Vinegar Syndrome's latest Drive-In Collection release (nice to know that hasn't been phased out completely in favor of the Peekarama sets) includes a double bill of bigfoot films: the documentary IN SEARCH OF BIGFOOT and the kiddie-friendly CRY WILDERNESS (from the makers of NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR).
IN SEARCH OF BIGFOOT details a three month summer expedition in Washington state by bigfoot enthusiast Bob Morgan who assembles a crew of biologists, botanists, bigfoot experts, and nature trackers to find evidence of the beast. Morgan, who claimed to have first encountered the creature as a child before he even knew what a sasquatch was, is of the opinion that the creature is generally peaceful unless threatened. As his group explores the uncharted forests and his tracker makes a five day excursion into particularly treacherous terrain, Morgan collects local accounts of bigfoot sightings (including a girl who claims to have made friends with the beast as a child and a guy who looks like Randy Travis with bad teeth) and trades theories with other bigfoot experts (including one who wants to bring it in dead). Their search eventually leads them to the dormant Mount Saint Helens (a few years before the 1980 eruption, of course) and Ape Canyon on the northeast shoulder where five miners claim to have been attacked by an abominable snowman in 1924; however, a massive forest fire not only drives the researchers away from the mountain but may also have pushed sasquatch further into the uncharted wilderness.
Not to be confused with the 1977 bigfoot episode of the Leonard Nimoy series IN SEARCH OF…, IN SEARCH OF BIGFOOT is an actual bigfoot documentary, not a LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK retread, that received theatrical play via Atlantic Releasing Corporation. Of course, it's obvious we never see bigfoot, but the film conveys Morgan's admiration at the creature who is adapted perfectly to an untamed environment (although shot in grainy 16mm with flare-prone lenses, the landscape shots are awe-inspiring) under threat of encroaching man as well as forest fires. There is some debate with the other bigfoot enthusiasts that the beast's human-like features may be the reason some are so ready to ascribe intelligence and benevolence, as well as why people like Morgan are so eager to draw the line for what constitutes a protected animal species. Morgan – who does a bit of showboating early on with his "I'm not here to make friends" speech – appeared in a couple other Bigfoot and paranormal/alien documentaries and also scripted William Grefe's MAKOS: JAWS OF DEATH and the Florida-lensed BLOODSTALKERS (in which he also co-starred). Co-director Lawrence Crowley had previously helmed the documentary BIGFOOT: MAN OR BEAST (in which Morgan also appeared), and he and co-director William F. Miller would follow up IN SEARCH OF BIGFOOT with MYSTERIES BEYOND THE TRIANGLE. Adding to the film's verisimilitude is an appearance by actor Sam Melville (of the TV series THE ROOKIES) who happened to be in the area when the forest fire hit and is present as another onlooker during the forest fire sequence.
IN SEARCH OF BIGFOOT's progressive 1.33:1 transfer is derived from a 2K scan of the original 16mm camera negative, and it is not only likely the best the film has ever looked, but also the best the film can look on DVD. The shadows in the sunny daylight scenes and the night shots yield heavy grain and lens flare dilutes the colors and clarity of some other shots, but that's only natural since this is a documentary rather than a motion picture (where such aspects are indicative of a low budget, rushed schedule, or technical ineptitude rather than a focus on documentation).
In CRY WILDERNESS, no one believes young Paul Cooper's (Eric Foster, GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE) claim to have met bigfoot the previous summer while staying with his ranger father Will (Maurice Grandmaison, BRIGHAM YOUNG), particularly his creativity-stifling teacher Mr. Douglas (Navarre Perry, BLOODY WEDNESDAY). When bigfoot appears to Paul in a vision warning him that his father is in grave danger, Paul runs away from boarding school and manages to hitchhike his way back home where the locals are all riled up about animal killings, and the sheriff (Joe Fuzz) is kowtowing to the mayor's (Gordon Gale, SEX AND THE OTHER WOMAN) publicity concerns as he prepares to open up a new resort. As expected, neither his father nor Native American pal (John Tallman, LUST FOR FREEDOM) believe Paul's story about bigfoot's warning and are planning to ship him off back to school at the end of the weekend. Unfortunately, the only person who does seem to believe is Morgan Hicks (Griffin Casey), the big game hunting U.S. Marshall the sheriff has brought in to kill the beast. Paul accompanies Will, Jim, and Hicks on their searches, trying to find bigfoot and warn him before Hicks can get a shot at him; but, as bigfoot warned, his father is also still in danger.
Director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen's feature-length follow-up to his composite of the disparate elements that would become NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, the Utah-lensed CRY WILDERNESS – scripted by him and formerly blacklisted writer/producer Philip Yordan (CRACK IN THE WORLD) – goes family friendly with the bigfoot legend a la HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS but the results are not so funny or emotionally stirring. The acting ranges from okay to pretty poor in that broad, earnest-seeming, "playing to the back row" style of delivery that seems to be natural for the kind of Utah actors that get cast in films like this and TROLL 2. Foster is decent in the lead, and Casey is slightly better than the other adults if only because his scenery chewing is entertaining. Yordan's wife Faith Clift (HORROR EXPRESS) appears here as a veterinarian taking care of wounded animals chased out of the forest and is ridiculously wooden. The bigfoot suit was created by Steve Neill, who started out on Larry Cohen and pre-Empire Pictures Charles Band flicks before working under Richard Edlund on bigger budget films like GHOSTBUSTERS and FRIGHT NIGHT. The suit is technically accomplished, but it's not particularly scary; then again, bigfoot is supposed to be friendly (the actor in the suit Tom Folkes also plays one of a trio of bikers that cause some trouble for the bigfoot hunters). There is some tension in the relationship between Paul and Hicks as one wonders if the latter's growing belief and fascination with bigfoot might cause him to have a change of heart in true family film fashion. The Native American mysticism angle allows for some creative bits of photography, but the film's greatest strength is its picturesque locations. Regardless of age, the likely common audience reaction to CRY WILDERNESS will be stupefaction.
CRY WILDERNESS's progressive 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer comes from a 2K scan of the film's original 35mm camera negative. When the camerawork is at its steadiest and evenly lit, the image sports bold colors and crisp detail, but it often exposes the shortcomings of the camerawork with a number of out of focus shots (particularly in low light scenes) as well as one instance of nature stock footage that looks like it filmed off of a video monitor (even if Vinegar Syndrome might have patched a missing bit in from a video source, it would have looked better than this). The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is in good condition with only a trace of hiss. There are no trailers for either film. (Eric Cotenas)
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