Doesn't anyone know how to make a low budget monster movie anymore? I mean, honestly, since the 1950's there has been a successful formula for creating b-pictures that both thrill and scare. Perhaps the more puritanical forces in the US have finally managed to pasteurize the industry such that films made for direct DVD release are so saccharine and inoffensive that not only is the gore exorcised in favor of PG-13 sensibilities, but so is tension, fear, and shock.
Of course, today I am speaking of the film "Primeval" known currently as "Sasquatch Hunters" and released on Sony DVD directly to your local video store. The main problem with Sasquatch Hunters is not that the monsters is crap – that's a b-picture standard, it's that the full 90 minutes of the film is as boring, bland, and inoffensive such that it could, with two language trims, sit easily on the Pax network between blocks of 7th Heaven and Touched by an Angel reruns.
It's almost as if the newer generation of low budget monster film makers received their entire education in monster filmmaking from Friday the 13th and abandoned the classics that both defined, and set the rules, for the genre such as Them (1954 – Dir: Gordon Douglas), Tarantula (1955 – Dir: Jack Arnold) and even such lesser fare as Creature from the Black Lagoon (1955 – Dir: Jack Arnold), Legend of Boggy Creek (1972 – Dir: Charles Pierce), and Grizzly (1976 – Dir: William Girdler). The typical b-monster flick introduces the characters after introducing the monster, then works up to the characters interacting with the monster for 20 minutes, then the characters running from the monster/trying to kill the monster for the remaining 30 minutes or so.
In that respect, Sasquatch Hunters follows the convention. However, Fred Tepper misses all the important details that make the b-film effective. The monsters are indistinct, there is no central character to root for, the supporting characters are all woefully defined and archetypical at the same time, worse, they seem to have come to live in the world of Sasquatch Hunters from an entire different type of movie. And finally, he lingers on the interaction until the very last five minutes of the film, a misstep that makes for a stunning bore of a movie. What good is it to stick with a gang of monster fodder if for 80 minutes they can't even coherently gather what sort of threat they are facing? We in the audience know, because we see the monster early, so the remaining 80 minutes gets increasingly annoying as none of the characters can put together what's going on. They can't even offer a theory as to what's going on.
What Sasquatch Hunters does is pretend to be a monster movie but adopt most of the mechanics of a typical stalk-and-slash film, that is, throw a bunch of relatively unlikable stereotypes together, find a reason for them to be away from any semblance of aid, then find a dozen inane reasons for them to be lured away from the group and killed. Usually death follows some moral transgression, teenage sex or skinny-dipping, for example then the unseen and usually masked killer, metes out moral judgment. However, in monster films it's different. They are usually pulled away from the group for no other reason than "hey lets see what's over there", then the monster gets them, and worse in this film, off screen.
Now, stalk-and-slash flicks work because they ratchet up tension before paying off with a gruesome death. The way the film works is we are introduced to the cast, then to the story of the mysterious killer, and for the first 2/3rds of the flick the cast is slowly picked off then the final third of the flick pits the surviving (and usually morally upright) member of the gang, and the injured MacGuffin hero, against the masked killer either mano-e-mano (Halloween) or running from the masked killer as help arrives (Friday the 13th).
The problem with replacing the masked killer with a monster is that you end up spending most of the film wondering why they don't show more of the monster. Monsters also lack the same kind of motivation as masked killers. You don't get to try and solve the mystery of the masked killer's mania, nor do you get to empathize with whatever event pushed him or her over the edge into teen killing madness. You just have monsters.
This is probably WAY more analysis than Sasquatch Hunters deserves, but hey, it's the holiday season.
We open with three typical NRA types wandering around in the woods. One of them carries a 9mm, another carries a .45 pistol, the last carries a double-barreled shotgun. They men are arguing about some animal that they are hunting and berating the guy with the shotgun because he can't aim.
This forces the audience to wonder why these guys are out in the woods with two weapons that are essentially useless for game hunting? Within a couple of minutes two of the men are dead. Killed by a CGI ape face and some furry gloves. The last one runs off. By now we've seen the monster and it's only one minute into the film. What we see is not promising… The CGI Sasquatch LOOKS like a CGI Sasquatch so there goes any suspension of disbelief. In fact, to willingly suspend disbelief would require several painful wrestling moves to lock the disbelief up until it pulls a foreign object from its tights and clobbers you with it then suplexes you over the top rope.
Now it's time to meet the cast. We have –
Roger Gordon (Matt Latimore) and ex-forest ranger who knows enough to pack guns on a camping trip in the deep dark woods.
Dr. Helen Gilbert (Amy Shelton-White) an anthropologist who specializes in Great Apes.
