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Look out for the wild man of the navidad

Date: 8/25/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

This week we go back to the 1970s -- in spirit -- at least for a new horror movie.

The Wild Man of the Navidad

Because I was a farm boy who regularly arose at 5 a.m. to milk various critters and feed others, I was not a denizen of the drive-in during my high school and college days.

I always wanted to be though.

Because I was just beginning my serious interest in film, I was mesmerized by the ads for the drive-ins surrounding Granby -- places like the Airline in Chicopee and the Parkway in Wilbraham. I'd look at the ads for various exploitation films -- my first love in films -- and wonder, "What the heck is this movie?" Films such as "Kiss and Kill" or "Count Dracula's Great Love."

I caught up with some of these films while at UMass and would go to the suppertime shows at the AMC at the then-Mountain Farms Mall in Hadley. Watching a film at 5:30 p.m. was a lot easier than at 9:30 p.m.

Now, if course, thanks to DVDs I get to see all of the trash I missed by having a life and commitments!

I bring all of this up because the new DVD release of "The Wild Man of the Navidad" is a truly curious beast. It is an homage to a particular kind of movie from the 1970s, films such as "The Legend of Boggy Creek."

Filmed on location and often using a "true" story for a basis, these low budget films often used local actors to add color to their tale.

Co-writers and directors Justin Meeks and Duane Graves have recreated this specific feel quite cleverly, but in a much more subtle way than director Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino did with their double feature "Grindhouse." Make no mistake, Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" was a wonderfully over the top film and very enjoyable but it didn't really look like a drive-in film from the '70s with its elaborate special effects and stunts.

"Wildman" does have that feel with its washed out photography, use of local actors and locations as well as the tag the film is based on the journals of an actual person who saw the Wildman. The film has a claustrophobic, sweaty feel to it. You get the sense that none of the characters have taken a bath lately.

Meeks plays Dale, a welder with a sick wife who lives on a huge ranch. He shares the land with the "Wildman," a beast of some sort whom he feeds each night as a ritual offering. When Dale is strapped for cash he opens up his land to hunters. The Wildman doesn't seem to care for them much as he goes about killing every one he sees.

The film has a few moments of suspense and the two filmmakers end the film with a fairly satisfying pay-off. Co-produced by Kim Henkel, the co-producer of the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Wildman" is not as visceral a film as the legendary "Chainsaw." It is more of a story one would hear at a Texas roadhouse told in hushed tones by locals.

I'm sure the gorehound contingent of horror fans will be disappointed by the appropriate primitive special effects, but they are keeping with the image.

The extras go into the making of the film and I love hearing how low-budget films are made. This documentary has plenty of the amateur actors telling their impressions of working on the film.

Although some horror fans might think the film is too subtle, I'd give it a thumbs up today and I probably would have in 1975 if I had seen it at the Airline at 2 a.m.