Monday, May 15, 2017

"Who Turned Your Gas On?" - The Capture of Bigfoot (1979)


As we have seen repeatedly here on Senseless Cinema, bigfoot films are nearly always existential explorations of the complexities and paradoxes of life in our mysterious multiverse. For example, we have seen that films such as Night of the Demon (1980) and Demonwarp (1988) have nothing to do with demons, but they do feature bigfoot. On the other hand, Curse of Bigfoot (1976) has little to do with bigfoot, but it does feature a mummy. No other subgenre of monster movies is able to demonstrate the paradox of existence so clearly as bigfoot movies through the complex relationships between their titles and the creatures therein.

Some of your universe's critics are uncharitable. "This is a must see especially if you want to punish yourself mentally," writes MACREADY-3 on IMDB. "Did not like it at all. Boring," writes Bera Bellatrix, also on IMDB. And lartronic, also on IMDB, compares the film to rotting garbage. "Really, you can't make a film like this and think it will be successful, it was totally awful from start to finish." In fact, many reviewers on this film's IMDB page call it the worst movie ever made, a ridiculous and disrespectful exaggeration. After all, The Capture of Bigfoot is a film by Wisconsin's Bill Rebane, a master of the regional horror film. It is therefore necessary for me to relate the exceptional qualities of this film.


The film opens with beautiful winter shots and an easy listening song with wonderful, profound lyrics:

"Like the timberline hardwoods
They give way to the spruce and pine,
So it is and so it shall be
That every living thing has its place and its time.

Only my echo is calling to me.
Over and over it tells me to see.
Life is a journey, take it my friend.
You'll find as you travel there's peace at the end.

I long to find my place in time.
As far as I see, this land is mine.
These wide open spaces belong just to me.
But they act as a prison if I can't be free.

The life that I live is the road that I travel.
A legend follows, my spirit runs free.

I hear the cold wind whisper to me.
Over and over it tells me to see.
A legend does follow my spirit most fleet.
A legend does follow, it's flying to me.

You'll never find freedom, you'll only find lies.
You'll only find freedom the day when you die."

We watch two trappers drive a dogsled team through the snow at night. A crate that is larger than a man sits on the sled, and something inside is whimpering and crying. "Shut up, you little beast," says the loquacious sled driver. "That sure is some smell," he says to his partner. "Smells like decaying flesh, that's what."

Could the creature in the box be bigfoot? The film's title would certainly indicate it as a distinct possibility.


One of the two men checks the dogs and then wanders into the trees. He is suddenly strangled by a furry white arm. His body is thrown to the snow.


We then see a large white creature move to the sled and remove the box.

In the morning, the dogs and the sled, minus the box but carrying one of the trappers, arrive at a gas station. The men assembled at the gas station, which appears to number the population of a small town, identify the surviving trapper as Hank Wells. They move his body to a pickup truck so they can transport him to the hospital.

We then look in on forest ranger Dave Garrett, his wife and her nine-year-old little brother, who just received a rifle as a birthday gift and is practicing military maneuvers in the snow against passing cars.


At the hospital, Hank Wells is bandaged up and drowsy, but he is accosted by Mr. Olsen, who shakes Hank and asks him if he found something called Arak. Hank does not respond.

The forest is crawling with trappers and kids hunting rabbits. We see one trapper attacked by something big and loud. The trapper runs past his own snowmobile to try to escape the beast on foot. We get a good view of the creature as it lumbers through the trees.


Town capitalist Mr. Olsen, meanwhile, offers $10,000 to another pair of trappers to go after the creature. One of the trappers says, "It's an ill wind blows nobody no good, Mr. Olsen. But if you don't mind my asking, why are you so interested in this thing?"

Mr. Olsen evades the question. "Do you want the job or not?" he yells. The trappers accept the deal.

Back at Ranger Dave Garrett's house, his wife provides the necessary backstory. "Well, Arak is...or was...a large, furry, manlike creature who supposedly protected the Arak Indian tribe, who inhabited the Lake of the Clouds area."

