Tag Archives: bigfoot

“The Question is, What’s Going On…” MISSING IN ALASKA

MISSING IN ALASKA

on History Channel


showposter

(2/5)

Pros: Interesting basis for the episodes…


Cons: …but the conclusions drawn seem like a stretch

“This dramatized program is inspired by eyewitness reports and legends and may contain certain sensationalized and/or controversial content. The personal opinions and theories expressed are not endorsed by the network.

Viewer discretion is advised.


There are currently 738,000 people living in Alaska. In the past 20 years…more than 60,000 have been reported missing. Some believe a number of these cases…stem from mysterious phenomena.”

alaskan-bermuda-triangle-1a

So reads the intro of History Channel’s latest supposed documentary Missing in Alaska, which premiered in July 2015 and follows the exploits of a three man team – former police officer and apparent skeptic Jeremy “Jax” Atwell, folklorist Tommy Joseph, and “specialist in strange phenomena” Ken Gerhard, who’s been featured in many vaguely similar programs and doesn’t go anywhere without his trusty curved cowboy hat – whose goal it is to explain some of those many disappearances. Appropriately enough, this show airs just after the now-almost-parodical Ancient Aliens and on the one hand, I’ve got to give the producers credit for at least acknowledging that what’s covered in their “dramatized” show might be “sensationalized and/or controversial” – right there, they’ve already been more honest with their viewers than any number of the typical “monster hunt” programs, of which Destination America’s Alaska Monsters may be the most flat-out absurd. Of course the disclaimer does leave the door open for everything discussed in Missing in Alaska to be utter hogwash, so the question then becomes why anyone would want to watch such malarkey…

BRAND_H2_MSGA_162202_TVE_000_2398_60_20150722_000_HD_still_624x352The MiA team on the hunt…

Initially, Missing in Alaska seems fairly straight-faced. Each episode tackles one possible cause that would explain people vanishing in the so-called “Alaska Triangle.” The program’s first episode deals with the sudden disappearance of a C-54 military transport carrying some 44 persons in January 1950. Numerous planes go missing in Alaska but the majority of these cases can probably be blamed on unpredictable and dangerous weather patterns. The particular incident covered in the show is noteworthy not only for the amount of people who were lost, but also because a massive military search operation didn’t yield a single clue as to what actually happened. Gerhard, being of sound mind, believes that the so-called “vile vortices” may be to blame, thus making a connection to the blatantly phony Devil’s Graveyards mockumentary. Episode two likewise travels through familiar territory, covering the team’s search for the so-called “Hairy Man,” a Sasquatch-like creature prowling the Alaskan wilderness that is rumored to be both larger and more aggressive than the typical “Bigfoot.”

Missing_In_Alaska_Tommy_Joseph_Bio-E“Expert on Alaskan legends” Tommy Joseph posing with supposed Hairy Man nest.  Yeah, I’m not buying it either.


After a narration provides some backstory for each episode (and to be fair, there’s legitimate historical basis for at least some of the subjects tackled here), the MiA team sets out on a quest not only to find experts and witnesses who may shine some light on the case they’re investigating, but also to have some first-hand experiences for themselves. Invariably (and in some cases most inexplicably), the team’s research leads them to conduct some sort of nighttime investigation, which may be about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard – is it really a good idea to go lurking around after dark in remote areas where five out of every thousand people disappears, knowing full well that bears may be lurking just out of camera range? Even if I can accept that the investigation of the “Hairy Man” might turn up something in the nocturnal hours, what could possibly be learned by prowling around at night in search of vile vortices? Regardless, these segments do wind up providing the almost mandatory infrared and night vision sequences along with a multitude of declarations like “did you hear that?” or “there’s definitely something out there!”

29EA0EB600000578-0-image-a-11_1435136401617Landscape photograph in the show is, as might be expected, outstanding.

Like many other modern “speculative documentaries,” Missing in Alaska does a reasonable job of appearing to represent authentic events and situations. Similar to a program like America Unearthed, Missing in Alaska incorporates some subtle reality TV moments: to an extent, the show is more about what happens during the team’s investigation rather than the underlying topic being examined. The documentary-like approach is also pretty solid, boasting some stunning photography of the breathtaking Alaskan landscape, but the illusion of verisimilitude collapses or is at least severely strained at times. Episode one features a moment where the team utilizes an aerial drone to try and get a wide-range view of a snow-covered valley. The drone is quickly lost during a sudden change in weather, but “miraculously” appears – with its tracking beacon and scientific gear still functioning – later on during the episode’s climax. Much as I like to keep an open mind, I don’t at all believe the nudge-nudge-wink-wink assertions that this drone actually went through one of the vortices the team was searching for and then apparently jumped ahead in time and space – that notion just pushes my suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. Similarly, episode two’s conclusion of a shadowy figure knocking a trail cam around seems highly suspect – it’s simply too convenient and frankly unbelievable that this team would randomly stumble upon an unknown hominid during the course of a few day film shoot.

ken_gerhard.1322040_stdKen Gerhard – specialist in strange phenomena.  And owl wrangler.

Given the sketchiness of the show, I was somewhat shocked that Gerhard, a somewhat respected (?) figure in the world of cryptozoology and the paranormal, would appear in something like this. Maybe the guy’s looking for acting gigs nowadays, for that surely is more what Missing in Alaska seems: I would hope that most viewers would take any of the “factual” information here – at least that which the research team stumbles across – with a grain of salt. There are strange things occurring in the Alaskan wilderness and the number of missing persons in the state is undeniably alarming, making the real life aspects and historical incidents depicted in Missing in Alaska quite fascinating. To instantly jump to the “mysteries and monsters” conclusion with regard to explaining these disappearances however seems not only illogical but irresponsible. As a “documentary” then, though Missing in Alaska is not quite as utterly reprehensible as what I’ve come to expect from the genre of ghost/monster/unknown-related programming, it’s still highly questionable. As entertainment however, it does exactly what it’s supposed to, raising numerous questions and getting a viewer thinking about the infinite possibilities that are/may be out there. This isn’t must-see TV by any stretch, but those who enjoy shows dealing with the paranormal will probably get a kick out of it.


 

“It’s Out There…Somewhere…” CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE

CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE


(3/5)

Pros: Some suspenseful moments; captures the backwater setting quite well

Cons: Very talky for the first hour, with a minimum of creature action

With the seventh season of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot kicking off in late May, it would appear that the current wave of public fascination with all things Sasquatch is still going strong, but this is hardly the first instance of Bigfoot mania that swept the world. During the early 1970s, The Legend of Boggy Creek, a low-budget pseudo-documentary about unknown humanoids trolling the bayous of Fouke, Arkansas, sparked a wave of public interest in these creatures and led to a whole string of Bigfoot-related movies popping up in theaters, particularly drive-ins. After the ridiculous 1974 film Shriek of the Mutilated, 1980’s slasher-like Night of the Demon and the incredibly sketchy 1976 “documentary” Legend of Bigfoot, 1987’s Harry and the Hendersons effectively marked the end of the cycle: a big-budget attempt by mainstream Hollywood to cash in on the fad. Even in such a diverse selection of titles, 1976’s Creature from Black Lake comes across as a bit of an oddity: a regional film made in rural Louisiana that crosses Boggy Creek’s backwoods “slice-of-life” approach with a somewhat spooky horror movie presentation.

creatureblacklake013The only look at the creature that you’re going to get until very late in the going.

