Bigfoot is not only alive but he is also really, really angry.
Eduardo Sanchez, the man who 15 years ago helped turn the found footage genre into a multi-million-dollar industry unto itself with "The Blair Witch Project" in 1999, is back in the woods with a new tale of first-person terror, "Exists."
It's not the curse of a witch, or just plain madness, or whatever the heck was going on in "Blair Witch" that's the problem this time — it's the Sasquatch, that "large, hairy, bipedal humanoid" (nice one, Wikipedia) that has flat out refused over the course of several generations to take an in-focus photograph, seemingly content to lurk in the forest as something in-between folklore and hoax (and to some still, its reality).
But what if it was, you know, really real? And really mad?
For "Exists," Sanchez trades the more traditional Bigfoot setting of the Pacific Northwest for the more topical and timely location of Bastrop, Texas — the locale of the Bastrop County Complex Fire, the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, which destroyed 1,673 homes and inflicted an estimated $325 million of insured property damage (a wiped out a lot of forest areas) from Sept.-Oct. 2011. "Sasquatch is by far my favorite monster," Sanchez told Mulder's World in a podcast interview last spring. "He's the stuff of my childhood nightmares."
A group of five friends are en route to a cabin in the woods (WHY?) when they hit something in the middle of the road, which turns out to be a more, well, aggressive version of Harry from "Harry and the Hendersons" (1987).
It turns out Bigfoot doesn't like being hit by a car — or having his isolated territory invaded by these youngsters — so it's time for some FOUND FOOTAGE HORROR, courtesy of longtime stuntman and creature actor Brian Steele ("Doom," "Hellboy") in the Sasquatch costume.
"Exists" has debuted the SXSW festival, happening now, where it screened for a very enthusiastic midnight audience. The film promises thrills and chills, though J.C. de Leon at The Horn was especially impressed with the chemistry of cast members, which apparently was a case of "crisis intimacy" that came out of braving less than ideal production quirks such as on-set snakes and scorpions.
One guy who believes in Bigfoot is stoked. "A movie such as 'Exists' is a positive in the borderland between the science of cryptozoology and popular culture," says Loren Coleman, International Cryptozoology Museum director in Portland, Maine. (Incidentally, Cryptozoology is the study of animals that are rumored to exist, whose existence is not yet proven.) "Fictional films on notable cryptids cause further interest and learning in the field, as people deconstruct their motion picture experience back to the source material," he tells Yahoo Movies.
There have been several Bigfoot movies over the years, many of them B-movie horror outings like "The Untold" (2002) and "Abominable" (2006). However, according to The Horn, the main inspiration for "Exists" goes a little deeper into the cinematic Sasquatch archives with "The Legend of Boggy Creek" (1972), a low-budget docudrama produced for around $100,000 that incorporates staged interviews and reenactments as it explores the legend of the 'Fouke Monster' in and around the "primitive, river-bottom wilderness" of Fouke, Arkansas. (And yes, Sanchez has admitted to the impact the '72 movie had on his version of the Bigfoot story).
That DIY approach would most certainly inspire a fiercely independent filmmaker like Sanchez, who has actually made several small yet intriguing horror films since the "Blair Witch" salad days: "Altered" (2006) is a rough and tumble redneck tale of alien abduction filled with some truly unsettling imagery (including an extended sequence in a garage that still gives us chills), and "Lovely Molly" (2011) is a deliciously creepy and disturbing fable about a young woman who's either crazy or actually being stalked by a horse-headed demon.
However, "Exists" has the potential to put Sanchez back in the horror big leagues as a game-changer who's found a way to breathe new life into a genre of which he was a pioneer. The film was picked up by Lionsgate a mere few hours after its SXSW premiere, which has the director happy to be rebooting (re-footing?) the legend of Bigfoot for a hopefully Bigaudience.
"I'm really excited about working with the talented team at Lionsgate," said Sanchez in a press release. "We've had great history together and they really understand 'Exists' and see the tremendous opportunity to reboot Bigfoot for a new generation."
So, look for "Exists" in theaters soon — maybe 'round Halloweentime, to give "Paranormal Activity 5" a little healthy (and hairy) competition.
Meriah Doty contributed to this report.