"Go on," prompts Ranger Dave.

"It watched over the ancient burial ground of the elders and they worshipped it as god." It is indeed fortunate that she knows everything there is to know about the legend. She relates the story of what happened 30 years ago, when a geological survey crew was killed.

Two pairs of men venture into the woods. The trappers hired by Mr. Olsen ride on snowmobiles, while Ranger Dave and Jake the trapper take Jake's dogsled. Ranger Dave lies back in comfort on the sled, riding like royalty.


Ranger Dave and Jake find the corpse of the trapper who, foolishly it turns out, decided not to use the snowmobile. They also find two sticks upright in the snow and a depression that is most likely a footprint. Jake says, "We gotta be getting outta here. Now."

Ranger Dave's wife's little brother Jimmy is not so aware of the dangers present in the forest. He goes on a trapping expedition on his own, setting a box trap in the snow. Casually, he looks to one side and sees the snow beast, presumably Arak, digging in the snow nearby.


Arak sees the boy, and the boy sees Arak. They look at each other and smile.


But a larger, parental snow beast interrupts them and chases Jimmy off into the forest.

Elsewhere in the forest, we watch the trappers cautiously maneuver their snowmobiles for several minutes. Taking a bathroom break, they discover some footprints in the snow. "Wait a minute. Them ain't human!" They get their rifles and follow the tracks.

Almost immediately, they come upon the smaller snow beast and just as immediately shoot the poor creature, apparently killing it. Only then do they see the parent. It growls and scares them away.

   


Thus ensues a thrilling snowmobile chase. Arak runs after the two trappers, one of whom loses his snowmobile in a spectacular stunt, though both of the trappers escape.


The trappers return to Mr. Olsen's place of business. Mr. Olsen is not pleased that they failed to capture bigfoot. The elderly man punches one of the burly trappers, who flies through the window.


Jimmy mischievously looks on from his hiding place outside. Mr. Olsen gives the trappers money to replace the missing snowmobile and return to the forest to find the creature. After they are gone, Mr. Olsen makes a phone call. "I want, uh, a flare gun, two skitters, uh, some explosives, and one of those big steel mesh cargo nets we use for shipping."

He concludes the phone call by saying, "It's for a big trap. With live bait." Then he laughs maniacally.


Jimmy runs into town, his motivation unclear but most likely related somehow to the bigfoot family. He runs to the diner where his sister works, colliding with a customer who says, "Whoa, boy, who turned your gas on?"

He tells his sister that they need to get hold of Ranger Dave. She uses the phone to call the sheriff, who says Dave left a long time ago.

The film cuts to scenes of young people skiing, an activity that seems to be occurring in a completely different movie.


At night, Sheriff Cooper confronts Mr. Olsen about hiring trappers to shoot imaginary creatures in the woods. Olsen has the perfect retort:  "I'm a businessman, and I can feel it. Now that thing out there does exist. It does exist!"

Over dinner, Ranger Dave, his wife, and Jimmy discuss the plot of the film after Jimmy tells them that he saw bigfoot. Dave is skeptical that bigfoot is hurting people, but his wife points out, "You're forgetting the baby, Dave. It was protecting the baby. Its baby."

Next comes an extended disco dancing sequence that should be familiar to audiences who have experienced Bill Rebane's The Game (1984).

   

Bigfoot watches from outside. Two of the dancers exit the party for a little cross country skiing, if you know what I mean. (I mean cross country skiing.) The adult bigfoot attacks them and throws them around.


Elsewhere, Ranger Dave speaks with Ed Daniels, the old Indian. We do not witness their conversation, but we see a piece of jewelry that the Indian wears that resembles a manlike or bigfootlike figure.


In the morning, the cross country skiers are found, but they are okay. The sheriff believes that bigfoot needs to be killed. Conservation-minded Ranger Dave replies, "Why? Because it scares people?"