The film concerns a pair of would-be cryptozoologists from Chicago who, following a professor’s crash-course lecture on unknown creatures, venture deep into the Louisiana bayou investigating reports of a bipedal hominid. If the locals are to be believed, this creature has already killed a man by dragging him out of his canoe and drowning him, but researchers Pahoo (!) and Rives find their inquest halted at every turn by reluctant locals, who fear not only that the city slickers are going to woo their women, but also that the “Yankees” will make them all look like “stupid rednecks.” Pahoo and Rives eventually come in contact with a farmboy named Orville who invites them out to his family’s homestead where, after an awkward dinner, the out-of-towners manage to get a tape recording of a suspected Sasquatch cry. This recording does little but upset whichever of the townsfolk that hears it (resulting in a particularly calamitous incident at the local diner), but once the researchers find the booze-hound trapper who’s buddy was killed by the creature, things start to get serious.

creatureblacklake016Rives and Pahoo getting comfy with some hillbilly honies…

Jim McCullough Jr.’s predictable script plays out for the majority of its duration as a vaguely comic “fish out of water” tale dealing with the Chicagoans trying to integrate into the close-knit community of Oil City, Louisiana. As might be expected, Pahoo and Rives stick out like sore thumbs against the conservative local citizenry and seem to cause problems every where they go. This, of course, incites the ire of the hard-ass local sheriff – who really pops his top when the two boys invite his daughter for a night of drinkin and “foolin’ around” in a tent outside of town. Creature from Black Lake is very talky for at least an hour of its ninety minute running time, with the titular beast only popping up intermittently in the form of a flashback or a shadowy nighttime encounter (everytime a camper stumbles away from camp to “relieve himself,” you know something is going to happen….). It probably doesn’t take a genius then to realize that things are literally going to explode during the film’s climax, in which the two researchers square off in a remote corner of the swamp with an exceedingly belligerent Sasquatch.

creatureblacklake034Yeah…it’s kind of a good thing we don’t see more of this costume…

Directed by Joy N. Hauck, Jr., Creature From Black Lake is probably best in its depiction of life in a backwater community. The film starts off with a sort of tour of local bayou attractions – turtles falling off logs, waterbirds stalking prey, low-hanging weepy trees, and lots of virtually stagnant, muddy water. It’s immediately apparent that this picture was actually filmed way out in the swamp and the surrounding wilderness, and the sense of being far-removed from what many people would consider “civilization” gives the film a sometimes eerie mood. The seemingly authentic locations seen here are populated by characters who one would expect to be there, and the colorful assortment of slightly goofy townsfolk thankfully keeps the film interesting even when the monster’s not around.

creatureblacklake022Now that’s a camera angle – so close you can smell the...nevermind

This film marks an early cinematography credit for Dean Cundey who would later lens such big-budget classics as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Jurassic Park, so one can rest assured that Creature From Black Lake looks pretty good despite its miniscule budget. I’d have to say that Cundey’s work here is not especially flashy, but I did like a nifty setup which occurs late in the going where Rives aims his rifle at the beast, who’s posturing wildly in the background. Creepy backlighting in the scene makes the creature seem very intimidating – a definite plus since its costume (when seen in brief close-up glimpses) looks pretty awful (for the most part, director Hauck does his damnedest to keep the creature offscreen – which is a very good call). Jamie Mendoza-Nava (who I’m familiar with as the person responsible for the delirious soundtrack to Orgy of the Dead, one of Ed Wood’s skinflick credits) provided the music for the film, which is appropriately suspenseful when it needs to be. I should point out that, like many films of this era, Black Lake includes a typical ‘70s folk rock song which plays over its end credits. Entitled “Exits and Truck Stops,” the tune is sung by writer McCullough, who (aside from playing Orville) apparently wanted to show his chops as a songwriter. It’s no surprise that his career never blossomed.

creatureblacklake018This actually is a pretty nice shot in the final film, with the creature carrying on in the background.

Acting in the picture is unexceptional but pretty decent for a film of this nature: Dennis Fimple (as Pahoo) and John David Carson (as Rives) are likable enough, and Bill Thurman makes the most of his role as sheriff. The recognizable Dub Taylor seems to be having fun playing a local farmer, but it’s the inimitable Jack Elam (star of countless westerns) who steals the show playing the moonshine-swilling trapper who swears he knows where the beast resides. Look out for the moment (not entirely dissimilar from Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis monologue from Jaws) when Elam’s Joe Canton character tells the pair of researchers about the silence that falls over the swamp whenever the creature is prowling about – it’s a highlight of the film as far as I’m concerned.

creatureblacklake017Jack Elam doing his best Robert Shaw impersonation.

Standing as one of the few straight-faced Bigfoot films of the ‘70s, Creature from Black Lake is a slightly better-than-average addition to the Squatchploitation genre. The film’s strong sense of setting places it in a league with such “nature on the rampage” films like Frogs and Squirm, and I think it’s comparable in terms of its entertainment and production values to those pictures. Though undeniably crude, this flick does have a few moments of suspense and is worthwhile enough as a time-waster – especially for those who appreciate that one-of-a-kind B-movie charm. Moderately recommended.

 creatureblacklake014


Many existing copies of the film seem to be public domain rips presented in pan-and-scan format – one of these rips . Considering the shoddy quality of these versions, an upcoming home video release from the fine folks at Synapse Films should be an absolute revelation.


2/10 : Very mild violence and a few scary moments, with just a smidgen of blood.


1/10 : Occasional rough language and maybe a minor curse word or two.

creatureblacklake009
0/10 : Though these country girls claim to “just do what comes natural,” none seem all that willing to give it up for our big-city heroes.


4/10 : An enjoyable (if low-key) backwoods B-movie adventure that may have added appeal to the Squatchaholics out there.


“If I had’na been drinkin sa much, I’d a blowed his butt off.”

Here We Go Again…TRUE SUPERNATURAL

TRUE SUPERNATURAL on Destination America Channel

(2/5)

Pros: Interesting subject matter

Cons: …oh, it’s another one of shows…

Midway through a third season of Mountain Monsters that’s proven to be the most absurd yet, the Destination America channel has unleashed a mostly straight-faced program dealing with mysteries and monsters that provides an alternate to watching supposed investigator “Wild Bill” Neff grill corn on the engine block in his Ford or explain his tendency to name his push mowers after American presidents. Though its name might indicate that it falls more in line with the many “Ghost Hunter” shows out there, True Supernatural has more in common with Science Channel’s The Unexplained Files since it seems to be more wide-reaching in its approach, tackling most any subject that exists outside the realms of normal explanation.

gee...
Gee…d’ya suppose they’re going to drag out that dead “Chupacabra” again at some point?

Featuring the usual assortment of reenactments, talking head interviews and a spattering of actual “evidence,” the series premiered on April 8, 2015 with an episode that covered a pair of stories, at least one of which should be very familiar to paranormal enthusiasts – the alien abduction case of Betty and Barney Hill. Occurring in 1961, this incident is regarded as the first of its kind, and the program does its part to provide a (relatively toned-down) crash course in the particulars of the case. The other point of focus for the debut episode is the so-called “Rocky Mountain Demon Wolf.” After years of anecdotal reports, many of which came from AmerIndians, a bizarre, hyena-like creature actually was shot and killed in the late 1800s. After being lost for decades, the preserved carcass of the creature was recently rediscovered, leading to renewed interest in trying to identify the beast.

you'd look like that too
You’d have that morose too if you’d been kidnapped by aliens….

Like many other modern Unsolved Mystery-type programs, a main idea of True Supernatural is to apply science to these enigmatic stories. In the case of the Hill abduction, this mainly involves DNA analysis of the dress that Betty was wearing when the alleged abduction occurred. Past examinations of the article have revealed strange, pink-colored stains in certain areas which were reportedly handled by the extraterrestrial beings, yet new scientific techniques may be able to provide new information and maybe even an explanation as to what actually occurred more than five decades ago. The carcass of the “demon wolf” is also subjected to expert analysis during the course of this episode, although a squabble over ownership of the specimen has hampered efforts to test the remains.

beast of gevaudan
The Beast of Gevaudan which terrorized France in the 1700s – could the “demon wolf” killed in the late 1800s be a similar, unknown creature?

