Monday, March 13, 2017

"It Walked Across Eons of Time" - Curse of Bigfoot (1976)

We must return to the bigfoot "well," that source of artful, soul-searching cinema, for the 1976 film Curse of Bigfoot.

As usual, we shall begin with some poorly considered reviews from IMDB users. For example, Larry Landolfi writes that the film is “SO HORRIBLY bad that it actually left an impression on a Mack truck does when it runs over your face….the most boring piece of garbage ever put on film.” Reviewer rlewicke writes that the film has “wooden acting, long long stretches of the "actors" walking through the forest (accompanied by a thrilling music score, as if something interesting is actually happening), a perfectly inane bigfoot costume.” Flixer1957 writes, also on IMDB, “It's almost as if a drunk cut up several different films in a Cuisinart and a dope fiend randomly sewed 87 minutes together afterward.”

Of course, no bigfoot film could be as bad as these reviewers claim. We must correct the record and recount the splendors of 1976's Curse of Bigfoot.

Like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and other classics, Curse of Bigfoot begins in the distant past, in this case, a primeval swamp from two million years in the past. A narrator intones, "It happened." He goes on to describe the first man-like creature to walk the earth, a "monster of evolution." The film depicts this creature in all its hideous glory, hidden behind tree branches, cleverly evoking the famous bigfoot footage of the 1970s.

The narrator continues, "It walked across eons of time, slowly changing, becoming more and more human."

(It must be noted that this film's opening narration would be the equivalent of an excellent post-graduate seminar on human evolution.)

We move forward to the present, where a man is exploring Anasazi ruins in Colorado for roughly 10 seconds.

Next, director Don Fields builds suspense in an atypical manner by showing different shots of the outside of a house for several minutes. We eventually realize that a grotesque bigfoot is approaching the house from the forest. The film's originality is highlighted by the striking appearance of the bigfoot, whose hairless face appears to be made of leather.

Alerted by a barking dog, a woman emerges from the house. "You're making enough noise to wake up the dead," she says while giving the dog a bowl of milk.

Surely the audiences of 1976 were laughing nervously at the woman's statement, as the logic of cinema tells us her life is in danger.

The monster sneaks up on the woman. The soundtrack swells. There is a scream--

--and then the film cuts to a high school classroom filled with 10 students. The monster's attack on the girl was simply a movie shown to the students by a teacher wearing a pink suit  lecturing about mythological monsters.

(As historians of bigfoot cinema know, bigfoot films are required to begin in a classroom with a lecturer expounding his theories about the mysterious monsters who share the planet with us. The classroom scene is as necessary to the bigfoot subgenre as the gas station scene is necessary to the wilderness horror subgenre.)

"Even the film about the great white shark was a monster story of sorts," the teacher says. "A modern day sea monster."

The teacher has lined up a guest speaker: "A widely read author and a recognized authority on the phenomenon of the abominable snowman, or as this creature is known in North America, bigfoot."

The guest speaker is running late, so the teacher continues his explanation of the history of yeti and bigfoot sightings without the guest. His stories are narrated over scenic, but non-monstrous, views of the Himalayas and Canada. He explains that bigfoot's existence has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt through evidence such as long brown hair attached to trees.

Like Night of the Demon would before it, Curse of Bigfoot then shows us a bigfoot encounter set up by the teacher/narrator. Two employees of a lumber company drive through the woods to their favorite fishing spot. They see bigfoot walking along the road.

"Let's stop," says one of the men, so they do so. Unlike similar characters in Night of the Demon, these men are not mutilated or manually castrated by the monster. Instead, they spend the better part of 10 minutes wandering through the trees, their eyes glancing this way and that.

Director Don Fields imbues these wandering-through-the-forest scenes with an unexpected level of suspense. Innovatively, he uses the camera to represent the monster's point of view as it moves around, hiding from the men rather than attacking them.

When the suspense builds to an unsustainably high level, we hear the sound of someone sobbing, and then one of the men finds the other lying on the ground.

We return to the classroom. "Class," the teacher pontificates, "one of the biggest errors a man might make is to disbelieve what he hasn't seen. To think that there are not evil powers or fantastic creatures just because you yourself have not experienced them could result, sometimes, in a dreadful consequence."

The class is enraptured by such a rhetorically brilliant explanation of the dangers of relying on scientific proof.

The teacher then quizzes the students on mythological creatures such as griffins. Class is interrupted by the guest speaker: "I wonder, young man, if the ancient griffin was really INVENTED as you say by some DEMENTED MADMAN."

The teacher introduces the class to Roger, a respected bigfoot scholar with a fantastic story about his encounter with the mythic--not to say mythological--creature.

Roger begins his story, which includes, as must all bigfoot stories, a group of students--three boys and two girls, as always--going on an archeological field trip. "As a result of that...field trip...three of those students...will spend the rest of their a mental institution." He continues, "There are creatures that are known simply as bigfoot."

The film flashes back 15 years to shots of archeologists digging, complete with narration about the science of archeology. Then we follow the five high school students, their teacher Roger, and an archeologist from the Lincoln County Museum, Bill Wyman, as they drive to an archeological dig in Ivanpah.

