Book Excerpt Exclusive: Meeting Bigfoot on the Road to the Worst Movie Ever Made
This week marks the publication of Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made, a rollicking new tome by Movieline's "Bad Movies We Love" guru Michael Adams. Part comic memoir, part grueling critical experiment, Adams's book chronicles his journey through more than 350 of the most obscure, confounding, surprising, and yes, appalling cinema known to man. In this Movieline exclusive excerpt, Adams unearths not only one of the very worst films, but one of the worst genres as well.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, whenever we'd go to visit my grandfather in his leafy suburban abode, my younger brother David would race out into the old man's garden to capture little lizards basking in the morning sun. Once we'd tired of our catch-and-release program, we'd spend the afternoon luxuriating in the spare room that contained decadence beyond compare in the form of a second TV, free of parental interference. On such days, there was one show that unfailingly made our world a bigger, more fascinating place: In Search of... Part National Geographic documentary, part Twilight Zone, it was narrated by Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy with the cool detachment of his half-Vulcan science officer. While his investigations into killer bees, ancient astronauts and Stonehenge were, quite frankly, f*cking awesome, it was Bigfoot who always stood head and shoulders above the rest.
That was because of the evidence: grainy 1967 footage that showed a big hairy hominid stalking away from a home movie camera. Known as the "Patterson-Gimlin film," it was to cryptozoologists what the Zapruder footage is to JFK conspiracy theorists. Unhappily, the film--which was eventually revealed to be a hoax--also really lowered the bar for Bigfoot movies by demonstrating that all you needed for a DIY Sasquatch saga was some sort of camera, woods and an ape suit.
In 1970's Bigfoot, jiggly Joi Lansing is caught by men in such suits, and short ones at that. Joi ponders her fate. "The only thing I can figure on is that they're a dying race and they want to reproduce more of their own kind," she decides, not sounding too perturbed by the prospect.
I lumber on, like a Sasquatch fleeing a Super 8, to the horrible hybrid freak that is Curse of Bigfoot. The provenance of this one is murky. Apparently it began production in the late 1950s or early 1960s under the title Teenagers Battle the Thing but wasn't completed. In 1976, new footage was shot for release as Curse of Bigfoot, before it was then sold to TV under the Teenagers title. In any guise, it's awful. The later-shot framing scenes have Leif Garrett-era kids listening to an expert telling them about his Bigfoot experience. "As a result of that field trip, three of those students will spend the rest of their lives in a mental institution," he says. It feels like that's where this flick has escaped from. We flash back to ruddy-colored scenes of Frankie Avalon-era teens mouthing dialogue offcuts from Leave It to Beaver. Eventually these nerds find a mummified creature, which, if looked at in the right way -- after a head injury or 22 beers -- might be described "Bigfootesque." Otherwise, it's a moth-eaten ape suit with a face mask that looks like a big, greasy breakfast gone moldy. Surely those eyes are dried out eggs? The fangs toast crusts?
But it's a masterpiece next to 1997's Search for the Beast. Shot on video with a hissing soundtrack, this begins with a shoddy soft-core porn scene that culminates in a topless girl "attacked" by what appears to be a badly lit photograph of a gorilla's torso. As hero Dave, non-actor Rick Montana is a disaster who literally reads his lines in some scenes. As love interest Wendy, even-less-of-an-actress Holly Day is somehow worse. I don't believe she understands drawled illiteracies such as, "Are you lookin' for the missin' link? I've read everythin' you've wrote on the subject."
Halfway through the movie, director R.G. Arledge gives up even on such dire-logue altogether. Instead he gets Montana to do a voice-over that combines Dave's thoughts, his lines, and the dialogue of other characters. It is insane. But the craziness gets crazier.
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