Two fishermen in a Lousiana swamp encounter a mysterious creature in the water that claims the life of one of them as the remaining boater attempts to make sense of the tragedy. Later, a pair of college grad students make their way to town to investigate this supposed over-sized creature that is half-man and half-animal.
Bigfoot was all the rage in the 1970’s and it seemed as though you could not look anywhere without hearing about it. Alternately known as “Sasquatch”, Bigfoot is the description given to a large, man-sized hirsute creature reputed to live in the woods in the Pacific Northwest section of the United States. There have been many “sightings” over the years of this creature, with everyone claiming they have photographed and even encountered it. The Loch Ness Monster off the coast of Scotland was yet another subject of mystification and intrigue during the 1970’s.
As a youngster, I recall not fully giving credence to the notion that this “monster” really existed but also being unnerved by the myriad docudramas that attempted to explain or hint at some sense of veracity when it came to discussing the subject. My favorite show at the time, The Six Million Dollar Man, pitted the titular hero Steve Austin (Lee Majors) against Bigfoot (an unrecognizable André René Roussimoff, better known as André the Giant) in early 1976, with its less successfully sister show, The Bionic Woman, continuing the storyline later that year, with Ted Cassidy now all dolled up for a fight. Leonard Nimoy’s episode of In Search Of…, which aired in New York on Monday, January 31, 1977, explored the possibility of the creature’s existence. Three months later we were subjected to the TV-movie Snowbeast, a fun film about patrons at a ski resort being terrorized by a rampaging killer beast, essentially Jaws set in the snow. Bigfoot even became a humorous throwaway line by Roberts Blossom in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, also from 1977.
In addition to docudramas, there have also been a good number of films about Bigfoot coming into contact with humans, but the results are never pretty. Joy N. Houck Jr.’s Creature from Black Lake (1976) is one of those low-budget, independently lensed thrillers that made the rounds throughout the Midwest but never seemed to make it to larger markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago or New York. Filmed during September and October of 1975 and released regionally on Friday, March 12, 1976, Creature begins with an image that could have just as easily been pulled from the ending of John Hancock’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) but gives way to two fishermen (one of whom is character actor Jack Elam) in a motorboat in the Louisiana swamps.
The younger of the two gets pulled into the water by a creature that is mostly heard rather than actually seen. Meanwhile, two graduate students, Pahoo (Dennis Fimple) and Rives (John David Carson) head to Louisiana to look into the existence of this mysterious creature in the hopes of getting townspeople to talk. Joe Canton (Jack Elam, who I first saw in the ill-fated TV show Struck By Lightning, which co-starred Jeffrey Kramer, in September 1979) opens up about it in his own crazed way. However, Sheriff Billy Carter (Bill Thurman) not only refuses to speak about the subject but admonishes the students to leave.
Grandpa Bridges (lovable Dub Taylor) is another community member who is initially reticent about the creature since it terrified his wife. However, when money is waved in front of his face, he has a change of heart and permits the students to break bread with his family. All is well until Pahoo’s parapraxis sends Mrs. Bridges into a frenzy, incurring Grandpa’s wrath and sending them on their way to investigate on their own.
Dismissed by most critics at the time, Creature is an entertaining film that benefits immensely from stellar camerawork by future John Carpenter alumni Dean Cundey. The film has never been properly represented outside of a theater before having been shot anamorphically but cropped for its New York television premiere on CBS after midnight on Friday, November 30, 1979, while later finding its way into syndication on channel 9 in New York in the early 1980’s. Unless you were one of the folks who caught up with the film under these circumstances or through one of its several DVD releases, the best way to see it now is on the excellent Blu-ray from Synapse Films which is mastered from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, a vast improvement over all previous airings and releases.
There is a feature-length audio commentary with writer Michael Gingold and film historian Chris Poggiali. They expound upon the film’s merits and detriments and speak enthusiastically about both the film and the Bigfoot subgenre. Both men are erudite and articulate and it makes for an entertaining and informative listen.
There is also a 19-minute extra called Swamp Stories with Director of Photography Dean Cundey which is exactly what it says it is. If you are interested in Mr. Cundey’s background and a discussion of the technical aspects of the production, this piece is very interesting.
Lastly, we have the theatrical trailer and the radio spot!
Oh, how the radio spots for horror films freaked me out when I was a kid!
A very cool package indeed, topped off with really nice cover art by the late great Star Wars alumni Ralph McQuarrie.