(Note that Ivanpah backwards is Hapnavi, which may or may not be significant in the future. When viewing a film, it is always good practice to reverse the spelling of unfamiliar words in order to discern the solutions to potential mysteries.)

We watch the group for many minutes as they hike through the desert, searching for ancient Indian petroglyphs, which they eventually find, though the archeologist pedantically explains that the symbols are not actually petroglyphs but painted pictographs. "Basically, this is just a big primitive history book."

After finding an ancient stone tool, the group reasons that it might have fallen off a cliff and they might find something if they climb to the top. Of course, the two girls remain behind while the men climb--or rather walk up--the steep rock face.

"Hey, what's this?" exclaims one of the young men. They find a stone tablet with strange markings lying on the grass, exposed to the elements. "They look older than any markings I've ever seen," says Mr. Wyman. "These are the type of markings made by cavemen."

When they lift the tablet, as might be expected, they expose a steaming hole in the mountain. "Why, it looks like it might be a cave."

Fortunately, they have brought ropes, though they had not seen fit to use them on the climb up the mountain. Several of the party are lowered into the dark hole.

Within the cave, they find pottery, but they also make a remarkable discovery--a stone in the shape of a man-like body!

In fact, it is a mummy covered in mud. They immediately try to figure out how to get it out of its resting place in the cave.

We dissolve to a shot of their pickup truck returning to their rented house with the mummy in the back. "I'm glad that's over with," says one of the boys. Of course, they deposit the mummy in the barn for safe keeping.

Mr. Wyman believes, based on the writing on the tablet, that the mummy is hundreds of thousands of years old, preserved by the smoke in the cave.

In the house, one of the kids gets a hankering for a bottle of pop. A boy and a girl, Johnny and Sharon, venture out to the country store a few miles away, while another boy, Norman, sneaks off to the barn to check on the mummy.

In the barn, Norman sees the mummy's blanket moving! He runs back to the house to alert the others, who of course do not believe him. When they check out the barn, they find that the mummy is gone. They find only bandages, thought the mummy had previously appeared as a stone-covered humanoid.

The film follows the mummy, which is of course now a hairy bigfoot, as it stalks through the forest and growls.

In a scene cleverly paralleling the film-within-a-film opening of Curse of Bigfoot, we cut to a previously unknown character, a woman speaking on the phone. The bigfoot breaks through her window and attacks her. She screams!

The next day, Bill Wyman explains their predicament to the sheriff. It is clear to everyone that a mummified bigfoot from hundreds of thousands of years ago is rampaging through the forest and killing the townspeople.

Mr. Wyman sums up the problem: "The orange and lemon groves in this part of the country are so extensive, the thing could travel for miles and never leave the protection of the trees."

After much investigation of the fruit groves, there is more investigation of the fruit groves.

The sheriff and the school group eventually find a trail of broken branches and blood. But it is not ordinary blood. It is too dark in color. The sheriff explains that a man shot the creature with a hunting rifle last night. It must be wounded and bleeding. They plan to lure the creature out of the grove and into an open field.

Their plan--quite naturally considering it was developed by law enforcement, a high school teacher, and a professional archeologist--is to use meat scraps to lure the creature into the open, then burn it up with gasoline and a stack of hay bales.

The group waits and waits. After a half hour, they decide to wait another 20 to 30 minutes.

After 20 to 30 minutes, the sheriff investigates some movement behind some trees. Although the sheriff misses it, we see the mummy/bigfoot creature close up, and it is a sight to behold, with one eye swollen to the size and shape of a fried egg, no doubt due to the preservative gases in the cave.

The creature pounces on the sheriff, knocking him down.

Failing to hear from the sheriff on their walkie talkie, the school kids run into the grove. They see the monster and douse it with gasoline, then set it ablaze.

The End.

Unfortunately, the film ends before it can make clear how three of the five high school students ended up in a mental institution. If Curse of Bigfoot has a flaw, it is that it ends too quickly. Perhaps a sequel would be warranted to explain the fates of the characters back in the 1960s, not to mention the characters in the 1970s.

Another minor flaw is that the audience never finds out what Hapnavi means.

It is also noteworthy that, like many celebrated bigfoot films, Curse of Bigfoot surpasses expectations in many ways. For example, the title of the film includes the word “bigfoot,” but the creature shown in most of the film is in fact a prehistoric mummy. This surpassing of expectations is reminiscent of Night of the Demon, whose title includes the word “demon,” but the creature in that film is in fact bigfoot.

Unlike some other films, particularly more recent films, Curse of Bigfoot has its characters act realistically when confronted with the unknown. When the students force their way into the cave and find the mummified remains, they do not give one thought to the preservation of the aboriginal culture or the safety of the artifacts. They simply break the mummy out of the cave and drop it into the bed of a pickup truck. Such behavior is much more realistic, and more exciting, than following bureaucratic rules about “cultural preservation” and such.

In the end, Curse of Bigfoot gives us a snapshot into the lives of 1970s high school students and the guest speakers who visit them, as well as a snapshot of clean-cut 1960s high school students and the teachers that educate then in the ways of archeology. These snapshots are timeless and priceless, allowing us to see in great detail how our ancestors lived. In a way, this film is an archeological site in itself, a treasure trove of past behaviors that is just as fascinating to watch today as it was in the 1970s, perhaps even more so.