Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hubrisween 2016 :: M is for The Mysterious Monsters (1976)

While the first documented evidence of Bigfoot dates back to 1811, found within the journals of noted explorer and surveyor David Thompson, who came upon some strange footprints in the snow in what was to become Alberta, Canada, that he nor his Indian guides could identify, the idea that some monstrous biped was roaming the backwoods of North America really didn’t get any traction until 1955, when William Roe hiked up Mica Mountain in British Columbia and came back with a whopper of a tale. Apparently, Roe had an encounter with "a creature between six and seven feet tall that was hairy all over, had large breasts, a Negroid-shaped head, and walked on two legs."

This was the first widely reported domestic sighting of a large hairy cryptid since the world became Abominable Snowman-addled when Sir Edmund Hillary brought tales of the Himalayan Yeti back with him after he conquered Mount Everest in 1953. And as these things made headlines, Albert Ostman came forward and detailed an encounter he had with the creatures back in 1924, where he claimed to have been kidnapped and held captive by a family of Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) for nearly a week before he engineered an escape. That same year also unearthed the Ape Canyon attack, which also took place in 1924, where several miners allegedly killed one of the creatures and then spent a harrowing night in a cabin near Mount St. Helens, Washington, while several other creatures hurled rocks at them and tried to break in to avenge the dead.

But it wasn't until about two years later in 1958, when several tracks of large, humanoid footprints were found in the soft loam along the logging trails around Bluff Creek, California, that the notion of “Bigfoot” as we’ve come to know it was really born. And it was these very same tracks that later brought Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin to the area in 1967, where they managed to capture what is probably the most infamous 16 seconds of footage ever committed to film; and with that footage, the legend of Bigfoot absolutely exploded in the national consciousness, creating a voracious appetite for more evidence of the creature that a lot of folks were happy to provide -- some more reputable than others.

One of the quieter patron saints of schlock cinema, Charles E. Sellier Jr. is probably best known to the masses for the ruination of Christmas with his controversial but, in the end, harmless holiday slasher, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), but we children of the 1970s remember him more for a rash of crypto-zoological, strange phenomenon, and eccentric historical docudramas he produced for the Salt Lake City based Sunn Classic Pictures, where Sellier Jr. found a kindred spirit with filmmaker Robert Guenette, who is credited for introducing a distinctive “newsreel style” to the documentary format. And for a glorious period between 1975 and 1981 these two would conspire in the making of The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena (1976), The Unexplained: The UFO Connection (1976), In Search of Noah's Ark (1976), The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977)’, Beyond and Back (1977), The Bermuda Triangle (1979), Encounter with Disaster (1979), Beyond Death’s Door (1979) and The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981), where the likes of Brad Crandall or Orson Welles would guide us on a tour of the inexplicably unexplained. But this whole journey into the unknown began with a little pseudo documentary called The Mysterious Monsters (1975), which, perhaps inspired by the success of Charles B. Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), purported to present evidence that proved the existence of Bigfoot.

To set the proper studious mood, our delightful little cryptid doc opens with the Graves known as Peter going mano a mano with the audience, ensuring all the facts about to be presented were true based on gathered evidence and sworn testimony, and the conclusions reached astounding, making this the most startling picture the audience will ever see. And after the credits proper conclude, played over our first re-created sighting of a Bigfoot, Graves, our designated narrator and guide, admits he was skeptical at first but tantalized by the body of evidence of the mythical creature’s hotly contested existence; and so, acting as our surrogate, he will sift through all the exhibits and then draw a conclusion once all the evidence is in.

Since the dawn of creation, man has created monsters to explain away or embellish the unknown. But if the Bigfoot is just a figment of our collective imagination, Graves argues, why are all the eyewitness accounts, from all over the country, essentially the same: tall, hairy, ape-like, with an unholy stench. Perhaps the elusive creatures just haven’t been properly catalogued yet, like the gorilla, giant panda, or komodo dragons, who all use to be essentially myths until western eyes saw them. Is it some form of anthropoid, an offshoot of the gigantopithecus? Or is it some form of primitive man, a relative of the Yeti, who crossed over the Bering land bridge and managed to survive in seclusion until these modern times?

Here, the film takes a hilarious left turn for a bit, focusing on tales of the Abominable Snowman and, believe it or not, an extended take on the Loch Ness Monster; and using the same dubious evidence that doesn’t pass muster when talking about proof of Bigfoot and applying them to its mythical brethren, Graves concludes that both the Yeti and Nessie definitely exist; and therefore, since they exist, Bigfoot must exist as well; a mind-blowing circle of self-citation and fractured logic of ipso facto what the hell-o that will assuredly leave you giggling.

So what is this much ballyhooed evidence? Well, the film lays out its haphazard exhibits from A through H, skipping a few letters here and there and circling back to a few others, starting with all those eyewitness reports. But the experts believe these to be unreliable and demand concrete proof, asking why has no one ever found the remains of a Bigfoot. Counter-arguments involve the whole circle of life thing, saying nature serves as its own disposal service. There is even some arguments that Bigfoot bury their dead. 

Exhibit B does concern such physical evidence, such as all the giant footprints, hairs that defy scientific analysis, and the huge piles of scat-of-unknown-origin collected over the years. Again, this runs into the problem of overzealous monster hunters and hoaxers, which is countered by famed cryptozoologist, Grover Krantz, who shows off the notorious Bossburg print, which he claims shows some form of arthritic deformity that no hoaxer could ever concoct.

