Loosely based on accounts of a creature that is said to be the subject of one of the first Bigfoot sightings in Texas in the 1800s as well as in a more modern encounter, The Wild Man of the Navidad (2008 but receiving a new DVD rerelease) hearkens back to the heyday of 1970s docudrama scare-fare cinema such as The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). It’s a wild, weird trip of a film from the cowriting/codirecting team of Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, shot and set in rural Texas, that delivers plenty of shocks and jaw-dropping moments.
Meeks stars as Dale S. Rogers, a mild-mannered sort who loses his welding job and turns to a desperate measure to support himself, his wheelchair-bound wife (Stacy Meeks), and their immigrant caretaker Mario (Alex Garcia): he opens up part of his land to paying hunters during deer season, knowing full well that something eerie and hungry for meat roams that patch of land near the titular river.
Graves and Meeks aim for an ambiance reminiscent of the aforementioned drive-in classics, using the approach of documentaries that incorporate reenactments as a springboard, presenting the tale of Rogers as one long reenactment. A bevy of nonactors add a rich, local color to the effort, and although their performances range from pretty good to obviously never having acted before in their lives, this adds authenticity to the pseudo-documentary feel. The result is a work that has the genuine feel of a 1970s drive-in feature made with modern technology. Kim Henkel, one of the producers of The Wild Man of the Navidad, was a cowriter and the associate producer of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and this 2008 effort boasts a lot of grit and visceral shocks like that earlier classic, including one of the most effective jump scares in recent memory.
Meeks gives a fine toplining turn as Rogers, never one to show much emotion despite what is happening around him but with an obvious seething intensity rolling around in his mind and hidden behind a stoic expression. Rogers is a conflicted character, knowing full well that he is sending people to their deaths not out of being evil but for personal survival. Mario may be one of the worst moral compasses in the history of fear-fare cinema, questioning Rogers’ actions regarding whatever it is that lurks on the property while secretly abusing his mute, drooling wife when he is not around.
The creature design is, in a word, interesting, and leaves viewers guessing throughout what the entity is, right up to the big reveal. At times, the “thing” looks imposing and mysterious, and at others, more ragtag but no less imposing. Its attacks are brutal, vicious, and of the intestine-flinging, gory variety. The practical effects are well done and copious.
The Wild Man of the Navidad comes strongly recommended for fans of seventies-style drive-in horror fare as well as Bigfoot-cinema aficionados. Graves and Meeks had a certain vision in mind, and they absolutely nailed it.
Dark Sky Films rereleases The Wild Man of Navidad on DVD on December 7, 2021.(4 / 5)