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The Wild Man of the Navidad (2008)

Director: Justin Graves, Duane Meeks
Starring: Duane Meeks, Alex Garcia, Stacy Meeks
Not Rated Running time: 86 minutes
Released by MPI/IFC Films

Two young Austin-based filmmakers (Duane Graves and Justin Meeks) boldly proclaim their love for the hairy-creature-running-amok drive-in flicks of the early 70's in The Wild Man of the Navidad. Using Charles B. Pierce's The Legend of Boggy Creek as its primary source of inspiration (with liberal doses of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown on for good measure), the film tells the supposedly true story of Dale S. Rogers -- husband, welder, and reluctant caretaker of one very hungry monster.

Living in a dilapidated farmhouse with his invalid wife and her perverted male nurse (who takes every opportunity to grope and molest the wheelchair bound woman everytime Dale is away), Rogers struggles to make ends meet. When he loses his welding gig to a sleazy co-worker who plies the boss with moonshine, Dale must figure out a new way to pay the bills. He quickly realizes that the occasional gunsmithing job isn't going to do the trick, and decides to do something that he, and the entire population of Sublime, Texas, will come to regret: open up the 600-acres of prime hunting ground that was willed to Dale after his father's death. It turns out to be a lucrative decision for the downtrodden welder, and the moonshine-swilling locals jump at the opportunity to hunt on property that has been off limits for over thirty years. Everyone is happy, except the mysterious beast-man who lives on the land. Locals start disappearing, guts start flying, and Dale comes to realize that the hulking creature he's been the reluctant guardian of is no longer content with just devouring rabbits....

With limited resources and a less-than-ideal shooting schedule, Meeks and Graves managed to create an effective tribute to the trashy, but fun, popcorn flicks of yesteryear. From the deep yellow color of the opening credits to the soundtrack's mix of country tunes and electronic squall, it's evident that the duo have spent a great deal of time soaking up the atmosphere and nuances of 70's horror cinema. It doesn't hurt that Texas Chainsaw alumn Kim Henkel was on board as co-producer and brought along several relics from the 1974 classic, including the legendary meathook. If The Wild Man of the Navidad had been shot on 16mm rather than video, it would be nearly indistinguishable from the old hicksploitation/Bigfoot movies that Graves and Meeks seem to adore.

The films has its flaws, which are primarily due to the low budget. Effects are of the things-we-got-from-the-local-slaughterhouse variety and with the exception of co-director Meeks as Dale Jones, the cast is made up non-actor locals. At first the use of amateur thespians is amusing, but becomes seriously grating towards the film's conclusion. Of course, the more uppity, urban-dwelling viewer will probably find great amusement in watching rural folks awkwardly recite dialogue while having a camera pointed at them -- everyone else will find it off-putting.

I can't trash this movie because of the budget. The energy, ingenuity, and honest-to-God passion for on display here negate issues caused by a lack of resources (see also Cavite). The film has received an overwhelmingly positive response from both viewers and critics, and should lead to bigger projects for Meeks and Graves. I, for one, look forward to their next creation. In the meantime, horror fans and wannabe auteurs should look to The Wild Man of the Navidad to see what can be done with a shoestring budget and a lot of heart.