Bigfoot Saturdays: ‘Abominable’ and the Fluidity of Myth

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[Continued from Part 1]

Take two of why I wanted to write about Bigfoot: Bigfoot has an uncommon amount of myth malleability.

This is related, of course, to his unknowability; the strokes of his mythology are broad and vague, so he can be made and molded to slip into essentially any story vaguely set neat a forest. There are very few parameters that must be set and even fewer rules that must be abided by or addressed in order for that character to work successfully in a piece of art. Certainly, as before, many monsters can be said to exhibit aspects of this elasticity, but again Bigfoot finds his unknowability to be crucial to his difference and uniqueness. Bigfoot exists essentially without context. His being is not defined, and as such he exhibits no strong predilection or resistance to changes. An empty vessel never overflows when water is placed inside, and it has no reaction to substances it holds. Placed in contrast against the three other monsters mentioned before- the ghost, the werewolf, and the vampire- Bigfoot requires no recontextualization when tweaked or moved. He has no baggage.

The vampire, so popular throughout film history, has been depraved and restrained, romantic and repugnant, refined and animalistic, yet this morphing is always understood against its core being. Twilight, Near Dark, Nosferatu, and The Sadistic Rites of Dracula are all wildly different depictions of the myth with wildly different goals, but they all operate under the assumption that the audience is familiar with the cultural context the myth exists in and what it represents. They all work by being understood through a complex lens of reference and knowledge. To bend them to fit a new story, they require placement that is unable to be separated from their broader being. Near Dark cannot remove the history of vampires from its western tale, nor does it desire to, as such knowledge reinforces and strengthens the film’s themes and narrative.

The same is true of the werewolf- free and tortured, horrific and comedic, The Howling and Teen Wolf– and the ghost- kind and malicious, intelligent and instinctual, Caspar and House On Haunted Hill. This is a cultural attachment, meaning that their malleability is restricted by their place in society’s consciousness. They’re like a famous actor; when Tom Cruise or Will Smith star in a film, the film cannot (and should not) be understood without the knowledge of who those people are. When you see a famous actor in a film, you are seeing them as much as you are seeing the character. This is certainly not a bad thing- I enjoy all of the Men In Black movies, and there’s no denying that they are made more entertaining, interesting, and charismatic by the fact that the audience are watching Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as much as they’re watching Agent J and Agent K. This is just to say that they are restrictive roles that can enhance depth while limiting a degree of variability.

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Bigfoot, on the other hand, has very few such problems. Certainly, he is a part of American culture, but nothing about his being requires understanding of that cultural place. He sheds it immediately whenever it is on him, resistant to being pinned down to certain expressions or interpretations. To explain the cultural connotations of the ghost, an idea that varies greatly between cultures and peoples and has vast richness and resonance in all of those variations, could fill an entire book and still be incomplete. Bigfoot requires none of this. He’s big, he’s hairy, he might be deadly, and he’s vaguely humanoid. Done. In American popular culture at least, he is a hollow waiting to be filled. This is advantageous, as it allows him to exist in film (and art in general) without baggage. There’s no need to fight against or work with his current contextualization because it simply doesn’t exist.

This non-existence can hamstring his resonance if not dealt with and addressed (such is the pitfall of the empty vessel), but it provides the Bigfoot myth with far greater mobility. It allows him to exist without expectations. He is what makes Abominable, a 2006 horror thriller with an all-star cult film cast, unique. This may be a bold statement, but I would claim that no other monster is more suited to a film that is part boob-loving slasher, part mid-level creature feature, and part Hitchcock homage. If for nothing else, I’m glad a film exists that I can describe as Rear Window but with Bigfoot.

Abominable begins (after a tone-setting cold open) with our protagonist Preston, paralyzed and in a wheelchair from a mountain-climbing accident that claimed his wife’s life, arriving back at the cabin they shared in the woods accompanied by his nurse Otis. At the same time, a group of girls on a bachelorette party weekend arrive at the cabin next door. It’s casual and fun, but the movie hints at the darkness to come with Preston’s fear and nervousness at returning here and the empty, dour state of his cabin. Otis leaves to pick up something he forgot in town, leaving Preston alone with his anxiety as night falls. Seeing something in the woods, he brings out the binoculars to complete the rear-window homage, and follows the murderous escapades of Bigfoot next door, helpless to protect the girls as they fall one by one. At the same time, veteran character actor Lance Henriksen (best known as Bishop in Aliens and a pivotal part of previously mentioned Near Dark) and a few other bumbling buffoons (including a wonderfully ridiculous and hammy Jeffrey Combs, best known for his work with Stuart Gordon) aim to track down the monster we saw kill a horse and dog in the cold open. Without giving too much away, violence ensues as the cast attempt to escape the murderous grasp of Sasquatch.

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The reason this works (and it does, marvelously well) is due to Bigfoot’s aforementioned unique fluidity. The film juggles a series of tones and genres- dark and serious thriller, emotional drama, comedic monster movie, violent gore-fest, jovial slasher- with a surplus of ease and grace, never jarring until upon reflection, and it does this precisely because it centers on Bigfoot instead of another entity. There’s no trimming or cutting of his mythology to fit these changing modes because he has no weight to dump. When he’s called on to pull a topless girl out of a bathroom window it feels as natural as when he is called on to lurk in the shadows, taking measures to cut off his victims from the greater world. There’s no question of Bigfoot’s character consistency because the core that needs to be satisfied is so small as to fit nearly anywhere; he can be anything to anyone without conflict because he is a blank slate on which to trace a story. There exists no conflict between his animalistic and anthropomorphic natures, nor his intelligence and ferocity. The space to fill inside of Bigfoot’s mythos is so large that all natures can fit inside of him comfortably.

In the wrong hands or for the wrong purposes this could easily turn into a frightful mess, but without it Abominable could never hits its stride or tell its zany but affecting story. Bigfoot is the glue that holds these tones together, much like the creature in The Host (released the same year as Abominable) shapes its own film’s competing interests into a cohesive and wonderful piece of art. It’s a movie with jokes that takes itself seriously, and one with the blood and nudity of an exploitation film while never losing its tension or emotional drama. I can champion any movie willing to take such bold risks, even when it doesn’t come together; the fact that Abominable manages to hold up successfully after repeat viewings makes it something really special, and a great choice for an October viewing. And we owe it all to Bigfoot.

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