Forgotten Films: Curse of Bigfoot
To me, the most frightening nightmares are not the ones where you are being chased by monsters or menaced by some unseen entity, but rather the ones where things appear basically normal but are slightly off kilter. Television viewers in the late 1970’s must have experienced a similarly disturbing sensation when discovering the film Curse of Bigfoot in the wee hours of the morning on Nite Owl Theater or possibly their own local Creature Feature program. Had they looked in the TV Guide, they would have been promised a relatively recent movie, 1978, concerning a currently popular subject, Bigfoot, but only a few minutes into watching the actual film they would discover it was something else entirely.
In the 1970’s, Bigfoot was big business. It seems like the American public was fascinated by mysterious, supposedly real, monsters of legend and the humanoid ape-like Sasquatch was on the top of the list. There were films, television shows, and magazines of both the fiction and non-fiction variety all dedicated to this mythical creature and his cameo appearances in various media were seemingly endless. You literally could not turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without seeing something related to a Bigfoot sighting. The public was so hungry for any new Bigfoot product that an enterprising television producer hit upon the bright idea of buying an unreleased film from years earlier, giving it a facelift, and slipping it quietly into TV syndication.
Curse of Bigfoot begins with some grainy footage that looks like some nature documentary or travelogue kids from that era were subjected to in grade school. After a few minutes of this, the movie shifts without explanation to badly day for night shot footage of a zombie type creature stalking the inhabitants of a house. Just when this rather interesting looking bit is starting to build up some suspense, the film jarringly stops dead as a high school teacher switches off a projector and the audience realizes it has been duped by the old film within a film routine. The instructor tells his class that the zombie footage was an example of Hollywood monsters and somehow uses this as a segue to discuss mythical monsters and, of course, Bigfoot. This queues another round of stock and dramatized footage concerning the skunk ape and we get a mini pseudo-documentary within the fictional feature film! At the conclusion of this pause for education, the instructor introduces a friend of his to tell the class the story of his encounter with Bigfoot years earlier. Any viewer who is still awake and capable of conscious thought at this point will realize that they have just spent a whopping thirty minutes, not counting a couple of commercial breaks for ads from car dealerships and late night pizza joints, to get to the flashback that is actually the bulk of the film!
Once the “real” movie starts, we get a story that looks like it was filmed in the late 1950’s (most sources quote 1958) about another group of students who the professor (the guy telling the story to the other class, not their actual instructor, stay with me here) leads on an archeological expedition outside some small Midwestern town. The students discover a stone tablet buried in the ground which turns out to be the cover to a deep pit when they remove it. Climbing into the hole, they discover what looks like an Indian burial chamber containing a primitive mud sarcophagus. Faster than you can say “do not disturb”, the gang is hauling the tomb out of the ground and we all know no good can come from this!
The clay coffin is deposited in the barn next to the house the kids are staying in to await further study in the morning. Unfortunately, some type of mummy creature with a face that looks like it was carved out of a coconut decides to break out of the casket and run into the nearby citrus groves while the students are asking dumb questions and telling boring stories around the fireplace in the house. During its nocturnal rampage, the creature scares a couple of people and stares at a woman through a window.
The next morning, the local Sheriff turns up and after hearing the tale of the monster, he tells the students he believes them because a woman was murdered the night before and neighbors described a similar beast they shot at as it ran off. Unfortunately this was all off camera! Deciding to take matters into their own hands for no apparent reason, the kids set up some bales of hay in the groves and wait for the monster to show up. It eventually does and kills the Sheriff (thankfully on camera this time) before they dowse it in gasoline and turn it into a homecoming bonfire. As the kids watch the mummy burn, the film reaches the required running time for television syndication and ends with no wrap around or conclusion to all the set ups at the beginning! Oh, and did I mention anything about Bigfoot? That’s OK; the main portion of the film doesn’t either!
Curse of Bigfoot apparently started life as a not quite feature length film called Teenagers vs. The Thing. This ultra low budget monster flick looks like it was shot on 8mm home movie equipment by a bunch of friends with no acting experience. This sixty or so minute snooze fest sat on the shelf for at least fifteen years, if the introduction to the flashback is to be believed, before the additional footage, which looks more like it was shot in the Sixties than the Seventies, was added. The resulting mess then went straight to television to con unwary viewers out of two hours of their lives and maybe even sell them a car or a pizza!
It is obvious the curse in the title is on the viewers rather than the students who disturb the burial chamber. At the beginning of the film, the irritatingly slow speaking professor tells the class that, as a result of the events he is about to reveal, three of his students were confined to a mental institution for the remainder of their lives and one can no longer even communicate. Just before the film flashes its merciful end title and makes a run for it, all of the students are shown staring at the burning beast and looking no worse for the wear as a result of their ordeal. Perhaps what he should have said was that as a result of making this movie, no one involved in it ever worked in motion pictures again!