Exhibit C is more physical evidence, namely a recording of a Bigfoot howling in the wild. Graves takes this to be analyzed at the same vocal lab from that one episode of 3-2-1 Contact, where it’s run through a computer, which determines the subject lacks a certain “articulatory flexibility” and, judging by its vocal tract, it must be 50% larger than your average human being.

I honestly don’t know what happened to exhibit D, but exhibit E involves the tale of Jacko, a juvenile Bigfoot caught in British Columbia back in 1884; sourced from a single newspaper clipping unearthed by a reporter digging into the history of Bigfoot sightings back in the 1950s. And then there’s the notorious Minnesota Iceman, where carnival huckster Frank Hansen claimed to have a corpse of a Siberian Bigfoot trapped in a block of ice. An exhibit that mysteriously disappeared in 1968 when calls to defrost it for study got too loud, bringing into question the validity of exhibit E. 

Exhibit F takes us on another detour and a psychic consultation with famed psychometrist, Peter Hurkos, a consultant on the Boston Strangler case, who divines a picture of a large hairy creature, half man, half ape, based on unseen evidence locked in a briefcase.

Exhibit G ups the ante with multiple corroborative witnesses when a town was besieged with a rash of Bigfoot sightings over the course of three weeks, with several of those eyewitnesses passing polygraph tests or volunteering to go through hypnosis to bring out more details of these encounters (-- which, speaking honestly, comes off as more creepy and sad than factual).

Which finally brings us to exhibit H, photographic evidence, which also brings us full circle back to the Patterson film, which leads to a hilarious exchange between true-believer Krantz and the highly skeptical Dr. Geoffrey Bourne, who get into a heated point, counterpoint discussion over the validity of the footage -- an argument I think Krantz wins because, really, who really does know what the breast of a Bigfoot ought to look like?

And so, with all the evidence presented, the documentary wraps up with Graves coming to the conclusion that, without a doubt, Bigfoot does indeed exist. And now that that’s settled, he direly intones as we try to decide what exactly a Bigfoot is we must be careful not to destroy what we seek to understand.

Now, those of you who’ve followed my ramblings on the web over the years are probably keenly aware of my irrational fear of Bigfoot. And this doc, right here, is the root cause of my psyche-trauma: at the ripe old age of six, Peter Graves took me by the hand and asked me if I liked to watch gladiator movies. No. Wait … That’s not right. Wait. Got it. He asked me if I believed in the Loch Ness Monster, Yetis and peeping tom Bigfoot (Bigfoots? Bigfeet?), and then showed me all the proof I needed that there was something sinister lurking in the large shelter-belt of Evergreen trees just outside our house like my elder brothers always said -- the jerks. And then there was that pothole near my grandma’s house that inexplicably looked just like a huge footprint sunk in the asphalt. I shit you not. Yep. Bigfoot was a very real thing back then. Hell, I even remember being disappointed when I found out Chewbacca was just a Wookie and not a Sasquatch when Star Wars (1977) hit a couple of years later.

Like a lot of cryptid docs the backbone of The Mysterious Monsters are the dramatic reenactments, re-created from first hand accounts as the witnesses are interviewed on camera. Some of these are hilariously laughable, like the Boy Scout’s encounter, while others are startlingly effective, namely the scene where a Bigfoot stalks outside a house while a woman watches TV, unaware as a huge hairy shadow falls across the curtain of the picture window behind her -- a picture window not unlike the one in my house, by the Evergreens, which only reinforced my case of the induced drizzles and confirmed my older brothers were a couple of assholes. She hears a noise outside but takes a look out the wrong window as the creature crashes in from another; chaos ensues as her screams brings her husband running, armed with a rifle, and when he opens the front door comes face to face with the monster and, end of scene. GAH!

I don’t know what it is about these things that puts such a damned hypno-whammy on me, making me believe these things are not only possible but plausible. Guenette's mix of talking head experts, stock footage, and cagey staging of the sightings are bizarrely effective. 

Helping to sell all of this is some pretty spiffy work by The Burman Studio, who provided all the Bigfoot costumes that hold up well even in the light of day; and these technicians would go on to provide creatures and aliens for feature films ranging from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Prophecy (1978), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), Waterworld (1995) and six seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And Ruby Raskin’s soundtrack runs the range from silent film melodrama and organ stings to the grandiose bombast of an industrial travelogue that constantly lulls you into things only to whack you upside the head to keep your eyes and ears open for what’s lurking in those bushes.

Personally, I like to believe more in the possibility of Bigfoot than its actual existence. Remember those footprints found around Bluff Creek that started all the initial Bigfoot hysteria back in the 1950s? Well, turns out those were all faked. This hoax was revealed with the death of Ray Wallace in 2002, who “found” these prints and, in accordance with his final wishes, Wallace’s family came forward with the molds and rubber casts used to make all of the fake prints. And if we follow the fruit of this poisoned tree, that probably means the much contested Patterson footage, shot in the same area, and corroborated by several footprints that bear a striking similarity to Wallace's forgeries, is cast into even further doubt. Say it ain’t so, Pete. Say it ain’t so. 

Other Points of Interest:

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 13 down with 13 to go! Halfway! Woohoo!

The Mysterious Monsters (1976) Schick Sunn Classic Pictures / EP: David L. Wolper, Raylan D. Jensen / P: Charles E. Sellier Jr., Robert Guenette / AP: James L. Conway, Frances Guenette / D: Robert Guenette / W: Robert Guenette / C: Tony Coggans, Erik Daarstad, David MyersFrances Guenette / E: Earle Herdan, Robert K. Lambert / M: Ruby Raksin / S: Peter Graves

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