During the 1970s, Bigfoot was the hominid du jour. Capturing the imaginations of rednecks and city slickers alike, the man-ape’s status as a pop culture superstar was cemented when he became the focus of a string of documentaries and horror flicks that became staples of drive-ins throughout the country. Cheap and easy to produce, these efforts sought to make as much money off of the Sasquatch legend as possible—with varying degrees of success. Although the 1980s and ‘90s were lean times for the hairy beast, we are currently riding a new wave of Bigfootmania that has inspired everything from beef jerky ads to another heap of creature features. But are there more to these flicks than bad costumes and marks left in the ground by plaster footprints? Let’s find out in this tribute to an underappreciated cinematic genre—the Sasquatchploitation film.
10) Sasquatch, The Legend of Bigfoot
The first of three "documentaries" on this list (and the only one to feature a Bernard Herrman sound-alike score), this one delivers propaganda of Leni Riefenstahl proportions as it follows a group of believers as they set out on a perilous adventure aimed at proving the existence of Sasquatch. Due to the fact that (spoiler alert) there’s no such thing, the producers pad the running time by profiling the colorful folks involved with the expedition.
Tragically, cook Barney Snipe was brutally murdered by a group of Bigfeet who felt that his coffee wasn’t nearly flavorful enough. Staged interviews like the ones featured above play a large part in this film’s charm. They also gives you a chance to play the Bigfoot docudrama drinking game.
• Take a slug of your favorite brew whenever the phrase "Bigfoot, or Sasquatch as the Native Americans call him" is said by the narrator.
• Drink anytime there are panoramic nature shots accompanied by narration detailing the ancient and mystical history of Bigfoot.
• When you see stock footage of animals running, go ahead and have a drink.
• Did the narrative just stop dead so that some hayseed could sing a country song reminiscent of "Cause I’m a Man" from Dawn of the Dead? If so, finish the bottle.
9) Drawing Flies
Fans of the View Askewniverse should seek out this bizarre serio-comedy that stars Jason Lee as a Canadian slacker whose loss of welfare benefits inspires him to travel into the wilderness to track down Bigfoot. After enlisting the help of his shiftless pals to join him on his quest, he slowly begins to lose his mind. Or does he?
Mixing the talky randomness of Slacker with The Blair Witch Project’s low-budget sensibilities, directors Matthew Gissing and Malcolm Ingram have created a film that uses the search for Sasquatch as a metaphor for man's desire to escape from the rat race and return to nature. Sure, it’s amateurish at times, but it also shows flashes of brilliance. And Mallrats fans take note—the cast includes Lee, Kevin Smith (who also co-produced), Renée Humphrey, Joey Lauren Adams, Ethan Suplee and Jason Mewes.
8) Shriek of the Mutilated
Abominable Snowmen/Yetis aren’t immune to exploitation either, as evidenced in this 1974 shocker that follows four grad students as they join their professor on a field trip into the mountains. When what appears to be a Yeti starts hunting them, the survivors frantically attempt to avoid becoming the sinister snowman’s next victims. As it turns out, the killer is really one of the prof's associates dressed up as a Yeti. It seems that the educator and his pal have developed quite the taste for human flesh and they use the learning expeditions to hunt fresh meat.
In what is little more than a twisted episode of Scooby-Doo, director Michael Findlay (who would later helm the notorious cult horror film Snuff) adequately builds suspense and manages to pull off some effective sequences–even though the film’s villain resembles a Brundlesque fusion of Wolfman Jack and a Wampa.
Screw the Mona Lisa, the poster for 1970s Bigfoot is a true artistic masterpiece. The movie is pretty wonderful too. Noticing the public’s fascination with Bigfoot that was kicked off by the Patterson/Gimlin film and the biker craze that ensued following the release of Easy Rider, writer/director Robert F. Slatzer had the idea to incorporate both elements into a film. It was an inspired "you got chocolate in my peanut butter/peanut butter in my chocolate" decision that resulted in cinematic brilliance. When a biker’s girlfriend is kidnapped by a group of Bigfeet in the Pacific Northwest who have also abducted an Amelia Earhart-style aviator, the cool rider drafts his hard-living colleagues to help rescue them. Since the authorities don’t believe in the monsters, their only help on their recon mission comes from an old man with a score to settle with one of the beasts. Much man-on-Sasquatch action follows. No, not in that way. Sicko.
6) Suburban Sasquatch
The Plan 9 from Outer Space of Bigfoot films, this no-budget indie from writer/director Dave Wascavage is a tongue-in-cheek throwback to mid-1970s schlock horror classics. When Bigfoot decides to leave the seclusion of the forest to start a new life in the suburbs, he soon discovers that it’s just way too hard to leave his man-mutilating ways behind him. Brought together by their shared hatred for the beast, a reporter, a mysterious hunter and two bumbling cops set out to put an end to his murderous ways.
Suburban Sasquatch is a subtle examination of how the tranquility of domestic life can be irrevocably changed by one solitary moment of chaos. Nah, that’s giving it way too much credit. But it is trashy fun. Wascavage set out to make an over-the-top Bigfoot film, and man, did he succeed. Production values? Skilled actors? Coherent dialogue? A Bigfoot cares not about these things. The film’s meager visual effects are reminiscent of those from Oley Sassone’s Fantastic Four film, but production values will be the last thing on your mind when you see the sheer spectacle of a man-boobed Sasquatch hoisting a cop car into the air.
