Creature From Black Lake

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Pahoo and Rives (Dennis Fimple and John David Carson), two University Of Chicago students, have set out to the rural Louisiana-Arkansas border to document sightings of a supposed Bigfoot. It’s a simple premise that allows Howco International auteur Joy N. Houck Jr. to optimize the low budget of the film and create one of the best Bigfoot movies of the seventies. Creature From Black Lake (1976) came out at the height of the Bigfoot craze of the seventies and encapsulates all of the most effective strategies that the sub-genre has to offer.

Creature From Black Lake can be separated into two distinct parts determined by style. The first part that forms the bulk of the film is concerned with Pahoo and Rives getting to know the residents (a plethora of beloved character actors such as Jack Elam, Bill Thurman, and Dub Taylor) of the remote hamlet as they gather information about the creature. Much of this is comedic in terms of the banter and culture clash between urban intellectuals and rural farmers. When the titular creature appears it is almost always in flashback and obscured by the position of the camera. Creature From Black Lake takes some of the best vignettes of The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and couches them in this quest narrative.

One of the main features of this long section of the film is that it’s a kind of buddy movie. Sure Pahoo and Rives are actively looking for Bigfoot and interviewing witnesses, but they are also chasing girls, camping out, and drinking beer. The ambling pacing is more akin to a “hangout” movie which only makes the juxtaposing intervention of the Bigfoot sequences all the more jarringly effective.

The brief, final section of Creature From Black Lake is pure adrenaline pumping wilderness thriller as the two college buddies square off against Bigfoot. This section of the film is cut more tightly for suspense and zeroes in on darker themes like PTSD and the Vietnam War. The attack of the Bigfoot is right out of a monster movie, featuring a wrecked van, explosions and lots of running through the dark. The wait for Bigfoot pays off in a violently cathartic reveal.

The nighttime encounter with Bigfoot the monster is one of the more brazen depictions of the creature at the time. Wisely the cheap looking costume and make-up is drenched in the shadow of darkness rather than lit directly to showcase the visual effect. Again this strategy is linked to The Legend of Boggy Creek and Charles B. Pierce’s “less is more” philosophy. It’s the cinematography of Dean Cundey that makes the Bigfoot in Creature From Black Lake convincing, not the prosthetics worn by the stuntman.

In terms of Bigfoot movies, Creature From Black Lake is the perfect synthesis of The Legend Of Boggy Creek and In Search Of Bigfoot (1976). In so far as my experience with this niche genre is concerned, these three films are the best that I have seen. I only lament that these films didn’t have Rick Baker designer their Sasquatch the way he did for Harry & The Hendersons (1987).