Dave Coleman is the world’s foremost expert on that most misunderstood of sub-genres, the Bigfoot Film. His book, The Bigfoot Filmography, is the last word on these movies – at least until the next edition!
MOVIES and MANIA spoke to him about the book and the films…
Firstly – why Bigfoot? What made you want to write about Bigfoot films?
Mainly I was frustrated that no one else had! I love cinema books and film magazines, but the lack of any proper reference guide to what I honestly considered a “verboten genre” was really annoying me over the years.
I self-published a fanzine called Remote Jockey Digest in the early 1990s and published what I believe was the first attempt to do so in an article called “The Essential Guide to Bigfoot Cinema.”
I got a lot of email and letters on that article. Later, when I happened to be corresponding with Loren Coleman asking about some Bigfoot film or other, I asked him: do you know of any guides that classify Bigfoot films, per se? He didn’t, so I set out to do so. I had no idea — I mean, none! — how many films there were until I began the research process in earnest.
How long did it take to get the book together?
Maybe two and a half years? I am not really sure, looking back. I mean, on the one hand, I spent that amount of time actually researching, emailing, interviewing, watching, critiquing, collecting photos, etc. each and every Bigfoot movie that I hadn’t seen before. But on the other hand? I’ve been a fan of cryptid hominid cinema since childhood, dating back to The Legend of Boggy Creek in 1972. So in one sense? I’ve been writing it all my life!
And you know, it’s still being written! I receive weekly, sometimes daily, updates from filmmakers and fans who alert me to the latest new film I may or may not yet heard about re: Bigfoot via Facebook or my blog for The Bigfoot Filmography. So if and when there is a revised edition, it threatens to be as massive as the first one.
Bigfoot movies don’t have the best reputation. Was that something that concerned you when writing the book? That perhaps people might not be responsive the the subject matter?
I actually was slightly intrigued by the gutter-level perception. Not that I was new to it. I had tried and failed to make a low-budget scary Sasquatch movie back in the early 1980s while still in film school. I even had special effects artist Tony Gardner, then just a student like myself at USC’s film school, collaborate with me designing a suit, etc.
But I encountered even then a “resistance” to the idea, let alone possibility, of any “good Bigfoot movie” existing. In fact, more folks believed in an actual Bigfoot, I discovered, than do the existence of entertaining Sasquatch movies! I write in my book that it has been, for decades now, a truly “secret cinema” because it has been so verboten to admit one likes it. I equated it with Mexican wrestling movies in my introduction to the book, but I noted even lucha libre has a better rep, is considered legit cult cinema, etc.
To me, it’s not whether or not it’s “good” or “bad,” per se. I like what Tim Burton once said when asked by an interviewer why he liked “bad movies” as opposed to the “good ones.” He basically said they’re all kind of bad, when you really think about it. That’s a sublime answer! I find value as a film lover not only in a film’s historical or critical reputation, but simply by what interests and excites me, as viewer, however admittedly peculiar or off-beat my tastes.
I also rather enjoy “shocking” more staid filmic types who believe everything has been discovered and enumerated with footnotes, by now. Hardly! Such persistent attitudes are partially why I believe filmmaking is such an endangered art form in any genre, Bigfoot always included, anyway.
The sad fact is too much of film criticism is academic only in orientation, and not enough is oriented towards critical writings that focus not on box office or paid critical endorsements, but the actual, relevant cultural value of the genre in question. I don’t like the kind of writing in which “surface plasticity versus societal prejudices” are more frequent than, say, “director scrambling to find completion funds” and “zero chance of distribution inside the Hollywood system” as signature search phrases. Call it a personal bias against the prevailing critical bias, if you will. 😉
You cover Bigfoot and Yeti films. How do you see the relationship between the two creatures?
Though many will differ — and rightfully so, from their perspective — I consider them basically a holy trinity of same-minded beings, if you will, at least cinematically speaking: Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti. Of course, one could argue: why even differentiate between Bigfoot and Sasquatch, right? My point is, these three names are the three names most often associated with hominid cinema. I speculate that whatever local name derivation, these three names are the most universally understood, and therefore most commercially exploitable, of all the other sub-names: Fouke Monster; Skunk Ape; Grassman; Skookum; etc.
There are many cryptozoological differences between all hominid sightings and reported encounters, of course. As Loren Coleman has pointed out, Yetis are historically reported as being dark-furred in older sightings, not white-furred. He speculates (and I do so, as well, in my book) that such early films as George Pal’s The Seven Faces of Doctor Lao and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in the early 1960s may have created a public perception that Yetis are significantly different from Bigfoot, when they vary little in actuality, especially given the enormous cultural differences between, say, a Sherpa guide in the Himalayas and a local fisherman in Alabama, in reporting the incidents.
