Tag Archives: cryptozoology

“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

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:

Five Seasons In, FINDING BIGFOOT Desperately Needs Some New Life

FINDING BIGFOOT on Animal Planet

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(2.5/5)

Pros: Sasquatch!

Cons: Way too formulaic from episode to episode; will they ever FIND Bigfoot?

Premiering in 2011, Animal Planet’s usually hour-long Finding Bigfoot program not only jump started the recent Bigfoot craze, but also has provided the blueprint for other, equally asinine programs (Uncovering Aliens and to some extent, Mountain Monsters spring instantly to mind) which attempt to probe the existence of monsters and aliens while answering the question of just how low some people will stoop to make a hit TV show. Finding Bigfoot follows a team of four investigators – Matt Moneymaker (founder of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization), field researchers and Sasquatch experts Cliff Barackman and James “Bobo” Fay (who both previously appeared on History Channel’s Monster Quest), and biologist Ranae Holland (the obligatory “skeptic” whose primary task on the show is to question and criticize any “evidence” of the creature) – travel around the United States and, in some cases, the world in search of large, unknown hominids. Undoubtedly, the most remarkable thing about this show is the fact that, after four seasons of episodes, a viewer is no closer to determining whether or not Sasquatch actually exists. Sure, the program has produced some interesting footage, physical evidence (such as footprints and hair samples), and perhaps most notably, strange sound recordings that seem to feature vocalizations of unknown creatures prowling America’s wilderness, yet hard evidence proving once and for all the existence of Sasquatch has turned out to be as elusive as the beast itself.


Straight out of a bad ’80s movie montage, it’s the Finding Bigfoot Crew. Left to right – Cliff, Ranae, Bobo, Matt.

Finding Bigfoot began its fifth season on June 8, 2014, and frankly, I’m a bit surprised the series has lasted that long. The obvious main problem with this program – I mean aside from the fact that if the group actually FOUND Bigfoot, the show would no longer be necessary – is the fact that by now, each and every episode is painfully formulaic, consisting of nearly identical material from show to show. Finding Bigfoot operates under a rigid (and by this point, stale) format in which, following a brief introduction and look at sometimes intriguing but more often lousy and sketchy video or physical evidence, the investigators embark on a “night investigation” which doesn’t so much capture evidence of Bigfoot activity, but instead shows that whatever region the investigators find themselves in is indeed “Squatchy” – an area that would, in theory, have the resources to support a population of large, bipedal primates.

From this point, every episode only gets more tiresome, with the team calling a “town hall meeting” to hear increasingly eccentric stories about Bigfoot encounters from local eyewitnesses. While three of the team examines and recreates a few of these encounters, with the physically imposing and rather burly “Bobo” used as a stand-in for Sasquatch, the remaining member embarks on a “solo investigation” in which he or she surveys the local landscape in search of the perfect Squatch habitat. Without many exceptions, these solo treks (which quite obviously aren’t actually solo journeys since there’s a camera crew along to document the whole thing) provide absolutely zero evidence of a Sasquatch. The climax of every episode is provided in the form of a final night investigation in which the team uses wood knocks, animal calls, and a variety of other techniques in an attempt to elicit a response from local Sasquatch populations. Scanning the geography with thermal cameras, the researchers often record various animal sounds – some of which are unexplainable and perhaps somewhat indicative of something strange in the woods. Perpetually though, any Sasquatches lurk just off-camera, thus we never quite get the A-HA! evidence that a viewer would ideally want.


For clarification purposes.

