Dir. Ryan Schifrin
Written by Ryan Schifrin and James Morrison
Starring Matt McCoy, Haley Joel, Christien Tinsley, with Paul Gleason, Jeffery Combs, Rex Linn, and Lance Henriksen
There’s a real thin line you have to walk when you’re making an intentionally campy movie. Camp, in general, is something which works much better when it’s come by honestly, the earnest result of slightly cracked visionaries laboring hard in punishing conditions to realize their stupid dreams. It’s stupid, but it’s honest. It’s personal. In a way, the resulting movies are windows into the souls of artists either too brazen or too delusional to even pretend they understand what other people want to see. Sure, we laugh --and rightly so-- but there’s something kind of sweet about that kind of sincerity. They can’t help themselves. Cultivating camp appeal is another beast entirely. It’s one thing to enjoy the work of someone who tried hard and ended up with something stupid; it’s another to watch someone intentionally make something stupid when they could have chosen to make it good instead. You lose a lot of leeway and goodwill right off the bat, and that’s before we even point out that no matter what goofy thing you want to invent to make your movie intentionally corny, some smug nerd with plenty of resources is never going to be able to out-crazy the legitimately unstable weirdos who made the genuine article. You’re never going to be able to think your way into replicating something that only came into being because someone wasn’t thinking. It’s more likely to make everything feel forced and more than a little desperate.
More likely. But not certain, because with ABOMINABLE, novice filmmaker Ryan Schifrin has made something a bit deliberately arch -- and certainly plenty schlocky-- which is also probably the best bigfoot film ever put to celluloid (not that it has a lot of competition in that regard; really the only other one which could even be considered watchable is probably THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, and that only as an exotic curiosity). It’s cheesy and ridiculous, but with a broad, cheeky style which hovers gracefully just between outright comedy and affable sincerity, a tone that feels just about right for this particular scenario. Which turns out to be bigfoot vs co-eds meets REAR WINDOW.
The explanation for this eyebrow-raising premise is that wheelchair-bound Preston (Matt McCoy, the guy they got for POLICE ACADEMY 5 and 6 when they couldn’t even get Steve Guttenberg to come back for more)* is recovering from a tragic accident in a cabin in the woods (well, more like a well-appointed house in the woods) which is directly across the road from an identical house occupied by a bunch of scantily-clad, frequently-undressed co-eds. I know this will shock you, but try to keep from panicking when I tell you that these very co-eds will one by one fall victim to bigfoot attack, and even though Preston can see it all from across the street, he can’t help them because his irritable nurse Otis (Christien Tinsley, primarily a makeup artist and easily the most distinguished person on set, having worked for Andrew Dominik, The Coen Brothers, Clint Eastwood, William Friedkin, Mel Gibson, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Bay, and numerous Vin Diesel joints) doesn’t buy his bigfoot-phobia and thinks he needs to chill out.
McCoy, despite being a poor man’s Steve Guttenberg and looking like the unholy love child of Gabriel Byrne and Anthony Perkins, is actually the film’s secret weapon. He has a surprisingly strong grasp of the tone, and he really makes an honest effort to sell the tension here while still giving a wild-eyed, slightly tongue-in-cheek performance. His amusingly antagonistic relationship with the exasperated Otis is really the anchor of the whole film, successfully finding a schlocky midnight movie vibe which is entirely entertaining even when there’s no bigfoot on-screen (which is surprisingly --perhaps distressingly-- often). That’s good, because the rest of the film is all over the place; with the exception of final girl Amanda (Haley Joel [NOT Osment], “young co-ed,” on an episode of Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn, who, based on her surprising charisma here, deserved better roles than she got) the co-eds are all entirely forgettable, and even throwaway cameos by the likes of Paul Gleason, Jeffrey Combs and Lance Henriksen don’t add up to much. Combs, at least, looks like he’s having fun as a weird redneck; unfortunately, Henriksen's inability to not be a great actor is somewhat of a hindrance here. He’s also playing a weird redneck, but he’s incapable of not giving a soulful, nuanced performance, which in the middle of this ridiculousness feels a little jarring. But I guess his presence is always welcome.
