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Bigfoot Saturdays: ‘The Lost Coast Tapes’ and the Terrible Unknown

Bigfoot Saturdays: ‘The Lost Coast Tapes’ and the Terrible Unknown

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The instant I heard about 31 Days of Horror, I knew I wanted to write about Bigfoot movies. The idea came to me so quickly that it seemed to exist almost without genesis, as if I had somehow plucked the idea from some endless, ageless chthonic crypt populated with nothing but amorphous spirits built of mostly-forgotten esoteric genre-pictures wandering the non-Euclidean cyclopean masonry of the mythical grindhouse of history. The idea seemed so perfect- and so in my wheel house- that when it came time to actually write the thing I was struck with the confusion that had gripped so many of my friends that I had told about the idea. “Why do you want to do that?” was the second most popular question, right after, “Are there four Bigfoot movies worth talking about?” and while I knew the answer to the second (a resounding yes, hence why you’re reading this) the first question stumped me in my inability to express an answer. I knew it, but the words didn’t come. It seemed so obvious I didn’t even bother to consider what about it I saw as so obvious.

Yet, as I sat down to write, I ended up with not much at all to talk about. The expression of delight is much more difficult than the expression of pain; a Friedberg-Seltzer disaster lends itself to sprawling screeds because it’s just so natural to explain why something is awful. To write about failure is to be able to rise above that failure (as I’m sure any and all reviews of Meet the Spartans were infinitely more artistically valuable than the real thing), but to write about success feels strangely limiting. The expression of admiration and enjoyment can’t help but feel trivial next to the real thing, and most glowing reviews could be improved (and mercifully shortened) by simply replacing the review with, “Go watch the thing already.” So I ended up with deadlines but no satisfactory articles. Writing about a movie one enjoys can feel a bit like smashing your head against a wall. What’s the angle? Where’s the purpose? To get down to it, I had to ask myself that question- why did I want to write about Bigfoot movies in the first place?

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I ended up with four answers (how mercifully convenient), each lining up with one of the films I wanted to discuss (Odsbodikins! the serendipitous life of a hack writer), all fracturing off from some central part of what makes Bigfoot resonate so strongly in the cultural consciousness. He is one of cryptozoology’s mascots; the fact that there are multiple “reality” shows dedicated to tracking down Bigfoot currently on television is a testament to his ubiquity and meaning. He’s a major figure in the pop-culture landscape, and anyone with such omnipresence (regardless of their reality) has to mean different things to different people, none of them particularly contradictory, all of them unique, but at the same time clearly pieces of a whole. So take one of why I wanted to write about Bigfoot: of all the stock characters in horror, he’s incredibly (and perhaps unusually) Lovecraftian.

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Certainly, most myths can be said to meet the basics of such a term; the unknown terrifies greatly because of human capacity for imagination, the creation of a world outside our own more frightening than the world we live in. But Bigfoot goes above and beyond something so simple. Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts all have elaborate and well-known mythologies underlining them, and they have all at various times been made the sympathetic heart of a story. People can identify with these myths because they have human attributes: the werewolf as change, the vampire as lust, the ghost as loneliness. Bigfoot, in his best horror depictions (and, beyond the occasional comedy, he is almost singularly a horrific character), defies this by not just being unknown, but by being inherently unknowable to humanity. The existence and being of Bigfoot can never be grasped completely or successfully understood, and any and all attempts at doing so will cause great harm, both physically and potentially spiritually. There is no relating to Bigfoot, there is only avoidance and fear. In every great Bigfoot movie, it is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding that causes danger to the characters. To quote Lovecraft himself from the opening of his epochal “The Call of Cthulhu”:

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“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

This is all a long-winded way of saying that Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes, a not too fondly remembered found footage film from 2012, succeeds because it understands this great and powerful sense of cosmic terror. The audience joins a young documentarian, his cameraman, his producer (and ex-girlfriend), and his sound guy on a trip to visit a man who claims to have shot and killed a Bigfoot, and who is willing to show them the proof. About half of the crew believes the man might have something real, and the other half is dead-set on debunking what they believe to be a fraud, but they all are caught up in a pursuit of knowledge that (to no great surprise, but still strong effect) ends up going none too well for the participants. They enter ignorant and safe, and exit in various ways imperiled by their urge to understand.

Finding the man’s heavily fortified camp, they speak to him and gather details here and there, scattered pieces of information very precisely spread against an increasingly tense atmosphere. Information is doled out carefully and precisely by the film,  all of it signaling greater and greater danger. Groups are shuffled around as they gather footage and data for their documentary, unsure of how to approach their guide and host who seems to evade as many questions as he answers unsettlingly. Crucially, they are all given many opportunities to leave or cease their pursuit. They are given chances to be ignorant and safe, but of course, being a horror movie, no such escape is attempted until their pushing has already broken the protective walls that were holding a larger, more massive, and unstoppable world back, and the incredibly memorable ending makes good on the metaphysical and extra-human nature of their danger so tantalizingly (and powerfully) implied earlier.

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Now, this isn’t the most original of concepts, even in the world of Bigfoot found footage horror films (which, yes, is a bit of a sub-sub-genre). Bigfoot County and Hunting the Legend both explore basically the same premise to truly abysmal results. The reason The Lost Coast Tapes works is because it actually understands that this pursuit is a mistake, and, more crucially, it understands what makes Bigfoot work as a horror device. Too often, the worst films in the Bigfoot sub-genre create a Bigfoot that is knowable as an animal, as an evolutionary curiosity, giving scientific recognition and concreteness to a myth. The Lost Coast tapes refuses to do this, and uses a hazy and often contradictory atmosphere to refute such attempts and rationalization. Unlike many found footage films where the viewer is implied to be engaged and involved in the action, The Lost Coast tapes uses a pacing, look, and style that purposefully disconnects the viewer from the protagonists, and the audience fears for them not out of relation but because this threat is so clearly beyond them. Even their guide, this man who has killed a Bigfoot and who appears to know more than anyone on earth about their being, seems ignorant of the reality that the audience experiences through the correlation of evidence that is multiple camera found footage film editing. Piecing together every viewpoint, the audience is able to see farther out into Lovecraft’s black seas of infinity than any character, and its massiveness still dwarfs any attempts at understanding or comprehension. There is no amount of knowledge a person could possess to meet this threat on equal footing. The characters are capable figures that forced themselves into a world that they are incapable of dealing with, and the audience fears not because they relate to their predicament but because they have seen the unstoppable nature of the forces that assail them, forces that exist on the boundaries of all human existence.

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This fear of knowledge and of cosmic insignificance is what allowed Lovecraft to become the most important and influential horror writer of the industrial age. The more science and industry know, the more they are shown to not know, and the more the culture fears these ventures. The questions grow like heads of a hydra, two popping up wherever one is chopped off. As the bubble of human knowledge grows, so too does the area around this bubble, implying a truly boundless and ever-expanding universe beyond all attempts of comprehension. Bigfoot is American culture’s cosmic threat because he defies science, the greatest tool we have to grapple with the unknown. He is Cthulhu slumbering beneath the ocean or Nyarlathotep wandering the æons. He cannot be solved or explained; he just exists, motives hazy at best, unknown at worst, threatening every being that attempts to explicate his existence. Bigfoot resonates because he is an embodiment of that which is beyond humanity, and The Lost Coast Tapes succeeds over its rote premise and often annoying characters because it treats him as an abstract and terrible entity, unable to be related to or sympathized with. Bigfoot is Lovecraft’s cultural terror in one giant, hairy being.