Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bigfoot: Man or Beast? (1972) & The Mysterious Monsters (1976) & Manbeast! Myth or Monster? (1978)

          Notwithstanding the drive-in hit The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), a fictional feature shamelessly marketed as a documentary, the entertaining cycle of nonfiction films exploring a certain mythical creature commenced with 1972’s Bigfoot: Man or Beast? Comprising simple reportage following Sasquatch enthusiast Robert W. Morgan as he searches the wilderness for signs of his elusive quarry, Bigfoot is rational but sluggish, mostly because Morgan lacks dynamism. Short, muscular, intense, and bald except for a jet-black goatee, Morgan affects a tough-guy persona complete with strident speeches about how the scientific community’s skepticism makes him “mad as hell.” As Bigfoot trudges along, writer-director Lawrence Crowley features interviews with people who claim to have seen creatures in the woods, plus long scenes of Morgan hiking through forests.
          Although Crowley never gooses the movie with fabricated scenes, he devotes considerable screen time to the infamous “Patterson footage” of an alleged California sighting; similarly, Crowley doesn’t challenge people who say things like, “If this footprint was faked, the person doing it had to be an absolute expert in human anatomy.” During the underwhelming climax, Morgan and TV actor Sam Melville (The Rookies) travel to a spot where a Bigfoot sighting is anticipated, but then a forest fire erupts and, according to Morgan, drives Sasquatch into another area. Convenient!
          A short while after Crowley’s picture was released, the ’70s Bigfoot craze peaked. During 1976, Bigfoot was featured in a classic two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, plus several movies—two of which, Harry Winer’s The Legend of Bigfoot and Ed Ragozzino’s Sasquatch, the Legend of the Bigfoot, were bogusly marketed as documentaries, Boggy Creek-style.
          Also in 1976, Mission: Impossible star Peter Graves hosted a feature-length doc titled The Mysterious Monsters. This one comes, naturally, from the titans of pseudoscientific docudrama, Sunn Classic Pictures. Essentially a filmed news report in the you-are-there vein, with Graves playing the role of an intrepid investigator, The Mysterious Monsters includes several vivid re-creations of Bigfoot sightings. Using performers in frightening Bigfoot costumes, writer-director Robert Guenette stages various spooky scenes; one vignette features a group of Boy Scouts sleeping in the woods until noises wake them, at which point the boys discover a hirsute intruder in their midst. Guenette crams a lot of data into 90 minutes, with Graves dramatically grouping eyewitness sightings, footprints, hair samples, and the like as “exhibits” proving Bigfoot’s existence. In a clever touch, Guenette grounds his argument by citing various modern discoveries that upended common beliefs (for example, the Komodo dragon), but the film’s logic strains when Guenette spends about 15 minutes “proving” the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.
          Nonetheless, the picture is so lively that it’s easy to go along for the facts-be-damned ride. At one point, Graves takes a box containing a plaster cast of a Sasqautch footprint to—well, let’s let him explain it. “I went to Peter Herkos, the world’s foremost psychic detective, at his home in Los Angeles,” Graves says, gravely. Then, once Herkos is holding the box, Graves asks: ”Can you psychometrize what is in here and tell me something about it?” So, while The Mysterious Monsters may not be defensible as journalism, it’s tremendous fun as a cheesy thriller.
          Bigfoot’s popularity continued in 1977—the creature returned to The Six Million Dollar Man and starred in his own Saturday-morning kiddie show, Bigfoot and Wildboy—but Sasquatch’s stardom began to dim in 1978, when yet another “documentary” was released. Discarding all pretense of truthfulness, Manbeast! Myth or Monster? features the usual inventory of creature sightings, framed by scenes of a narrator/host “leading” the inquiry. Considering that writer-director Nicholas Webster obviously scripted every line—the actors aren’t good enough to create verisimilitude—the movie feels pointless and tacky from start to finish. Hollywood makeup artist Rob Bottin (who later worked on John Carpenter’s The Thing) created elaborate Bigfoot costumes for vignettes of creatures hanging out in the forest, running from pursuers, and scaring those who stumble upon them. Whereas The Mysterious Monsters used this gimmick in moderation, however, Manbeast! shows its creatures far too often—so despite Webster’s low angles and moody lighting, the film somehow manages to make Bigfoot boring.

Bigfoot: Man or Beast: FUNKY
The Mysterious Monsters: GROOVY
Manbeast! Myth or Monster?: LAME

1 comment:

Allen Rubinstein said...

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