While all this actual science sounds great – and believe you me, the narration throughout the program does its best to “sell” the potential bombshells that analysis could reveal, I don’t think I’m really giving anything away by revealing that nothing much comes out of any of the hoopla put forth in the show. As is standard with regard to this type of speculative documentary, a viewer is left with more questions than definitive answers once everything is said and done – which isn’t necessarily a bad call considering how willing some people are to declare that a conspiracy is going on if science doesn’t provide the answers that they are looking for. If True Supernatural finishes things off by not explaining everything, all possibilities still exist…which means that the believers out there can keep on believing.

caution

Another area in which True Supernatural is quite similar to other programs of this sort is in its choice of subject matter. Browsing a brief list of future episodes, it seems like the producers have chosen to cover a nice variety of topics, alternating between stories about genuine mysteries and ones dealing with unknown creatures such as Bigfoot. Considering how popular monster/cryptozoology shows have been in recent years, this seems like a good call, but I’m forced to again go back to a point I’ve made before: how many times can these programs cover the same sorts of material? Is there honestly anything new to be added to these arguments…or perhaps I should ask whether additional scientific testing will reveal anything earth-shattering. In covering the same topics that have been explored elsewhere, True Supernatural, like many shows before it, seems mostly to be recycling material, which doesn’t much make for ground-breaking television as far as I’m concerned.

this

What is somewhat new is this program’s format: instead of using the usual investigative report format in which the show is broken down into separate segments, True Supernatural presents both stories covered in its episodes concurrently. This does mix up the (very tiresome) formula one might expect in a show of this nature, but I don’t think it’s an especially effective way to relate information. The debut episode seemed a bit awkward as it randomly switched back and forth between its topics, and I also found that the omnipresent narration was extremely repetitive, apparently designed specifically for viewers made brain-dead through exposure to too much awful reality television. To be completely honest, this program drags significantly and seems almost entirely to be composed of material that’s little more than glorified filler. Once the background information into the Hill case and demon wolf was presented, the episode proceeded to repeat information ad nauseum in an attempt to build anticipation for a “big reveal” moment that simply didn’t materialize nor actually provide any new information. The question then becomes why anyone would waste an hour watching a show that could easily cram its information and arguments into about a fifteen minute block.


Cue the Bigfoot episode now for maximum tie-in value!

If anything has been proven over the years since In Search Of…, it’s that so-called “paranormal television” provides a reliable – and increasingly easy – way to get butts in the seat. Hell, even if most of these shows are complete bunk and aren’t at all what I would label as being good television, I can’t help but be fascinated by the subjects they cover. In the end then, I suppose that True Supernatural provides a viewer with exactly what he would want from a show of this nature. It’s not a great series by a long shot and almost certainly won’t solve any longstanding mysteries as it goes along, but there’s no doubt it would appeal to curious viewers.

waiting....

“As Much a Process of Rationalization as Imagination:” BOOGEYMEN

BOOGEYMEN on Destination America

(2.5/5)

Pros: Interesting approach; it’s hard to deny the allure of the unexplained…

Cons: Very talky and rather dull – particularly when compared to other similar programs

First appearing in 2013 on Canadian television, the Boogeymen series presents a monster-related show of a different variety than is typically seen on American cable. Whereas the majority of today’s cryptozoology programs (i.e. those dealing with unknown creatures) focus on a group of (often stereotypically moronic) characters who set off into the wilds in search of this or that mythical – and most likely, imaginary – creature, the goal of Boogeymen seems more to examine monsters as a cultural phenomenon in an effort to determine why the public is so fascinated with them. Each hour-long episode of the show (reruns of which now air on the Destination America channel) focuses on a strange creature or situation and how this oddity has been embraced by the local community: in many ways then, Boogeymen is more a travel and tourism program than an outright monster hunt. Along the way, various eyewitnesses present their stories, experts weigh in on the possibility of the monster being real or completely bogus, and a handful of photographic and/or video evidence is shown to the viewer, who’s more or less left to make up his own mind as to whether or not he believes any of it.

sea monster or log
Sea monster or log?

Probably the best thing about the program is that during the course of its (so far) two seasons and 26 episodes, Boogeymen has dealt with a wide variety of topics and covered some really interesting myths and legends. The first episode of the program dealt with “,” the aquatic creature said to lurk in America’s Lake Champlain, but other episodes have covered (duh!) California’s Bigfoot and lesser-known mysteries like Tennessee’s , Canada’s , and even Iceland’s . In terms of the subjects discussed, I’d almost be inclined to say that this show is up there with History Channel’s Monster Quest as being the most comprehensive and ponderous cryptozoology show that’s been on television in the last decade or so.

chupacabra
Chupacabra or mangy dog?

The fact that Boogeymen is so consistent and decidedly non-sensational in its tone is another of its strongest attributes. In recent years, it’s become increasingly frustrating to see monster-related shows which push the viewer’s suspension of disbelief to ridiculous levels; quite simply, it’s incredibly difficult if not downright impossible to believe much of anything a viewer is seeing in the likes of Mountain Monsters and its numerous (and apparently, endless) clones. Boogeymen, on the other hand, operates in a refreshingly sober manner. Even if some of the material presented in it is borderline ludicrous (during the episode about Canadian lake monster Ogopogo, one man spends a great deal of time trying to convince a viewer that a series of murky underwater shots of logs actually show the snake-like creature in the stages of “hiding” – which is positively absurd), the producers do a nice job of keeping things level and under control. This is incredibly beneficial when establishing credibility in a show like this, and indeed commendable when covering this sort of material.

monster worm
Monster worm or snagged trash?

The even tone of the show has some unfortunate consequences however, namely the fact that viewers used to more exciting or outrageous programming would likely find Boogeymen to be extremely dry. Though the program is technically well-made in terms of its photography and editing, there’s no way a viewer can ignore the fact that the show is incredibly lackadaisical. Additionally, the program does quite frequently seem kind of corny in the same way that another Canadian import called Hauntings and Horrors (originally titled , reruns of this program also air on Destination America) does, with a narrator delivering borderline goofy monologues over a typical montage of ambiguous, often ominous images and cheesy landscape shots. Compared to the much more loud and obnoxious typical American television program, Boogeymen simply seems dull, which (when combined with the rather minimal amount of actual hard evidence provided in any individual episode) could be a deal-sealer that would kill this show in the minds of many viewers.

giant snake
Giant snake or…oh……

Ultimately, I think one’s appreciation of this show (or lack thereof) would come down to what he’s trying to get out of it. Despite the fact that it deals with mysterious creatures on some level, Boogeymen is very much not a speculative documentary trying to prove or disprove the existence of these creatures. Frankly, there are more than enough over-the-top monster hunt programs on TV in the year 2015, so a show dealing more with our culture and its fascination with mysterious creatures and situations rather than the myths themselves is interesting in my book. That said, I don’t think anyone is going to confuse Boogeymen with great television: it’s a way to pass some time and nothing more. Moderately recommended, but hardly essential.

“…you don’t have to believe in CRYPTID: THE SWAMP BEAST for it to get you…”

CRYPTID: THE SWAMP BEAST on History Channel

See it at or on the

(3/5)

Pros: Enjoyable as a horror miniseries

Cons: This just in: it ain’t real

“Throughout the United States, there are legends of strange and unidentified creatures stretching back hundreds of years. This program is a legend brought to life. It is told through dramatization, eyewitness accounts, and expert interviews.”

…so begins History Channel’s Cryptid: The Swamp Beast, a six-episode series run in the spring of 2014 that’s somewhat different from any of the other monster-related programming that’s been clogging up cable television for the past few years. Instead of following a “crack team” of investigators as they inevitably are hunted down by a mysterious (and imaginary) off-camera creature, Cryptid plays sort of like a version of True Detective or even True Blood in which the main villain of the piece is a mythical being known as the . Sometimes associated with the legend of the Bigfoot-like “,” the legend of the Rougarou originated in the Cajun bayou, with the creature usually being identified as a blood-thirsty, shape-shifting creature similar to a werewolf that can assume either human or animal form.

YIKES
Yikes!

