THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter 7: Willow Creek

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(Editor’s note: This review contains major spoilers.)

The 2013 found-footage horror movie Willow Creek is basically The Blair Witch Project with Bigfoot instead of the witch. Directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, Willow Creek follows couple Jim and Kelly filming their visit to the site of the iconic Patterson-Gimlin video clip that allegedly captured Bigfoot on film in 1967.

Willow Creek

Jim is passionate about Bigfoot, and his girlfriend Kelly goes along for the ride to help him chronicle the adventure. They interview locals before finally entering the famous stretch of forest about halfway through the 80-minute movie.

“Babe, this is a dream I’ve had since I was 8 years old,” Jim says.

Jim’s dream is about to become a nightmare as the couple ventures deeper into the woods. Jim and Kelly set up camp and explore the forest, discovering some unknown scat, before returning to their campsite and finding their tent in shambles.

When darkness falls, Willow Creek spends 20 minutes inside the couple’s tent as Jim and Kelly listen to the strange sounds outside like wood knocks, vocalizations, and heavy footsteps. The extended tent sequence shows Jim and Kelly running the gamut of emotions, from romance to disappointment to terror.

When daylight arrives, the spooked couple decides to return to civilization. Disoriented in the woods, Jim and Kelly hear more vocalizations en route to a frantic and frenetic climax.

I enjoyed Willow Creek because I related to Jim’s enthusiasm for Bigfoot. Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore do an outstanding job of portraying Jim and Kelly as a couple in love but without a lot in common.

Like The Blair Witch Project, Willow Creek is 99 percent setup with a quick, chaotic ending. If you’re expecting to see Bigfoot in action, then you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re a fan of found-footage horror, Willow Creek executes it better than most.

NEXT UP | Chapter Eight: Abominable. I review the 2006 horror film Abominable directed by Ryan Schifrin.

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THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter 6: Big Legend

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(Editor’s note: This review contains major spoilers.)

The 2018 horror film Big Legend, written and directed by Justin Lee, is a no-frills creature feature, meaning diehard Bigfoot fans should enjoy the 89-minute ride. I know I did.

Big Legend

Set in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Big Legend opens with couple-in-love Tyler and Natalie about to embark on a camping trip. Tyler (Kevin Makely) is a former soldier and hopes to make the excursion extra special for sweet Natalie (Summer Spiro).

However, romance transforms into tragedy during the first night. Natalie hears wood knocks and guttural growls outside their tent. Tyler leaves to investigate, a decision he’ll regret for the rest of his life. Some kind of beast grabs the tent and drags it along with Natalie into the darkness where she disappears.

Twelve months later, Tyler is dealing with survivor’s guilt on his final day in a psychiatric ward. He tells psychiatrist Dr. Wheeler that he believes Natalie was attacked by a bear although her body has never been found. Amanda Wyss portrays Dr. Wheeler. You may remember her as the iconic Tina Gray in the body bag, Fred Krueger’s first victim in the 1984 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Tyler doesn’t really believe Natalie’s disappearance is bear-related, and the anguished soldier discusses his decision to search for Natalie with his mother Rita. It’s the most heartfelt scene in Big Legend. Rita is portrayed beautifully and too briefly by another horror icon, Adrienne Barbeau. You may remember her as radio DJ Stevie Wayne in the 1980 horror film The Fog.

The authorities drop off a box of items, including Natalie’s digital camera, left behind at the campsite after the attack a year ago. Tyler starts flicking through the photographs and stops at a random picture with a shadowy figure lurking in the background. That was my favorite moment in Big Legend. It was perfectly eerie.

His suspicions almost confirmed, Tyler loads up his gear and returns to the scene of the Bigfoot crime. During his search for answers, Tyler encounters another hunter named Eli, portrayed by character actor Todd A. Robinson.

Bigfoot is protective of his territory, and the human duo faces off against the beast in a tense showdown that had me flashing back to the 1987 sci-fi horror film Predator when Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) tires of being the hunted and decides to challenge the alien.

