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Put Your Bigfoot In It: Bigfoot on Film

  The craze, if you can call it that, for making movies about Bigfoot can be traced back to a certain clip of amateur footage from 1967, now known as The Patterson-Gimlin Film. In it, a shaky camera captures what was claimed to be the mysterious apeman which wanders the forests of the Pacific Northwest of North America, or is reputed to, almost always in anecdotal evidence rather than anything concrete. This was what made the record taken by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin something of a sensation, as it appeared to offer proof of the beast at last, yet naturally (or unnaturally) it merely sent researchers and the more casual observer into a downward spiral arguing over whether it was fake or not, with even Planet of the Apes makeup designer John Chambers dragged into the controversy (he denied having created what looks to the untrained eye like a gorilla outfit).

One interesting element of the sighting was this Bigfoot, or Sasquatch as it was also known, its Native American name, was that this was supposedly a female creature, when in popular culture it was more often than not depicted as male (unless it was one of cartoonist R. Crumb's sexual fantasies on paper). However, the first film to cash in on the phenomenon was simply titled Bigfoot, from 1970, and featured a poster of their titular monster battling bikers, lifting one of their machines over its head and roaring ferociously. It will not surprise you to learn it would be wishful thinking to hope for this level of excitement in the end result, for what you got was a bunch of people in, yes, gorilla suits, but they did include females of the species to support the leader of their tribe, making this a family of sorts, you had to presume, rendering the premise of Bigfoot wanting to kidnap human women for unspeakable purposes rather pointless.

The cast was not exactly stellar, apart from John Stellar who played the apeman, but there was that old trouper John Carradine as a travelling huckster who once he heard there's a Bigfoot up for grabs, dollar signs practically light up in his eyes. Also present were two Robert Mitchum relatives and one Bing Crosby offspring, none of them exhibiting the charisma of their more famous family members, and in truth the whole affair was a complete bore unless you really had a penchant for light country rock instrumentals which accompany too many scenes of characters wandering around the woods. They were both in the studio and at supposed genuine locations where Bigfoot had been encountered in real life, not that it made a jot of difference when your antagonist was patently some bloke in a ratty suit, though he did fight a bear at one point, and menaced a screaming Joi Lansing who was tied up as he pretended to be King Kong.

There was one interesting line: the Sheriff informs the boyfriend of a kidnap victim that he hears stories about Bigfoot all the time, so why should he believe this one? Well, if you hear them all the time, maybe that’s because there's truth in them, did you not think of that? That would be a strong reason why such accounts should be taken seriously, at least according to the believers in the big guy, the sheer volume of anecdotal evidence must count for something, there must be a creature (or a race of them) out there in the forests because people keep seeing them. Never mind that actual evidence was either thin on the ground, or what proof there was could easily have been faked, thus what we were offered were a whole slew of supposedly true stories, documentaries that preserved real life yarns, and not all of them released by prodigious producer of such drive-in and grindhouse material Sunn Classics, either.

In fact, you could put their success down to a film that was nothing to do with them, which was released in 1972 and became a runaway hit, making huge profits for its creator Charles B. Pierce which he was curiously reluctant to pass on to the rest of those involved. The Legend of Boggy Creek was that film, its subject was the highly local Bigfoot variant from Louisiana called The Fouke Monster, and it was so atmospherically presented that it proved irresistible for kids and adults alike seeking a "safe scare", as it would be called now. What Pierce hit upon that was his real stroke of inspiration was to speak in the language of nature documentaries, so that it came across as that bit more believable that a man-thing was stalking the swamps, and the witness testimony he rustled up only contributed to that sense of getting first hand reports from the horse's mouth, if not the yowls from the Fouke Monster's maw.

One typical aspect of American discussions about the creature was whether you should shoot it if it turns out to be real, and that was an element of Boggy Creek as well as Pierce assembled a gang of hunters kitted out with rifles with the express notion of gunning it down. It was the success of pictures like this that spawned so many imitators, on television as well as film, so naturally when the Leonard Nimoy-narrated In Search Of... series started in 1977, their Bigfoot investigation found about half the episode given over to the justification of killing one or more, a state of mind that may seem alien to non-Americans. But it was the perceived threat of these primates that fuelled the need to either capture a specimen by force, or catch one for the trophy cabinet, that often informed the debate, and in the seventies that was as pressing a question as whether Bigfoot and its similar cousins should be preserved.

