Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Search for the Beast (2005): or, Bigfoot Versus the Gazoonies

It's usually considered a critical diss when a reviewer pronounces a movie "less than the sum of its parts." What such a critic means to say, as I understand it, is that despite having a few good ideas or competently shot sequences, a bit of engaging writing or a couple of persuasive performances, the film fails to bring those individually satisfying pieces together in a coherently satisfactory whole. Therefore, in the final summation, the film is crap.

But what if we turn that equation around and solve for its antecedents?

For instance, let us say that movie "x"--where "x" equals the 2005 direct-to-video shot-on-weekends Sasquatchsploitation howler Search of the Beast--is a big steaming pile of cinematic feces. (It sounds cruel, but one can't be sentimental where algebra is concerned.) Laboriously padded out to a feature length of just over 70 minutes, the movie features a two-minute bluegrass music interlude that goes precisely nowhere, a long continuous take of the cast preparing to rappel and then rappelling in real-time, and lots and LOTS of scenes of people wandering around aimlessly through the woods, waiting like the viewer for something--ANYTHING--to happen. The effects are bad, the acting is worse, and the editing and cinematography redefine the term "amateur."

However, where lovers of the MAD are concerned, the movie paradoxically delivers with a few choice scenes, a couple of outre ideas, and occasional hilarious twitches of the narrative skirt that reveal the hairy nude buttocks beneath. In that sense, it's not a slam to say that the sum of Search for the Beast's parts is definitely greater than the whole.

Cut away the aforementioned padding, and the story told in Search for the Beast is a fairly short one. Crypto-anthropologist Dr. David Stone (Rick Montana) is exploring the Okaloosa Wilderness Area (of Florida? Alabama?) in search of (wait for it...) THE BEAST. Of course here "the beast" is a Bigfoot or bigfoot-like creature that legend has it has survived from the time of the ancient Indians to the present day. Though seldom seen, the beast has been blamed for the disappearances of several campers in the Okaloosa Wilderness Area over the last several years.

There he is!

After Dr. Stone finds the remains of what one can only assume is a stillborn Bigfoot Baby, he is hired by mysterious chemical magnate Milton St. John (David F. Friedman, producer of such exploitation efforts as Trader Hornee, Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, and 2001 Maniacs) to bring back concrete proof of the creature's existence for a bounty of $100K research money. Unbeknownst to Stone, St. John is not a seeker after hidden knowledge like himself; the old man's son was one of the Beast's recent victims (presumably in the labored and hilarious pre-credits rampage, in which a camper is killed and his nude female bunkmate dragged off into the woods), and St. John is throwing his resources into achieving his grief-stricken vengeance.

After Stone accepts the job, St. John gets on the phone with one of his paramilitary operatives, Jim (Steven Steele) with some very specific instructions: "You round up some rough gazoonies and go along until the doc finds this damn thing! And be sure you take a broad along with you!" Whether the broad is meant to lure the beast or placate the doc is unclear, but a monkey wrench is thrown when community-college research assistant Wendy (Oh?) Williams (Holli Day) ambushes Dr. Stone at his lab and demands he take her along on his search. Once the Jim and the Gazoonies show up, they jump into the back of a repurposed Church Van and head out into the Okaloosa Wilderness Area to track them a Skunk Ape.

"Are *you* my mother?"

Whatever notoriety Search for the Beast possesses comes courtesy Michael Adams, author of the entertaining critical study Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made. Adams screened this flick early on in his year of crap, and for many months it held onto his top (or bottom?) spot before being displaced by some late comers. (It's a good book, leaning more toward memoir at times than criticism, but nonetheless full of fun facts and reviews. Get a copy, and thanks to Samuel Wilson for the reading tip!)

While it's far from the worst movie I've ever seen, it's still easy to see why the movie was so hard to displace as Adams' King of the Crap Mountain. With the exception of that pretty respectable Bigfoot Baby above, everything about the production screams "non-professionals at work." Dialogue seems largely improvised by actors who have no talent for it. Pacing issues abound, despite some odd jump cutting--usually to one or two seconds in the future, as if the camera operator let his finger slip from the "REC" button. Scenes peter out and go nowhere; footage loops are reused; incongruous sound effects befuddle. The movie is so horrendously padded, we get more than SEVEN MINUTES of end credits--each character gets a video vingette of footage from the movie, including Dr. Stones DOG AND HORSE. I could go on.

But oh, my parishioners: isn't there enough negativity in the world already?

