Seriously? I mean...this is pushing it, even for me. Reality Films has released Bigfoot is Real, a 2-disc set of 4 documentaries on Bigfoot (or fauna akin to the Hairy One) that are without a doubt some of the most boring examinations of this phenomenon that I've ever encountered. Titles included are Bigfooting in Oklahoma, Tale of the Honey Island Swamp Monster, Swamp Apes, and The Wildman of Kentucky: The Mystery of Panther Rock. Immediately starting out on the wrong foot with some phony-baloney stumping on the front DVD cover ("From Sasquatch to The Abominable Snowman" sounds good...but someone forgot to mention Snowman in any of the docs, while "amazing accounts of Bigfoot from around the world" seem limited to western and southern America), things didn't get any better once the films rolled. We're not going to spend a whole lot of time on these.
Bigfooting in Oklahoma
Running a seemingly interminable 48:18, 2007's Bigfooting in Oklahoma focuses on Bigfoot researcher Esther Schritter, who has had close encounters with Bigfoots since she was 3 or 4 years old. Compelled to seek out answers to these troubling incidents, Esther interviews others who have had similar experiences (we see clips of her interviews here), while she wanders the woods looking for Bigfoot clues.
Hey, I'm no Bigfoot hater. I've written before about the phenomenon, and I'm open to all info, all suggestions. I've been in the vast, inhospitable Pacific Northwest forests, and let me tell you something: when the lights go out, and it's just you and the trees and whatever the hell is out there moving around, you will believe that something could be living out there that no one has ever captured. It's not proof, of course, and it's all probably silly, but still...it can seem pretty wild and scary out there. That being said...there's nothing wild and scary about Bigfooting in Oklahoma; it's just a series of dry interviews with Esther who talks about what "might" have happened to her. You can judge for yourself whether or not Esther's various encounters with Bigfoot, or something like Bigfoot, throughout her life are credible or not, but ultimately, that's beside the point--and it shouldn't be. The main question the director, Jay Michael, should have asked her seems startlingly simple: why in the world would Bigfoot keep showing himself to you, Esther, over the years, when hundreds of millions of people have never seen him? Instead, we just have her word for what happened, and frankly, her accounts aren't all that particularly interesting or compelling (I had my doubts when she said her personal phenomenon became clear to her as a kid when she saw cult favorite, The Legend of Boggy Creek). The doc's main "gotcha" footage, shot by Esther in 2006, isn't convincing in the slightest (we're supposed to see a Bigfoot figure off to the side of the frame, but with the video's horrendous macroblocking, it could have been anything), so unless you're a dedicated true-believer, Bigfooting in Oklahoma isn't going to be of much use.
Tale of the Honey Island Swamp Monster
With that title, doesn't that pretty much leave out Bigfoot? Director Jay Michael is back, this time debunking a popular myth about the Honey Island swamp monster that supposedly roams this locale not far outside of New Orleans. According to the director, this story went national during the 70s craze for anything paranormal (he says it was featured on one of my favorite shows as a kid, In Search Of..., but I don't remember that particular episode) when Harlan Ford discovered unusual tracks in the island's muddy banks. According to the director, he and partner Marlon Davis entered the swamp in 2003 in the hopes of capturing some footage of the beast...and walked right up to a woman whose cousin claimed to have the special footprint shoe that Ford wore to hoax up the myth. A quick drive over to Ricky Holyfield's house, and there it was: a tennis show with a flexible rosin "monster" foot attached to it. End of story. Running 21 minutes for the intro to this story, followed by the original, aborted doc at 13:33, you have to give credit to director Michael, whose "trust, but verify" attitude allowed him to see this particular hoax for what it was. In its own way, the most successful of the docs here...but still pretty thin.