Working from the basic folktale surrounding the Rougarou, the writing team of Cryptid (James Asmus and Collin Armstrong) weave a tale of several interconnected characters on the hunt for an unknown creature or person responsible for a series of deaths in southern Louisiana. The first episode of the program introduces these characters, namely an animal control specialist named Luc Baptiste, his two assistants Jules and Tammany D’Entremont (who are cousins), and a local sheriff’s deputy named Patrice “Trio” Lambert. After the discovery of a mutilated cow, Baptiste and his crew are sent in to investigate, eventually placing trail cameras and traps in an effort to either identify or hopefully capture the animal responsible. Things get more bizarre after a tourist’s phone is recovered deep in the swamp. When video footage is pulled from the phone, it seems to capture the moment when its unfortunate owner was attacked and presumably killed by an unknown entity. As the show progresses, more and more suspicion in relation to the killings is placed on the Jagneaux family (often hilariously presented as the virtual incarnation of evil and “a damn nasty bunch”), a local clan of stereotypical, shotgun-toting bayou folks who may or may not know more about the situation than they are letting on, and the hunt for the rampaging beast becomes more and more intense as it becomes apparent that not only the animal control team, but also the local citizenry are in ever-increasing danger.

so what exactly are we looking at here...
…so what exactly are we looking at here…

Admittedly, when I first caught the debut episode of this show back in February of 2014, I was somewhat less than impressed. Marketed and presented in a way that made it seem like a representation of actual events, it quickly became clear that Cryptid was nothing but a (possibly too) slickly-produced fabrication that owes more than a bit to The Blair Witch Project and any number of other so-called “found footage” horror films. That said, the fact that there’s a thread on the imdb.com message boards in which a user excitedly explains that he has “proof” the show is phony is indicative of the fact that many viewers are all to willing to buy anything they see on TV. I’d offer that the viewer who at all believed this program was a representation of real events after about a half hour of the first episode really needs to start evaluating his level of gullibility.

blurry photos
Blurry Photos? Must be a monster!

In all honesty, the program does a decent enough job of creating the illusion of authenticity. The main body of the show is presented from a first-person’s point of view, presumably photographed by a film crew who just happens to be tagging along with the animal control or police personnel whenever something important happens. As is the case with many programs of this nature (Finding Bigfoot being perhaps the most obvious example), the various characters often speak directly to the camera in an effort to explain or narrate their own story. In between the notable story developments, brief montages are inserted in which sensational newspaper headlines flash on screen while “locals” tell various folktales about strange occurrences in the swamp. More amusing than anything else due to their outlandish nature, these segments do add to the flavor of the program since they frequently feature images of how life works in the bayou. Though this show appears to have been produced with the cooperation of the state of Louisiana, it doesn’t do much to show the best side of the state. As seen here, the Louisiana bayou looks like an absolute dump, full of nearly impenetrable wetlands and lots and lots of rubbish and trash. Director Ty Clancey also presents occasional asides in which various scientists and experts explain various aspects of the story. These segments are obviously included to add some semblance of “credibility” to an otherwise ridiculous program.


Meldrum Check: 43 minutes into the first episode, noted Bigfoot believer Dr. Jeff Meldrum makes his first (of several) appearances in the series.

Ultimately, one’s appreciation of this program will come down to whether he’s willing to view it as entertainment: as a fictional television miniseries with horror movie overtones, Cryptid actually isn’t too bad. The main actors in the program do a fairly credible job: Britt George as main character Luc has a commanding presence throughout the show, while the marble-mouthed Jimmy Lee Jr. is believable as his spooked Cajun assistant Jules. Meanwhile, Rachel G. Whittle tags along as Tammany, the obligatory plucky female, and James Ricker II plays the increasingly worried local deputy. As tolerable as these performances are however, the supporting cast is laughable. Many of the show’s more outlandish claims are literally hammered home through sheer repetition from an apparent authentic local “folklorist” named Jami “Captain One-Eye” Burns who indeed has only one good eye. Apparently, this disability is supposed to make him more credible as an “expert” in bayou myth and legend – and it’s also supposed to make his doom-laden monologues more ominous, thus adding additional intensity to the show’s script.

Main cast
The main cast (here, we have Jimmy Lee, Jr. facing us on the left and Britt George on the right) isn’t bad – it’s the supporting players who are iffy.

The miniseries format makes this program more compelling than the typical episode of Alaska/Swamp/Mountain Monsters in which the (undeniably goofy) set up takes all of three minutes. The use of some rather wild, way-out-there locations certainly helps sell the situation in Cryptid, especially when combined with the “expert” testimony reinforcement, and several segments in the show are genuinely creepy (scenes in a grimy abandoned sugar mill and the surrounding cane field are highlights). The show’s first-person format additionally allows some of the more questionable special effects to be masked by shaky camerawork, and the use of eerie sound design and jarring musical accents only adds to the suspense, particularly in later episodes. Even if the program is pretty innocuous when compared to the mean-spirited modern horror films, there are some isolated moments of gore and nastiness here and the frequently disorienting atmosphere is a plus.

what is lurking out there?
What is lurking out there?

On the downside, nothing can entirely make up for the level of goofiness that exists throughout the series. Numerous segments of this show simply push the envelope of absurdity too far – when a nerdy “cryptozoologist” named Quinton Schuster (who’s main purpose seems to be to exclaim that he “has tons of equipment”) shows up for no good reason other than to provide a throwaway character for the titular creature to aggressively pursue or when Tammany visits the most unrealistic scientific lab in the world, many viewers will be cracking up rather than gasping in terror. It’s also increasingly hard to look past the fact that this program is quite literally a collection of scenes pulled from other, better movies and programs: viewers will likely recognize various elements transposed from The Blair Witch Project (stick figures hanging from trees), Jaws (the scene where Hooper pulls the tooth from the Ben Gardner’s boat), and any number of films dealing with violent/bizarre backwater folk among others. Ultimately, though the script is pretty solid and certainly watchable from start to finish, it seems very convenient and obvious, lacking much originality or genuine punch. This is particularly true of the series’ ambiguous ending, which is just plain dumb.

it's still out there...

All in all, Cryptid is a mixed bag, but one that I think is at least somewhat worthwhile. In my opinion, its main problem was that it was a fictional miniseries marketed as a real deal documentary and played on a channel that is associated with educational programming. People simply weren’t expecting and didn’t quite know how to take something like this, and I think once they figured out they’d been had by a phony show, some viewers were (perhaps rightfully) turned off. Conversely, as the entertainment piece it quite obviously is, Cryptid: The Swamp Beast satisfies, even if it doesn’t so much as attempt to reinvent the wheel. Hell, I’ve got to give the show credit for admitting to including dramatization at the beginning of each and every episode. That’s something none of the other modern monster shows will do, and although Cryptid is far from being perfect or even very good, I’d give it a moderate recommendation as an agreeable time-waster.


“Captain One Eye” says “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

The Weird Side of the Soviet Union: MONSTERS BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

MONSTERS BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN on Animal Planet

(4/5)

Pros: Well-organized; interesting variety of subjects; more level-headed and objective than is usual for this type of program

Cons: It’s a speculative documentary: some folks just won’t appreciate it; sensationalist title doesn’t represent the material very well

Refreshingly straight-forward in both its presentation and in the various hypotheses it proposes, the two-hour special Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain, which premiered October 26, 2014 on the Animal Planet Channel, stands in stark contrast to increasingly manipulative (and goofy) programs like the previous year’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives which handles some of the same subject matter. Directed by Gareth Sacala, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain operates in much the same manner as an episode of Monsters and Mysteries in America in that it features discussion of a half dozen or so stories of the unknown which originated in and around the former Soviet Union. A few of these stories specifically involve the existence of unknown creatures which seems to be a very popular subject on television these days, but the majority deal more generally with unexplained phenomena.

The real monster
Subliminal messaging: is this the REAL monster behind the Iron Curtain?