Dr. Ethan Edwards (Gary Strum) a Paleontologist and leader of the expedition. He is also attached to a local museum with a strange thighbone in its collection. This item is the reason for the trip to the woods.
Ranger Charles Landon (Kevin O'Connor) the old forest ranger who knows enough to hire Roger Gordon to assist them on this trip to the "dig site".
Ranger Brian Stratton (David Zelina) is the ranger who can't get laid.
Louise Keaton (Juliana Driver) is the grad student who won't lay Brian.
Spencer Combs (Rick Holland) is the McGuffin hero and big brother to –
Janet Combs (Stacy Branscromb) a brand new ranger who is annoying, naïve, and a perfectionist. She is also perky, and attracted to Brian.
CGI Monkey Monster (CGI/man in ape suit) possibly a gigantopithecus, possibly a Sasquatch, probably hot running around in that damn suit.
The archaeological team (all three of them) are looking for the source of a mysterious thigh bone long since forgotten in the museum collection. Since the bone was documented to come from a trapper family in the late 1800s named Peasley, they have a pretty good idea from where in the wilderness the bone originated. That said, Dr. Edwards believes there are probably more bones of an otherwise unknown, and probably extinct, species of Great Ape in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. The gang starts their four-day hike into the verdant hills of the Pacific Northwest. During this time we learn that Brian hasn't had a date, ever, and really wants one with Louise. Janet needles him about this endlessly, such that I eventually muted the TV when they were on screen together. Spencer seems to like Helen and appears interested in her work. Meanwhile, Dr. Edwards lays out the basic differences between paleontology and anthropology in such a way that it will even bore preschool watchers of Discovery Kids.
They walk and walk and talk and talk until stumbling across a dead bear hanging in a tree. They theorize that another bear killed it and dragged it up the tree. Janet suggests that wolves did the dragging. Brian scoffs. She retorts that no one else is offering any suggestions.
I never understood this line of thinking. She could have just as easily suggested that Super Intelligent Space Toasters from the planet Zarkon 7 and it would have been only a little less plausible than magic tree-climbing wolves. And just because no one else is flapping their gums doesn't mean your suggestion is any good. Moron.
There, rant over.
We cut to the surviving hunter from the beginning of the film. He stops to take a drink from a stream and notices the hikers about a hundred yards away. Before he can signal them the CGI Sasquatch monster transforms him into a CGI man and slams him against a tree.
None of the hikers hear anything. They are all still worried about a giant killer bear that might be on the loose. They walk some more and continue their inane blather until setting up camp for the night and settling around the fire for a nice heaping helping of expository dialogue.
Someone suggests that whatever killed the bear could be a Wendigo of American Indian mythology. The idea is shot down. Helen suggests that the area is so vast an (say it with me now) unknown species of ape could be out there. Then conversation turns to how far they will have to walk tomorrow and we cut to, morning.
Louise is taking a shower in the stream with a camp shower strung in a tree branch. Now, honestly, does any camper ever do this after a single day's hiking? She is met by Spencer who offers to wash her back and front. She rebuffs him. Spencer is also carrying a towel, so apparently he is going to shower too.
WTF is with these people? Why do they need showers on a camping trip? I mean, I can be fastidious about my hygiene, but this is ridiculous. Worse, a scene like this usually offers at least a few seconds of gratuitous boobies to distract the audience from the stupidity of it all, but not Sasquatch Hunters. Louise is showering alright, but she's wearing a bikini.
The gang treks for another day and sets up camp a mere two miles from their destination.
Helen is awakened by Dr. Edwards who is quite excited. They have set up camp, without knowing it, in what appears to be a graveyard hosting the same unusual bones they have in the museum.
As the group is preparing to restart their hike Roger sends Spencer off to patrol the perimeter. He fails, of course, to give Spencer one of the shotguns and leaves him to patrol with only a .9mm pistol.
We will never see Spencer alive again.
As the group prepares to leave Spencer has not returned and Janet is panicking. She insists on staying behind to look for her brother. Roger tells her that she can't stay then makes a quick check with Brian to see if Spencer if prowling around the camp trying to be funny.
There is no sign of him. However, the CGI Sasquatch makes an appearance and charges Roger. He shoots but misses and the shaggy animal runs off into the bushes. Like I said earlier, Sasquatch Hunters uses both a CGI monster and a man in a suit monster. We switch to man in suit often, especially when it's walking. Not so strangely, the man in suit tries to capture the same gait and grace as the man in the gorilla suit pretending to be Bigfoot in the famous Patterson film. Thus there is much bouncing and arm swinging.