There's no virtue in refusing to allow oneself to be entertained, and what Search for the Beast lacks in skill and polish, it comes very near to making up with a charming if tragically misguided earnestness. It's not enough to save the film, but it did give me some chuckles along the way, and for that--softie that I am--I can't hate it as others do. So with a beer in your hand, five more (minimum) at your feet, and your finger firmly positioned over your DVD player's "fast-forward" button, come along with me as we pan for mad movie gold in the most unlikely of streams.

Pickin' and a-grimacin'

Those guys in the photo above are Blind Otis and Crazy Joe, who do their part to pad out the run time with a 2.5 minute version of the bluegrass tune "Cripple Creek." And for what it's worth, they're really quite good. The actor playing the Deliverance-Lite Crazy Joe does a fair Ho1KC "Otis" imitation, if he's even acting; in fact, if the movie were more famous, I wouldn't be surprised if Bill Moseley had instead patterned his character on this performance.

Holli Day as Wendy has one of the most amazing nasal-whine voices I've ever heard in any medium. It starts out as annoying, moves on to grating, and at some point achieves a kind of avant garde musicality. Particularly when she knees rapey Gazoonie Jim in the nuts and emotes, "You try it again and I'll kill you, aight?"

And for what it's worth, living in the South as I do, I have not the tiniest doubt in my mind that "Holli Day" is in fact her birth name.

Crypto-anthropological autopsies make her hot

The term "Gazoonie," which I would bet cash money David F. Freeman created on the spur of the moment while the cameras rolled, is such a magnificent designation--connoting as it does the rough-hewn, somewhat ridiculous but nonetheless formidible truculence of the testosterone-and-beer-addled Southern U.S. male--that I am starting a petition to get it in the god damn dictionary. Also, I will be calling as many people "gazoonie" from henceforth as is linguistically and contextually possible.

Even better, the movie gives us not one, but TWO groups of Gazoonies, as Milton St. John sends a set of reinforcements in after the first group doesn't report back. This second group is even more Gazoonish than the first, sporting t-shirts emblazoned with a giant Rebel Flag, the Insane Clown Posse logo, and the cryptic legend "WIDE F***IN' OPEN," that doubtless came straight from the actors' own closets (and are exactly the gear you'd want for stealthily tracking a Bigfoot through the Okaloosa Wilderness Area).

Cap'n Confederacy sez: GAZOONIE UP!

Also a smile inducer: the second Gazoonie Squadron brings a pack of dogs with them--a pack of dogs we never see, though from the sound of the baying and yelping they must be on loan from a full-on English fox hunt!

I haven't said much about the Bigfoot make-up here, as I'm sure you've noticed. Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's my kilo of verbiage:

He shaves, for *her* pleasure

The filmmakers boldly envision a Bigfoot who is noticeably shorter than Dr. Stone and the Gazoonies, which tends to...understate the hugeness of the beast. Did they buy a gorilla suit and craft their own mask? Or is the whole apparatus the work of credited effects artist Doug Higley, of Higley's Strange Objects? The world may never know.

Despite the low-to-no-budget limitations, "director" R.G. Arledge manages to convince a couple of his starlets to disrobe for the camera, most brazenly and bravely the enigmatic "Tweetie" (that's her end-credit, not character name), who plays one of a couple of campers unassociated with Dr. Stone's search, who pop up every now and then for no discernable purpose. Though not exactly a knockout (okay, maybe in Okaloosa she is), Tweetie gives her all at a waterfall, disrobing in real time ("SEE! the white sock peeled off and placed neatly on the boulder! WATCH! as the other white sock is treated with similar care!"), tiptoeing gingerly across the creekbed which her gait tells us must be littered with sharp rocks and shattered beer bottles, and then lying sexily in the flow of the stream--or trying her damnedest to, though the look on her face indicates that the water must be FUCKING FREEZING. Probably the most dedicated actress in the piece. Tweetie, I salute you.

This frog refused credit in this movie.

Should you decide to watch this film, feel free to play the Vicar-created Search for the Beast Drinking Game! Here are the rules.
  • When someone says "Okaloosa Wilderness Area," in exactly those words, drink. (I strongly advise you use beer--otherwise you'll be comatose before the first half-hour is gone.)
  • Whenever there's a short, pointless jump cut, drink.
  • Whenever Dr. Stone flops down on the trail to drink from a stream, finish your drink.
  • Whenever someone acts like a Gazoonie, finish your fifth.
Trust me, you'll enjoy the movie more.