Season five’s first episode took place in the northern tier of the state of Kentucky, an state which has hosted a Finding Bigfoot investigation before. After examining footprint casts made in the region, some of which were acquired just days before the arrival of the investigators, the gang sets out into the woods and manages to record some faint wood knocks, a behavior that’s proposed to be a way in which Sasquatch communicate with one another by banging on trees. Recruiting the help of local outdoorsman Ernie “Turtleman” Brown, Jr., who has his own (possibly even more ridiculous) Animal Planet show called The Call of the Wildman, Bobo and Ranae embark on one of the most absurd and fruitless night investigations ever seen on the show, while Cliff interviews some witnesses and Matt pokes around by himself in the Kentucky countryside. By the end of the episode (which is mainly noteworthy only for the fact that one of the eyewitness accounts is determined to be not credible – a rarity on a show in which Moneymaker, Barackman and Fay in particular, seem to believe every single witness account no matter how outlandish they are), the team describes their investigation in Kentucky as “eventful,” a claim which doesn’t seem substantiated by the program itself. Yes, there are some noises heard in the woods that would sound strange to the average viewer (especially to those who don’t spend long amounts of time outdoors), but without actually finding the source of those sounds, it’s impossible to speculate on what actually produced them.

With the sense of familiarity from episode to episode of this show being almost absurdly high, it begs the question of why anyone would really want to watch it. Quite honestly, the only reason I can come up with for the popularity of this program (which ranks as one of Animal Planet’s most popular, sitting alongside the infinitely more factual and authentic River Monsters) is that the viewing audience, raised on conspiracy theories, science fiction and monster movies, desperately wants to believe that Sasquatch exists, and honestly, who can blame them? In an era where many theories about unknown animals, locations, and circumstances are flat-out discredited by a scientific community who seems more willing to fall in with the status quo than take a chance in honestly evaluating hypotheses proposed to them (which to me seems to go against the very notion of the scientific process – it’s typically the “out of the box” thinking that’s resulted in honest progress and enlightenment throughout history), it’s refreshing to hear about things that mainstream science doesn’t put much faith in.

show logic
Sad thing is, the logic in the show does almost work in this way.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m a sucker for these types of shows – I’ve been fascinated with cryptozoology literally for decades and I would count myself as a person who does desperately want some of these mythical creatures to exist. Finding Bigfoot though, despite benefiting greatly from the conviction of its “researchers” and their playful rapport with one another, is only slightly more credible than an obvious load of malarkey like Mountain Monsters. The same, lousy CGI effects used to visualize Sasquatches in poorly-concocted recreations along with the extremely predictable formula of the show and behavior of the various team members are bad enough, making it seem like if you’ve seen one episode of this show, you’ve seen them all. The most perplexing and annoying element of the show however – and one that has similarly ruined numerous “ghost hunter” type shows – is that the sound engineers insist on having music cues and sound effects trample over field recordings which supposedly capture Sasquatch vocalizations. When a viewer is straining and struggling to pick out these distant, screechy sounds which under the best conditions, are difficult to hear, it’s incredibly irritating when post-production sound intrudes. One has to wonder then if the producers really have any interest in actually proving the existence of these creatures in the first place. As I stated before – would this show even have any reason to continue if Bigfoot actually was found?

patterson/gimlin
Still the most compelling – and controversial – piece of evidence supporting Bigfoot’s existence: the Patterson-Gimlin film.

Though this show (like many similar programs) is entertaining on a certain level and does deal with subject matter that many people quite obviously find interesting, Finding Bigfoot doesn’t truly satisfy, paling in comparison (particularly in terms of its entertainment value) when placed alongside the goofy but intriguing Destination: Truth. Unlike that program’s mostly skeptical host Josh Gates, most of the Bigfoot investigators have a tendency to jump to conclusions (“that’s a Squatch!!”), and the obligatory skeptic along for the ride doesn’t do much to offset the pervading notion that every single sound or unexplained event in the woods is the direct result of Sasquatch activity or presence. I believe I’ve seen most every episode of this show, and though there have been some thought-provoking moments in which I couldn’t quite put my finger on explaining the evidence provided, the entire series has increasingly seemed tiresome and exhausting, not illuminating or legitimately convincing. As it begins a completely unnecessary fifth season, it quite honestly feels like this show is being produced simply because people expect it to continue, not because it really has anything new to prove or say. Thus, Finding Bigfoot now simply preaches to the choir of believers while making the rest of the world chuckle at just how ludicrous the whole thing is. Most people would be better off not wasting their time.