The most important feature of a Bigfoot movie is the Bigfoot, and I’m pleased to report the makeup department of Angela Bulmer and Jill Colwell do a commendable job. Bigfoot looked suitably savage and realistic enough to me.

I recommend Big Legend to those of us who enjoy an outing with Bigfoot. It’s a gritty little movie with big aspirations. Seeing Wyss and Barbeau on the screen again after so many years was an unexpected delight. There’s even a cameo by horror icon Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead, Aliens) who drops by at the end to introduce an interesting twist to the story.

 

NEXT UP | Chapter Seven: Willow Creek. I review the 2013 horror film Willow Creek written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.

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LINKS TO PREVIOUS CHAPTERS OF THE BIGFOOT FILES:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Four: The Road Best Not Taken

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Five: Wood Ape

 

Author Interview: Horror author Jeff Strand | My Pretties

Horror author Jeff Strand delves into the ugly darkness of a serial kidnapper with his latest book, My Pretties, a gripping novel filled with twists that get more twisted as the climax approaches.

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My Pretties is about a restaurant server named Gertie, who believes her cousin is the victim of a serial kidnapper. To try and save her, Gertie uses herself as bait and wanders the streets at night, hoping to lure the kidnapper into the open. When Gertie tells her co-worker Charlene how she spends her nights, Charlene agrees to trail her in a car as backup.

Of course, this is a Jeff Strand novel, so nothing goes according to plan, and the vigilante waitresses go from the hunters to the hunted.

Strand introduces readers to a sick, soulless man named Ken who abducts women and locks them in cages that hang from the ceiling in a soundproofed basement. Ken’s thrill is simply to sit quietly in the room and watch the women slowly starve to death. However, Ken is husband to a wife who wonders why he’s late all the time and father to a son who doesn’t respect him.

While Ken’s family dynamic provides most of the twists and some darkly comic moments, My Pretties is ultimately a grim tale of torture and survival.

Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand

In an exclusive interview for HorrorAddicts.net, Strand discusses My Pretties and what he thinks of a recent social media thread where people listed their top five Strand novels.

HORROR ADDICTS: Where did your idea for My Pretties originate?

STRAND: The process was similar to Mia and Rusty in Ferocious, where I had my lead characters (in this case, Charlene and Gertie) before I had a story to put them in. I’d written their meeting scene and not much else, and did nothing with it for a couple of years.

The idea of a serial killer who puts his victims in small cages dangling from a ceiling, giving them water but no food, watching them for hours at a time, came separately and much more recently. I pulled Charlene and Gertie into that idea and that’s where it became My Pretties.

HORROR ADDICTS: At some point, your villain Ken becomes the focus of the story more so than your heroines, Charlene and Gertie. Was that the idea from the start or did Ken just keep developing as you wrote the story?

STRAND: I changed some of the details as I wrote, but the broad strokes of the story were always there. I did try to be very conscious of keeping the balance — you get more of Ken’s story than you may have been expecting, but I didn’t want to tip the scales too far toward his side of things.

HORROR ADDICTS: Do you prefer writing villains more than heroes or vice versa?

STRAND: I don’t actually have a preference. It can be fun to write a really nasty villain, but I also enjoy writing likable heroes. Ken in My Pretties posed a bit of a challenge because he’s a complete garbage human being, and I didn’t want the reader to like him at all. He’s not Hannibal Lecter or Hans Gruber — he’s a piece of crap. So, he needed to be somebody who could convincingly persuade women to trust him a little, but I didn’t want him to be witty or charming or have any of those “the villain you love to hate” characteristics. Of course, my natural instinct is to try to write witty, clever dialogue, and I had to pull back on that for this guy.

HORROR ADDICTS: You’re active on social media, and I noticed a thread where readers were posting lists of their top five Jeff Strand novels. Where would you rank My Pretties among your 40-plus books?