This raises an interesting question, which I again wrestle in the book: how much do the films influence real-world sightings, and then, vice versa? It’s a very fluid line, and it’s constantly being crossed. This is actually why the Bigfoot genre is so incredibly resilient, when you think about it. For over 100 years, it has been around, lurking in the backwoods of film studies, and yet, dismissed as unworthy not based on any critical assessment, but sheer prejudice or ignorance, or both.
As a lover of marginal films for my entire life, I have seen this kind of cycle before. Ed Wood goes from The Worst Ever Director to having an Academy Award winning biopic made of his life! That’s just one example, of course. I again point this out in my book, recalling that when I was in film school in the 1980s, Sergio Leone’s work in westerns was considered too trashy to be even considered by our film studies professor teaching the class! Today, of course, you’d find The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the top of any required viewing syllabus, in this regards.
I am not equating most Bigfoot films, if any for that fact, with Leone’s work! That’s not possible, but then again, some major talents to date have worked in the genre, some repeatedly: Steven Spielberg; Rick Baker; John Landis; George Pal; John Chambers; John C. Reilly; and on and on. One has to wonder: if the films are so bad — and many truly are, though not all — what magic makes such a dysfunctional genre that doesn’t even officially exist so enduring?
That’s what I set out to explore in my book: if they’re so bad, then why so many, so often, and why are they so popular? Hopefully I provided some answers, but again, I actually believe as many questions — good, interesting ones, mind you — arise as are explained away by any thesis, mine included! That’s the fun aspect of becoming a fan of this genre. It is truly alive and malleable by filmmakers the world over. I find many genres are currently dead; at least Bigfoot filmmakers have a wide-open pathway to truly rewrite and influence an entire output, if they so desire.
Do you have a personal favourite Bigfoot movie? Any that you think are beyond awful? And why?
I really think The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas is a great b-movie that works on many a-levels, if you will. And there’s also Half Human, the Toho cut. But if you separate Yeti from Bigfoot – and I don’t based on my earlier explanation – there are still many seminal films to consider: The Legend of Boggy Creek and Night of the Demon (1980) are two I recommend for those with open minds and willing patience. Neither are without flaws. Then again, both are measurably better than the average Bigfoot film, by far. They reflect canny attitudes about the subject matter as well as evident talent with the camera, however meagre their respective budgets.
The later entries are often better. Paper Dolls has some really frightening moments, and Nightbeasts provides some pretty effective jumps, as well. Abominable (despite the title, it’s Bigfoot) examines the genre through a Rear Window narrative set-up that makes for edgy scenes. If you’re not too strict in terms of genre, I also think Skullduggery is a good example of a “little Bigfoot” movie. Many make the mistake of believing Bigfoot has to be, say, six feet or higher to be a Bigfoot movie. Of course, again, size is relative only to die-hards, as many reports of the Orang Pendak and even American Bigfoot encounters mention smaller-sized hominids.
Comedy-wise, you’re on much better “footing,” so to speak. The Sasquatch Gang and even to some extent Harry and the Hendersons are prime examples of Benign Bigfoot movies, in which the cryptid is typically friendly, a protectorate of the trees, etc. Unintentional comedies are rampant, with The Legend of Bigfoot by Ivan Marx and the The Geek are a particular favourite of mine.
In my opinion, the best of the newest films are the documentaries. They take hard looks often at not only cryptozoology, but sometimes, the skepticism that borderlines on ridicule, and sometimes tips over into hostile dismissal. I think Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie is a really good movie, no matter the subject matter is about two amateur Bigfoot hunters. It has the kind of human interest you find in the better works of Errol Morris and the like.
Why do you think Bigfoot became so popular in the 1970s especially? It seems that ‘strange mysteries’ were all the rage then. Any thoughts on why?
I think it was a confluence of: television (In Search of and The Six Million Dollar Man, et al), as well as movies (The Legend of Boggy Creek and Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot, et al) and the supermarket tabloids and men’s adventure mags like the dying Argosy that made the pop phenomena aspect occur. Too, there were many books coming out by writers like Loren Coleman and others who seriously examined cryptozoology in popular library editions as well as more sensationalistic mass market paperbacks covering Bigfoot, as opposed to Yeti.
I speculate in the book that Americans were more fascinated with Bigfoot because, and this is especially true after the Patterson/Gimlin film in 1967, it supposedly existed in their back woods, potentially, rather than the far-off Himalayan Mountains, which were pretty low odds of most Americans ever exploring, let alone having a hominid encounter there! Bigfoot was a monster you could meet if you went camping or even strolling in your rural woodlands. It was more immediate, and thus, more exciting.