Oh, the Irony:

The Snowman Exists! RUSSIAN YETI: THE KILLER LIVES

RUSSIAN YETI: THE KILLER LIVES

(3/5)

Pros: Parts relating to real life Dyatlov Pass Incident

Cons: Parts relating to existence of unknown hominid

As if it’s not bad enough that educational channels like History, Discovery, The Learning Channel, and Animal Planet constantly air low-grade reality TV, producers on these channels now seem to have come to believe that the pseudo-documentary or “mockumentary” if you will, is the way to increase viewership. First, we had Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found, which based its argument that mermaids are real on a unexplained marine sound which was recorded on a US Navy hydrophone. Then came Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, a program that presented a case for the existence of an enormous prehistoric shark, using stories about a 30-foot long “submarine shark” in South Africa as its inspiration. Compared to these somewhat entertaining but iffy time-wastes, 2014’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives has the most basis in actual, hard facts since it revolves around an incident which undoubtedly happened and is plenty bizarre. From this foundation in reality however, the program veers into fantasy land, eventually winding up being yet another typically goofy first-person suspense film and more proof that public fascination with all things “monster-related” continues.

tent
Search and rescue party finds the missing students’ tent.

As a starting point, Russian Yeti tells the tale of the so-called Dyatlov Pass Incident that occurred in the remote Ural Mountains of the (then) Soviet Union in 1959, in which nine college students (two women and seven men) on an expedition deep into the wilderness were killed under mysterious circumstances. After an extensive search and rescue operation, the group’s tent (which showed signs of being ripped apart from inside) was discovered, and shortly afterward, the nine bodies were found. At this point, considering the bodies of the missing students had been found, one might think the cause of their death would be obvious, but instead, the discovery of the bodies only added to the mystery surrounding the case. Many of the dead students bore horrific and almost unexplainable injuries: some of their bodies had been crushed by incredible force, and a few were mutilated in strange ways. One woman not only had her eyes gouged out but also her tongue had been removed. Soviet authorities listed the cause of death as being due to a “compelling natural force,” whatever the hell that means, and plenty of speculation over the years hasn’t provided a satisfactory explanation as to what really happened.

After reviewing the basic information surrounding this incident, the supposed documentary Russian Yeti begins to promote the claim that the nine students were attacked and killed by an unknown hominid (Bigfoot if you like) that stalks the remote regions of Russia. The program follows an “investigation” conducted by American researcher Mike Libecki who, along with a Russian translator/fellow investigator named Maria Klenokova, journeys deep into the Russian tundra in search of the creature. Along the way, various “evidence” is presented which seems to support the existence of the Yeti. Be prepared for shadowy videos, footprint casts, and “expert testimony,” culminating (like the Megalodon show before it) in a showdown between the investigators and an apparent Yeti lurking just off camera….

evidence?
I’ll just leave this here.

Material relating to the Yeti (or “Menk” as its called in the wilds of Russia) seems to have been lifted straight out of National Geographic’s Hunt for the Abominable Snowman which aired last year. Much of the same video evidence from that straight-faced documentary (which concluded that the Yeti may be a species of prehistoric polar bear previously though to have been extinct) is seen here, and Russian Yeti goes so far as to include interviews with many of the same people as seen in the National Geographic special. Video evidence supporting the Yeti’s existence is (as expected) a bit shaky, with grainy home video images showing something dark looming in the background of footage shot in the Russian wilderness; it’s exactly the type of sketchy “proof” that features at the center of every argument related to Bigfoot. Worth noting that the almost obligatory appearance by American scientist Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a Bigfoot researcher who without doubt appears in EVERY show related to unknown, large hominids, doesn’t occur until around the half hour mark – remarkable restraint for a program of this nature; I was expecting him to show up within five minutes.


