Written by: Ryan Schifrin and James Morrison
Directed by: Ryan Schifrin
Starring: Matt McCoy, Haley Joel, and Christien Tinsley
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“A local Indian legend tells of a wild man livin' in these woods. My grandpa saw it once, and he says it only comes out after dark, and now my question to y'all is... you sure you wanna find it? 'Cause some things are better left unfound."
What a difference a decade makes: I know I’ve harped on this point close to a dozen times by this point, but the sharp decline in monster movies during the past ten years—let’s call it the Asylum/SyFy era—has been one of the most dispiriting genre trends for fans who just want to see creatures wreaking havoc. While there have been some fine efforts during this time, they’ve proven to be the exception to the rule that dictates most of these things be ridiculous, “so bad they’re good” farces that are neither “bad” nor “good” but rather lazy garbage engineered to draw Twitter snark. As such, a 12-year-old film like Abominable practically feels like a lifetime ago because it’s hard to imagine something like it existing now: a low-budget Bigfoot movie that boasts terrific effects, effective atmosphere, and recognizable stars whose presence isn’t just meant to be a big goof. In short, it’s everything one of these things should be, yet we somehow don’t have nearly enough of them.
On top of all of that, it boasts a logline that can basically be described as “Rear Window meets Grizzly.” Wheelchair bound Paul Rogers (Matt McCoy) is set to return home following the tragic death of his wife during a hiking accident; with only a cranky orderly Otis (Christien Tinsley) to keep him company, he soon finds himself people-watching when a group of girls arrives in the cabin next door. His eavesdropping captures something disturbing, however, when he realizes that something that lurks within the woods abducts one of the girls, sending him on a frantic quest to convince somebody—anybody—that the rest of the group is in danger. Otis is naturally skeptical, while the local police dismiss his claims—even though the area has long-rumored to be haunted by a giant creature in the woods.
Viewers have no reason to be skeptical: from the get-go, writer/director Ryan Schifrin gives audiences a taste of carnage when a couple of local farmers (Rex Linn & Dee Wallace) encounter the mysterious creature near their home. Not only is their dog spooked, but they also find one of their horses completely eviscerated. Soon enough, the dog chases after something into the woods, presumably to meet the same fate, leaving the couple to return to their house, where a set of huge, mysterious footprints trails off. It’s a nice, succinct little prologue that reveals quite a bit about Schifrin’s approach: here’s genre legend Dee Wallace, whose solid cameo role is in the service of building up a genuine sort of dread—or at least intrigue—surrounding a giant monster. None of it’s treated as a joke, and it’s obvious that Schifrin and company are out to make an actual monster movie here.
Not that they’re taking it too seriously, mind you; rather, Abominable hits that perfect sweet spot for this sort of thing. Primarily, this means the movie is fun as hell, and you sense some old school showmanship in the way Schifrin escalates to the monster action here. Before unleashing bigfoot, he’s careful to craft evocative atmosphere and genuine tension out of these sparse, desolate locations that feel like they could be positively swallowed by the surrounding woods. DP Neal Fredericks creates menace in these thick trees, and there’s a genuine richness to the photography that’s largely missing from the over-lit, flat, TV-movie productions that have plagued this genre. Abominable looks like a real movie, which goes a long way in making it absorbing—it’s almost like the filmmakers want you to enjoy it genuinely instead of ironically.
They make that even easier to do so once the bigfoot asserts its presence more forcibly. Schifrin continues the playfully tease it out by affording piecemeal glimpses of the creature: its glowing eyes peek through the trees, eventually giving way to a fleeting glimpse when it attacks one of the girls next door. Another sequence practically qualifies as a digression, serving only to escalate the Bigfoot’s menace when he attacks a trio of hunters in the woods. We’ll allow this gratuitous violence, however, since it involves Jeffrey Combs and Lance Henriksen, both of whom are pretty far away from their finest genre moments but relish the opportunity here to lend some credibility to Abominable. Their bits are brief but crucial in this respect, and provide another reminder that these kinds of appearances don’t have to be obtrusive nonsense or gags for the sake of being gags. It’s fun to see these guys inject the film with a dash of their personalities instead of being obligatorily trotted out just so their names can headline the poster art.
Also fun: the moment Schifrin finally just lets loose and indulges glorious, man-in-suit bigfoot butchery. Abominable is certainly driven by splatter movie ambitions during the third act, when the on-screen violence grows increasingly outrageous—and it’s glorious. A girl (the always lovely Tiffany Shepis) is ripped through a window, her body hideously twisted as she’s pulled to her death, effectively serving as the opening gun to the incoming splatter, which eventually escalates to the point where you’re watching Bigfoot literally rip a guy’s face off. Schifrin is well aware of what someone expects from a movie of this caliber, and he amply delivers without completely sacrificing the characters. Don’t get me wrong--you aren’t exactly mourning over the characters here, but you’re also not actively wishing for their demise, either. You spend just the right amount of time with them, and most of them aren’t the sort of obnoxious, overdone caricatures that have populated this genre lately. Even Otis—who spends most of the film practically begging to be offed—has a nice moment towards the end that makes him somewhat sympathetic.
None of this is exactly groundbreaking, and I certainly don’t think Abominable thrives on some secret formula: truly, all it takes to pull something like this off is making a commitment to actual character work, decent production values, and practical, gory effects. The baseline here is quite average, yet even this has eluded so many people who have tread into this genre lately, leaving something like Abominable looking even better by comparison. It’s nothing if not teeming with the necessary amount of conviction to make a killer Bigfoot movie, and easily checks off those bare minimum requirements in the process. I wish half of the SyFy/Asylum nonsense from the past decade were as cool as this one.
Obviously, someone at MVD agrees, as they’ve tapped Abominable to be the latest entry in their new Rewind series, which has bestowed the special edition treatment on an eclectic array of movies so far. They’ve gone above and beyond for Abominable by allowing Schifrin and company to produce a new, updated version featuring new color timing and improved effects for (minimal) CGI used to create the Bigfoot’s eyes. Schifrin himself details this painstaking process in a newly recorded introduction that reveals this edition is also an act of preservation: the old DVD is out of print, and the movie isn’t streaming anywhere, so MVD has given Abominable a new lease on life. All of the previous supplements have also been ported over, including a making-of featurette, bloopers, deleted and extended scenes, trailers, a pair of Schifrin’s short films, and a commentary with the director, McCoy, and Combs. And if you’re the sort of purist who’s appalled at a creator doing touch-up work on a film, MVD has you covered by including the original version in standard definition.
Toss in the cool poster that’s inserted with the discs, and you have what is most certainly the most complete edition of Abominable imaginable, one that also doubles as a reminder that great, gory creature features don’t have to be as rare as a Bigfoot sighting.
comments powered by Disqus Ratings: