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Troma Twofer: 'Bigfoot' and 'Dark Nature'

They've been quite as of late, going the Blu-ray way for such classic titles as Poultrygeist, Tromeo and Juliet, and The Class of Nuke 'Em High. But for many, Troma will always be first and foremost of supporter of independent art, a distributor known for championing some of the choicest bits of amazing cinematic cheese ever to hit home theater. From Cannibal: The Musical to Killer Condom, the company has seized upon the idea that, if the mainstream is going to ignore their baffling business model, the corporate structure is going to give it right back to them with a giant raspberry. It's happened time and time again - films like Redneck Zombies, Suicide, Special Needs, and Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid proving that, within any celebrated system, the anomalies far outweigh the workaday wonders.

Case in point - the recent releases Bigfoot and Dark Nature. Each movie was made by a director who clearly believes in reviving an old horror archetype. For Bob Gray, it’s the beastie bedlam of '70s drive-in classics like The Legend of Boggy Creek and Grizzly. For UK filmmaker Marc de Launay, it's the old school slasher film of the 1980s. The former finds lots of success in his William Grefe meets Day of the Animals dynamic - even if his man-in-suit sensibilities try to undermine the fun. Unfortunately, the latter has a hard time achieving anything other than a level of monotony. In trying to twist the subgenre into something subversive and unsuspecting, he drains all of the drama - and demographically determined splatter - out of the narrative. As with much of Troma's tenure, it's hit and (mostly) miss.

Bigfoot (Score: 7)

Military vet Jack Marshall is returning to his hometown in Ohio after being court-marshaled for striking a superior officer. He brings along a wealth of past problems and a tomboy daughter named Charlie. Almost immediately, the duo becomes immersed in the local legend of a creature called Bigfoot. Seems the nearby swamp is rampant with stories of the beast, and with several locals now missing in the bog, Sheriff Bob thinks something is definitely afoot. Helping track the mythic monster is Park Ranger Sandy Parker, who has her own interest in setting the record straight. The appearance of Bigfoot in such close proximity to people means that urban sprawl and deforestation have wrecked havoc with his natural habitat, and apparently, he is taking out his homeless rage on the residents of Jack's birthplace.

There is something uniformly engaging about this little monster movie that could, facets of fun that can't fully compensate for the otherwise ordinary level of realism in the title terror. Yes, the creature here looks crappy, reduced to something akin to an ape with a facially frozen bad attitude. Yet thanks to some inventive direction by Bob Gray, as well as some endearing performances from the regularly amateur cast, we wind up with a winning combination of lower expectations and more than masterful realization. The Ohio marshland makes for a compelling backdrop and the dialogue does a good job of establishing conflict without going overboard into formula or cliché. Sure, there are archetypes overplaying their cartoon cards (like the big fat oaf who keeps challenging our heroes, only to end up flat on his ass), but for the most part, Gray delivers on Bigfoot's b-movie promise.

The resemblance to productions far in the past also wins us over. While the late great Charles B. Pierce would have taken a more serious approach to this material (he was a certified Sasquatch fiend, rumor has it), Gray gives it a nice passion pit patina. One could easily see themselves sauntering up to a snack bar filled with sloppy Smithfield Bar-B-Q, greasy hot dogs, and counter help showing off their prison tattoos during the climatic confrontation between man and beast. Of course, cruising for some high fat food stuffs could cause you to miss many of the effective gore scenes. Blood does flow here, as does a wistful playfulness that keeps things solidly in the Decade of Me. With its love of physical F/X and a nod to the basic genre trappings, Bigfoot becomes a dopey delight. While it won't win any awards, it also won't bore to tears.

Dark Nature (Score: 4)

In a remote section of Scotland, an old woman is bludgeoned to death by her husband. Within seconds, he too is killed by an unseen assassin. Making matters more complicated are a family compromised of a sour mother, her ineffectual boyfriend, a rebellious daughter, and a disconnected son. They are arriving to visit the dead lady, unaware of what has happened. When they get to the isolated spot, all they find is a couple of their friends, a unsettlingly quiet manor, and a handyman who looks like a deranged psychopath. Surprise - he is! Within minutes, he is slicing and dicing his way through the countryside, righting wrongs that only exist in his pointed little head. From a nosy entomologist who experiments on bugs to a psychic who seems stuck in stupor mode, no one is safe.

Talky when it should be terrifying and spending far too much time on the splendid landscapes of its UK locales, Dark Nature would be a decent horror film if it didn't have a whole other agenda to act upon. Apparently, director Marc de Launay and writer Eddie Harrison are out to "reinvent" Jason Voorhees' favorite starring vehicle, and they want to do so by thwarting audience expectations and convention. If you follow this design, then you realize why this attempted fear factor fails. Instead of making us guess who the killer is, the movie gives it away halfway through. Instead of turning every wood and fenced-in garden into a place of false refuge, the characters roam freely without feeling the least bit bothered. Honestly, more time is spent on the spoiled rotten daughter and the inconsiderate mother than anything remotely associated with dread. As endless shots of water and surf struggle to compete with other vibrant vistas on the horizon, we wonder if this is a travelogue or a true attempt at fright. The lack of any legitimate shocks seems to answer the question.

It's not just the poor pacing that does this movie in - and it does crawl like a sickly snail. It's the overall lack of ideas. Again, de Launay and Harrison may want to change up our perceptions of the genre by failing to give their villain a viable reason for craving up the citizenry, but the denouement presented is so anemic it's like a teenager's excuse for missing curfew. Similarly, the internal squabbles between the various family members are forced and unfulfilling. So the adolescent daughter is angry at her mom for taking her cellphone away? Does that mean they can act completely out of character at the end, rendering the first 70 minutes meaningless? If this is the way to reinvent something, we should stick with the original. Mechanical or not, the Michael Meyers and the Freddy Kruegers of the world got the job done. No time to take in the scenery or watch some guy go ga-ga over bugs. Certainly the old school style offered little more than clever kills and some gratuitous gore. Dark Nature provides neither, further showing that revisionism may be cool, but it's certainly no guarantee for goodness. Certainly the old school style offered little more than clever kills and some gratuitous gore. Dark Nature provides neither, further showing that revisionism may be cool, but that's about all.

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