This article wouldn’t be complete without Dr. Jeff Meldrum…America’s finest Bigfoot researcher?

Considering the ho-hum array of Yeti evidence, the highlight of the show for me then (and the reason why I believe that this may be the most downright intriguing of these recent pseudo-documentary films) was the part of the program relating directly to the Dyatlov Pass Incident. I had been aware of this story prior to seeing this show and admittedly find most all information related to it to be fascinating. In my mind, the story of the Dyatlov Pass expedition is probably one of the most downright strange of the twentieth century – it’s really no wonder why it’s become a sort of hotbed topic for mystery buffs lately, even inspiring a Hollywood film – and I thought Russian Yeti did a nice job of explaining it. Presented here are some fascinating photographs chronicling the doomed expedition itself (the students had at least one camera with them, which was recovered from their demolished tent), the subsequent search and rescue operation, and the examination of the bodies. This last element means that Russian Yeti may not be appropriate for the squeamish, since we get several gruesome black and white images of the students’ mangled corpses. This program also briefly explains some of the many theories relating to the deaths of the students – with everything from avalanches to secret missile tests to UFO’s being blamed for the deaths. What would one of these shows be without some type of government conspiracy?


The mysterious last photograph taken by the expedition’s camera. What does it show?

Though this program does present some factual information however, one can’t ignore the fact that it is by no means an honest documentary. It’s likely that some gullible viewers would take this film at face value since it does play in an identical manner to many legitimate documentaries that air on The Discovery Channel. The more savvy crowd though won’t be at all convinced by the hurried conclusions made by the program, slick camera work and editing that make this show look a little too cinematic, or by the recreated footage that attempts to envision what actually happened to the Dyatlov expedition by showing nondescript, shaky and grainy, black and white film footage that appears to have been shot by the expedition members themselves. Obviously, this material wasn’t filmed in 1959, but no declaration is ever made to point out the fact that it isn’t authentic. The idea of fabricated footage being presented as real-deal document is bad enough and in my mind, represents a strike against the production, but the program loses all credibility when, after the discovery of a (conveniently, previously unseen) photo from the Dyatlov expedition which shows a dark, humanoid figure prowling the nearby woods, the narrative shifts its focus onto Libecki and Klenokova’s search of the Russian wilderness for the Yeti. Resorting to the usual mixture of obvious sound effects representing an unknown creature screaming and hollering in the distance, dark shaky-cam cinematography that purposely doesn’t show the viewer much of anything, and lousy, strained acting performances during the moments of suspense, Russian Yeti eventually becomes downright pathetic and almost laughable.

Directed by Leon Rawlski and playing in a manner that’s strikingly similar to the influential 1997 film The Last Broadcast that inspired The Blair Witch Project and in turn, the entire “found footage” genre, Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives is another phony documentary that is certainly likely to get people talking. It also undoubtedly will convince a few folks – which only speaks to the fact that some people will not only believe anything they see on TV but assume that a+b automatically equals C. While I can’t in any capacity say that I support the decision to make programs like this and air them on “educational channels,” Russian Yeti is entertaining enough even though I would have much preferred it to be a straight documentary about the Dyatlov Pass Incident instead of a made-up story about oversized Russian ape men. As is the case with the similar mermaid and shark programs, this is enjoyable provided one doesn’t take it all that seriously.


Though it may eventually wind up on DVD, this made-for-TV program will probably see many repeat airings over the next couple months on either Discovery or Animal Planet.


6/10 : Actual images of the mutilated bodies recovered from the Russian wilderness, some quite graphic.


1/10 : Pretty sanitary, with maybe a minor cuss word or two.


0/10 : Not a thing.


8/10 : The Finding Bigfoot crowd will eat this one up.


