Friday, December 28, 2012

Teenagers Battle the Thing (1958)

... aka: Curse of Bigfoot

Directed by:
"Don Fields" (Dave Flocker)

Dr. Bill Wyman, an archeologist and curator at the Lincoln County Museum, decides to enlist the aid of high school teacher Roger Mason and five of his students; Johnny, Norman, Sharon, Linda and Bob, to help excavate and uncover the ruins of an ancient Indian camp site. They all travel to the small Southwestern town of Ivanpah and stay at the home of a museum association member who lets them use the place whenever they want. Their first day there, they go out to the excavation site and begin digging. They unearth some pottery fragments and prayer sticks, but then locate a piece of a burial stone at the base of some rock cliffs covered in pictographs. The men in the group decide to scale the cliff with some rope and walks along the ledges to see if they're anything hidden in the rocks. Once they do, they come across a stone tablet that predates the Indians they're there researching. The markings are from cavemen, though. More specifically; the earliest known species of man; the ape man.

The guys lift the stone tablet and as soon as they do, smoke (actually a preservation vapor) starts rolling out from the Earth. There's a hole there and a tunnel leading down to an underground cavern. A few of the guys climb down and stumble upon some ash-filled pottery and a mud-covered mummy. They tie the mummy to some boards and bring it back into town with them; sticking it in a shed until they can unveil their discovery at the museum the following day. One of the guys sees it move but nobody believe him until the ape-mummy actually disappears from the shed. That night, it busts into a local woman's home and kills her. The archeologist and company, along with the local sheriff, come to the conclusion they must destroy it. Their plans of luring it into some gasoline-soaked hay bails using meat scraps doesn't quite pan out as they'd hoped, so they just use a flare gun instead.

I wish I could write more detailed summary of this film's plot, but there's nothing to really discuss. This has to be one of the most uneventful, least thrilling films in existence. Running just 60 minutes, it's basically divided into two portions: the excavation crew digging through dirt until they make their discovery part and the monster getting loose part. And honestly, I really could have lived with the first part, which has a charming simplicity to it, if it had led to something worthwhile, but it doesn't. I think it says a lot that the most entertaining aspect of this entire film is checking out the picturesque Southwest desert locations. The scenes with "the thing" are brief and unexciting. All it does is kill a woman off-screen, tackle the sheriff and then gets set ablaze. This also suffers a lot from having a cast of nobodies reduced to play anonymous cardboard characters. This film flat out refuses to characterize anyone and the students, for the most part, just stand around. There's no real battle like the misleading title suggests, though a few of the teens get to finally put the pitiful hairball out of its misery.

I'm not sure if this was ever released theatrically in its original form of not, but it was salvaged a decade-and-a-half later when the entire film was sandwiched between 30-minutes of newly shot color footage of people talking in a classroom. The resulting hodge podge was then released (debuting on network television) as Curse of Bigfoot (1976) to cash in on the Big Foot craze of the day. Big Foot... Mummified Ape Man... What's the difference, right?

Now a public domain title, this has been released on video and DVD by many labels over the years. Writer James T. Flocker (brother of the director?) also backed THE LUCIFER PROJECT (1976) and directed GHOSTS THAT STILL WALK (1977).

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