STRAND: I love threads like that because there’s always a wide variety of titles represented. I’d hate for it to be, “Okay, here’s the one or two books that everybody likes, and then the rest.” It’s always fun to see something like Fangboy (which I always knew was going to be divisive, and I was correct) represented, or that people are championing The Sinister Mr. Corpse. It’s too early for me to rank My Pretties. What happens, 100 percent of the time, is that the book I wrote is not as good as the book I’d planned to write. There are no exceptions. So, no book is published with me thinking, “My God, this is my masterpiece!” It doesn’t take long for the Written Book vs. Book In My Head disparity to fade, but My Pretties is brand new.

HORROR ADDICTS: Dweller is my No. 1 Jeff Strand novel, but I was surprised when I read your personal top five and neither of your Bram Stoker Award-nominated novels, Pressure or Dweller, made your list. In fact, you said Blister and Cyclops Road flip-flop between your favorite. What makes those two novels resonate with you more so than your more traditional horror novels?

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STRAND: I almost never revisit my work after it’s published, so it’s possible that if I wiped my memory and read my entire backlist, the rankings would change. As it is, I’m going to naturally lean toward my most recent titles. I certainly don’t think every book is better than the last, but I do like to think that the last third of my output is better than the middle third, which is better than the first third, overall.

There’s just a lot of stuff I love about Blister. It’s a weird and quirky love story on top of a mystery on top of a horror story with lots of humor thrown in. Cyclops Road is a bigger story than I usually do (it’s my longest solo novel), and I really like the cast of characters. It’s got action, laughs, heartbreak, scares — I think it’s my most entertaining novel. I’m also partial to Bring Her Back, Sick House, and Kumquat.

If I asked all of my fans to rank their favorites, it’s safe to say that the No. 1 spot would go to Dweller. I’m proud as hell of that book. It just doesn’t make the list of my all-time favorites of my own work.

HORROR ADDICTS: Lastly, I always like to ask if you have any breaking Jeff Strand news for us Strand fans and Horror Addicts?

STRAND: Well, I just did a really dark psychological thriller, so I’m shifting tones with the next one. This one will be very blatantly horror/comedy and a lot of fun. Monsters are included.

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RELATED LINKS:

Horror Author Jeff Strand gets Ferocious in 2019

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Five: Wood Ape

A husband and a town both with secrets propel the drama and mystery of the Bigfoot novel Wood Ape by C.G. Mosley.

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“Actually, Wood Ape was inspired by a friend that is obsessed with Bigfoot,” Mosley said in an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files. “He is always reading books and listening to podcasts on the subject. Severed Press, the publisher I write for, has a lot of fiction available on Bigfoot. Knowing this, I began prodding my own personal Bigfoot expert for information and before long, Wood Ape came to fruition.”

Set in the small Baker County town of Dunn, Mississippi, Wood Ape begins with an intense prologue describing a violent confrontation between Bigfoot and a man named Cliff.

Flash forward thirty-five years later, the Schrader family – Harry, Lacey and seven-year-old daughter Alice – is settling into a new home secluded outside Dunn following a move from Atlanta. Harry, a school administrator, harbors a devastating secret. Lacey, a paralegal, is deeply troubled by Harry’s defensive and distant behavior of the past three months.

Lingering in the background is a cloud of suspicion hanging over the Schraders’ new residence. Many locals believe the house is haunted, a rumor perpetuated by the inexplicable disappearance of the previous occupants.

Lacey’s first trip to the grocery store ramps up the tension when she encounters an old man with a dire prediction:

The old man paused and glanced at the stock boy and then to the other patrons in the store. “You all know it to be true,” he said. “You all know she and her family is in danger … why don’t you tell her?”

More strangeness ensues when Harry finds a decomposed carcass in the woods, and his daughter Alice is spooked by something tapping on her window. Lacey’s drifter brother, Dwight, drops by for a brief stay but soon vanishes, mysteriously leaving his motorcycle behind.

The sheriff, Travis Horne, investigates Dwight’s disappearance, while Lacey investigates what happened to the previous owners, setting up the dramatic second half of Wood Ape.

