Following the release of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, (footage of an alleged Bigfoot sighting in 1967) there was a wave of excitement about Bigfoot, resulting in many Bigfoot films such as The Legend of Boggy Creek and The Creature from Black Lake. Roger Patterson, the filmer of the famous footage, tried to finance a film called Bigfoot: Americas Abominable Snowman, about cowboys, led by a Native American guide (to be played by Robert Gimlin in a wig) undertaking an expedition to find the creature, while telling stories about sightings along the way. Patterson never got to make the film, and after his death in 1972, Ron Olson co-wrote and produced Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot, using the same plot setup, but avoiding giving Roger Patterson a writing credit.
Beginning by showing the Patterson-Gimlin footage, this film charts the efforts of Chuck Evans (George Lauris) leading a horseback expedition into the wilds of British Colombia to find the elusive Sasquatch. Accompanying Chuck are Dr. Paul Markham (William Emmons) an anthropologist, Hank Parshall (Steve Boergadine) who provides the horses and tracking dogs, Techka Blackhawk (Joel Morello) a Native American expert on the region beyond the (fictional) Peckatoe river, Josh Bigsby (Ken Kenzle) a gnarly old mountain-man who knows the way to the Peckatoe river, Bob Vernon (Lou Salerini) a sceptical New York journalist and Barney Snipe (Jim Bradford) the cook and ostensible comic relief of the film. While this film isn’t a documentary and is a straight ahead narrative about the expedition to find a Sasquatch, it uses a narration by the lead actor throughout its length, making it feel like a documentary.
The first half of the film is a peaceful horseback trek through beautiful rugged scenery, interspersed with animal encounters from the straight-out-of-a-documentary scenes of two grizzly bears fighting, to the attempts at humour with Barney chasing racoons out of his camp cooking area with a saucepan. Other more exciting encounters include attacks on the expedition by a grizzly bear and a cougar. During this time the characters discuss various encounters with bigfoot, including the attack on miners in Ape Canyon in 1924 and the encounter of frontiersmen Bauman and Jessup which was related to Theodore Roosevelt and published in his book ‘The Wilderness Hunter’. These encounters are recreated in the film, making the Sasquatch a little-seen but menacing character.
A little after halfway through the film, the group make a dangerous crossing of the Peckatoe river passing into sacred land where even the Native Americans do not tread. The tone of the film become a little more ominous, and the group find strange signs, trees snapped off and unexpected, dangerous rockfalls.
Finally they arrive at the valley that they believe is the home of the Sasquatch, and set up a system of sensors to see if anything approaches their camp. In this final scene the film almost becomes a horror film as the team separate with radios and tranquiliser guns and one person watches the sensors go off, trying to tell his teammates where the creature is. The photography is often stunning, the scenery and animal footage is spectacular, and the film has a nice score that compliments the photography well, even if it feels like there are only about three pieces of music on rotation.
Unfortunately the script and acting are weak. The dialogue is forced and clunky and the characters are little more than stereotypes. The pacing is also very slow, little on note happens in the film until the last 10 minutes. However, the finale with the Sasquatch attack on the camp is quite effective, with the sensors showing the position of an unseen threat bringing to mind Aliens‘ famous motion tracker scenes.
Overall the film is an oddity, it veers from a leisurely nature trek, to weak animal-based comedy, to a tension-filled finale, all held together by George Lauris’ narration.