[Review] Return to Wildcat Mountain: Wisconsin’s Black Panther Nexus (MidWest WeirdFest): Do Large Black Undiscovered Felines Roam Wisconsin?

The United Kingdom has been home to eye-witness reports of alien big cats (ABCs) — large, wild felines not native to the region — since the 1700s. The United States is no stranger to such sightings, as shown in renowned author Linda S. Godfrey’s debut as a film director, Return to Wildcat Mountain: Wisconsin’s Black Panther Nexus, which won the Best Documentary award at MidWest WeirdFest. 

The documentary examines the accounts of people seeing large black cats — often referred to as black pumas, black cougars, or black panthers — in an area in west central Wisconsin that features plenty of room for such animals to roam among rocky crags and beautiful valleys. No variety of mountain lion has been known to exist there for about 100 years, however, and science and wildlife experts are quick to write off such sightings. Some of Godfrey’s interview subjects have a theory as to why officials are quick to dismiss such claims, but I will leave that for future viewers to find out when they watch this film.

Godfrey, as a well-respected author about, and investigator of, strange creatures — her books include Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America; American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America; and the upcoming I Know What I Saw: Modern-Day Encounters with Monsters of New Urban Legend and Ancient Lore — has listened to, read, and collected eyewitness accounts of strange occurrences for many years. In Return to Wildcat Mountain: Wisconsin’s Black Panther Nexus, she allows her subjects to tell their own stories and give their own theories, treating each interviewee respectfully and without judgement. The documentary focuses on several residents of the Hillsboro, WI area who give first-hand accounts of their sightings, as well as other locals including Steven J. Stanek, a former area journalist who has written several articles about the possibility of large black wildcats in the area; Paul Arentz, news editor of the Hillsboro Sentry Enterprise, who gives an engaging, intriguing Native American view of the subject; and local historian Kevin Alderson. The  film features impressive animated recreations of the black cats that people saw from digital illustrator and animator Nathan D. Godfrey, who also turns in solid work as director of photography, co-director, and sound designer.

illustration from Return to Wildcat Mountain: Wisconsin’s Black Panther Nexus by Linda S. Godfrey

Fans of cryptozoology, undiscovered animals, and unsolved mysteries should find plenty to enjoy and chew on with the 48-minute documentary Return to Wildcat Mountain: Wisconsin’s Black Panther Nexus. Linda S. Godfrey has crafted an impressive debut film, and it is exciting to see her branch out from her already successful career as an author. I’m looking forward to future projects from her and her White Lhasa Studios team.

Return to Wildcat Mountain: Wisconsin’s Black Panther Nexus screened at MidWest WeirdFest, which took place March 6–8 at Micon Cinemas Downtown in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The film is available for streaming from March 13 and is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray soon. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/WhiteLhasa/.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.