While Wood Ape is a Bigfoot novel, Mosley manages to add an interesting wrinkle to the cryptid subgenre, particularly with Harry’s secret.

Baker County Bigfoot Chronicle

Most of Mosley’s other books are creature features, and the author even revisited Sasquatch in his follow-up novel, Baker County Bigfoot Chronicle.

“I do believe that Bigfoot is real,” Mosley said. “I’ve really researched and explored the subject in depth, and when you see all the many reported sightings that there are across the U.S. alone, there is just too much evidence there to dismiss it as only legend and fable. Sure, there are hoaxes out there too, but in my opinion, those are given much more attention than the actual, unexplainable encounters. It seems to me that society, in general, would rather not believe these things to be true and will take every opportunity to make it seem as though they are not.”

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C.G. Mosley

I asked Mosley why Bigfoot remains so prevalent in pop culture today.

“Bigfoot is a mystery, and everyone loves a good mystery,” Mosley said. “Not only that, it is a mystery that exists right outside most people’s back doors. I read a study one time that said almost three-quarters of Americans have paranormal beliefs. Obviously, Bigfoot is a part of that, and those beliefs will be projected in film and books for many years to come.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Six: Big Legend. I review the 2018 horror film Big Legend written and directed by Justin Lee.

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LINKS FOR C.G. MOSLEY

Social Media Links:

Twitter | Facebook |  Instagram |  Goodreads

Buy Links:

Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | SeveredPress | Amazon

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LINKS FOR THE BIGFOOT FILES:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Four: The Road Best Not Taken

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Four: The Road Best Not Taken

“The Road Best Not Taken” by horror author and video game writer Richard Dansky is a treasure I discovered during the Georgia Bigfoot Conference in April. It’s a riveting short story propelled by the eyewitness testimony of a Bigfoot encounter.

“I’ve always been a Bigfoot fan ever since I saw the Bigfoot episode of ‘In Search Of …’ way, way, way, way, way back in the day,” Dansky said in an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files. “It’s always been something I’ve been interested in …  reading about encounters people have had with Bigfoot. The story was actually inspired by an account I heard. Reading about that encounter I saw the seeds of a good story in there if I just expand it a little bit.”

snowbird gothic“The Road Best Not Taken” is one of nineteen short stories in Dansky’s collection titled Snowbird Gothic. Dansky is also a video game writer at Ubisoft, and his credits include work on Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Outland, and Rainbow Six: Black Arrow. He also wrote the novel Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: Dark Waters.

Tom Clancy Dark Waters

While Dansky’s short story “The Road Best Not Taken” is a far cry from the world of Tom Clancy, his tale is a compelling illustration of how a traumatic encounter can alter the path of someone’s life. Narrated in the first person by a second-grade teacher named Barry, “The Road Best Not Taken” is a dramatic eyewitness account of Bigfoot with a twist.

The setting is a beach bonfire where four old college friends – Barry, Sam, Harris, and Jeremy – reunite and catch up on each other’s lives. However, the only real information Barry’s friends want to know is the reason for his breakup with a redhead named Jaimie nine years ago.

“I could tell you what happened, but I don’t think you’d believe me.”

His friends push Barry to explain what happened.

“If I tell you, will you let it go? It’s not a story I want to tell twice.”

And just like that, Dansky expertly hooks the reader, and you feel like one of Barry’s college friends sitting around the bonfire. Like Sam, Harris, and Jeremy, you have to know what happened between Barry and Jaimie.

And what happened was Bigfoot, but not in the way you’d expect.

Barry’s account starts with him driving from Chapel Hill to Elizabeth City to visit Jaimie during his college days. He hits construction an hour east of Raleigh and makes the fateful decision to take a shortcut. He gets lost on the backroads leading to his Bigfoot encounter.

Barry struggles at times to tell the story to his friends because they can’t relate to his experience. He’s like a soldier trying to describe the frontlines of a war zone to civilians who’ve never served in the military.

What elevates “The Road Best Not Taken” is Dansky’s earnest description of the Bigfoot encounter and his empathy for the narrator. Dansky seems to understand how a Bigfoot encounter would affect an eyewitness emotionally and psychologically.

