While he used to wet himself over the notion of a North American Skunk Ape, age has allowed Judge Bill Gibron to grow—both in his appreciation of half-assed monster movies and, more importantly, in his ability to control his bladder.
I saw the little creature!
Growing up in the early '70s, teenagers were obsessed with three main things—and no, it wasn't sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (or their country equivalent, cigarettes, whisky, and wild, wild women). No, thanks to the supbar Sun Classic Pictures and their urban legend-oriented output, we addled adolescents were constantly on the lookout for ancient astronauts (read: aliens from another world), the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie, to her friends and familiars), and a certain hairy ape-man known as Bigfoot. After weeding through our paperback version of Chariots of the Gods and silently sitting by as Rod Serling narrated another exciting exposé on the proof of such post-modern myths, we put on our best Me Decade thinking caps and proceeded to ponder the possibilities. Typically, topics would veer from extraterrestrials with bad timing and some Scottish sea serpent to the only "Amurican" monster we could get behind. For anyone living near a possible Sasquatch stomping ground, the beast represented an intriguing element of the idle wild landscape. While some tried to politicize the creature, using the then- current call to environmentalism to make the smelly manimal the poster "it" for ecology, the truth was far more telling. For many, Bigfoot was a campfire tale come to life, and it wasn't long before Hollywood (and its hack hangers-on) gave us what we wanted. Representing three prime examples of '70s schlock (and one late '90s throwback), the Bigfoot Terror Collection offers excellent examples of how the Yeti was used to pad out even the most oddball cinematic contribution. As a sampler, it's sensational. As examples of entertainment, well …
Facts of the Case
One DVD, four films, two sides of silly Sasquatch goodness. With the title character acting as the only link between the films, we get divergent plots and even more uneven production values. From straight-ahead horror to a pseudo-serious mock-documentary, this queer quartet provides more unintentional laughs and downright dopiness than a special ed class. Individually, each one attempts to meld nature with narrative to turn our heroic hairy homunculus into a fiendish, foul presence. Sadly, the only thing frightening here is how bad most of the filmmaking is. Still, the aroma of skunk ape cheese is strong, and may just satisfy those of us who are avid bad movie mavens. Let's look at each plot individually to see how Bigfoot is being bent to match some moviemaker's misguided ideas. We begin with:
Search for the Beast (1997)
The Legend of Bigfoot (1976)
Shriek of the Mutilated (1974)
The Capture of Bigfoot (1979)
Okay, I admit it. I used to be afraid of Bigfoot. It's all The Legend of Boggy Creek's fault. I saw that film when it arrived in theaters and it completely freaked me out. What can I say? I was 11, so sue me. I lived in a small town in Indiana and dense woods surrounded my grade school and junior high. Being a tad highly strung, my rapid imagination started spying all kinds of hairy man-beasts bopping around the neighborhood, all of them waiting to scare me spitless. Riding my bicycle at night was terrifying. I half expected some stinky ape man to paw me as I peddled to the dime store for some more Wacky Packages. Age ruins all such adolescent adventures and nowadays I couldn't tell a Bigfoot from Borat. But thanks to Fred Olen Ray's regressive Retromedia label, I can sit back and reminisce about the days when Sasquatch made me soil myself. Since each film here is different, they will be discussed individually. Before I start having Abominable flashbacks, let's begin:
Search for the Beast(Score: 65)
Like Charles B. Pierce and his own canon of Bigfoot-obsessed movies, Arledge wants that genial good ol' boy goofiness of the Deep South setting to add some necessary atmosphere to his efforts. Unfortunately, all we end up with is a couple of cooters named Blind Joe and Crazy Otis. Sitting on hay bales like all retarded rednecks, they do their Deliverance kid routine and then shuffle off to subplot-ville. Even more baffling are a pair of sexed-up nature lovers who are listed in the cast as "Trixie" and "Stupid D. Klown." Their only purpose in this otherwise pointless exercise in exasperation is to fake fornication in the forest. Whoopee! Add in a Bigfoot whose nothing more than a lame ape outfit from a local costume shop (the store gets a nod at the end of the credits) and a weird wrap-up that seems to suggest that our swamp creature may be nothing more than a pimp for a pair of regressed reprobates, and you have something that's not quite a comedy, not quite a horror film…in fact, it's not really much of anything. Friedman's appearance aside, there is nothing to recommend this turgid tour of moonshine country. All that's missing is a jug with three "X"s etched on the side and we'd have a perfect representation of inbred idjit territory.
The Legend of Bigfoot (Score:
This must mean that Legend is a legitimate travelogue teaming with scientific certainty and unquestionable fact. Unfortunately, Marx failed logic in explorer's school and comes up with some incredibly specious reasoning in pursuit of his evidence. Some half-potted native tells of a creature which walks on two legs and smells like crap, and Marx challenges one and all to deny his story. Granted, since the premise is verifying the legitimacy of Bigfoot, the story sounds plausible. Still, wouldn't the same tale confirm the existence of a drunken businessman on a post-layoff bender? Marx also wants to make a statement about man's incongruity with the natural order of things. He does this by focusing on a pair of squirrels, happily frolicking, and enjoying life—until one gets too close to the road and becomes a truck-stop trophy. As the camera lingers on its mate, desperate to pull its barely-living brethren to safety, Marx makes some kind of arcane comment about man and animals getting along, and then this sparks a revelation about Bigfoot's supposed habitat. Huh? As the stock footage of forests and mountains piles up, we get more and more of Marx's peculiar pronouncements—Bigfoot is friendly, Bigfoot is a vegetarian, Bigfoot enjoys ambient techno—and not a single theory supports his certainty. Instead of searching for Bigfoot, Marx should look for a more meaningful purpose in life—like establishing that Lindsay Lohan is a gifted, considerate performer. Sadly, that probably is never going to happen either.
