There’s a good chance that if you’re under the age of 35, you’ve never found Bigfoot to be scary. If you think about the legendary North American ape-man at all, it’s probably as a gentle giant, “protector of the forests” type character thanks to the famous cryptid’s 1980s rebranding to bring him into line with evolving thought on ecological conservation and empathy for Native American culture. For children of the 1970s, however, Bigfoot has a dark side. He is a terrifying, nocturnal beast with massive strength and a human-like cunning that stalked those unwise enough to enter his arboreal territory. Oh, and… how to put this delicately? I guess I can’t, so I’ll rip the Band-Aid off: Bigfoot’s dark side had a rapey side. What can I say? The 1970s were a weird time.
It’s easy to picture a young Rob Zombie* in front of the television, absorbing the contents of that week’s In Search Of… and spending sleepless nights imagining every rustle outside the window to be evidence of Bigfoot. Maybe these images of the frightening beast haunted him throughout his youth and escaping the threat of man-ape monsters was the real reason why he moved to New York City. The mind boggles with potential. One way or another, between directing House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie co-wrote a graphic horror comic about Bigfoot.
*Yes, I picture him with the dreads and big stompy boots too, but very small and probably without facial hair.
Before getting into the IDW release of Bigfoot, let me take a minute to say that I’m one of those people who likes a lot of what Rob Zombie’s done cinematically. House of 1,000 Corpses is a psychedelic nightmare, Devil’s Rejects is a less-slick, less-intellectualized Tarantino picture, and I even dug the Halloween remakes.** Zombie has a talent for bringing a fully-realized, consistent, immediately recognizable aesthetic to the screen and the episodes of grotesque violence in his movies are handled with the same kind of setpiece approach that characterized mid- to late-70s exploitation cinema. The dude knows what he loves and understands how to make it tick on the big screen.
**Fully 75% of slasher movies could be characterized as remakes of John Carpenter’s 1978 thriller based on their reuse of that movie’s structure and character development so it’s hardly the sacred ground many horror fans would have one believe.
It would seem to follow that an artist who can bring his vision to life in a movie–a process that involves wrangling writers, technicians, actors, designers, and so on–would find creating comics to be a snap. What are comics, after all, if not lovingly detailed storyboards that never make it to the filming stage? Well, dear friends, for whatever reason (self-indulgence? Lack of anyone saying “no?” The wrong collaborators?), each and every time Rob Zombie is involved in a comic, it is a complete mess. And not, I might add, the fun kind of mess, like licking the bowl after baking, or mud wrestling.
Released in 2005, Bigfoot finds Zombie working with two luminaries in the world of contemporary horror comics, writer Steve Niles and artist Richard Corben. Taken together, this is pretty much a dream team of terror, which is why, upon rummaging through my comics crates a few weeks back, I was surprised to unearth the four-issue run of Bigfoot and realize I remembered absolutely nothing about it. Had I read these books at all, or just stashed them after purchasing, thinking to save them for another time (a thing I am known to do with embarrassing frequency)? The answer (as to all rhetorical questions asked in blog posts) is a resounding NO. I had in fact read these comics, but had managed to block them out for somehow achieving the feat of being both utterly awful and completely forgettable.
Where to begin with what went wrong in these comics? Complaining about a paper-thin plot in a comic book is sort of weak since much of the time, readers are in it for the style, not the substance. Yet this story, centered on the revenge of a now-grown-up boy against Bigfoot for the murder of his parents (and the implied rape of his mother, lest that goes unmentioned), manages to have absolutely no character development or unexpected turns (unless you count the whole “monster rape” thing). In a way, this comic is an ultimate manifestation of the much-discussed “Women in Refrigerators” trope, in which female characters are subjected to hideous abuse and/or murder in order to advance a male character’s storyline. Yet, in many instances of “fridge’ing,” that plot point is one of many that’s being developed simultaneously. Here? We’ve got a Bigfoot-rape/murder “fridge” plot and that’s pretty much it.
Yes, this is in very bad taste, but I’m not one to be dissuaded from enjoying a comic book by mere bad taste. Be as tacky and offensive as you want, just do not bore me. Inject some gallows humor into your gritty sasquatch comic, or do some insane stuff with the coloring, or make it 20 pages long instead of 80-plus. There are options here to more-or-less salvage this thing, but none seem to have been explored. Alas, even the artwork of noted bringer-of-nightmares-to-life Richard Corben (his work on the recent Rat God is amazing and nauseating in the most impressive way possible) doesn’t save this. Simply put, there’s just too much emphasis on the “dark and gritty” to allow his fantastical style to shine. His off-kilter, funhouse vision of human anatomy makes an already-grotesque story almost unbearably so, well past the point of ghoulish fun.
During interviews, the team behind Bigfoot has said they wanted to make Bigfoot scary again. This vision of the mysterious forest creature isn’t so much scary as it is deeply unpleasant. Then again, I simply might not be the intended audience for a comic book about rapist Bigfoot. Someone must be the audience, because this disaster got optioned for a movie treatment by Rogue Pictures (the group that brought us unwanted remakes of vintage downer horrors Last House on the Left and The Hitcher). I am the sort of person who likes to find the silver lining in anything she reads. In that spirit, I’ll leave you with the best pages in the comic, in which a nerdy dude gets crushed when an unspeakably huge bear is thrown onto his car by Bigfoot, and the last song he’ll ever hear is “Dragula” (God rest his soul).