Yeti and Sasquatch — The Offscreen Monsters

Posted: July 9, 2022 in Uncategorized

Been meaning to get this brief musing down for a while. Some time ago, around the time I had a rewatch of Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman, Steve Sullivan and I were chatting about the fact that in this, and just about any other Yeti/Sasquatch/Bigfoot (YSB) film, the monster is barely seen. This is true even of the over-the-top gorefest of Night of the Demon. The exceptions I can think of are invariable lighter fare — Harry and the Hendersons, Bigfoot in The Six Million Dollar Man (where he turns out to be an alien cyborg, because why not), and Wookies (of course they’re Sasquatches — Star Wars, a textbook example of postmodern bricolage, is so utterly chockablock with bits and pieces of pop culture that it would actually have been surprising if, coming out in the 70s, that high-point of cryptid mania, it didn’t have a Sasquatch in it).

So, those exceptions aside, why is the monster so little seen? In the case of The Abominable Snowman, which remains the Citizen Kane of the form, I think the decision to keep the Yeti in the shadows makes sense, amping up and preserving the mystical/spiritual aura that surrounds them. Released in 1957, the film predates the main wave of YSB films, though there were a couple of others in that era.

Obviously, budget is a factor too, though that hasn’t prevented other inexpensive monsters from having plenty of screen time.

So why then?

I keep circling around the big wave of cryptid movies (both fiction and “documentary”) that happens in the 70s. The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) is the trend-setter here. It’s a film that feels like what Terrence Malick would have made had he made a career in drive-in fare: lots of purple prose narration and landscape shots, and very little happening, at least until the final act. Crucially, though, Boggy Creek goes for the docudrama approach, and so its barely-glimpsed Sasquatch matches up with the barely-glimpsed appearance of cryptid in the supposedly “real” cases.

Boggy Creek’s huge success (by Variety’s estimate, its initial theatrical release made back 30 times its budget) set the template for other films of the period. In much the same way that Them! established the plot structure of Big Bug movies to come (even when there was no point to the mystery structure — the titles of The Black Scorpion and The Deadly Mantis are spoilers in that department), it seems that every YSB film of the 70s had to follow the docudrama blueprint, and seeing a monster in all its glory would puncture the (attempted) realism.

And it seems that template lives on. Night of the Demon arrives in 1980, after the cryptid wave had receeded. So is it beceause this monster has that mystique of “maybe it’s real” that it can therefore never be shown clearly? That no matter how perfectly realized the monster FX might be, their very perfection would still destroy that mystique?

Maybe. In other words, if you show a Sasquatch clearly, then it turns into a Wookie.

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