The program starts with what in my opinion is its most interesting segment, one which seems to have been pulled straight out of the pages of Dark Matters: Twisted but True: a brief examination of the history of rather unorthodox experiments that took place in the Soviet Union during the 1920s. While researching how organs were controlled by the brain and functioned, scientists and developed the basic techniques by which organ transplants are conducted today, yet hearing about how this duo not only kept the hearts and whole heads of dogs alive after they had been separated from their corresponding bodies, but also created two-headed animals and very nearly reanimated a dead human suggests these scientists may have been willing to push the boundaries of science a bit too far in the name of progress. What’s more shocking perhaps is that even though the former Soviet Union has released some files relating to these experiments, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever really know how far these experiments went. After viewing some of the actual film footage seen here (which includes images of a heart beating independently of its body, one dog’s head being kept alive in a metal bowl and another animal having to fight off the snapping jaws of a second head that’s been grafted onto its neck), I’m not sure anyone would really want to uncover the true extent of these experiments even if the knowledge gained has proven to be invaluable.

WARNING: GRAPHIC! Footage of dog head grafting experiments.

From here, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain goes through an intriguing, if fairly typical collection of segments and stories, some of which seem more outrageous then others. A viewer hears about the legend of the , a subterranean creature who’s said to spit venom and be able to conduct electricity and delves into the legend of the so-called “” which exists in the remote Siberian forest. This plot of barren land apparently causes death and misery to anyone who ventures near it, leading scientists to debate its true nature as the site of a possible underground fire or maybe even the location where meteoric debris has settled. A from the Caucasus Mountains in which a group of mountaineers was severely burned by an unknown ball of light is investigated, as well as a in which a young medical student attacked fourteen women, killing four. In the wake of the attacks, it was speculated that the man was possessed by a demonic spirit called a , a being which appears to have been at least partially responsible for the modern idea of the vampire. It’s almost expected that a program of this nature at least briefly focus on some sort of Bigfoot story, and this is provided in the form of an examination of the Russian Wildman. The documentary concludes with a substantial inquiry into the fascinating and enigmatic in which nine mountaineers were killed under mysterious circumstances while skiing in the remote Russian wilderness in 1959.


Remains of one of the Dyatlov expedition members. Half the mountaineers died from incredibly traumatic injuries which, according to official government reports, were caused by “a compelling natural force.”

Along with a steady narration provided by Eric Myers, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain is told largely through interviews with various researchers and investigators and occasionally, the actual people involved first-hand in the stories. Throughout the program, we have a number of well-handled recreations of the situations discussed which hammer home the subjects the talking heads are discussing. I think one of the best things about the program (as mentioned) was its use of sometimes gruesome and disturbing archival film footage and photographs. Some of the segments here are largely recounted through dialogue, but there has been an obvious effort made to add credibility to the eyewitness accounts and people making them whenever possible. Keeping in mind the undeniably sketchy evidence usually presented in these types of shows, I’d have to say that Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain does a fine job of honestly presenting its information. I also appreciated that the program doesn’t automatically go for the jugular and force the viewer to buy into some very outlandish explanation for what’s occurring in these stories. The program for instance proposes that the mysterious ball of light was actually the incredibly rare meteorological phenomenon known as ball lightning, which actually seems plausible in this circumstance, and the Dyatlov incident segment focuses on the notion that a top-secret parachute mine test caused the deaths of the mountaineers. Generally speaking and as might be expected, this documentary doesn’t come up with any real answers, leaving it up to the viewer to make up his own mind with regard to these cases. I thought this sense of ambiguity was welcome when the vast majority of crypto-reality TV shows jump to wild conclusions in five minutes or less.

artists' rendering
Artist’s rendering of the Mongolian Death Worm.

Even if it takes this program less that twenty minutes to conveniently introduce Idaho State University professor Dr. Jeff Meldrum (who shows up in virtually every Bigfoot-related documentary to explain that yes, there is a possibility that previously unknown creatures do exist in the world – just in case anyone needed that point reinforced) as the obligatory “voice of reason” to add some sort of scientific seal of approval for what’s being proposed here, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain is easily a more level-headed and ultimately better program than dozens of vaguely similar shows that have turned up in the last couple years. Compared to outright fabrications like the Russian Yeti, Megalodon, or Wrath of Submarine which choked viewers with phoniness, this one at least attempts to remain neutral and objective, simply presenting information in much the same manner as a program like Unsolved Mysteries. For that alone, it deserves commendation in an era where sensationalism goes a long way in making a program stand out from the crowd. Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain obviously wouldn’t be counted among the greatest documentaries of our time, but it’s well-done for what it is and should please viewers interested in the paranormal. Recommended.

dog

D.o.A.: KILLING BIGFOOT

KILLING BIGFOOT on Destination America

(0.5/5)

Pros: Fairly serious and more credible than the lot of similar programs

Cons: Everything is very familiar and I simply can’t for the life of me condone this show’s message

With the current, rather pathetic wave of cryptozoological (read: monster) related reality television shows coming to an end and a few weeks before the new season of Finding Bigfoot starts, it was only a matter of time – a week to be exact – before the Destination America channel’s next monster show would turn up. Unfortunately, as this genre as a whole has become ever more phony, goofy and unbelievable, Killing Bigfoot, which premiered on Friday, October 24, 2014, appears to be deadly serious – and, in my opinion, completely reprehensible. Following the exploits of another acronym-defined paranormal research group (the GCBRO – Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization; they have their own hats so that means that must be legit), the show attempts not just to find one of the hairy, bipedal apes rumored to exist in the woodlands of Texas, Lousiana, and Arkansas, but kill one of the creatures to prove their existence once and for all.

Yes, as one eyewitness points out with regard to the unknown hominids, “most people just let ‘em be.” Not our gang of trigger-happy bayou folk. That’s just not how they roll…

oh snap

Working off the same pattern that led to shows like Mountain Monsters, Swamp Monsters, Monsters Underground, and Alaska Monsters (UGH! – that has to be one of the worst quartets of shows imaginable), Killing Bigfoot begins with a brief, stylized introduction to the eight-man team the program revolves around, a group of “vets, ex-cops, and hardcore woodsmen” who are shown in the opening montage cocking huge shotguns and blowing away paper targets shaped like the (in)famous . Multiple people featured in the show are identified as “snipers,” while a few – including one fella who’s name is given as “Grumpy” – are given the task of “investigator”; hell, I was cracking up imagining that the show existed as a deranged version of Snow White and the Seven Dorks. Mainly, this crew goes about the normal monster investigation routine – interviewing witnesses, looking for proof in the swamps and forests of western Louisiana, and conducting night investigations that tread suspiciously close to looking like what one would find on the typical hunting program since they involve multiple people traipsing through the woods with shotguns at the ready. What’s shocking about the show is that, unlike the increasingly preposterous monster-related shows on Destination America channel, the characters…er people featured in Killing Bigfoot don’t seem to believe they’re part of an ongoing hoax or comedic program. These guys really are trying to kill a Sasquatch.

leave it to texas
Leave it to Texas to declare that it’s legal to kill Bigfoot…

Right there, I’m already on the verge of writing this program off on principle alone. To me, that this group of supposed investigators’ first response when encountering an unknown creature – even one that reportedly is mighty similar in both appearance and behavior to human beings – is to “bag it and tag it,” is disgusting. It’s this kind of pompous, gung-ho attitude that has caused many problems in recent years (read into that what you like), and it’s about the most unscientific, irresponsible thing I’ve ever heard when mentioned in regard to the existence of unknown creatures. Sure, a Sasquatch corpse likely would silence all the critics – but I can’t in any way, shape, or form condone the wanton killing of an unknown creature just to prove its out there. In all likelihood, if these creatures do in fact exist (in which case, their habitat is rapidly decreasing due to human population expansion), they’re incredibly rare and by eliminating a breeding member of their population, the survival of the species as a whole is potentially put in jeopardy. All one has to do is examine the history of the , or to see what effect the kind of mentality put forth in this show can have on the animal kingdom.