Out in the vast snowfields of Wisconsin, Jimmy and his friend find an abandoned mine and, boys being boys, they explore the tunnels. They find a big cage inside and immediately deduce that Mr. Olsen is planning to capture bigfoot and keep him in the cage. They even find a poorly printed, Kongian advertising sign.


As the final act approaches, Ranger Dave and Jake take a dogsled and chase Mr. Olsen and his hired trappers, who are out in the snow trying to capture bigfoot. Olsen and his men tie Dave and Jake to a tree, intending to let them freeze to death.

Olsen then travels to another part of the forest, revealing his trap for bigfoot. He has more men waiting and orders them to tie up his two hired trappers as bait for the bigfoot. (It is not clear why Dave and Jake are not used as bait.)

At night, the creature approaches and Olsen reveals his plan. As the beast reaches the captive trappers, Olsen sets off a series of explosions.

   

Then he releases a net from the trees above.


The trap works beautifully. The adult bigfoot is captured. "Magnificent," says Olsen. To the beast, he asks, "Who are you? Where did you come from?"

He gets no reply.

Ranger Dave and Jake are rescued by their Indian friend, who gives Dave his bigfootlike pendant. The Indian says they must rescue Arak from Olsen's mine, and the pendant will show Arak that Dave is his friend.

Jake runs off to get the sheriff, but he is intercepted on the road by Olsen driving a truck. Olsen, who is now what one might describe as a straight-up murderer, runs Jake down and continues driving.

Olsen reaches the town bar and a patron asks if he has caught the creature yet. He says he has, and "When you see it, you'll pay for it!" He laughs maniacally.


Ranger Dave has better luck. He trudges through the snow to the mine entrance and bonks a guard over the head with a stick. Then he infiltrates the mine and finds the bigfoot in its cage.

Fortunately, Dave has apparently brought a welding rig with him. He starts cutting through the bars of the cage with an acetylene torch.

The scenes of people walking through the snow give way to scenes of people driving along snowy roads. This results in a car chase in which Olsen causes multiple wrecks and one explosion.


For no apparent reason, Jimmy and his friend have walked miles through the forest in the middle of the night. They witness Mr. Olsen returning to the mine and starting up an earthmover, with which he (for some reason) breaks through the mine entrance, despite the door being open.

Once inside, Olsen starts firing a rifle at Ranger Dave. This ploy is unsuccessful, as the bigfoot grabs Olsen from inside the cage, strangling the man and causing Olsen's gun to fire into a canister of something presumably flammable.

Bigfoot chooses this moment to break down the door of the cage that Dave has spent at least 15 minutes trying to cut through.

In a shocking twist, as the bigfoot approaches Dave, it sees Dave's bigfootlike pendant.


But it doesn't help Dave. It just walks away.

Olsen recovers from his strangling and fights with Dave as the mine catches fire. Olsen perishes quickly in the fire, but Dave escapes before the entire mine explodes.

In the end, all the protagonists are reunited outside the burning mine. The adult bigfoot picks up Jimmy, but only to carry him across the snow for a few yards.

The bigfoot is reunited with its offspring, which was apparently unharmed by the earlier rifle shot, in a touching finale.


The End.



Among its many achievements, both technical and emotional, The Capture of Bigfoot is perhaps the only film every made that realistically depicts the difficulty of walking in deep snow. Its characters trudge through the snow in nearly every scene, sometimes for long periods of time, and the audience really feels their struggle.

Additionally, the film benefits from its end credit for wardrobe and outfittings by K-Mart, certainly a peerless supplier of snow gear for young and old alike.

The film was also well ahead of its time. As a 1979 film about the friendship between a young boy and a creature hunted by society, it directly prefigures E.T. the Extraterrestrial and Harry and the Hendersons, and was almost certainly an influence on these two hit movies of the 1980s. The Capture of Bigfoot, however, tells a similar story with far less sentimentality, and, as mentioned before, far more trudging through the snow, so I believe the advantage must be given to Mr. Rebane's masterwork.



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