Welcome to Cutting It Close, a monthly column that tackles one of the most popular subgenres in horror: slashers. Alas, there’s a catch—we won’t be discussing the likes of Freddy Krueger, Ghostface, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers. No, this series will only look at those slasher movies that aren’t as iconic, yet they can hold their own for various reasons. They may not be top-tier or even popular, but, as the column title suggests, they cut it close.
Besides the obvious, the essentials of a Bigfoot horror movie include a woodsy setting, hapless humans, and a motive for turning the beast into a bloodthirsty killer. Cryptozoologists might balk at the idea of a Sasquatch being vicious and harmful towards mankind, but a cuddly specimen does not make for a great villain, either. And among the very few quality movies out there that dared to set Bigfoot on a dark and dangerous path, only one springs to mind when crosschecking for slasher elements.
In what Fangoria once called “the best serious fright film ever made about Bigfoot,” Abominable centers on a paraplegic man (Matt McCoy) trying to save his neighbors from a man-eating monster. It all begins six months after a recent accident takes both Preston Rogers‘ wife and his ability to walk; he’s advised by a doctor to return to his cottage in Flatwoods where his misfortune took place nearby. Once there with his acerbic nurse, Preston feels uneasy not only because of his past, but because he spots something in the woods. The cops refuse to believe him, and his neighbors — a group of five women spending the weekend at the house next door — are unaware of the threat that lurks outside. Preston watches helplessly from his window as this humongous beast preys on the women, one by one.
Writer and director Ryan Schifrin took everything he loved about the horror genre and put it all in his first feature. He hasn’t helmed another full-length movie since then, but as far as debuts go, Schifrin hit the mark in so many ways with Abominable. The USC film student called in a lot of favors to get his passion project off the ground; from his tennis partner to his father, the people in Ryan’s life played a part in the movie’s production in some way.
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Idyllwild, California is primarily used for the fictional Flatwoods, a rural area where Preston owns a cottage. Our main character has stayed away since the tragic loss of his wife, not to mention he is now in a wheelchair. He reluctantly visits as a way to deal with his overwhelming grief that leaves him dependent on medication. It’s a sad story that Preston recounts later on in more detail during a pivotal scene. Meanwhile, his perpetually annoyed nurse, Otis, makes the trip more difficult by just being an all-around unpleasant person. Makeup artist Christien Tinsley made his acting debut here; the movie’s admirers remember his characteristic performance as the negligent and uncaring alcoholic who gets his comeuppance in the best way possible. Until then, he serves as a foil for the protagonist, who has since caught a peripheral glimpse of the Flatwoods Monster.
In a clear nod to Rear Window, Preston spends much of his time looking into the house across the way and trying to warn the women of danger. The setup from hereon out is reminiscent of past slashers where characters are trapped inside an abode of some kind with a killer; in this case, the villain is a seven-foot-tall Bigfoot. Nevertheless, the events that play out are not unlike that of Sorority House Massacre. One after another, the hungry Bigfoot mauls his victims until only one is left standing.
The formula changes once the lone survivor teams up with Preston; this is when he tries to quell her fears with the story of his accident. As upsetting as it is for him to say, the broken man is determined to finally live again after losing the love of his life. Preston recoups the will to survive following severe emotional and physical trauma, and he sets out to prevent another woman’s death.
As with so many novice directors before him, Schifrin was inspired by Jaws — such as the intentional hiding of the monster until the third act and Preston‘s line “I’m gonna need a bigger knife.” He’s forthcoming about this, but what sets Schifrin apart from other budding filmmakers is his unwavering drive. In hindsight of things like a small budget and a hurried production, Abominable is a considerable movie of its kind. It borrows so much from existing horror, then presents it in a newfangled way that feels like a breath of fresh air for Bigfoot fans. The kind of enthusiasm Schifrin applied to his one and only movie is contagious.
In addition to the director’s plain eagerness, the production values are impressive given what little everyone had to work with. Ryan’s father Lalo Schifrin (The Amityville Horror) delivered an outstanding and emotive symphonic score; the late Neal Fredericks (The Blair Witch Project) elevated the movie’s look with his fine cinematography; an imaginative-looking and facially expressive Bigfoot suit, manipulated by servos and remote control, was brought to life by its spirited and statuesque actor. In addition, the cast — including horror regulars Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead), Dee Wallace (Cujo), Tiffany Shepis (Victor Crowley) — was more than committed when making this one-of-a-kind creature feature.
Cryptids are one of the last remaining mysteries of the modern world. While others bid to prove their existence for the sake of science and perhaps their own ego, others simply keep these beasts in their heads. A resourceful and ready director like Ryan Schifrin dreamt up his own idea about the most iconic of cryptids when he created Abominable, an indie horror movie that pictures Bigfoot as a ferocious man-eater. Other filmmakers since then have envisioned Sasquatch as an equally unbending force of nature, but few of them have matched his monster in terms of brutality and imagination.
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