Still, that’s a lot of filler. McCoy and Tinsley strike that right tone and remain consistently entertaining, but there are constant cutaways to various unimportant side characters, with cops, campers, hunters, farmers, and co-eds, none of whom bring much flavor to the table; even the exquisitely horrible acting of the girls isn’t amusing enough to justify the amount of time they waste. This becomes increasingly a problem because there’s also not a lot of violence to spice things up; the climax brings one violent highlight (spoiler: bigfoot unhinges his jaws and vertically bisects a head with his teeth) but otherwise tends to be surprisingly mild, leaving a little too much of the film on the slack and dry side.
Fortunately, Schifrin has also brought along two ringers to bat clean-up. The first is Bigfoot himself (designed by storyboard artist Federico D'Alessandro, who has since gone on to storyboards and animatics in many of the Marvel films) which gives the big guy a distinct look, bristling with long teeth and wild eyes (he’s portrayed by special effects guy and occasional actor Michael Deak, who’s had a career which has ranged from DOLLMAN VS DEMONIC TOYS to TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. Granted that’s not much of a range in quality, but in terms of production budget, that’s gotta be the biggest rises in movie history). He looks great whenever you see him, and the movie wisely shows the suit off at every opportunity.
But the other ringer he called in is maybe even more important, and it’s someone he didn’t have to reach through his agent (I hope): his dad, celebrated composer Lalo Schifrin, in his second-to-last (so far) full-length film score.** Schifrin got his big break after being noticed by jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, and went on to record classic themes for all the DIRTY HARRY films, BULLIT, WAY OF THE DRAGON, and perhaps most memorably Mission Impossible (no, Limp Bizket didn’t write that tune. Really! Look it up!). So having him on board makes this feel waaaaay more like a real movie than it probably has any business pretending. It’s not going to go down as one of his all-time classics or anything, but it’s completely respectable horror score, and the swirling, PSYCHO-esque strings do much more than anything else in the movie to lay down a base coat of legitimate horror movie. That might seem superfluous in a movie this trivial, but actually it’s a direly necessary counterbalance to the movie’s otherwise broad tone. Without at least a solid core of genre goods, this would be such a frivolous exercise it would risk evaporating before our eyes.
Fortunately, with a top-tier bigfoot and a strong film score by one of the genre’s acknowledged giants, ABOMINABLE has everything it really needs. It amiably coasts the rest of the way on its affable cartoonish seriousness, keeping the proceedings consistently goofy and exaggerated (but for arch theatrical effect rather than outright comedy). It’s silly, but never quite to the point of parody, which means the final confrontation with bigfoot is actually a real highlight, a grueling scorched-earth battle with enough actual stakes to earn your investment. It ends with a sustained parade of its best instincts --including its cheerfully dumb final zinger, which works much better here than the identical (but clumsier) one that concludes the deadly serious DARK WAS THE NIGHT did, because you might actually consider watching a sequel to this one-- and consequently leaves you feeling more charitable towards it than it probably deserves, all things considered. Still, it can be confidently called one of the best Bigfoot movies ever, warts and all, and probably even the best Bigfoot movie to feature Lance Henriksen (take that, SASQUATCH HUNTERS). As Lincoln once reputedly put it, Whatever you are, be a good one. I doubt he had a low-rent killer Sasquatch movie in mind when he said that, but it’s true nonetheless.
*Weirdly, McCoy would go on to appear in both THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. But by 2005 he was no stranger to hairy bipedsploitation, having already been in BIGFOOT: THE UNFORGETTABLE ENCOUNTER (1994) and the apparently unrelated LITTLE BIGFOOT (1997).
**Tragically, the last was RUSH HOUR 3.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2015 CHECKLIST!
Play it Again, Samhain
The co-eds talk about their missing friend