The idea of the “beast in the woods” is engrained in our culture. Ever since humans dwelled in caves, we’ve told tales of elusive, undiscovered creatures living on the fringes of our existence. These ancient stories are manifested in the modern-day myth of Bigfoot, whose continuing screen appeal shows no sign of diminishing.
To date, well over a hundred flicks have appeared featuring the mysterious backwoods creature, not to mention the many hundreds of alleged “sightings” captured on cameras and cellphones and uploaded to YouTube. While Bigfoot movies are fast-becoming a genre in their own right, however, most either demonize the beast or ridicule those who track him.
The creature’s first major screen outing came in the 1957 Hammer flick The Abominable Snowman, which features a group of large, fearsome Yetis living above the Himalayan snowline. Since then, the Sasquatch has had stared in countless schlocky, straight-to-DVD movies and a few decent ones like the Blair Witch-style docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972). While he’s usually found in thrillers like The Untold (2002) Abominable (2006) and Exists (2014), the big man’s best-known mainstream appearance is in a comedy – 2006’s Harry and the Hendersons, which depicts him as a hulking, Chewbacca-like cutie.
Documentaries are plentiful too. Since the release of 1976’s Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot many have sought to unravel the Sasquatch mystery, some more successfully than others . The more recent trend (as evidenced by Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot) is to focus less on the elusive beast and more the “Bigfoot hunters” themselves, – and the hoaxers who bait them.
Shooting Bigfoot, a 2013 documentary by British filmmaker Morgan Matthews, falls firmly into this latter category. Employing the “Naive Brit” technique favored by compatriots Louis Theroux and Nick Broomfield, Matthews combines simplistic questioning with cruel editing to portray the Bigfoot trackers as even more foolish than they actually are.
The climax of the movie, which purports to show a huge Bigfoot attacking Matthews in woodland near a San Antonio Wal-Mart, was hyped in an intense and prolonged social media campaign where various “experts” vouched for its authenticity. However, when Shooting Bigfoot aired at the Toronto Hot Docs Festival in 2013, it became obvious that the director was complicit in a staged fake. The movie was panned by “serious” Bigfoot enthusiasts, and festivalgoers reportedly booed as the credits rolled. Matthew’s motivations were put under the microscope, but the director has remained mostly silent since surviving the alleged “Squatch attack”.
Not all Bigfoot researchers are, as Matthews implies, quirks and dropouts. Noted agnostics include English primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, while staunch believers are headed by Idaho State University Professor Jeff Meldrum. Most have been swayed by a single reel of grainy film, scarcely a minute long, known as the Patterson-Gimlin footage, which is perhaps the most iconic nature footage ever seen.
This shaky 1967 film taken on a trail by a Californian creek has been enhanced, zoomed-in, stabilized, slowmoed and analyzed thousands of times. Although people have since claimed to be the “man in the suit,” many serious naturalists have found the ambling creature’s muscle-tone, gait, female breasts and apparent hernia incredibly convincing. Such a sophisticated suit, they say, would have been impossible to create at the time, “Patty” as she is known, is the grand-mommy of all Bigfoots.
Since then, countless grainy “blobsquatches” have emerged on YouTube. Most turn out to be hoaxes, and debunking such footage is a serious business in the Bigfoot community. These fakes are criticized by “serious” researchers, who claim that they undermine efforts to track and study the creature. However, the number of hits that convincing footage can garner often make the subterfuge worthwhile.
Patterson-Gimlin aside, very little credible Bigfoot footage has emerged, though couple of clips stand out. One, taken at Provo Canyon in Utah, shows a creature behind a bush, which stands up at the end of the shot. The cameraman’s subsequent hasty exit is either convenient or unsurprising, depending on the way you look at things. Another, known as the Freeman footage, contains Bigfoot hunter Paul Freeman’s celebrated line “thar it goes” as a large, blurry creature lumbers through the woods.
To many filmmakers the-cat and-mouse games can be more interesting than the Bigfoot phenomena itself, which is true of “Shooting Bigfoot”. Despite the faked climax, it’s still a heap of fun, albeit as a mockumentary . The featured Bigfoot hunters – the short-tempered Tom Biscardi and the shifty Rick Dyer – are real enough, though both have been linked to hoaxes in the past. Viewers might have trouble keeping a straight face while listening to these “experts” discussing their tracking techniques. “Can you get a qualification in Bigfoot tracking?” asks a deadpan Matthews. “Can you get a qualification in asshole filmmaking?” Dyer replies.
Shooting Bigfoot offers no serious insight into the myth, and neither does it substantially broaden our knowledge of the community’s goofy fringe-element. What it does, however, is show us is that respected directors will try to pass off fake footage if it aids their marketing campaign. If you’re seriously interested in the Bigfoot legend, I’d give this one a miss. However, if you’re looking a bit of Sasquatch-related fun, you could do a lot worse.
More details of Shooting Bigfoot are available at: http://www.minnowfilms.co.uk/filmography/Shooting_Bigfoot.html