I know harry, I know
I know Harry…I know.

By autumn 2014, television producers are old pros at making programs of this nature and the ultimate flaw of Killing Bigfoot (aside from its careless main theme of shoot first, brag about it later) is that everything here is painfully familiar. Despite that, I have to admit that this program seems substantially more credible than the likes of Mountain Monsters/Swamp Monsters/Alaska Monsters. First of all, the GCBRO members here don’t just conveniently stumble into the path of the creature they’re seeking: though the show’s narrator informs us that there are “signs of the creatures all around,” we never get any proof of Bigfoot’s existence – or a massive, fabricated pursuit of an unknown beast during the episode. This, in my mind, is indicative of the fact that the producers are at least to some extent attempting to make a more factual, level-headed program whose primary goal is not necessarily just to shock a viewer with how asinine the whole production is (as seems to be the case with most other monster shows).

um
Um…just what is that?

Refreshingly, though the show may feature some of the worst sighting reenactments I’ve ever seen, not one character featured in Killing Bigfoot falls in line with being labeled as the goofball, “wild card” or loose cannon (i.e. the , , or character) – this gang seems dead serious, although this has repercussions in the long run. Namely, the show is nowhere near as entertaining as some of its other, unbelievably ludicrous monster-hunting kin. There isn’t a whole lot of camaraderie on display between team member and there aren’t obvious jokes and wisecracks being traded around continuously – hell, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the GCBRO was made up of people who hate each other even if they are rather civil about it. As might also be expected, the climactic “night hunt” sequence is pretty low-key – not much of anything happens and the show’s conclusion is more or less ambiguous (even with the obligatory cliffhanger).

told ya
Told you – the GCBRO has its own line of stylish caps. It’s gotta be a legit organization, right?        RIGHT???!?

Ever since Mountain Monsters changed the very nature of the crypto-reality show through the use of obvious fabrication, I’ve been wondering if any producers of this type of program would have the balls to make a show in which a monster wasn’t instantly, inexplicably found and chased down. Dumb as it is, watching a group of actors … I mean “monster hunters” … stumble around in the dark chasing phantoms has its appeal on a purely stupid level. As some have pointed out in the commentary on my no star review of Alaska Monsters, watching the show is like looking at a car crash – and the statement is true. I’ve just never quite come to terms with the fact that in order to watch these shows, I had to give up an hour of my life that would be MUCH better served doing something more rewarding and/or worthwhile. Problematic though it is in many, many ways, Killing Bigfoot to its benefit doesn’t automatically assume its viewers are morons looking for supposed entertainment of the lowest, most idiotic variety (and let’s be honest – most of these monster shows are designed for people who would watch just about anything if it was on TV). In a way, I appreciate its serious tone and apparent focus on faux-authenticity – no documentary can ever be entirely objective, but this show seems vastly more reasonable than many similar shows and for that it deserves some measure of credit.

just what we need...
Just what we need: another monster show, and another bunch of gun-happy “investigators” trying to shoot phantoms…and each other.

Try as I might however, I don’t think anything could ever make up for this show’s main premise as it goes out of its way to pursue its own, unreasonable agenda: when you’ve got multiple persons attempting to convince a viewer that Bigfoot should be killed to protect the residents of Louisiana…and GASP! their grandchildren…I could do nothing except shake my head at the screen. This type of blatant and unfounded paranoia-inspiring fear-mongering is dangerous in terms of what affect it has on viewers and one of the main problems if not the main problem with American media. Is it really us humans who should be afraid of Sasquatch, a creature which, if we’re to judge upon reliable evidence, has never posed any serious threat to people? Or is it Sasquatch who should be afraid of us, a species who not only randomly kills virtually every other animal on earth, sometimes purely for sport, but even kills members of its own species for the most fickle reasons imaginable? You be the judge. I’m giving Killing Bigfoot a half a star and I’d urge most viewers to avoid it.

from on .

Just What the World Needs: Another Phony Monster Show! BEASTS OF THE BAYOU

BEASTS OF THE BAYOU on the Discovery Channel

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(2/5)

Pros: Monsters – with just a dash of science

Cons: If I say that this show is a ripoff of Mountain Monsters, what does that tell you?

It’s sad to say that the genre of the “monster hunt” television show may actually have hit its finest hour with the advent of shows like Monster Quest and Destination: Truth, both of which had a fairly lengthy run in the late 2000’s and early 2010s. Circa 2014, this genre of TV show which originated decades earlier with the comparatively sober In Search Of… has been overrun with an increasing number of programs which seem to possess not one iota of authenticity. Programming like Desination America’s Mountain Monsters pushes credibility to the breaking point, while History Channel’s Cryptid: The Swamp Beast flat out acknowledges that the whole show is one big dramatization. If we combine those two shows and add just a dash of actual science, we wind up with Discovery Channel’s newest creation Beasts of the Bayou. This show follows the adventures of 400-pound shrimp fisherman-turned halfass monster wrangler Timothy “Blimp” Cheramie (previously, the star of Discovery’s Ragin’ Cajuns reality series) who, along with first mate Eric Tiser and nephew Nathan Neal (“who spent the past few years living wild”), attempts to track down some of Louisiana’s most legendary (and most preposterous) monsters.

blimp
OK – so this here may be Blimp’s worst idea ever.

I first saw Blimp on the 2013 Shark Week special Voodoo Sharks, which culminated in a scene of the morbidly obese shrimp boat captain diving into the world’s most vulnerable, ineffective shark cage in an attempt to photograph mysterious sharks that had infested the Louisiana bayou. Apparently, the “success” of this program led to Blimp landing the Beasts of the Bayou gig, and the show first appeared during Discovery Channel’s 2014 “Monster Week” with a show dealing with the “Cajun Werewolf” also known as the “Rougarou.” This premiere episode saw Blimp and his crew replicating the basic formula already established by the overweight hillbillies featured in Mountain Monsters by (inexplicably) instantly locating a supposed monster and subsequently using a variety of traps pulled straight out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon in an effort to capture said beast (say it with me: it’s a “woof“). As Blimp, Eric, and Nathan bumble around in the swamps making fools out of themselves however, Beasts of the Bayou one ups some of the competition by actually having a scientist appear in the program doing his own investigation into the appearance of so-called “coy wolves” – wolves that have cross bred with coyotes. In a brilliant PR move, the scientist conducting this research is none other than Idaho University professor of anatomy and anthropology Jeff Meldrum, who’s become widely known as being one of the few “academics” taking research into the existence of Sasquatch seriously. Forget the fact that Meldrum (a primate specialist) has about no reason to be doing this type of research about canines – the guy instantly adds infinitely more scientific credibility to Beasts of the Bayou than features regularly in shows like Mountain Monsters or even Finding Bigfoot.

yessir
“Yessir; these folks are some honest to goodness MONSTER HUNTERS.”

A few weeks after the “Cajun Werewolf” episode, Beasts of the Bayou finally found a home of its own on Discovery’s Thursday night programming lineup, debuting in this time slot with an episode focusing on the “Altie,” a sort of Loch Ness Monster marine creature reportedly prowling the southern United States. Blimp and the gang head into action again in (an increasingly absurd and utterly unbelievable) search for the (even more unbelievable and absurd) creature. Seriously, wait until you see the purported “video evidence” showing Altie appear behind a jet skier… talk about HOKEY. Meanwhile, a Tulane University scientist named Dr. Henry Bart conducts a search looking for alligator gar who have migrated deep into the Louisiana swamp. Apparently, extreme levels of pollution have caused this migration (and images of the jaw-dropping pollution level in the bayou are easily the most shocking thing about this episode), resulting in these strange, dangerous-appearing but relatively harmless large fish coming into contact with people more frequently. This “Loch Ness Swamp” episode features some positively ridiculous moments (including one confounding moment where an unknown animal almost drags Blimp’s rather large, ramshackle boat into the drink) and builds to a ludicrous finale that doesn’t so much as prove a thing. Yep – without doubt this is another somewhat compelling but ultimately asinine monster hunt show!

My biggest problem with Beasts of the Bayou is precisely the same one I had with the equally moronic Mountain Monsters: though these shows claim to be portraying real events, there is simply no way this is true. Cameras seem to be positioned in precisely the right position to capture events that we’re supposed to believe are occurring live, as we watch – but anyone familiar with television/film production (or with half a brain) would realize that unless the production crew knew what was going to happen beforehand (either by using pre-scripted directions or psychic powers of precognition), this would not be possible. In a nutshell: scenes here – particularly the more prominent ones involving Blimp, Eric, and Nathan’s (mis)adventures – look way too slick, polished, and stylized for me to have any confidence that they provide a record of actual events, and I’d ultimately have to declare that the majority of this program is absolutely phony.

bayou
“What…you mean to tell me you can’t see the monster lurking to the left of the center of this photo??!?”

Without doubt, there’s a crowd out there that will take this show at face value, indicative of the fact that the makers of reality television have (by 2014) all but mastered the art of manipulating an audience. When shows like 2012’s Mermaids: The Body Found actually convince a large portion of the viewing population that these mythical beings are real, it may be time for us as a society to seriously investigate why some of us are so willing to believe anything that’s seen on TV (or found on the internet for that matter). In fairness, there are some scenes seen in Beasts that are probably real enough. The sequences involving the actual scientists doing rather mundane experiments and research in the bayou region are at least plausible, seeming less “set up” and more spontaneous – they don’t build to an obvious “cliffhanger moment” right before a commercial break. As has been proven before (in films like the notorious Cannibal Holocaust), if undeniably real sequences are played next to fabricated ones, a viewer is more likely to believe that the faked scenes are in fact real due entirely to the context in which those faked scenes were presented. It’s actually quite smart for the makers of Beasts of the Bayou to use this theory to their advantage.

As iffy as the show is overall, the alternately humorous, informative, and somewhat eerie Beasts of the Bayou is probably about as enjoyable an hour of television as the remarkably similar Mountain Monsters. For Beasts to play as an obvious ripoff of that incredibly questionable Destination America show however tells me that the “monster hunt” genre of television programs is nearing the end of its natural life and probably should be drug out behind the barn pretty soon. Centered around the natural spookiness of the swamps as well as on some creepy campfire tales and local legends, Beasts may have a bit more scary potential than the typical “lets chase monsters around in the dark” program, but it’d be a stretch to call it anything more than an mildly entertaining time waste. In the end, I’m not sure I’d honestly recommend it, even to those who dig monster-oriented programming.

Promo Vid:

National Geographic’s BIGFOOT: THE NEW EVIDENCE Gets to the Truth

National Geographic’s

BIGFOOT: THE NEW EVIDENCE

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(4/5)

Pros: The nature of the Yeti finally revealed!

Cons: May not be the answer Squatch enthusiasts want to hear…

Undoubtedly one of the most interesting of the recent deluge of Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti-related television programs, National Geographic’s 2013 special Bigfoot: The New Evidence is one of the few documentaries relating to the possibility of unknown hominids roaming the corners of the globe that actually makes serious headway in the investigation. As programs like Finding Bigfoot continue to (literally) feel around in the dark during their supposed search for the creature and shows like Destination: Truth come up with some intriguing but more often puzzling evidence, this National Geographic documentary scientifically examines the Bigfoot phenomenon, comes up with a hypothesis – and proves that hypothesis through the use of DNA testing. Granted, the end results of this investigation might not be exactly what the typical Bigfoot enthusiast would want to hear, but I’d have to declare that the results of this investigation are nothing short of remarkable.

faces
Do I detect skepticism on the faces of geneticist Bryan Sykes (extreme left) and researcher Mark Evans (extreme right)? 

ONLY SCIENCE HAS THE REAL ANSWERS!

The program starts off by introducing Oxford University professor and geneticist Bryan Sykes, who undertakes a study in which he will attempt to apply DNA testing on alleged Bigfoot hair samples gathered from around the world. During the course of the program, hair samples are obtained from the American Pacific Northwest (regarded as the one true “hotspot” of Sasquatch activity in the US), Russia (no mention of the “killer” Russian Yeti – I wonder why?), and the Himalaya, all the while various eyewitnesses tell their stories about alleged sightings and encounters to the National Geographic cameras. While some of these stories are fairly typical (a Russian family finds a trail of large footprints; American outdoorsmen hear wood knocks and see something in the woods), The New Evidence does examine a few encounters that are quite enthralling – and controversial.

One of these relates to an American hunter named Justin Smeja who claims to have shot and killed a young Sasquatch in October 2010 in the Sierra Mountains of California. This case has had a polarizing effect on the Bigfoot community – most “squatchers” frown upon anyone killing one of these creatures, but if there was one, single way to prove the existence of Bigfoot, producing a corpse would absolutely be it. Smeja provided some hair and blood samples for Sykes to examine, but his outlandish account may not be the most downright outrageous one presented in this National Geographic special – the story involving a Russian “wild woman” found in the late 1800’s may actually take that honor. Nicknamed “Zana,” this animalistic woman was reportedly captured by hunters in the Russian province of Abkhazia and proceeded to mother several children to various Russian men. Given that Zana was essentially a prisoner during most of her life, one can draw his own assumptions of how she became pregnant in the first place, but the end result is a legend about Zana being a surviving Neanderthal whose bloodline continued on after her death. Leave it to Russian researcher Igor Burtsev (yes, the same guy who turned up in Discovery Channel’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives! mockumentary) to not only produce the unearthed skull of Zana’s son, but also to point National Geographic’s lead field examiner Mark Evans on the path of even more of Zana’s rather burly and rough-looking descendents in an attempt to extract DNA samples for analysis.

famous
The famous Shipton photo, taken high in the Himalayas in 1951.

On a certain level, Bigfoot: The New Evidence plays out much like one would expect a program of this nature to work. The special is well-made from a technical standpoint, with crisp editing and some wonderful aerial views of the Washington state wilderness and frigid terrain of the Himalaya. We also get the expected recreations of alleged encounters – though no special effects or men in ape suits are seen – and quite a lot of talk rather than the presentation of any actual evidence (there is only one piece of video evidence shown during this program, though I think this video is somewhat compelling). Just to prove how predictable and formulaic the typical Sasquatch-related program has become at this point, Idaho University primate expert and perhaps the world’s most capable/famous Bigfoot researcher Jeff “Look at me, I’m on TV” Meldrum shows up within ten minutes of the start of the show – it’s nice they get Meldrum’s obligatory appearance out of the way right off the bat.


Researcher Mark Evans GRILLS Justin Smeja.

Additionally, the show certainly is more than a bit provocative in its presentation of not only the generally distasteful (by conventional standards) story of Zana, but also researcher Evans’ in-your-face grilling of witness and supposed “squatch murderer” Smeja. When a police sketch artist is brought in to render a drawing of the creature Smeja allegedly killed – and then Evans proceeds to practically shove the sketch into Smeja’s face while asking him how he felt when he killed a creature that looked “this human…,” the program nearly crosses the bridge into being absolutely outrageous, sensational programming that I’d have a hard time taking seriously.

why so serious
WHY SO SERIOUS?
I just killed a Sasquatch.
wait..WHAT??!?

