THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD (2008) Review

Directed by Duane Graves & Justin Meeks
Written by Justin Meeks & Duane Graves
Starring Justin Meeks, Alex Garcia, Jean Rogers, Charlie Hurtin, Bob Wood, & Tony Wolford as the Wildman!

I saved the best for last. By far, THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD is the best Bigfoot film I’ve ever seen. It is a admitted homage to LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, but improves on all of the faults that film possesses and sprinkles in a grindhouse feel that makes it an instant classic. Though not a remake of that classic Squatchploitation film, you can’t watch THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD without seeing the similarities.

Like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, this film claims to be based on fact. The first frame of this film is exactly the same as BOGGY CREEK in that it claims that in many instances, the actual people and places were used in many instances in making this film. But unlike BOGGY CREEK, which was steeped in hokey acting, goofy songs, and bad costumes, THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD replaces that entire goof factor with filth, grit and highly detailed carnage. Everything that made you chuckle in THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is substituted with a real sense of drama and dread. There are no hokey songs. No montages of riverbeds and birds tweeting about. No rubber faced monsters and piss poor reactions to said visages. THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD’s intention is to be as real as possible.

Also unlike BOGGY CREEK, WILDMAN has a damn powerful story at play here. Based on the “wretched, but entirely true” journals of Dale S. Rogers, the story follows Dale as he loses his job as a welder and out of need for money for his disabled wife, must open up his acreage to hunters after years of forbidding folks to hunt on his property. The thing is, Dale has been placating a beast that wanders the riverbanks in the forested areas of his land with offerings of food laid on a plate behind his house. When Dale opens his land for hunters, it disturbs the dormant creature and what ensues is carnage on a savage and brutal level.

This film is produced by Kim Henkel who also was one of the creators behind THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. WILDMAN is equally an homage to that film in that it replicates the highly detailed locales littered with tiny details such as mysterious things in jars, bones hanging from strings and swaying in the breeze, and the down-home grit that TCM showcased so well. There’s a gritty layer of sleaze on this movie that can’t wash off. Henkel’s involvement and director/writers Duane Graves and Justin Meeks appreciation for this type of film shows in every panel. The directing team shot this film on a bare-bones budget, going for realism above all else and using non-actors whenever possible. Not all of the lines delivered by the actors are the most capable, but their look and presence makes this film seem all the more real.

WILDMAN is littered with amazing moments. There’s a tension filled scene where a hunter it sitting in a tree stand and is attacked from below by the monster. We see slight glimpses of the beast as it breaks the supports of the stand until it topples to the ground. Then the beast makes his way to the fallen hunter and rips him to shreds as a train passes by in the background. Just an amazing scene. The film also has moments of more subtle horror as Dale’s wife’s caretaker abuses her both physically and sexually behind Dale’s back. Seeing the shirtless and sweaty orderly fondle the invalid woman is not a pretty sight and will probably make people cringe as much as the Wildman itself.

The Wildman may not technically be a Bigfoot, but it is a mysterious, hairy figure that sparked fear-filled legends throughout a small community. The design of this creature is truly awesome. The Wildman could have very well looked goofy, but there isn’t a single moment in this film that he is anything but terrifying. With his mounds of fur pelts draped over his broad shoulders and antler claws, this Wildman is the stuff of pants-shitting night terrors.

Sitting through all of these Bigfoot films to make this column this week, I finally found one worth recommending and revisiting. Duane Graves and Justin Meeks (who also stars in this film as Dale S. Rogers) do a fantastic job with very little. Their creative technical skills, risky and bold storytelling, perverted details, and unflinching eye for grit and horror make this team one I will watch with a keen eye. THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD is about as perfect a Bigfoot film I’ve seen so far. It owes a lot to previous efforts in the sub-genre, but it adds a layer of horror and realism that most of the rest lack.

Still looking for that absolute perfect Bigfoot film, but as far as scoring goes, out of 10 foots, THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD gets 9 FOOTS 5 TOES!

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