BIGFOOT again.  I don’t even really want to discuss it.  Cobbled together from a 1958 short film called TEENAGERS VERSUS THE THING and new wrap-around footage (featuring one of the same actors, impressively enough), the film shows a “guest lecturer” for a cryptozoology class screaming in rage in the face of a kid who expressed the opinion that creatures like griffins and manticores might be fictional, then launching into an account of how he, along with a group of students on an archaeology dig, encountered a mummified Bigfoot that reanimated and lurched around for a bit in a vaguely-menacing-but-more-the-actor-can’t-see-through-the-suit’s-single-eyehole kind of way before being doused in gasoline and burned to death.  The suit appeared to be a year’s worth of dryer lint hot-glued to a pair of long underwear and a paper maché mask.  And if you added up all the “attack” footage, you’d still only have about twelve seconds’ worth.

1974’s THE BEAUTIES AND THE BEAST (also known as DESPERATELY SEEKING YETI and THE BEAST AND THE VIXENS) could be an impressive melding of the Sasquatchsploitation and Sexploitation subgenres…but it really isn’t.  After an opening narration describing sightings of the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot, the film spends the first half of its running-time exploring what Bigfoot MIGHT be doing in the woods — abducting female hikers and campers and stashing them in his swinging monkey bachelor pad! He doesn’t actually do anything with them, just stuffs them in the cave and covers the entrance with brambles.  He also peers into cabin windows where swanky ’70s lesbians are camping.  These are Ann (Jacqueline Giroux) and Mary (the eternally lovely and boobilicious Uschi Digard).  Most of the rest of the film is ’70s softcore porn — featuring some truly heinously unattractive people, and even uglier camera angles — which Bigfoot happens to walk by and observe while apparently jerking off.  I mean it about the camera angles.  That is a lot of man-ass on display.  And did I mention that Bigfoot looks like the Swedish Chef in a fur-suit? Seriously, those eyebrows put Abe Vigoda to shame.

While THE BEAUTIES AND THE BEAST may be one for Uschi Digard and Bigfoot completists only, it’s blend of EEGAH! and THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS is kind of entertaining in a weird 1970s way.

But THE BEAUTIES AND THE BEAST looks like Citizen ‘Squatch next to 1970’s BIGFOOT.  Even John Carradine, sporting an impressive mustache and cowboy hat, can’t save this film.  For a film in which Bigfoot is a rape-happy forest ogre raiding a small town for human breeding stock, people sure do stand around the local general store chatting about it, rather than doing much of anything about it.

The Rest

Coming in the middle of the road are films like 2006’s ABOMINABLE, a Sci-Fi (I still refuse to call it Syfy) Channel Original Movie that had the gumption to mix up the standard Bigfoot plot by bringing in elements of Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW, as a wheelchair-bound man struggles to warn the giggling co-eds next door that a hungry Sasquatch is on the loose in the vicinity.  The karma this film gains from this clever plot twist was unfortunately negated by a fairly lousy Sasquatch mask and the criminal misuse of Dee Wallace, Lance Henricksen and Jeffrey Combs in stupid, pointless little “look who we got to come to set for 20 minutes!” cameos.

Of similar quality is 2006’s BIGFOOT, distributed through Troma Entertainment.  Featuring a much more expressive suit than ABOMINABLE, it also has the extremely gonzo factor that Bigfoot eats the hearts and livers out of everything (and everyone) he kills! Why? To store of calories for the winter, of course, and it’s up to disgraced former soldier Jack and his love interest, Park Ranger Sandy, to deal with the beast after it rudely disembowels the sheriff.  While kind of bland, storywise, I have to give it some props as it is clearly a labor of love by writer/director Bob Gray, and it always brings a smile to my face to see someone’s movie dreams come true, so kudos to Gray for not only completing a feature film, but getting a distribution deal as well.

Following close on THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK’S heels was 1976’s CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE, which maintained a semi-documentary feel despite being wholly fictitious.  CREATURE follows two suave Chicagoans who drive down to Louisiana to investigate some Sasquatch sightings, but find the locals unfriendly and unwilling to talk for the most part.  A chance encounter with a local character named Trapper Joe lets them know that Bigfoot is real and in the area, and garners them some advice as to how to see the creature.  Shame they follow up on it…

Also close on LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK’s heels came two sequels, one unofficial, and the official sequel, known variously as THE BARBARIC BEAST OF BOGGY CREEK and BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES, directed by (and starring) the original’s Charles B. Pierce.  While the original was a serious documentary, this is sheer fantasy, a fictitious tale following a professor and his tiny-shorted grad students into Fouke to research the mysterious monster of Boggy Creek.  They find their Bigfoot alright, locked in a barn belonging to backwoods yokel Beardy Tiny-Headband McManBoobs, a filthy, crusty “man” who looks like he could be half-Sasquatch himself.  While Beardy McManBoobs is hoping to make some money off the creature he captured, it turns out it’s a young monster, and its mother is waiting in the woods…

And of Course…Harry

I hadn’t seen HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS since elementary school, though more recently I’d learned that it actually has a bad rap in certain cryptozoological circles, as it has allegedly influenced Sasquatch witnesses, resulting in changing trends in what people are reporting seeing in the deep woods.  Supposedly, pre-1987, witnesses produced much more variable reports, describing creatures with variously-toned pelts (including two-toned, in some cases!), different lengths of hair, posture, etc.  Since HARRY, reports of “8 feet tall, medium-to-dark brown fur, peaked conical skull” have dominated, as Harry has become ingrained in America’s psyche as what a Bigfoot “should” look like and so witnesses who may have only briefly sighted Bigfoot, or in poor light, fill in the details, mentally, using Harry as a blueprint. If that ain’t a credit to Rick Baker’s incredible design work, I don’t know what is.

However, the film cannot be discredited, and must be recognized as the most well-known example of cinematic sasquatchery to be seen.  John Lithgow plays devoted family-man and hunting enthusiast George Henderson, who, while driving home with his family from a camping/hunting trip, accidentally runs over a Bigfoot.  Assuming the beast is dead, he ties it to the top of his car and returns home.  That night, he discovers he’d only stunned the Sasquatch, as it revives and begins rummaging through his refrigerator.  While the Hendersons initially plan to sell Bigfoot for a fat wad of cash, the big ape quickly grows on them, and they adopt him — and must keep him safe from the predations of a bloodthirsty Bigfoot-hunter.

***

There we go.  While by no means a complete listing of movies about Bigfoot, I feel like this is a nice sampler to get the movie-junkie cryptozoologist going.  Bigfoot is a true American legend, one with a sizeable cinematic pedigree that will only get longer so long as cameras and ape-suits can be bought.  And good, bad and indifferent, I’m looking forward to watching them.  And for those of you going camping, keep your flashlights and cameras handy.  You never can tell when a Sasquatch might decide to try and make off with your girlfriend.


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Bill Adcock likes long walks off short piers and eating endangered species. In addition to his work for the Blood Sprayer, his writing can also be found at his personal site, Radiation-Scarred Reviews, which he's maintained since 2008. Bill has also contributed, as of this writing, to GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY issues 2 and 3, and CINEMA SEWER issue 27.

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