The seventies was of course the decade where ecology became a big thing in the public consciousness, and the Sasquatch (as the cool kids were calling it) became emblematic of the vast American wildernesses that needed to be sustained for the good of the planet, therefore your average film or TV show on the subject really needed plenty of footage of the camera panning across unspoilt landscapes or closeups of tree branches and smaller, more identifiable wildlife, all for that sense of authenticity. Sunn Classics did get in on the act in 1975 with The Mysterious Monsters, but that lumped Bigfoot in with the Yeti (fair enough, they were comparable) and The Loch Ness Monster (not the same at all), which although it had Peter Graves intoning authoritatively was curiously distracted when surely you would have thought the producers could have tripled their profits with three separate movies.

There was certainly enough witness testimony, although the pictorial evidence was somewhat thinner on the ground, but in the wake of Boggy Creek there were a bunch of follow-ups that continued into the twenty-first century, such a brand name had that grown into, as well as ostensibly unrelated efforts that blatantly chased after the public's interest in the matter. Others included The Legend of Bigfoot, also in 1975, and the next year In Search of Bigfoot, as well as Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot, a cheeky dramatization of various anecdotes posing as a documentary, with the fascination with the mystery showing no signs of dying down. There were fictional works as well - oldtimers Jack Elam and Dub Taylor came face to face with a whatever-it-was in 1976's Creature from Black Lake, but Americans would have to seek these out at their local drive-ins, whereas television was a lot more accessible.

The most celebrated item of Bigfoot on the small screen during this decade was probably his appearance in the shape of massive wrestler Andre the Giant who donned a costume to star alongside Lee Majors in episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, which should give you some idea of how seriously series TV took even the most ridiculous topics if it meant they could wring an hour (with commercials) out of them. But in 1977, there was a TV movie which adopted the essential plot of then-recent mega-blockbuster Jaws to a ski resort rather than a beach one, and it was called Snowbeast. There were concerns at the time whether the network had gone too far and made a production that was simply too violent, but for kids of the era that precisely what they were anticipating and if they felt shortchanged then their "see the bit where...?" conversations with friends were going to be extremely disappointing.

Although there was more blood in Snowbeast than your usual TV show of the period, it had been toned down, and that was most noticeable in its treatment of the titular monster, a rogue Bigfoot that was picking off holidaymakers at Sylvia Sidney's winter sports resort just as its fiftieth anniversary loomed. Footage of said beast was few and far between, barely glimpses of a claw on the end of a hairy arm, or a, well, big foot, or if you were lucky a quick frame or two of its snarling face as it bore down on yet another victim - had someone seen then-recent killer Bigfoot (actually Yeti) exploitation item Shriek of the Mutilated and been inspired? The issue of whether it should be shot at was definitively resolved if you believed this approach: yes, murder the hairy bastard! Bo Svenson was your man wielding the firearm, in between acres of padding of stuntmen skiing and driving snowmobiles.

The message was clear, however: get Bigfoot before he gets you. During the seventies the most notorious effort in that vein was decidedly underground, a porn movie from 1971 (or possibly 1973, the origins of the production are somewhat obscure) called The Geek, said geek being the hairy fella who attacked campers and had sex with a couple of the female holidaymakers in semi-hardcore scenes. The creature here was your typical man in a suit affair, though he did appear to be wearing trousers which is an unusual variation on the traditional image of Bigfoot, or perhaps simply evidence of the impoverished effort overall. Although an apparent hippy, therefore you might expect him to be a gentle chap, he goes about his lovemaking in a rough, "take her from behind" manner which betrays his primitive demeanour, or rather betrays the primitive demeanour of the filmmakers, whoever they were.

This was perhaps the first sighting of the curious subgenre of ladies' erotica concerning Bigfoot, though there's no hint The Geek was anything but a stag movie for jaded palates, yet that was nothing compared to the notoriety engendered by the 1980 horror Night of the Demon, a production that not only had the cheek to nick a far better, more famous British chiller's title, but not include anything demonic at all, unless you counted a brief ritual whose purpose among the country folk was difficult to discern. Quite a bit was difficult to discern if you watched this on home video, so poorly was the print preserved, but you could see enough to get the idea: this was assuredly, in the age of the slasher's dominance, the first real Bigfoot gorefest. A typical scene of violence would have the monster pick up a hapless victim in his sleeping bag and whirl him around his head before sending him flying onto a sharp branch, impaling the bloke and killing him.

This time around the creature was played by stuntman Shane Dixon, all covered with fur, and with a penchant for dispatching his victims with as much ferocity as possible. Our lead character was Professor Nugent (television actor Michael Cutt), who is seen narrating the film-length flashback to what happened when he and his students ventured to an island where Sasquatch sightings had been made - and more. Indeed, the Professor was quite the fount of knowledge when it came to ghastly accounts of the beast's activities, his idea of a bedtime story was to describe how a biker stopped by the roadside to relieve himself and proceeded to lose his manhood when Bigfoot grabbed hold of it and parted the organ from the rest of the biker's body with some force. Cue closeups of a bloody stump pouring over the motorcycle in one of the film's signature shots, as one and done director James C. Wasson loved to linger on the aftermath of the attacks.

Night of the Demon was fairly typical of the sort of shocker the independent sector in the United States of this era would churn out, usually created by talent you had never heard of and including at least one sequence that allowed it some renown. This example was either cursed or blessed with the Video Nasty ban in Britain, which only increased the need for fans to seek it out, and for once they may not have been disappointed, as this did get extremely lurid, including rape by Bigfoot, Bigfoot pulling a man's intestines out and whipping his friends with them, and that time-honoured practice, interrupting the lovemaking couple with violence. Needless to say, it was also absolutely ridiculous and if you had a strong sense of humour you would probably be chortling away at its desperate attempts to shock, its amateurism merely enhancing the home movie gone demented mood of the piece.

On the other hand, it was not the most famous film on this subject to grace the eighties, as there was always Harry and the Hendersons to consider, a family friendly exercise with an excellent Rick Baker suit (better than the Patterson-Gimlin one, to be honest) where Harry, the Bigfoot of the title, never even got close to ripping off Mr Henderson John Lithgow's genitals. Nope, there was with some inevitability the back to nature theme arising again, surprising for the avaricious, me first decade, so the hunters were the bad guys and the little kids who befriended the apeman wanted to ensure his survival, though not before taking him home for some lowjinks and shenanigans. Supposedly taking real life Sasquatch researchers as inspiration, it was the biggest Bigfoot hit since Boggy Creek, and spawned its own sitcom in the nineties, every episode of which was nowhere near as funny as the episode of The Goodies where Tim Brooke-Taylor was revealed as the creature.

Of course, start watching Harry as an example of what Bigfoot could do and you would inevitably wind up wasting your time on the likes of Little Bigfoot 2: The Journey Home, so before you considered those there were a host of low budget horrors that often went straight to video, or later straight to streaming, to sift through that employed various costumes of various accomplishments to adorn their very tall actor playing the mystery entity. Bigfoot vs Zombies, Bigfoot vs D.B. Cooper, Assault of the Sasquatch, the list is seemingly endless, with even comedian turned director Bobcat Goldthwait serving up his own version in Willow Creek, a tribute to his fascination with the stories as a seventies kid and in a way bringing The Blair Witch Project's debt to the Bigfoot genre full circle as it presented a found footage telling of the accustomed researchers meeting their doom cliché. It wasn't his best work by any means, but at least he got it out of his system.

Also in 2013, amidst the glut of one step above amateur documentaries, arrived a British example called Shooting Bigfoot, where director Morgan Matthews did his best Nick Broomfield impersonation as an intrepid explorer, or at least he followed intrepid explorers who set off in search of Bigfoot. Intercutting between three separate expeditions, Matthews assembled a picture not of a wildman living in the deep forests of North America, but a collection of the deluded and the downright mendacious which in spite of how the film ended was less than convincing. First up were the most decent of the hunters, two ageing investigators who liked to spend their time howling in the woods and taking pictures of trees, imagining Bigfoot was answering and appearing to them in the foliage. We had a better impression of these two than the others, simply because they looked like two retired gentlemen finding a reason to get out of the house for a while.

As for those others, one was a self-confessed hoaxer who claimed he was determined to prove there really was something out there, but led Matthews a merry dance in what looked like a patch of wasteground (complete with litter) and demonstrated poor firearm technique - yes, we were back with hunters who wanted to kill the creature to capture it. The most professional was last, a man who had been making documentaries solo for some years but came across as more fond of the publicity he could gather for himself rather than for the Bigfoot. You did not believe any of these men and you worried that the latter two would kill someone if they were not careful, but as far as factual accounts went, Shooting Bigfoot would appear to be the last word until definite proof was offered. That it ended with an obviously staged encounter only brought up the query if Matthews was in on it or not - it seemed not. Maybe the casual viewer would be better off with a wacky comedy like Strange Wilderness, or John C. Reilly as the Sasquatch in Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny? They were about as believable as anything else in this genre, and if Bigfoot is out there, maybe it's best to leave him to his own devices as he obviously does not wish to be found.
Author: Graeme Clark

 

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Last Updated: 18 March, 2006