THE WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD
Written, Directed, & Edited By: DUANE GRAVES and JUSTIN MEEKS
Based On The Journals Of: DALE S. ROGERS
Produced By: JUSTIN MEEKS, KIM HENKEL, and DUANE GRAVES
Starring: JUSTIN MEEKS, ALEX GARCIA, CHARLIE HURTIN, EDMOND GEYER, STACY MEEKS, KIM HENKEL, MAC McBRIDE, BOB WOOD, JAMES BARGSLEY, PATRICK HEWLETT, and TONY WOLFORD as THE WILD MAN
A BRIEF SYNOPSIS: From Greeks Productions and the producer of the original 70’s horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre comes The Wild Man of the Navidad. This vintage horror tale is based on the real-life journals of Dale S. Rogers. Shot in a 70’s style B-movie aesthetic, Mr. Roger’s veracious accounts are brought to vivid, chilling life in this intelligent retelling of an old rural legend involving a small Texas community terrified for years by a mysterious creature inhabiting the nearby woods.
I first became aware of Independent Filmmakers Duane Graves and Justin Meeks when I picked up, years ago, a DVD in MediaPlay called FREAK, a film now discontinued by the distributor. I became aware of this flick whenever I read about a short film included on the disc over at TexasChainsawMassacre.net called HEAD CHEESE, an early, very strange film, from the two Texans that took place at a few of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE locations. Though HEAD CHEESE could be considered very “art school” in nature, present throughout the film were genuinely eerie. and disturbing scenes. Aided by a very odd, sparse, musical score, and a mashup of 8mm and 16mm film stock, the short carried with it the look and psychological feel of perhaps the only remaining scrap of stock from some obscure exploitation film from the late 60’s or 70’s with washed out colors and a heavy grain, along with the requisite pops and scratches we’ve come to recognize with such films.
I eagerly anticipated a feature length work within the horror genre after seeing HEAD CHEESE, something I was certain could only be a matter of time. Then, last year, news came down the line about a new film the two had been working on called THE WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD. In fact, my very first post here at BACKWOODS HORROR was about the film (to be followed by more as my excitement and anticipation grew with every new little bit of news that came along).
Following in the footsteps of two of my all-time favorite films (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE & THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK), adding that bit of, what I’ve often refered to on the site as, “DIRTY SOUTH” (or Southern Gothic if you will, I like my name better) atmosphere, the realistic, if sometimes dark atmosphere of the true South, I couldn’t help, even with its few flaws, but fall in love with this fantastic independent film masterpiece.
I’ll get into those flaws first, and go ahead and get them out of the way to make room for the main course, just how fucking fantastic this film is…how easily you can forget, while watching, that this film was just made, and lose yourself in the nostalgia of it, as if you’d just found a long lost drive-in treasure. A film Joe Bob Briggs should’ve written about those years ago but never did.
The only flaw in this film is the special effects makeup, and that isn’t too heavy a flaw when you come down to it. The problem is that the film, being released in the here and now, is compared to other films, all kinds of films, from the here and now with money. MONEY, boils ‘n ghouls, and imagination is what it takes to make those effects pop. With just imagination, you can generally get the point across, sometimes well, but that blood starts to really look like red paint. Now, if WMOTN were released in the late 60’s or early 70’s, then we wouldn’t have a problem with it because even WITH money, effects were limited by technology and materials. It was still a fairly new science. H.G. Lewis’s films, we can all be assured, are fantastically, ludicrously, wonderfully gory, but the effects look like play-dough and red paint. Though he was the godfather of the modern gore film, the gore and effects just don’t hold up. (I’m sure I’ll receive hate mail from nostaligic fans, but hey, take a critical, objective eye and look again). Thankfully, the gore is very light in this film, so the gripe isn’t really all that big. The only BIG gripe I have is the WILD MAN creature makeup/costume. One of the reasons THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK worked then and still, in a way, works now, is that the monster was always kept just out of focus and slightly in the shadows. You never really got a good look at the creature. We today, thanks to high-priced hollywood effects, are spoiled, always able to see the monster in our multi-screened movie houses, but NOT always satisfied with what we see. As in literature (and yes, the horror genre IS literature…if you think otherwise, get the hell outta my shack!), in film, it is often, for the most part, best to leave the monster to our imaginations when money isn’t high on the resource list. Hell, even when money’s coming out of the director’s ears, in some cases, it’s better to leave the monster in the shadows because the creature we see in our minds will almost always be far more hideous and terrible. Why? Because everyone’s conception of what scares THEM is different, thus, when the monster is shown to us, some will, invariably, scream, some will laugh, and some will just be pissed off with a look on their face screaming “what the fuck? Is that it?”
Unfortunately, that’s just the sort of look I probably had stamped all over my face when the WILD MAN was revealed as a sort of man-boar with crazy lower teeth, or tusks, who happens to be a giant of a man covered in deer skins with antler hands. What the fuck? Of course, if the monster hadn’t been shown, many jaded-ass filmgoers and critics who’ve been spoon-fed their creature-features for years where the monster is ALWAYS shown will say “HEY, where’s my MONSTER!” and that might just be why the filmmakers here decided to show it. Unfortunate, I say, for I subscribe to the school where what is not shown, when set up properly, is often invariably far scarier than what is. Never underestimate the fucked up imagination of the general audience. An audience whose life experiences and nightmares are often far worse than what any filmmaker could dream up or create. The only reason this was such a big problem with me is because I loved the rest of the film so damn much. If it were a giant, flaming piece of shit, then that monster wouldn’t have come off as such a disappointment because I was already disappointed by the rest of the film. Not the case here, shitty monster makeup aside, I fucking LOVED this flick!
As is the case when one is attempting to express love, however, I’m having a difficult time formulating it into words. (Maybe that’s why we often only see critics bashing films, because they just aren’t talented enough writers to say anything positive if they truly enjoyed a film. Perhaps it’s unfashionable. Luckily, I have terrible fashion sense). The overall atmosphere of WMOTN is really what won me over. With skillfull camerawork (including a few tricks I won’t give away that have us thinking the entire time that these guys found some stash of fast filmstock from the 70’s, perhaps reels of Kodak 800 left over from AIP’s glory days, and then fed it through an ancient ARRI), fantastic editing, spot-on direction, and glorious writing, Meeks and Graves have perfectly transported the viewer into their dream world. A world of rusty, worn out cars, always in some state of repair or disrepair. A world of the corner bar, a cement cube with a worn neon sign the owner’s probably exceedingly proud of, with an interior of mismatched tables and chairs, wooden bar, and cold beer from a cooler that says Coca-Cola on the side of it and would’ve looked at home in any country gas station from the early 60’s to mid 80’s (or, if you grew up where I did, it looks at home in the corner store now, still sitting there with the coldest cokes and nehi’s in bottles you ever had). The small, Southern town, where everyone seems to know each other. Where important meetings are often held at that cement, dusty watering hole. Where the sun always seems to cast more of an orange-brown hue over everything than the bright white we often see in movies. That small town where the locals take care of their own, where myths and legends are often spoken of in hushed tones, winks, and nods. Everyone knows, but no one’s saying a damn thing, and all hell to outsiders who want to come poking around, stirring things up. A place where things are the way they are, as they’ve always been, and you’ll be damned if you try and change it now.
Though there is an obvious exploitive bit throughout the film in regard to the moonshine sub-subplot, these boys are from Texas and they didn’t go too overboard like someone who’d never been around that sort of crowd would, and thus, the exploitation in that regard is kept at a minimum, thankfully. But that isn’t to say this couldn’t be classified as an exploitation film in the highest regard. If WMOTN had been released during the bigfoot craze of the 70’s that started with THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, and included BIGFOOT, SASQUATCH, NIGHT OF THE DEMON(1980, towards the end of the craze), and CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE, among other, lesser flicks, it would’ve no doubt been a hit at the drive-in, and perhaps the grindhouse circuit. For that, I love it, it’s MY kind of movie. I think the kids who love the torture-porn flicks today might not view it in such a gloriously dusty light, but you know what? Fuck ’em, because their idea of a good movie is comparable to watching flies struggle till they die on flypaper, their wings beating furiously, trying in vain to escape this sticky, terrible hell they’ve unwittingly wandered into. There’s no story, no atmosphere, no real characters you can care about or relate to, it’s just gore and death for their sake alone and it’s BORING AS ALL FUCK! WMOTN has story, it has atmosphere in spades, and it has genuine, down to earth characters every man and woman can relate to. It is a finely woven tapestry of small town life and small town people, their concerns, fears, triumphs, all blending together to create a living, breathing picture of that life all brought to a critical mass as it starts to unravel when people start dying due to an old legend that is more than a legend, THE WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD is on the loose, he’s pissed as hell, and he’s out for blood.
If you dream of a time where films actually took you out of your life for a while and put you, ever so slowly and craftfully into the life of the story onscreen, films that made you think, made you wonder, and offered story, atmosphere, and character over simple, bland gore and violence alone (though, don’t get me wrong, WMOTN has plenty of violence, but when it happens, you CARE that it’s happening, you’re INVESTED in the story, you care about what’s happening), you’ll love this movie. If you love films like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, and all of the other films I’ve mentioned already, then WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD is for you. I can’t recommend this film enough. MEEKS and GRAVES are a pair of talented filmmakers and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next. When this film hits DVD August 11th, 2009, show your support for some damn talented independent horror filmmakers and buy it. You’ll be supporting a couple of guys who have the potential to make the next TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, the next great independent film that, unlike the torture-porn trash we keep getting so often today, will live on. These are the kind of filmmakers we want making the kind of movies we want, the kind of movies people will still be talking about in hushed tones saying “have you SEEN this?” I remember, growing up, how it was something of a right of passage to have seen films like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and THE EVIL DEAD…independent films that changed the face of horror. While WMOTN isn’t quite it, I can see the edge of the storm and I say, let it rain blood!
4 out of 5 skulls!