Brian runs to where Roger is shooting but hasn't seen anything. Roger describes the creature as "a fucking monster". They scramble back to the camp and insist that everyone get ready to leave the woods. In the commotion, all of the bones in the graveyard have vanished.
Dr. Edwards and Helen protest but Roger is adamant.
The group begins hiking back towards their starting point. They hike until nightfall.
By now we're at the final third of the film so it's time for the CGI Sasquatch to start separating members of the cast so they can be killed. The first to go is Janet. She sees a body leaning against the tree, figures it's Spencer, and rushes over. It is in fact Spencer, but he's dead.
The CGI Sasquatch kills her off screen.
Roger and Brian fan out to find Janet, and in the commotion, Roger stumbles over Spencer's body. Brian sees the Sasquatch this time but it moves too fast to hit with his pistol.
Everyone runs hither and yon through the woods.
Dr. Edwards falls into a pit trap. Helen gets separated from Louise. Ranger Charles runs off after Roger and Brian. He too sees a Sasquatch.
Roger and Brian trip over Janet's body.
Dr. Edwards tries to climb out of the pit trap but something starts to take his knapsack (which fell outside the trap), then, in a moment stolen from King Kong, the Man in Money Suit Sasquatch reaches it the trap and musses his hair. Why it can't simply reach him and snap is neck is a question best left to the experts as we've already seen the Sasquatch has long arms, and is much taller than a typical human. With that said I will not turn over this discussion to our resident expert, Slab Steakface –
Slab: Because the filmmakers are idiots.
Thanks for that Slab. Now back to the movie. Dr. Edwards hears a shot and the CGI Sasquatch leaps over the trap and escapes. Roger appears and helps Edwards out. By now both Helen and Louise are missing. The remaining rangers and Dr. Edwards stumble, literally, into an abandoned homestead. Ranger Charles gets his foot caught in an ancient bear trap. They carry him inside. Dr. Edwards administers to Ranger Charles' foot while Brian and Roger go out looking for the girls. Roger stumbles on Helen pretty quickly as she is somewhat smart and has a flashlight. Louis though, has no flashlight and is using her camera flash to blink the area immediately around her, then walk a few feet, and blink the area around her. This is almost a good idea, except, were it so dark that you literally couldn't see, your pupils would dilate to the point where shooting off the flash would literally blind you.
The CGI Sasquatch watches Louise until she is between shots, then kills her.
Brian and Roger find her, still alive but only barely. She dies in Brian's arms. Oh how sweet…
They all head back to the cabin and begin bitching about how bad their situation is. Helen finds an old sepia tone photo of the Peasleys, the folks who found the original bone in the museum, and theorize that the array of traps in the yard is to keep the monsters out. They also figure out that there are more than one. There have to be since the photo is over 90 years old. They also find an old map and pinpoint their location.
I should mention here that none of the parts has even a compass. Not even a goddamn compass. What the hell kind of idiot rangers are these guys anyway?
Brian is pulled through the window and killed after giving a speech about what a badass he is, then the Sasquatches attack en mass but we don't see them as the entire scene is shot inside the cabin with the rangers firing out. The next morning they decide the best thing to do is huddle together and try to make it to the Jeep.
Helen says that maybe if they didn't disturb the graveyard they would have been okay — fat lot of good that does anyone now. They also realize that Dr. Edwards had a pack full of bones when he fell into the pit trap and the Sasquatch was trying to recover the bones before it mussed up his hair.
As they head to the jeep the Sasquatches make their final suicide run after the remaining humans in the woods. The monsters are all CGI and doubled and tripled into the scene so it looks like there is a hell of a lot of them, when there are actually NONE. Ranger Charles shoots one, as does Roger. There is much jumping and running.
They finally reach the jeep but Roger is still fighting the monsters. One leaps at him and he shoots as the CGI creature sails over his head. Roger makes it to the jeep and the all zoom off down the mountain path.
The final shot is of the Sasquatches returning to their home in the woods.
End movie, coat self in hot paraffin wax, roll on barbershop floor, and start new life in woods eating rangers.
This movie fails on so many levels I'd need a thousand pages to document them all. But to gloss over the main problems, it's boring, it's also stupid, and it's very poorly plotted. The other glaring omission in a film about Bigfoot is the lack of a cryptozoologist character. How can you make a film about a mythical monster and not have a character there solely because you are looking for the mythical monster to which he or she has dedicated their life? Seriously, this is a terribly wasted opportunity. No one would make a film about Nessie without bringing one of those delusional chaps along, hell even Werner Herzog did in his masterful Incident at Loch Ness.
But Fred Tepper is no Werner Herzog. Hell he isn't even a Werner Klemperer…