What do you think of the famous Bigfoot film footage?
I think the 16mm film exists. And like the movies — fictional and documentary — one can say, at least with certainty, that’s about it. One the one hand? You believe it’s a hoax. There’s lots of convincing evidence for that. On the other hand? You believe it possibly real, or outright real. There’s lots of evidence, some more convincing than others, granted, but some evidence therein, as well.
I look at it like the Zapruder film. It’s a bit of American consciousness, encoded in film form, that divides as much as it unites. To wit: does the Zapruder film definitively show a multiple assassination in progress? Or is it the actions of a skilled lone gunman? Oliver Stone made a whole feature about the former, as have many writers of books. Likewise, debunkers and skeptics claim the film shows nothing but Kennedy’s horrific death at Oswald’s hands.
In the end? We have the film. It is what it is, and I see many, many “sides” to it, in short. Like religion and politics, I find that merely stating belief or negation of said belief does little to explore and explain the mystery of “why” some folks are die-hards, and others die-hard disbelievers. But without doubt: it’s the most important and famous Bigfoot movie ever made. Whether it’s a documentary or a fictional film, I doubt seriously we’ll ever know.
Are you a believer or a skeptic? And depending on which what do you think Bigfoot is / the explanation for sightings?
Neither. I neither believe nor disbelieve. I am ‘squatch-gnostic’ in a way. I see that many hoaxes and reports are clearly faked. Likewise, I’ve spoken personally with some credible witnesses over the years. I cannot explain it all away as “only lies” because some of the people I discussed their experiences with are quite convinced and not proselytizers out to make a quick buck. Many won’t even come forward for fear of understandable ridicule.
I have no credible explanation for any sighting including my own. And that was not a sighting, per se, merely a “hey, that could have been” moment on a lonely mountain road one night. My wife and I are convinced we saw something, but likewise, it could have been a bear, a black cow, etc. Who knows? We saw something, and then, the moment passed. I have no opinion as to what we saw.
I do believe Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti exist as popular cultural icons, of course. That’s the real thesis of my book: that whether you believe or not? It doesn’t matter in the end. Actually, it does matter, in that there is an inevitable “do you or don’t you?” aspect to liking Bigfoot Cinema. But this is equally true (to a lesser extent) for hardcore fans of vampire movies, demon movies, etc. Many believe vampires and demons are quite real and among us; equally, many just enjoy a culture in which the tingle of feint possibility mixes headily with getting to dress up as your favourite monstrous “alter ego.”
I like the lifestyle inherent in Bigfoot Cinema, too. Outdoors is a very scary but special setting in our mythologies. We may see that Bigfoot films endure, in part, because they keep us in touch with nature, when too many horror films are simply set in enclosed, confining spaces.
Now, there’s a great question. Not that the others weren’t, mind you! But: obviously, as Bionic Bigfoot rips up trees and is driven by stellar powers Beyond Our Earth, I’d have to wager for Andre the Giant and/or Ted Cassidy. But because the Night of the Demon creature exists in an R-rated, maybe even NC-17, world? I’d also bet a bit on him. Let’s face it: Bionic Bigfoot may win, but his victory will be “television friendly” no matter the mayhem. The Demon Bigfoot is just that: a supernatural force of evil, hell-bent on destroying any and all humans foolish enough to venture into his woods. His victory will be bloodier and better, in all entertainment likelihood!
Anything else you care to share about Bigfoot or yourself we should know? Future projects (for you, not the Sasquatch…)
Working on two new books, actually. Just completing one for Scarecrow Press, and another upcoming for McFarland Press down the line. I am rather recalcitrant to talk about their subject matters so far in advance of press times — and the editors are not too keen about me doing so, either! — but suffice to say, they’re both film-related, and are both close to my heart, if not cinematic tastes. And both are tomes that address the “hey, why hasn’t there been a film book about this?” gaps in publishing (hence my desire to maintain radio silence, so to speak).
I’d encourage anyone who is interested to read the book and contact me with any corrections, updates, etc. No joking: much of the book is owed to the many, many fans who turned me on to movies and shows I’d never even heard of. Some even had rare DVD-Rs of priceless, hard, nay, impossible-to-find movies and TV series they willingly shared with me. So I consider it an “open project” to any and all who might be willing to participate. Unlike some horror and science fiction film genres?
The Bigfoot genre is still in the nascent stages of understanding and delineation. Which is another way of saying: you can make a difference with it if you’re intrigued. Nothing against all the other deserving monsters who have endless books about them, but: herein, your input can truly help shape a cinematic lexicon!
Visit Dave’s blog here! http://thebigfootfilmography.wordpress.com/
Posted by David Flint
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