5) The Mysterious Monsters
Playing like a feature-length version of the "Bullshit or Not?" sketch from Amazon Women on the Moon, The Mysterious Monsters thrust "a shocking look into man’s encounters with the unknown" upon viewers in 1976. Narrated by a slumming Peter Graves (they couldn’t get Leonard Nimoy?), this docudrama mixed re-enactments with so-called actual footage to expose the truth about such creatures as the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster, and, of course, Bigfoot.
Let’s take a look at poor Rita Graham’s 1975 run-in with Sasquatch, shall we?
Graves’ earnest narration does its best to convince viewers that these elusive monsters live among us. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that his deadpan delivery helped get him cast in Airplane. I know that Quaalude use was big in the late-'70s and all, but I find it hard to believe that anyone found this film even remotely frightening when it was originally released. Yet it is considered to be a definitive documentary on its subjects by cryptozoologists, and you know those folks have their shit together. The only way The Mysterious Monsters could be any more entertaining would be if it went completely apeshit and claimed that Patty Hearst and D.B. Cooper committed their crimes while under the mind control of super-intelligent Yetis seeking to rule the world.
Let me say without any sense of snark that I believe Lance Henriksen to be one of the most underrated actors working today. Regardless of if he is starring in a mainstream film or a cash-strapped horror flick, he brings a ferocious intensity to every performance. For proof, check out the DVDs for Aliens and Near Dark. In supplemental documentaries, viewers are treated to a variety of anecdotes about the in-depth ways in which he prepares for his roles—from having expensive scleral contact lenses made while getting ready to play Bishop to a run-in with a police officer while driving around in character as vampire Jesse Hooker. Given the fact that seemingly every Bigfoot film in the last decade has featured Lance, I can only assume that at this point that he has spent time living amongst the creatures, learning their language and forest-dwelling ways, delighting them with stories about Paul Reiser, and so on.
Clearly director/co-writer Ryan Schifrin (son of Lalo) has an affinity for the Sasquatchploitation genre too. Both a tongue-in-cheek homage to many of the films here and a nicely effective thriller, Abominable rises above most contemporary Bigfoot films through its witty script and performances by Matt McCoy, Paul Gleason, Jeffrey Combs and Henriksen that manage to sell the outlandish story.
3) Harry and the Hendersons
Let me go on the record and say that I have a strict opposition to friendly Bigfoot films (which is why you don’t see the perverted-sounding Sasquatch remake of Teen Wolf, Big and Hairy on this list anywhere). If Bigfoot were real, he wouldn’t pal around with Don Ameche, and he sure as shit wouldn’t watch TV. He’d be too busy wreaking vengeance against man for desecrating his land. This list is all about exploitation, and that’s exactly what this film does, only this time it's exploitation in reverse by attempting to make audiences see him as a gentle giant instead of the hirsute killing machine that he truly is. After nearly killing a Bigfoot, the Henderson family decides to take him into their home and, shitting all over his heritage, give him the Americanized name Harry. Following a series of wacky misadventures in which they protect him from a big game hunter (a wonderful character who sees Harry for the baby eater that he truly is) and fill his mind up with pop culture detritus, they release him back into the wild. Clearly they know nothing about cultural contamination, the fuckers. The conspiracy to have the world see Harry, er, Bigfoot in a more positive light was so vast that this film won an Academy Award for Rick Baker’s makeup effects. That’s right, we live in a world where Harry and the Hendersons is an Oscar-winning film. There are days when I weep for mankind.
By the way, Harry loves Otter Pops.
2) The Legend of Boggy Creek
The most influential of all Bigfoot docudramas, The Legend of Boggy Creek is a glacially paced exploration of the Fouke Monster legend. Rumored to live in Miller County, Arkansas, the creature was blamed for slaughtering livestock in the area during the early 1970s. Believing that the stories about the Fouke Monster would interest filmgoers, ad man Charles B. Pierce enlisted the help of locals and amateur actors—Pierce himself plays lead Doc Lockhart, while his son plays the rail-thin, oft-shirtless faux-lothario—to make what would become a low-budget sensation. Viewed these days, it’s much more effective as a portrait of long-gone Americana than a monster flick (or, if you prefer, a visual compendium of reasons never to visit Arkansas). But upon its initial release, it was a film that offered up shocks and homespun wisdom. Such narrative asides as the Travis Crabtree musical sequence lulled the audience into a laid back mood–one that would be shattered when Foukey finally appears towards the end of the film. (Note: This isn't to be confuses with Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues, the terrible fictional sequel also made by Charles Pierce and destroyed by MST3K. -Ed.)
1) The Patterson-Gimlin Film
The second most scrutinized home movie of all time after the Zapruder film, this one singlehandedly propelled Bigfoot into the global consciousness. On October 27, 1967, researchers Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin set out to find Bigfoot in Northern California’s Six River National Forest. They got their wish. Upon actually seeing the creature, they pulled out their 16mm camera and the world got a 50-second glimpse of the hirsute beast. If the film’s real, that is. Over the years the footage has been proven genuine, debunked and celebrated. It was rumored that John Chambers—the man who created the makeup design for the original Planet of the Apes—was responsible for constructing the suit used in the film, a claim that Chambers denied until his death. For the Fox Mulders of the world who want to believe, it’s authenticity is irrelevant. If nothing else, it served as a reminder that the world still has plenty of mysteries left to solve. Even if they just involve trying to figure out the identity of a person in a modified ape suit.