Some advice from Igor Bourtsev, expert on the Russian Yeti: “If you go into the woods, don’t whistle, or the Yeti may come and punish you.”

Teaser:

Giving Cryptozoology a Bad Name: MOUNTAIN MONSTERS on Destination America

MOUNTAIN MONSTERS

(2/5)

Pros: Has its amusing moments

Cons: Absolutely ridiculous

Just when I was starting to believe that, between shows like Destination: Truth, Monster Quest, and Finding Bigfoot, the genre of “monster hunting” television shows had about been played out, a program has come along and raised the bar of implausibility to an unheard of level. Airing on the Destination America channel, Mountain Monsters follows the exploits of a group of ‘investigators” working for The Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings organization (AIMS for short) as they track down and attempt to capture various unknown creatures running amok through the American South. This hour-long program plays out in a manner that’s remarkably similar to that of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot show – during the course of each episode, the history of the region and creature being investigated is examined and interviews are conducted with alleged eyewitnesses who occasionally provide some “evidence.” A pair of night investigations are the obvious highlights of the show, but there’s a twist on the usual “let’s go prowling around in the woods” routine established by Finding Bigfoot. You see, since one of the goals of this program seems to be to highlight hillbilly ingenuity, every episode of Mountain Monsters features the gang putting some sort of oversized and patently absurd trap into play. Taken straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon, these devices seem completely incapable of actually capturing anything, but they certainly add to the spectacle of the program.

Now in its second season, Mountain Monsters debuted in 2013, with a run of six episodes in which the AIMS gang – namely leader “Trapper,” lead researcher Jeff (whose main purpose is to operate the obligatory FLIR night vision-type gear), burly “security” officer named “Huckleberry,” chief trap-builder Willy, the morbidly obese “rookie” named Buck, and a wildcard, ex-Marine named “Wild Bill” – stalked through the woodlands of Kentucky, the Virginias, and Tennessee in search of such creatures as the Mothman, Lizard Demon, Bigfoot, and Devil Dog. Inevitably (and obviously) the gang never captured any of these creatures – hell, with this obnoxious and loud gang of clowns stomping around in the woods with shotguns, ANY wildlife in the area was likely to split in record time – but this doesn’t stop the AIMS “investigators” from unanimously declaring that every creature they try to find is in fact real.

buck

And that’s about where the show begins to lose any and all credibility.

For one thing, there’s positively nothing scientific about the methods used by the AIMS gang – for example, despite finding hair samples and foot prints, the investigators never make any attempt to cast any tracks nor really even take such (apparently, hard) evidence seriously. Their main – and only – goal seems to be to shoot and kill whatever monstrous beast they’re looking for – not exactly how one would ideally want to approach looking for previously unknown, potentially endangered animals. Say what you want about the sometimes outlandish methods employed by Matt Moneymaker and the gang on Finding Bigfoot, but that program seems positively methodical and commendable when compared to the overt outrageousness of Mountain Monsters. Without exception, each episode of this program features the sketchiest batch of evidence one would ever hope to see: grainy cellphone videos (which frequently look mighty suspicious with regard to their use of CGI), blurry, indistinct trail camera images (that again, look doctored to me), and first-hand eyewitness accounts provided by persons with names like “Fish” and “Wolfie” who seem to fall into line with the most stereotypical descriptions of what one would expect “rednecks” to look like. To make matters worse, Trapper jumps to wild, ludicrous conclusions about the creatures he and his associates are looking for: there’s no skepticism whatsoever since the program seems to assume all these creatures are absolutely real right off the bat.