Perhaps the MADDEST ideas are saved for last, probably because as the production dragged on and it became clearer and clearer the incredible margin by which the director's reach would exceed his grasp, Arledge decided to just throw the hammer down. Tweetie and her Juggalo boyfriend--who have been camping in the Okaloosa Wilderness Area without incident for at least two days--appear again, with Tweetie dressed in an incredible piece of lingerie I can only describe as "Mall Santa's Naughty Elf Apprentice." They proceed to get busy doggie-style near an unexplained barrel of chemical waste. (Thankfully, the boyfriend--credited as, I shit you not, "Stupid D. Klown"--keeps his ICP gear *on* for this scene.) Lost in the throes of passion, Tweetie doesn't notice when her boyfriend is rudely shoved aside and a new partner cuts in.

Once you go Bigfoot, you never go back

Search for the Beast is a movie that I hated when I watched it, pronouncing it boring, a waste of time, and complete cinematic turd. But as I thought about it more in the days afterward, and remembered all the above-enumerated pieces of MADNESS it so improbably provided, my attitude toward the movie changed, and now I have an honest affection for it. I still wouldn't recommend it to anyone not fully aware of what they're getting into, and thus can't in good conscience give it more than a 1 thumb rating--but if anything here has piqued your interest, and you don't mind fast-forwarding through the many many slow bits, you could find something to smile at. I did, and that's really all I ask for.

Alas, Poor Tweetie


Tenebrous Kate said...

I... I can't believe how much I love this write-up. I'm downright cross-eyed from laughter. While I feel bad that you watched what is *clearly* a terrible movie, and that it probably did irreparable damage to your psyche, I've got to say that what you've given the world a generous gift of laughter. You're kind of like a bad-movie-blogging Jesus, Vicar.

I need to know--is THE BEAST ever called a Skunk Ape in the film? I desperately hope the answer is "NO." Because if the answer is "YES," that and the presence of a Juggalo Thespian (dear Juggalos, never change--you are glorious) are making me lean towards seeing this movie (drunk and fast-forwardly, as you've advised--I have no such similar Messiah thang going on).

THANK YOU for brightening my day immeasurably. Amazing stuff, my man.

Al Bruno III said...

fantastic review for a movie I don't think I have the nerve to see. And that Sasquatch on bimbo action scene will haunt me and my Tumblr feed for years to come.

Joe Monster said...

This brought a stupid grin to my face many, many times. You should be given a medal for making an atrocious-looking film like this sound so enticing and fun to watch! You are truly talented, Mr. Vicar!

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Tenebrous Kate--Thanks so much for the kind words! I guess I can go ahead and purchase my "BIGGER THAN JESUS" t-shirt now, with your kind endorsement! ;)

As to your question, I don't think the OWA Beast is ever referred to as a "skunk ape," but I'm pretty sure the term is mentioned at least once. To watch or not--I leave it up to your conscience and booze budget.

@Al Bruno III--I try to provide only the best for my friends and parishioners! If I have to wade through a bunch of awfulness to come up with one image of an undersized Bigfoot rogering a hapless Tweetie-girl, then by god that's what I'll do!

@Joe Monster--I would wear such a medal with pride! In fact, I'd wear nothing else! Thanks for stopping by and saying nice things. You make the world better by so doing.

Samuel Wilson said...

Vicar, "gazoonie" looked like carny lingo when I first saw it, and Urban Dictionary confirms my hunch. I suspect the root word is "goon" and that the term applies just as well to the crew that produced this film as to the characters in it. Those Beast scenes reminded me of nothing so much as Surrender Cinema movies, but in those the effects are part of the joke.

I'm glad someone took the dare implicit in Mr. Adams's book. You're a braver soul than I am.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Samuel--Educational and informative as always! Thanks for that--whatever disappointment I may have that Friedman *didn't* come up with the term himself, it is considerably allayed by the implied probability that the man himself has a carny history! According to his imdb biography he ran some "hygiene film" road shows early in his career--perhaps that's the carny connection?

Thanks again for pointing me toward Adams' book--I think I'll be getting a few more viewing suggestions from there for coming reviews!

Anonymous said...

Alas, I don't think I have the stamina for this one -- w/ or w/o the fortification of alcohol. But thank you for your intrepid review, sir.
Is it just me, or does the creature in the cover artwork look like John Astin of "The Addams Family"? Was this a marketing ploy?

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