Scarecrow Video wants your Bigfoot movies. Employee Leo Mayberry, who grew up in the ’70s watching Bigfoot flicks on late-night TV, is the mastermind behind the video store's newest project, Operation Bigfoot.
“I was like, this could be fun to try and take the Bigfoot section that we have and fill it out,” recalls Leo. “Then it became much more obsessive, where it was like, 'Okay, we should have the biggest Bigfoot section in the world.'”
At the entrance to the store, a giant footprint-shaped shelf covered in fur displays some of the collection's 277 titles. Across other sections, Bigfoot makes 100 cameos. Leo has spent countless hours trawling eBay, personal Patreons, and ’90s-looking websites to find these films. He’s encountered dead ends, too, from bootlegs to COVID-canceled productions.
Self-distributed shlock peaked on rental shelves in the ’90s and early 2000s, but distribution models have radically changed since then. Now people are slapping their movies onto Amazon, knowing that SEO rewards work with “Bigfoot” in the title, without even making DVD copies. Even worse for Scarecrow, Amazon often holds exclusive distribution rights.
Filmmaker John Portanova is a longtime Bigfoot fanatic and supporter of Operation Bigfoot. Growing up in Poulsbo, he and his friends called themselves the Monster Detectives. He’s still a true believer, citing “all of the sightings that have been recorded for hundreds of years,” although he considers the recent Colorado one to be a hoax. In 2015, he released Hunting Grounds, originally titled Valley of the Sasquatch, which centers on a teenager who moves with his deadbeat dad to a ramshackle cabin. Hunting Grounds, which sold out at SIFF, portrays Bigfoot as a fellow creature who just wants to be left alone, without skimping on the bone-crunching thrills. Scarecrow owns the Blu-ray edition with Portanova’s bonus Sasquatch-hunting mission. The distributor has since stopped manufacturing the disc, a reminder that even recent films can be precarious without an organization like Scarecrow to preserve them.
In Leo’s taxonomy, Bigfoots fall into three main types: woodland, snowy, and swamp. Bigfoot-mania began in 1954 with Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä from a Finnish comedy duo, who took inspiration from a news report about the Abominable Snowman. Most early films were classic monster flicks, often with repurposed gorilla suits. But in the ’70s, with environmentalism and hippie culture in full swing, Bigfoot became a cuddly mascot of nature. In works like Bigfoot and Wildboy and Harry and the Hendersons, the real villains are the loggers and hunters. With the luscious locks and bell-bottom-esque fur of Chewbaca, Bigfoot even followed style trends. Simultaneously, films became gorier with the rise of slasher and exploitation genres, à la Legend of Boggy Creek.
Since then, Bigfoot subgenres have flourished, each more niche and baffling than the last. There’s Bigfoot sci-fi (Demonwarp) and Bigfoot mumblecore (Letters From the Big Man). There’s biblical Bigfoot, in which he’s either the object of worship (Cry Wilderness) or can only be vanquished with prayer (The Badge, the Bible, and Bigfoot). The internet being what it is, there’s Bigfoot porn, as epitomized by Sexsquatch I, and, let us not forget, Sexsquatch II.
In a perhaps even stranger twist, Bigfoot has been embraced by the alt-right. Leo describes “the world’s most confusing T-shirt” featuring a star-spangled Bigfoot and the slogan, “Take the train home, Joe.” He explains, “For whatever reason, the MAGA types have latched on to using Bigfoot as some sort of symbol of liberty ... There is sort of a loner thing about Bigfoot, like he’s an outlaw or something.” Basically, Bigfoot doesn’t pay his taxes, so why should you?
Scarecrow’s collection spans both decades and continents, with a diversity of representations. “There’s a crazy difference in sizes in Bigfoots in things. For whatever reason, the British seem to think that Bigfoot’s, like, really gigantic,” says Leo. “There's an episode of One Step Beyond [where] this little boy goes missing out in the woods. When they find him, he's up in a cave on a cliff, and he claims that Bigfoot lifted him up in the palm of his hand and stuck him in the hole. So that means Bigfoot would be, like, 15 feet tall.”
At the other end of the size continuum, there’s the diminutive Orang Pendek in Indonesia, the Yeren in China, and the Hibagon in Japan. What do these disparate bits of folklore have in common? They’re all “missing links” that represent in-between stages in human evolution.
“A lot of mythology, probably, is a weird cultural way of talking about science,” says Leo. “One way you can talk about evolution is to talk about the phases of it ... So maybe they're bridging the gap between something that doesn't exist anymore, but they're filling in the gap.”
Writer-historian David Lewis, the screenwriter for the Seattle arts phenomenon of the year Fantasy A Gets A Mattress, pored over centuries of lore for his book Evergreen Ape. Many accounts of “wild men” precede Bigfoot, popping up in Native folklore and dating back to the Epic of Gilgamesh. From the pioneer era come tales of white men longing to escape civilization, like John Tornow. David has cosplayed at Pike Place Market, explaining that “dressing up like Sasquatch does way more than targeted Facebook ads for book sales. My advice for artists is, beating your chest literally is an effective way to sell art.”
Is there a connection between his Bigfoot sociology and Fantasy A, a comedy about an autistic rapper trying to make it big? David ponders that for a moment. “Much like Sasquatch, everyone sees the footprints, everyone sees his posters. He earns the mystery.” Fantasy A proved that Seattleites are hungry for local lore and local history, and that includes cryptids, too. “I'm a huge cultural preservationist,” David explains.
So what’s next for Operation Bigfoot? Scarecrow is always accepting donations to help them expand their collection of cinematic oddities. For Leo, the hunt continues because each filmmaker brings their own idiosyncratic flair to the public-domain deity that is Bigfoot. “It's really exciting to see low-budget filmmaking or people self-making things and telling strange stories,” he reflects.
Strange, indeed. Bigfoot-cinema will surely continue to evolve, or devolve, depending on your point of view. And Scarecrow will be there at every rung of the evolutionary ladder.