The icing on the cake however is the fact that the producers of this program want any viewer to believe that the buffoonish AIMS investigators just happen to waltz into various areas of the country and actually locate a monstrous creature each and every time. This seems highly improbable (if not downright impossible) – regardless of their “hunting, tracking and trapping skills,” it’s tough to believe that these investigators would be able to nearly instantly locate mythological beasts in the course of a few days “investigation.” Still, we’re led to believe that during every episode, Trapper and the gang do get darn close to killing or capturing an unknown and supposedly elusive animal. It’s worth pointing out that Finding Bigfoot, Destination: Truth and Monster Quest – shows that each have/did run for several seasons – NEVER came up with conclusive, substantial evidence suggesting that any of the creatures they investigated were real – yet we’re to believe that AIMS finds hard evidence EVERY SINGLE TIME to the point where the investigators come under attack from these creatures?

Verisimilitude in Mountain Monsters is achieved through the best (or is it worst?) use of manipulative camerawork and editing this side of The Blair Witch Project. There’s constantly something scurrying around in the underbrush, with the AIMS reporters doing their darnedest to act scared as they sludge around in various forests, swamps, and mountain regions. The seemingly constant exclamations of “Right there, Right there, Dat Dere!” is indicative of the fact that the creature in question is always (conveniently) just out of camera view and just out of reach of the investigators. And then there’s the sounds these creatures make: as much as the video evidence seems faked and played up for the camera, the obviously manipulated growls, screeches, and screams of the various monsters is completely preposterous. In one episode I was watching in which the gang was on the trail of the West Virginia “Yahoo,” a sort of Bigfoot-type creature, the Yahoo’s whooping and hollering played like an airhorn blasting on the episode’s soundtrack. It’s honestly sad to think that some people would be convinced by the sorry sack of hogwash that this show offers up to its viewers: even the “conspiracy crowd” out there (a crowd that admittedly, I exist on the fringes of) would have to admit that this program pushes the envelope of believability a bit too far.

Perhaps the one legitimate positive quality this show has going for it is that it’s undeniably entertaining (in a head-shaking kind of way), exploiting public fascination with the unknown. The gang of admitted hillbillies that makes up the AIMS team does have a good rapport with one another, and it’s fun to see the obligatory “let’s laugh at Buck” moments and witness the sheer insanity that is the “Wild Bill” character. Hell, I just like to listen to Wild Bill (who constantly seems to have a mouth overflowing with chewing tobacco) delivering manic, whacked-out statements. Simply put, these fellows just aren’t right in the head. A viewer is frequently left dumbfounded at the ideas behind some of the traps constructed for these hunts let alone by the finished devices themselves. When Willy is left to construct a 20×20 foot bamboo cage trap suspended in a tree that’s set off by a lever being baited with a proverbial carrot, it reminds one of the Roadrunner cartoons: how in the hell do they expect any of this to work?

I can’t deny that shows like this are fascinating in a way, drawing on the public’s desire to believe that there are potentially dangerous monsters and unknown beasts out there. Production during the program is pretty slick, with most episodes having some threat and/or evidence of violent behavior stemming from the beast being hunted. Inevitably, each episode resorts to a sort of showdown between the investigators and the creatures, sometimes resembling a war film (“they’re all around us!”) as Trapper and the gang frantically point their firearms into the darkness.

All things considered, I can’t in good conscience give this program an honest recommendation – at least as a legitimate, factual kind of program. You’ll notice in the course of this review that I’ve used quotation marks in many instances in describing aspects of the show – and probably should have used even more. That really should tell you everything you need to know about Mountain Monsters: in my opinion and estimation, most everything contained in this show is absolute malarkey, though for what it is, the show is entertaining. There’s a crowd out there who would eat this up irregardless of its veracity, though I’d like it if a program like this provided a more level-headed approach. Mountain Monsters seems to suggest that the first response to encountering any sort of animal is to threaten and/or shoot at it with a firearm, a particularly unfortunate way to conduct business considering the AIMS gang here is searching for unknown creatures. Certainly, this show does have some jaw-dropping moments during each and every episode (often for reasons I’d have to suspect were not entirely intentional on the part of the producers), but whatever you do, don’t take it all that seriously.

Would you believe these guys?
mountain monsters crew