Bigfoot is the New Zombie

I went to this 20 year high school reunion this past summer or fall or something. I’d never been to one of these things before cause it’s a commonly held belief that they suck.  Suck?  It was pretty much like hanging out in a bar where everyone’s really happy to see you.   How does this suck?  For once, you get to be Norm from Cheers, only without the ridiculous bar tab.  And I should point out that high school was not a period where I experienced a great level of social success.  To put things in perspective, my closest friends during that time were the crew of  the Starship Enterprise NCC1701-D.  Though, I must confess, I didn’t exactly gel with Dr. Kate Pulaski.

Even in this photo of the bridge officers and the teenage boy they like to hang out with, her arrogance overpowers the scene.  So glad she wasn't at the reunion.

Even in this photo of the bridge officers and the teenage boy they like to hang out with, her arrogance and lack of team spirit are defiantly on display like the feathers of some kind of shitheaded peacock. So glad she wasn’t at the reunion.

I was excited to come across an old friend, Bill Danner, because he was one of the three people I thought might remember me.  At this point, I hadn’t yet realized that I (and everyone else there) was Norm from Cheers and I thought maybe I could fool the rest of Roger Bacon’s Class of 1992 into thinking that I was interesting and had friends.  He told me he was a writer now and that he specialized in monster stories.  Hey, dude, that awesome.  Cause I’m working on a monster movie!  What kind of monsters you write about?

Me and Bill.  Sort of.  Me and Bill's hands.  Talking about werewolves.

Me and Bill. Sort of. Me and Bill’s hands. Talking about werewolves.  On my name tag is a picture of what I looked like 20 yrs ago.  I looked like a guy in a suit.  (Photo credit: Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann)

“Werewolves,” Bill answered, clearly stunned that I would ask such a silly question because werewolves are obviously the only monster that are worth the trouble.  “And what’s your movie about?” he asked politely, knowing the answer was werewolves.

“Bigfoot,” I said enthusiastically, with the same blissful obliviousness I display when I tell a music snob that my favorite band is KISS.

“Bigfoot?” Bill asked in disbelief.  “Bigfoot?”

“Yeah…  Bigfoot…” I continued.  “The gentle giant of the forest…  The wild man of the mountain…  Don’t you like Bigfoot?”

He refused to dignify that question with an answer, but the disgusted look on his face said it all.  He then proceeded to tell me why werewolves are the best monster for any and all artistic endeavors.  I won’t get into that now because I was fairly drunk from my one beer at that point and didn’t retain any of it.  Something about fangs or man’s duality…  I don’t know…  He probably explains it on his blog, Howl to Find Meaning, where he has some short stories you can check out, as well as his work-in-progress novel.

Go ahead.  Check it out.  I’ll wait.

How is this scary?  I just don't get it.  (Photo credit: Stolen from Bill's Blog)
How is this scary? I just don’t get it. (Photo credit: Stolen from Bill’s blog)

I’ve spent the last few years focused on Bigfoot & Bigfoot movies and interacting with other people who love Bigfoot as much as I do (and some a bit more).  This exchange made me realize that I had become so immersed in my film and in the Bigfoot subculture, I momentarily forgot that the vast majority of Bigfoot movies pretty much suck.

In the 1970’s Bigfoot had exploded into popular culture.  The famous Patterson/Gimlin film had come out just a few years earlier, igniting the public’s interest in the big guy and once the extremely low budget docudrama (like a mockumentary but faker) The Legend of Boggy Creek hit drive-in screens, it was over.  Bigfoot was everywhere.

Me and Bob Gimlin, the "Gimlin" in Patterson-Gimlin.  Not pertinent or anything.  Just name dropping.

Me and Bob Gimlin, the “Gimlin” in Patterson-Gimlin. Not pertinent or anything. Just name dropping.  (Photo credit: Nice lady who made delicious Bigfoot-shaped cookies)

By the time I had been born and started to reach consciousness the tv was filled  with aweseome 70’s Bigfoot stuff like In Search Of… and The Six Million Dollar Man.  I probably even caught an episode or two of Bigfoot and Wildboy.  Bigfoot was so popular at the time, I had a recurring nightmare in those days that Bigfoot and I were being chased by pirates.  I also had a somewhat less relevant dream that the Bionic Man and the Peanuts gang went to the Cincinnati Zoo to beat up alligators.

Welcome to my nightmare.  Children under 3 get in free.

Welcome to my nightmare. Children 2 and under get in free.

When I was older, I started reading books about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and all sorts of other allegedly real-life monsters (including werewolves.  If you hit a werewolf on the nose with your housekey, he’ll leave you alone.  Laaame.  I wonder if Bill knows that).  As a kid who hated reading, this was one of the few subjects that would inspire me to pick up a book.  And also Dr. Who.  (Until I finally was allowed to stay up late enough to see the show.  It was the worst.)

By now it was the 80’s  and there weren’t really any Bigfoot movies being made.  Harry and the Hendersons came out.  It kinda sucked, but it was Bigfoot, so I went with it.  The same year, Unsolved Mysteries hit the airwaves, occasionally offering a more serious take on the cryptid.  It all made me long for all the cool stuff I had seen in the seventies.

Back in the 70’s, when Leonard Nimoy would tell me things about Bigfoot and ghosts and aliens, it felt very real and there was something very scary about it, but also very compelling.  At the same time, I was realizing that Mr. Spock was just a character and Leonard Nimoy the actor who played him.  Putting 2 & 2 together with my undeveloped kid brain, I realized he was no Vulcan and that his pointed ears must be the result of a deformity – a deformity exploited by the producers of Star Trek.

Sounds like something Pulaski's would do.

A total Pulaski move.

“Does he know his ears are pointed?” I asked my mom.

She ignored the question because pretending it didn’t happen was preferable to believing her son was some kind of idiot.  Mr. Nimoy, after all, didn’t have pointed ears on In Search Of.  But watching a crappy SD picture over RF on a 19 inch set, I couldn’t really tell.  Also, I was some kind of idiot.

There was something extra scary and extra real about Bigfoot, whereas vampires and werewolves were pretty cool (except for the key business) but no one believed in them anymore.  It made a huge impression on me, and as I got older, any time I’d be out in a field or the woods in autumn at sunset, I’d think “It would be cool to make a Bigfoot movie.  Like from the seventies.  Grainy film.  Bigfoot.  Cool.” (Autumn sunsets remind me of grainy seventies Bigfoot movies.)  That always stayed with me over the years. Though, in retrospect, In Search Of… would have lost all credibility if I had seen this at the time.

When we started The Legend of Grassman (and once I dropped my ridiculous John Cassavetes Bigfoot Movie idea that Dennis and I couldn’t see eye to eye on) I was hoping to evoke that same feel.  Recent Bigfoot movies pretty much sucked and they seemed like a dying trend.  As we continued working on the film, though, we kept hearing about other Bigfoot movies being made.  Eventually it there were so many, it became slightly ridiculous.  

I thought what separated our film from all the others was that it was an homage to the films of the 1970’s like Boggy Creek.  Then I found out about The Wild Man of the Navidad, and Eduardo Sanchez’s Exists.  Our film was suddenly not as unique as we had thought it was, except I bet Exists doesn’t have a guy getting hit in the nuts with a hedge apple.  Much to my dismay, I found that Navidad certainly did not. And then, last year, David Coleman released his giant reference book, The Bigfoot Filmography, where he boldly declared the Bigfoot movie as it’s own genre.  You know, like zombies.

The Bigfoot Filmography by Dave Coleman

The Bigfoot Filmography by David Coleman

If zombies can have their own genre, why not Bigfoot?  Well…  I guess cause Bigfoot movies kind of suck… But wait!  Coleman begins his book by saying “Bigfoot movies kind of suck.”  I’m paraphrasing.  Without attributing any inflated sense of importance to these films, and while acknowledging that quality is often lacking, Coleman very carefully and thoroughly traces the history of the genre from a silent short by Méliès (the guy from Hugo), through the 70’s heyday, and right up to the Sasquatch Renaissance we’re experiencing today.

This is something I actually attempted to do myself when we decided to make our film.   I wanted to make a quintessential Bigfoot film, and I wanted to understand where these films came from.  The earliest film I could find was also the most epic and awesome – King Kong.  (The Fouke Monster never ripped a T-Rex’s face open.  Sissy.)  The book talks about King Kong as a Bigfoot film, and also as “Killer Gorilla” movie and goes on to explain the difference between the two genres.

The Fouke Monster also never swiped airplanes out the air like it was nothing. So badass.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While prepping for my film, I never bothered to watch any Killer Gorilla movies because I somehow thought they all revolved around an aging Bela Lugosi being bested by a bunch of smart-mouthed 30 year old teenagers with Brooklyn accents from a screenplay by Ed Wood.  (Turns out, I had just confused several different movies as one, but I’m still reasonably sure that’s an accurate description of the genre.)

I also had decided that the Sasquatch films  from the 1970’s were somehow linked to jungle adventures like Tarzan.  Both involved explorers intruding into mysterious, uncharted wildernesses and getting their asses kicked by crazy nature shit.  Both made generous use of obvious nature stock footage shots.   The book goes even further and makes an unexpected connection between the King of the Jungle and Bigfoot himself.  (SPOILER:  Former lovers!  OMG!!!)

I was pleased to find that I came up with some of the same conclusions on my own that a guy with bookwriting smarts did, as I frequently don’t come up with smart things to say good.   But, in his book, Coleman goes deeper than my tiny brain will allow and touches on every Bigfoot film and tv show/beef jerky commercial ever made – plenty of which I hadn’t seen or heard of.  He talks about each decade of Bigfoot movies, their influences, how the genre evolved, and it’s thematic elements.  (Up until the point that I read this book, I thought a common theme of the genre is that there’s usually a guy who wears a cowboy hat.)  .

This still from Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot proves that my analysis is correct.

This still from Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot proves that my analysis is correct.

I wish that there had been a text like this available when we started our film in 2008.  I wouldn’t have read it, as I never read due to the fact that find books too cumbersome with the weight and all the page turning involved and because there’s a good chance the book in your hand has been to the toilet with some guy who likes to read while he poops. (I own the paperback version of this book, but was only able to read it on the Nook.  Also, I find the Nook’s screen brighter and more pleasing to the eye than a book.  And you can’t get Fruit Ninja on a book.)

The Bigfoot Filmography should be required reading for any filmmakers looking to do their own Sasquatch movie and is a great read for Bigfoot fans and film buffs alike.  It takes a serious look at a genre which is never taken seriously just because the films kinda suck.  But my love of Ciné du Sasquatch (it’s French talk) has more to do with potential than quality.  

I once stopped over my dad’s house and noticed he owned a copy of Sasquatch Hunters, which I love because I find it laughably bad. (I’m so sorry if you made this film.  Please focus on the “love” portion of that sentence.)  I started to talk to him about how “bad” it was, cause here’s a guy that didn’t even like Tales of the Gold Monkey, which is obviously the best thing ever to be shown on tv.  He’s gotta think it sucks.  He gave me a puzzled look and then told me he thought it was good.

“I like Bigfoot movies,” he shrugged.

My Dad.  This is the only picture I had of him...  I...  hmm....

My Dad. This is the only picture I had of him… I… yeah…

I like Bigfoot movies.  It’s that potential for something great and that desire to see that real Bigfoot we grew up with that draws us in.  And also, probably, that he hasn’t had his eyes checked since Nixon was in office.

It’s a bit like back when Daredevil came out and we were all like “That wasn’t terrible.  I guess it was good or something.”  Just because there was no Iron Man, Dark Knight, or The Avengers at the time.  Now you look at it, and it’s obvious that it totally sucks.  There was a great potential for superhero movies NOT directed by Joel Schumacher, we all saw it, and we were willing to cling to anything that represented that dream.

It’s also a little like when Dr. Kate Pulaski joined the Enterprise 1701-D and you totally hated her, but then you realized you were stuck with her so by the end of season 2, you started thinking maybe she wasn’t so bad and then you heard Dr. Crusher was returning so you were like, “Don’t let the turbolift hit you in the ass on the way out, Dr. Jerkface!” Am I right? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best hope for genre right now is Exists, directed by Eduardo Sanchez, who totally nailed the Legend of Boggy Creek creepy atmosphere thing with The Blair Witch Project – A movie I think doesn’t get enough respect because lots of people got pissed that they had been tricked into thinking there was a real Blair Witch and other, snootier folks, were pissed that the filmmakers didn’t use a tripod.  I didn’t know when I saw that Blair Witch that it was actually inspired by Boggy Creek, but it put off that vibe with the grainy B&W 16mm footage, documentary feel, creepy mythology, locations, and oddball side characters.  And that’s what I loved most about the film.  Also, best snot scene since Patrick Swayze in North and South.

Exists is the biggest, most mainstream scary Bigfoot movie to come around since ever in the history of always and it has the potential to make the current Bigfoot craze even bigger.  Thus, my assertion that Bigfoot is the new zombie.  There’s a revolution underway, and all we need is one big movie that doesn’t totally suck to open the floodgates.  And doesn’t have Danny Bonaduce and Greg Brady in it.  Cause that was so terrible I couldn’t finish it.

I wrote this blog post for Bill Danner, because I didn’t have the facilities to say it to him when I was drunk on my one beer at Roger Bacon Class of ’92 2oth Reunion, and at some point when I wasn’t paying attention, the conversation somehow switched to someone’s teenage son masturbating too much.  I hope this article maybe clears up my love for this genre and its often unrealized potential.  

And yes, Bill, werewolves are very cool (except for the key thing) and should be represented more in fiction.   But there may come a time when you turn on your tv and instead of seeing goofy ass beef jerky commercials, you get your shit totally scared off by the AMC original series The Walking Sasquatch.  I want you to be prepared for this.  Also, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it’s probably best that you don’t get too attached to any characters who happened to be named “T Dog.”

-Tyler

Howl to Find Meaning
The Bigfoot Filmography Official Blog
Me and Bill Danner talking about good times and werewolves.  Well, this isn't actually him.  This is his friend Phil Rolfert.  But I think if Bill and I had taken a picture together, we might have done it this way.  Phil, by the way, is NOT a werewolf snob.

Me and Bill Danner talking about good times and werewolves. Well, this isn’t actually him. This is his friend Phil Rolfert. But I think if Bill and I had taken a picture together, we might have done it this way. Phil, by the way, is NOT a werewolf snob.  (Photo credit: Anne Rolfert)

3 responses to “Bigfoot is the New Zombie

  1. Pingback: Drafting (Part 3) – Out Of Darkness Arises a Hero and a Really Awesome Draft. | The Grassman – Movie Production Blog

  2. Pingback: 100 Years… 100 Squatches: AFI’s List of the 100 Greatest Bigfoot Films of All Time | The Grassman – Movie Production Blog

  3. Pingback: Writing Character: Getting into the mind of Bigfoot | The Grassman - Movie Production Blog

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