Dansky is a Bigfoot believer himself and knows people who say they’ve seen the cryptid, which may be why “The Road Best Not Taken” feels so authentic.

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Richard Dansky

“I have eight friends who have seen Bigfoot, so I’m not inclined to call them liars,” Dansky said. “I have never seen Bigfoot myself. I’m a city boy.”

I asked Dansky why Bigfoot remains so prevalent in pop culture today.

“I think part of it is the mystery of ‘Is it really out there?’ There’s a little bit of realism to it you don’t get from vampires and zombies,” Dansky said. “And part of it is Bigfoot stands for the untamed wilderness, which is still a big part of this country’s psyche, I think.”

“I believe Bigfoot is out there,” Dansky added. “I believe Bigfoot is a large primate, and I hope he continues to confound and amaze us for many years.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Five: Wood Ape. I review the horror novel Wood Ape by C.G. Mosley, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story.

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RELATED LINKS:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

Horror author Hunter Shea admittedly owes a lot of his success to Skunk Apes, the Everglades version of Bigfoot.

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Shea’s fast-paced, action-packed horror novel, Swamp Monster Massacre, is a crowd-pleasing creature feature about a criminal on the lam alongside a group of Everglades tourists trying to survive a pissed-off family of Skunk Apes.

Swamp Monster Massacre is also the book that helped launch Shea’s career as a writer of cryptid fiction.

In an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files, Shea said a popular TV show sparked the idea for Swamp Monster Massacre.

“The entire novel literally came to me fully formed while watching an episode of Bar Rescue,” Shea said. “I knew I wanted to write a Bigfoot book, but I had to take a different angle. And I wanted the heat of summer to be a character of its own, so my mind immediately went to the Florida Everglades. Settling on Skunk Apes, those smelly beasties of the swamp, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to strand a bunch of tourists in a fan boat in the middle of the Everglades?’ And what better way to do that than have them kidnapped by a criminal named Rooster. It was one of the very few times a story popped into my head fully formed. I wrote the book over the course of three weeks in a kind of fever dream. Little did I know how much that crazy little book would change my life.”

While evidence of the Skunk Ape’s existence is lacking, Shea’s discovery is based on clear proof of his unique writing talent in the horror genre.

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Hunter Shea

“I was discovered by my editor at Kensington/Pinnacle when he read the book,” Shea said. “That turned into a three mass market paperback deal and other books that have followed. It also set me on my cryptid course. I’ve now written about the Jersey Devil, Orang Pendeks, the Loch Ness Monster, the Dover Demon, and so many more. In fact, I kind of combine the beasts and many of the characters from those standalone books into my Patreon only choose-your-adventure story, Clash of the Cryptids. That book led me to meeting and befriending real cryptozoologists, including Loren Coleman. I’ve even had some of my books on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. It’s kind of crazy to think how so much has come from a book called Swamp Monster Massacre. It’s a dream come true in a very weird way.”

Swamp Monster Massacre begins with a hot-under-the-collar criminal named Rooster Murphy prying his knuckle from the shattered eye socket of a Cuban named Cheech after a gun deal gone wrong. Rooster soon finds himself on the run from three vengeful Cubans and commandeers an airboat of tourists to escape.

On the boat are pilot Mick and seven passengers. The passenger list includes two Jersey Shore-type guys Angelo and Dominic; identical twin blonde college girls Liz and Maddie; older married couple John and Carol; and businessman Jack.

Rooster doesn’t want to hurt anybody. He just wants to reach a safe house hidden in the Everglades that his father showed him when he was old enough to learn the family business. However, the passengers don’t know Rooster’s intentions and attempt to disarm him, resulting in a boat wreck that strands everyone in the middle of the swamp, miles away from the safe house.

Unfortunately, the boat happened to hit a young Skunk Ape standing on the shore, killing it and sending the other Skunk Apes into a bloodlust of vengeance. The rest of the story follows Rooster, Mick, and the tourists into the Everglades where the family of Skunk Apes hounds the group, picking off the humans one by one.