It’s a good thing then that Sykes’ purely scientific investigation delivers the goods by producing some hard, extremely compelling results. I don’t think I’m giving much away when I reveal that the vast majority of the hair samples examined actually turn out to be of the dog, bear, deer,horse, or even cow variety – results which do not at all amuse the persons who collected the samples in the first place. The program’s final segment however (in which Sykes examines hair samples taken from the body of an unknown animal killed in the 1970s in north-east Nepal and ones lifted from an alleged Yeti “nest” in Bhutan in the early 2000s) pretty much drops a bombshell on research into the existence of the Yeti – by proving that there is in fact a previously unknown creature responsible for the sightings and reports. Some Sasquatch researchers (i.e. those whose motivations for continuing their search seem, at least to an extent, to be related to capital gains rather than scientific advancement) probably won’t be very excited about the results of this National Geographic investigation, but those interested in the honest-to-goodness factual basis for these unknown creatures would likely be stunned. The ultimate payoff of this program is a genuine revelation.

dna
This is it doubters: the truth is revealed in this program.

In many ways, Bigfoot: The New Evidence would be an ideal introductory piece for anyone interested in the Bigfoot phenomenon. This program provides a crash-course examination of how Bigfoot lore started in the first place both in America (with footprints cast by Gerald Crew in 1958) and in the Himalaya (with the famous 1951 photographs taken near Mount Everest by Eric Shipton), and also does a nice job of, frankly, cutting through the b.s. relating to all things Sasquatch by utilizing – are you ready for it – actual science. This – reliable scientific process applied to the case, providing indisputable evidence – is after all, what’s been missing from Bigfoot research all along – a fact that any “serious” scientist is all too happy to regurgitate time and again. Bigfoot: The New Evidence fixes some of that lack of hard science, and draws some undeniably fascinating conclusions. This may not be the most flashy Bigfoot program around, but it does have some amusing moments (check out the scene where HUGE Russian former boxing champ Nikolai Valuev commands some young boys to watch their language or one where Igor Burtsev demonstrates the type of “chatter” that Sasquatch-like creatures use to communicate – the reaction face of researcher Mark Evans says it all) and I’d call it a must for Bigfoot enthusiasts.

Trailer:

from on .

Surveying The Spooky Side of American Folklore: MONSTERS AND MYSTERIES IN AMERICA

MONSTERS AND MYSTERIES IN AMERICA

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(3.5/5)

Pros: Straight-faced, “You Decide” approach

Cons: Doesn’t try and prove anything: this merely presents various myths and legends

Since the late 1970s, there have been a string of speculative documentary television shows that examine various mysterious phenomena from around the world. After programs like In Search Of… pioneered the genre, shows such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, Unsolved Mysteries, and Sightings would continue this type of programming, with a new series seeming to pop up every decade or so. By the 2000s, public fascination with monsters and the unknown was pretty well established, and by the end of the decade, more specialized types of programming were hitting the airwaves – Monster Quest and Destination: Truth for example focused almost exclusively on the hunt for unknown animals (or monsters if you like), while other programs (such as the endless variety of Ghost Hunter type shows) had their own specialties. Starting in 2013, the Destination America channel (home to the positively ludicrous Mountain Monsters series that’s like Finding Bigfoot for morons) started airing Monsters and Mysteries in America. This program examines a variety of unknown occurrences taking place in the United States, with each episode typically focusing on the myths and legends of one state or region.

After a six episode first season which took a virtual tour of the regions of the country (Appalachia, the Badlands, Ozarks, etc.) and the monster myths associated with each one, season two of this program began in December 2013 with a twelve episode run. This second season continued in much the same manner as the first, even if the individual shows didn’t declare that they were about specific regions of the country. In a similar manner to Dark Matters: Twisted but True, each episode of Monsters and Mysteries in America chronicles a trio of stories dealing with reports of monsters or strange occurrences. While many of the topics discussed in this series deal with cryptozoology (i.e. the study of unknown animals; basically, a fancy, scientific name for the study of supposed “monsters”), some focus on such topics as alien abductions or more supernatural types of phenomena.

skinwalker
“…eyes forward. Just keep walking…!!”

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the program is the fact that, even if the show does cover some relatively well-documented incidents or stories like that of the , , or the tale of alien abductees , many times the producers go out of their way to feature stories that aren’t typically covered in these types of shows. Thus, things like the Pukwudgie, , and get an equal amount of airtime. Having been a mystery/crypto buff for decades, I like the fact I wasn’t previously familiar with some of these stories – a definite bonus after hearing and seeing the same accounts over and over again for years. Although some of these accounts seem almost inconsequential, it’s cool that this series “covers the bases” and examines a wide variety of topics, from Bigfoot to lake monsters, aliens to shadow people.

Running an hour in length during its broadcasts, each topic covered in the episodes is given about fifteen minutes of screentime. Eyewitnesses and persons who can corroborate their accounts typically narrate their story while recreations of the incidents (with actors portraying the roles) are seen. Following this, there’s some examination of any physical evidence relating to the case as well as some explanation provided by supposed experts or historians. I should mention that this show relies a lot more on artists’ rendering of any of the creatures and events discussed than on any physical or photographic evidence, which is a little disappointing. On the other hand, the program does do a superb job of making the recreations seem genuinely creepy. Presented in a very cinematic manner, these dramatizations are accompanied by special effects, spooky music and sound cues, and a palpable sense of dread. Though they are occasionally goofy, the recreations here are far and away better than those seen in shows like Finding Bigfoot and Monster Quest mainly because Monsters and Mysteries doesn’t over-rely on cheesy, computer-generated graphics.

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Beware – the eyes of the MOTHMAN!

With so many similar shows already on the air and more which seem to pop up regularly, Monsters and Mysteries in America would have to do something special to really stand out from the crowd, and I think to an extent that this program does. As shows like Mountain Monsters and Uncovering Aliens have pushed credibility beyond the breaking point and stuff like Finding Bigfoot and Ancient Aliens have become so predictable and formulaic that they’re no longer very fun to watch, Monster and Mysteries in America has done the unthinkable: taken itself seriously. There’s no denying that some of the material in this show is ridiculous to the point of being unintentionally hilarious, but the tone of the program is (to its credit) refreshingly sober. I also have to say that the eyewitnesses in this program are usually pretty convincing in their descriptions and explanations and often seem to be genuinely affected by the process of recounting their story (“I’ve never seen the Lord Jesus Christ, but I have seen “). Whether what they say happened is true or not, one gets the feeling that most definitely believe they saw or experienced something unusual.

On the downside, the show’s creative staff makes no attempt at all to disprove any of the stories featured in the program. I can understand that this show is mainly there to examine popular (and not-so well-known) myths and legends, but when you’ve got a program making outrageous claims, it sometimes helps to at least try to make it seem like the people telling the story are credible. An episode I watched that dealt with the evil gnome-like was centered on a story told by what seemed to me to be a very enthusiastic (and potentially a bit, shall we say “eccentric”) older gentleman. To say I wasn’t convinced by his story was putting it nicely, and some accompanying video footage that supposedly shows a Pukwudgie lurking in a blueberry bush while a woman convulses on the ground as if she’s been possessed simply didn’t do it for me. Any of the “experts” interviewed about the topics featured in these episodes do little more than rattle off additional information supposedly known about the creatures/circumstances discussed; they don’t offer up many opinions or any sort of analysis. In the end, Monsters and Mysteries in America is very ambiguous, leaving it up to the viewer to sift through the information (and scant actual evidence) provided while sort of assuming that a viewer is of the “I want to believe” persuasion.

drawing
This program relies much more on stories and drawings than actual evidence of any type, which has its good and bad aspects.

I guess the best thing I can say about Monsters and Mysteries in America is that this show generally doesn’t inspire the usual “eye-roll and groan” response that most similar TV programs seem to provoke. The producers here don’t seem particularly interested in taking a real stand on any of the topics, instead, they provide information from the people who supposedly experienced or witnessed these events. Honestly, I like this ambiguous, “here’s the story; you decide” approach better than the “lets invent a monster whether it’s here or not” mindset that permeates shows like Mountain Monsters or Finding Bigfoot. Though Monsters and Mysteries is another program about the unknown that’s unlikely to ever present hard evidence supporting any of its claims, I’d call this the best of the current batch of monster-related TV programming.

Goofy? Sure, but this segment about “black-eyed children” is more than a little creepy: