GIVING CRYPTOZOOLOGY A BAD NAME: MOUNTAIN MONSTERS ON DESTINATION AMERICA

MOUNTAIN MONSTERS

Pros: Has its amusing moments

Cons: Absolutely ridiculous

Just when I was starting to believe that, between shows like Destination: TruthMonster 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 BigfootDestination: 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

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