Shea writes the action at a breathless pace but doesn’t forget to include details of the swamp’s heat and mosquitoes, which makes the setting a character of its own. Despite the gory nature of the book (Massacre is in the title), Shea provides a kind of comedy relief with some of his dialogue and descriptive metaphors.

He saves some of his best descriptions for the Skunk Apes:

  • “Four hairy monsters, the smallest at just about seven feet, the largest over eight, stood side by side on the shore, bellowing with murderous intent. All had broad, muscular chests, and one sported a pair of drooping, furred breasts. The hair on their heads was long, like an 80s glam band gone rogue. Their immense, talon-like hands hung low, almost to their knees. A small amount of bronze flesh was visible on their faces, but the rest of them just looked like bipedal woolly mammoths. And their eyes! Eight flaming eyes bored out from under all that hair and filth.”
  • The Skunk Ape’s smell? “It was like a combination of gasoline, body odor, wet dog, and the inside of a baby’s diaper.”
  • The Skunk Ape’s sound? “Suddenly, there was a loud roar, like what Rooster would imagine a tiger caught in a bear trap would sound like.”

One of my favorite lines is when Rooster tries to convince the pilot that they need to get moving: “It’s either that, or sit here like a corn dog on a dinner plate.”

The climax of Swamp Monster Massacre is brutal as the story dips into extreme elements of horror for the finale, but what a wild ride at the end. The tone of the book reminded me of the 1987 film Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, where the tension of a possible surprise attack at any moment keeps everyone on edge.

Shea’s interest in and ability to write about cryptids is legit, and among his many cryptid titles is Savage Jungle, a novel about Sumatra’s version of Bigfoot, the Orang Pendek.

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I asked Shea if he believes in Bigfoot.

“I believe there is a high probability that Bigfoot is real, but perhaps not in the way that people think and hope,” Shea explained. “I’m not on board with the interdimensional Sasquatch theory, nor do I think they are aligned with extraterrestrial interlopers. I think that whatever they are is something beyond our modern comprehension. That goes for ghosts and ETs as well. Somehow, they are all connected and have always been throughout time, with different names given to them by succeeding generations of man. Are they physical beings? I tend to think they are ultra-physical, a form of life we’re not equipped with at this time in our development to even fathom. Anyone trying to explain Bigfoot is like the Buddha telling people how a cellphone works. No matter what, belief makes the world a much more fascinating place.”

I also asked Shea why he thinks Bigfoot continues to remain so prevalent in pop culture today.

“Bigfoot is fun for the city dwellers, a monster myth that makes for cool TV specials, bad movies, and some bizarre books,” Shea replied. “For the woodsy folks, it’s a killer campfire story that adds an element of excitement to a night in the deep, dark forest. I once took my daughters on a nature hike in Maine that was basically a trail that wrapped around Main Street. You could even hear cars from time to time. But when they heard what sounded like a wood knock, they nearly beat feet and ran the hell out of there. Fear is good. It’s a rush. It makes us feel alive. In a time where it seems like everything is at our fingertips, it’s nice to think we don’t have everything figured out. The possibility that our long lost cousin or the missing link is still out there, ready to redefine our notions of ourselves, is downright fascinating.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Four: “The Road Best Not Taken.” I review the horror short story “The Road Best Not Taken” from the collection Snowbird Gothic by Richard Dansky, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story.

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RELATED LINKS:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

Oddly enough, Bigfoot was not the original creature that author Jeff Strand had in mind for his Bram Stoker Award-nominated horror novel Dweller.

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“The concept of ‘the story of a lifetime friendship between a boy and a monster’ came to me before the actual monster,” said Strand in an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files. “I’d originally thought it would be a reptilian creature that lived at the bottom of a well. But that was too limiting for a book that covered sixty years, and I wanted the readers to fall in love with Owen, so I switched to Bigfoot. Well, something like Bigfoot. There’s a scene where they watch the Patterson-Gimlin film and try to figure out if Owen is the same type of animal. That gave me the whole forest to play around in and made the monster much more cuddly.”