A wildly unsupported, unintentionally funny doc theorizing about how "swamp apes" came to be in the American south (first time I've ever heard of them...). Director Jay Michael is back, discussing how apes may have been brought here by the Phoenicians or better yet, pirates, and how they may have adapted themselves to the flora and fauna of the southern states, and how they may have grown bigger and meaner, and how they may...oh, brother. I've heard goofier things, I suppose, but this snoozer is nothing more than B-roll material lifted under the "fair use" rule, combined with director Michael talking directly into the camera while he expounds on his theory. And what does any of this have to do with Bigfoot, since that's how the disc collection is labeled? I can postulate, "Suppose the moon is made of green cheese," but if I want to make a documentary on that theory that will reach and convince people, I'm going to have to break down viewer resistance with something novel or exciting or at least professional in the way of its presentation, and Swamp Apes has nothing like that in it. It's strictly amateur hour.
The Wildman of Kentucky: The Mystery of Panther Rock
Lots of rock 'n' roll on the soundtrack. Lots of really bad CGI. Lots of info we've already heard about Bigfoot in the previous docs. And lots of fiddles. The Wildman of Kentucky: The Mystery of Panther Rock has a different director, O.H. Krill, who has done other cheapie docs on the Freemasons, vampires, and Da Vinci Code-like Jesus subjects, but it's no more successful than the previous docs on this collection. Exploring the Frasier Land and Salt River areas of Kentucky, Krill's team of Bigfootbusters© talk about Bigfoot, but all we keep seeing is this really strange CGI animation of an Indian warrior getting funky to the music, while stories are hinted at about the strange goings-on at legendary Panther Rock. Giant black cats and biped wolves are also dragged into the discussion (though not, of course, on camera), before the team has a Blair Witch-like sojourn in the woods, cringing and dodging and darting about as they scare the crap out of each other like little kids whenever they hear a branch snap. Hey, I've been scared in the woods on a dark night; it can happen if you're far enough back in, and your mind starts playing tricks on you (frankly, I'm always more worried about the very real 2-legged humanoid menaces that carry guns and knives, not some folklore Panther Rock Kentucky Wildman Honey Island Oklahoma swamp ape three generations removed from Long John Silver). But at least a woodsman will have the sense to laugh it off in the morning...not videotape it and present it as proof of being stalked in the forest by Harry Henderson. Inexplicably, we then get a trip to Daniel Boone's gravesite, because the narrator says that Boone once claimed to have killed a ten-foot Yahoo, before we meet Lynn Hutton, who gives a seemingly credible (but unsubstantiated) account of encountering something in the woods when he was hunting. What is this all in service off, one wonders when it's over after two ungodly hours? Good question, because the doc didn't answer any substantially new questions about Bigfoot--if that's even what they were discussing in the first place--it didn't back up any of its stories with corroborating testimony, and worst of offenses: it was criminally dull. How do you discuss Bigfoot and make it dull? That's the true achievement of Bigfoot is Real.
The first three docs are presented in full-frame, 1.33:1 transfers, all of which are of sub-VHS quality, with lots of video noise, wonky color (lots of green), and horrendous macroblocking. Wildman is presented in a decent-enough looking anamorphically-enhanced, 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that looks like Lawrence of Arabia next to the first three docs.
The 2.0 stereo audio tracks for Bigfoot is Real fluctuate in recording level, but are overall much better than the video fidelity. Dialogue is reasonably clear.
Other than a few extras minutes tacked onto the end of The Wildman of Kentucky, there are no extras for Bigfoot is Real.
If I want to watch a documentary on Bigfoot, I want to be entertained. It's a fun subject, first and foremost, so anything lugubrious or faux-scholarly or dry or inept isn't going to cut it. And it may sound terrible, but I don't want well-meaning, well-intentioned, reasonable people like Jay Michael or Esther Schritter talking to me in measured tones about the Bigfoot phenomenon, either. I want the mad men, the dreamers, and the deluded espousing their crackpot theories on why these monsters roam the woods without ever leaving behind spoor or carcasses. The loonies are where it's at with Bigfoot, man; they're the ones that are going to find him...or at least keep me entertained with their flights of fancy. You can skip Bigfoot is Real.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.