Shriek of the Mutilated (Score: 85)
Starting things off with a poolside decapitation (which is never explained or connected to the narrative), we get a collection of classic Findlay characters, each one more than happy to express whatever emotion comes bubbling up in their brain. One guy wants sex, and isn't afraid to discuss it—ad nauseam. Another is too devoted to his professor to get busy with his babe—and he reminds her of this fact over and over again. One young lady longs for the oversexed student, but instead of telling him, she tells us, constantly. When our heroine becomes the lone resident of this house of horrors, she too wigs out—and lets us in on the insanity process until we know it by heart. Similarly, the last-minute twist designed to redirect the storyline is clarified in not one, or two, but four separate scenes. We even get a last-minute escape and retrieval, allowing the premise to be repeated yet again. Findlay's films are a lot like this—either all action or all talk. There is never a clear combination of the two, and when he does try to mix them, the movie tends to go a bit wonky. It's as if this filmmaker has only two modes—exposition or exploitation. Thankfully, Shriek of the Mutilated is such a mean-spirited mixture of the two. It makes the rest of the films offered on this DVD feel hopelessly amateurish by comparison.
The Capture of Bigfoot (Score: 80)
Rebane almost gets away with it, of course, because he never ever doubts his ability behind the lens. From the way he sets up shots and controls his compositions, you can sense he feels like a full-fledged auteur. It doesn't bother him that the Bigfoot as a sympathetic, sensitive parent subplot doesn't work—and even then, fails to pay off when it's plunked onto the conclusion. He's not the least bit miffed that the third-act arrival of a weird mineshaft theme park comes completely out of the blue. He is blissfully unaware that there is zero chemistry between our park ranger and his supposed ladylove, and has no problem showing preteens armed to the teeth taking pot shots at any and all woodland critters. Just as he did by combining Alan Hale, the Wisconsin Dells, and a lame VW outfitted like an insect, Rebane uses a guy in a gorilla getup, his slightly undersized progeny, and bathes them both in a lot of Native American mumbo jumbo (apparently, Bigfoot is also an original resident of the North American continent). Toss in a turn by genre great Buck Flowers as a moronic manchild who loves a good beer and you're ready for some underdeveloped fear factors. As with its fellow flicks in skunk ape arms, Capture wants to capitalize on the public's fascination with what may be the missing link. Too bad that Rebane decided to accent this acceptance by losing the connection between motion pictures and entertainment as well.
Technically, this DVD represents the bottom of the transfer barrel—straight 1.33:1 full-frame images, most barely cleaned up and presentable. Legend looks especially shoddy, since the color is almost completely faded from the print. Shriek is much better, but still has substantial celluloid damage. Capture can occasionally look very good, but the night scenes are overpopulated with pixelization. Search was shot on video and, therefore, is more clear and colorful than the others. Still, the production is incredibly low budget and the cloudy camerawork shows. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Mono is scarcely sufficient, while the only extra offered is a TV trailer for Shriek. As a digital presentation, the overall specs here are incredibly subpar.
It's hard to put a finger on when the entire Bigfoot/Loch Ness craze finally died out (it was Close Encounters that made ET's acceptable and endearing). Maybe it was the moment that the beast was turned into a co-star for a lumpy Lee Majors toward the end of The Six Million Dollar Man. Or even worse, when Pufnstuf's Sid and Marty Krofft turned Sasquatch into a superhero, unleashing the Bigfoot and Wildboy series to universal yawns. In either case, the minute a monster gets merchandised and marketed, it loses a lot of its ability to frighten. There's just not a lot of visceral terror emanating from a Saturday morning kid's show. Interestingly enough, the same can be said for the four films included here. Each one has its intermittent delights and elements of entertainment but, overall, they represent the dregs of the dying drive-in mentality. In fact, you can almost see the make-out pauses programmed into each one of these passion-pit pariahs. If you like your cinema on the sloppy, shoddy side (with just a pinch of Michael Findlay madness to make the entire experience go down like a spoonful of spoiled sugar), you'll definitely dig this crazy collection of off-title treats. Still, for those who remember the days when Bigfoot and his variously-named subsidiaries dominated underage dialogue, you'll feel betrayed and despondent. This may be exactly how the legend was exploited when you were a kid, but it seems a little rough upon a revisit.
Guilty as Sasquatch sin! All four films here fail as examples of perfected motion-picture making. As hackneyed efforts so bad that their bubblicious, the Court can render no other decision other culpable as crap. Relish at your own risk.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• TV Trailer for Shriek of the Mutilated
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