Of course, since Dweller is a horror novel, Owen the Bigfoot is not as cuddly as Strand would have you believe.

Released in 2010, Dweller is a tragic tale of friendship between one lonely human named Toby and one lonely cryptid that Toby names Owen. What makes Dweller a cut and a slash above the average creature feature is that the novel chronicles a heartfelt relationship between human and beast over a period of six decades, starting with their first encounter in 1953.

Dweller is quite a remarkable feat of storytelling because of the time frame, but also because Strand’s tale is as tender as it is terrifying. Eight-year-old Toby initially encounters the creature (who he later names Owen) in the woods behind his home, but their friendship doesn’t begin until seven years later when Toby is a bullied, socially awkward teenager. Their ensuing encounters spark a relationship that Strand is able to ground in reality.

To me, one of the most poignant aspects of Dweller is why Toby chooses the name Owen for the Bigfoot creature. Strand writes:

“Owen – the human Owen – was the closest Toby had ever come to having a real friend.”

Toby had met a boy named Owen in sixth grade, and for about three months they played together every day until an incident ended their friendship. So, Toby has no friends now. How sad is it that the boy turns to a monster just to have a friend and then names it after the only human friend he ever had?

Owen’s story is even sadder as illustrated in the prologue of Dweller. A runt offspring, Owen is orphaned after watching humans kill his family. Owen runs from the killer humans, and Strand writes:

“When he stopped running, he wept.”

That last line of the prologue always gets to me. Can you imagine a young Bigfoot weeping — not crying, but weeping — after humans kill his family? It’s a heartbreaking moment.

One of the more interesting techniques employed in Dweller is Strand’s use of chapters titled “Glimpses,” which cover years of time in the lives of Toby and Owen in just a few pages. For example, in Chapter Eleven, Strand chronicles 1964 to 1972 in eight pages by describing a moment or two during each year. The glimpses are a surprisingly effective way to show time passing and to develop the characters.

One of my favorite glimpses in the book is when Toby is showing photographs from the iconic Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film to Owen. Toby thinks that Bigfoot shares a resemblance to Owen, but Owen disagrees. It’s such a “real” moment.

Dweller is among my top ten favorite novels of any genre, not just horror. I became an instant fan of Strand after reading it and have followed his eclectic career ever since. Known as a master of blending horror and comedy, Strand has written more than forty books, but Dweller remains my favorite (and probably always will). Strangely, his one mainstream romantic comedy Kumquat is my second favorite of his novels followed by the devastatingly dark Pressure.

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Jeff Strand

I asked Strand if he believes in Bigfoot.

“I think the overwhelming majority of Bigfoot sightings are hoaxes or just mistakes,” Strand replied. “When I see a shaky video of an indistinct blur viewed through thick forest and the cameraman is saying, ‘That’s Bigfoot! Oh my God, that’s Bigfoot!’ I have to be skeptical. It’s easy to see what you want to see, and it’s easy to fool people, so I believe that very few Bigfoot sightings are legitimate. But ‘overwhelming majority’ doesn’t mean ‘all.’ As with aliens, I don’t believe or disbelieve either way — I’m open to the possibility. But I have not seen anything to make me say, ‘Yes! They exist!’”

I also asked Strand why he thinks Bigfoot continues to remain so prevalent in pop culture today.

“It’s just a fascinating idea, that there’s a creature living out there that may or may not be real,” Strand explained. “It’s mysterious and a little scary. Bigfoot is credible enough that you don’t have to be a complete whack-nut to think, ‘Well, maybe ….’ There’s way freakier stuff living in the oceans. So, he could be out there, and yet nobody has ever caught one or provided conclusive evidence that they exist. Even if you’re a hardcore skeptic, it’s a fun mystery.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre. I review the horror novel Swamp Monster Massacre by Hunter Shea, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story and how the book changed his life.

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RELATED LINK:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot