If you’re a horror fan who grew up in the 80s like I am, most likely you appreciate old school. I miss those gaudy days when plots weren’t so cheeky and self-knowing, casts looked like real people and not low grade models, and latex monsters filled the screen. If only today’s horror flicks were more like that, I’d enjoy more of them.
Fortunately, director Ryan Schifrin shares my love of old school. As I watched Schifrin’s Bigfoot flick ABOMINABLE, I realized it should have come out not in 2006, but in 1986. After all, it has all the trappings of a Reagan era horror flick: isolated location; five nubile “teenage” girls with hot bodies; lots of bloody deaths; and a guy in a monster suit. And though not particularly scary, more often than not ABOMINABLE does it right.
It’s even got a throwback plot, though the main thrust of it goes even further back, to Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW. Our hero Preston Rogers lost his wife and the use of his legs in a mountain climbing accident. Six months later, his doctor has ordered him to return to his vacation home to face his demons. Unfortunately, the doctor placed him in the care of a rather self-serving, annoying dick of a caretaker. The same day Rogers arrives, so does a group of five girls for a weekend getaway. Enter Bigfoot. Sensing a fresh food source, it snatches one of the girls. Rogers tries to intervene, but both his wheelchair and a number of disbelievers hamper that idea.
Schifrin freely admits he copped the plot of Rear Window and turned it into a creature feature. Though I think Hitchcock is vastly overrated, I do love the Jimmy Stewart classic. Unfortunately, we don’t get Stewart here. In his stead, we get Matt McCoy, star of such terrifying flicks as THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE and POLICE ACADEMY 5. He overplays fright and tension a bit, but overacting in this flick is forgivable. He does fare much better than his two main co-stars. The female lead is a fairly weak actress, named Haley Joel is weak as the lead girl (and it’s a shame Schifrin didn’t elevate her castmate Tiffany Shepis to this role, as she’s a much better actress), from her inability to sell her fear to her stale line reading. Even worse is Christien Tinsley as the caretaker. Hired on as the special makeup effects guy, he asked Schifrin for a role, and the director cast him as one of the leads (Note: not the best way to find one of your lead actors). His acting is so atrocious, his character so frustratingly annoying, that he almost brings down the whole movie. But Schifrin makes up for it in spades with other inspired casting choices. Who would’ve expected the flick to boast performances from Smallville‘s Martian Manhunter and Principal Vernon from THE BREAKFAST CLUB?
There are more intriguing casting choices. Unfortunately, Schifrin squanders performances of genre vets Jeffrey Combs, Lance Henriksen, and a personal favorite of mine, Dee Wallace. Sure it’s great to see these stars and fondly remember them in classics such as RE-ANIMATOR, the ALIEN series, and THE HOWLING, but they just serve to remind just how much better those flicks are than this one. Plus, their screen time is so fleeting that they’re all underdeveloped to the benefit of the three leads, who are far less interesting.
Combs’ character in particular, with his oxygen tank, wild spectacles and knowledge of Bigfoot, would have been a joy to have around more, if only because he’s so weird. Instead, these three stalwart horror pros end up as glorified cameos whose names may draw to ABOMINABLE fans who will be sorely disappointed.
Given this, Schifrin still does plenty right to satisfy throwback fans of my generation. Schifrin makes it clear both in the film’s documentary and the commentary that he is a fan of old school horror, but this is evident just by watching the movie. Flying in the face of watered down PG-13 fare, he adheres to Joe Bob Briggs’ 3 B’s: Blood, Breasts and Beasts. There’s plenty of gore in this flick; particularly fun was watching a character get his face eaten off, and all with practical effects. Shepis gets naked and takes a shower on film, and looks just fine in doing so. As for the beast, yes, it’s cheesy. The Bigfoot in the flick looks like the retarded brother of Harry from that John Lithgow classic HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS. But it fits the whole tone of the flick.
The documentary and commentary make up the base of a rather extensive package of extras on the disc. Anchor Bay once again gives a low budget horror flick the royal treatment (though I really wish someone in that company would figure out how to encode subtitles). “Back to Genre: Making Abominable” runs 37 minutes and proves what a labor of love this movie was for Schifrin. Oddly, he admits that the idea for ABOMINABLE came to him on a beach during his honeymoon (I wonder what that marriage is like). Schifrin chronicles the hassles of low budget filmmaking, but also ventures into interesting territory when he discusses how, as the son of famed movie composer Lalo Schifrin, he was able to call in all sorts of favors for the film. Sadly the doc reveals that director of photography Neal Fredericks died in a plane crash during post production; the movie is dedicated to him.
The commentary is a bit less of a joy. Schifrin’s compendium of film knowledge is impressive, and he discusses some entertaining topics. But McCoy is a bore, making jokes that fall flat and genuinely dull comments. Oddly, Combs shows up only to cover his two scenes, alongside editor Chris Conlee. Listen only to see just how many movies Schifrin references within his own film.
The deleted and extended scenes add nothing to the film, and deserved their place on the cutting room floor. Also easy to pass on are the outtakes and bloopers. I generally don’t like outtakes, but here they’re even worse than usual, as one scene takes up the bulk of the four minute running time. The two trailers are interesting, especially because of their contrast. Galleries of still sand storyboards round out the package, as well as a DVD Rom copy of the screenplay; I never bother with these, so I can’t comment.
One more extra of note appears. Schifrin’s student film “Shadows” is worth taking a peek at. It’s a nifty little piece that suggests that sometimes paranoia isn’t such a bad thing. A thematic fit with ABOMINABLE.
Had I watched ABOMINABLE on its own terms, I probably would have buried it in a darksome hole with so much SyFy channel fare. But with the entire decade of the 1980s behind it, ABOMINABLE is a fun trip. Ryan Schifrin loves the splatter fare I grew up on, and in imitating those movies, he certainly did not create a masterpiece (after all, those “run around a camp and slash up the teens” movies were never high art to begin with). But he did produce a nice little monster flick that has a sensibility nearly 20 years past due, and I dig that. And what better way to rock on with this 80s throwback than the inevitable… ABOMINABLE 2! I hope this flick gets made. If it does, Jason Vorhees should applaud.