A supposedly true story by Dale S. Rogers is the inspiration for this low budget throwback to the bigfoot movies that briefly reigned supreme on drive-in screens in the 1970s. The film follows Dale (played by co-writer/co-director Justin Meeks) who lives near the Navidad River in the small town of Sublime, Texas. Filled with all manner of quirky small town supporting characters, Sublime has been the site of a few unexplained murders over the years, all of which have been attributed to the titular Wildman, a creature not unlike a sasquatch, believed to be living and hunting in the area. It just so happens that this man-monster likes Dale's property best of all.
When Dale's wheelchair bound wife needs some expensive medical care and he finds himself canned from his welding job, he has no choice but to accept the rather lucrative offer from the group of gun happy hunters who want to hunt deer on his land. Unfortunately for those hunters, the Wildman considers this to be his property and he's none too keen on being disturbed by Dale's customers who, one by one, start disappearing.
Co-produced by none other than Kim Henkel (yep, the guy who co-wrote The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this film borrows fairly heavily from Charles B. Pierce's The Legend Of Boggy Creek (in fact, Pierce is thanked in the end credits) and Henkel's own, earlier production. Wearing its influences very proudly on its sleeve, the picture is an obvious love letter to the drive-in pictures that inspired it and while it's more or less played pretty straight (thankfully), you can tell the filmmakers are having a good time with the material. The picture zips along at a pretty solid pace and provides some healthy dollops of gore and a couple of good jump scares and Meeks, along with his co-writer/co-director partner, Duane Graves, has done a pretty good job of recreating the tone and feel of the movies that these two guys obviously love... except for one hard to overlook issue and that's shooting the picture on digital video. Now, you kind of have to give these guys a get out of jail free card because it was, in all likelihood, a budgetary issue that caused them to do this but you can't help but wonder as the movie plays out in front of you just how much cooler it would have been had it been shot on actual film stock. To their credit, they do a pretty good job of making it look like film. Some attention to detail, some awkward close up shots and some intentionally blown out color timing gives the picture the same sort of grimy atmosphere that the films that inspired it used to such great effect, but it doesn't quite fully convince in that department.
Once you get past that aspect of the production, however, The Wildman Of Navidad is a fair bit of fun. Shooting on location gives the film a really thick, almost palpable atmosphere, the kind that you can't recreate and that you have to actually travel to a small southern town to find. A lot of locals are used as extras and to fill in bit parts throughout the cast and this too helps the picture. While the acting might seem a little stilted at times, everyone involved very much looks their part and this helps things quite a bit. The movie winds up having a lot of atmosphere, always essential to the success of a picture such as this.
High brow criticism aside, how does it stack up as a monster movie? Well, for the first hour or so whenever we see the beastie he's got a mask over his head, meant to be made of human skin. The effect isn't always a convincing one, though the filmmaker's were obviously doing this with the intent to keep the audience in suspense for the inevitable reveal. This means for the bulk of the running time we don't get a whole lot of monster footage. There are some good shots here and there and some very impressive kill scenes however, so all is not lost. Once the monster is exposed, things pick up a bit, but again, this is a low budget picture, don't expect miracles.
Flaws aside, this is a fun movie. Those with an affinity for hicksploitation and backwoods monster pictures will likely appreciate it more than the casual movie buff but there's a lot of fun to be had here. There's an attention to detail here, a determination to 'get it right' that fans are definitely going to appreciate and which makes this one a bit more convincing than most modern homage films. The film doesn't always fire on all cylinders but it gets a whole lot more right than it does wrong, at least when you take it in with the context of its intent, and as such it's worth checking out for genre buffs.
Nothing to complain about here, as far as the anamorphic widescreen transfer is concerned. There are some scenes that show an (intentional?) softness but this the exception rather than the rule. Colors tend to run heavy on the earth tones, meaning you'll get a lot of browns and dusty yellows throughout. Some of the darker scenes get a bit muddy but generally the picture quality is quite good.
The DVD comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, in its native English language. The country/blues/twang infused score sounds good while dialogue is easy to understand and follow so long as you don't have a problem with the Texan accents.
The most interesting extra on the disc is the commentary track from the men behind the picture, Justin Meeks and Duane Graves. There are a lot of interesting stories to be told on this track, from how they hooked up with Henkel to what it was like shooting with a small crew and a cast made up of a lot of amateur actors. They discuss some of their influences, some of the effects work and the location scouting and wind up producing a really rock solid look at what went into getting their picture finished.
A few cool featurettes are also included on the disc starting with Director Meet And Greet which is essentially an introduction to Meeks and Graves and their work together. They come across as genuinely down to earth guys, you get that impression from the commentary as well. Behind The Screams is your basic look behind the scenes of the film while the excellent twenty minute Character Study introduces us to many of the quirky non-actors who populate the film. If you watch only one of the supplements on this disc, make it this one, as it's as entertaining as it is interesting. The Hypostatic Union, an early student short film from Graves and Meeks, is also found on the disc. It's a quick two and a half minute black and white bit with only ambient music behind it that offers an obscure take on the preaching of the Gospel.
Rounding out the extras are an introduction from Henkel, the film's original trailer, menus and a chapter selection option.
It's not easy to make what is essentially an 'homage film' and get it right, but Meeks and Graves have come pretty damn close to doing just that. The Wildman Of The Navidad captures the spirit of the seventies films that inspired it, flaws and all, and it makes for a pretty entertaining picture. The DVD's got a nice array of genuinely cool bonus features and the A/V quality is up to snuff as well - all that adds up to a recommendation.