Abominable is a deliberate attempt to revisit the tongue-in-cheek horror films that saturated cinema screens during the eighties, and put some conservative studio execs into an official state of denial because it just seemed indecent that movies with boobs, monsters, and blood could be so popular and profitable.
Of course, the genre was beaten to death by countless sequels, and it took a while before satire-and-gore efforts like Scream rekindled the dormant genre, but in the past few years the trend has been on remaking the nastiest of the nasties from the seventies (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes), emulating their mix of innocents plunged into grisly torment; crafting torture-porn meditations like Hostel, or making incoherent thrillers that look great, sound great, and make absolutely no sense (Silent Hill) or are a mere jumble of short-film ideas expanded into moronic feature-length concepts (The Dark) with bungled plotting (Boogeyman) and hack direction (Creep) clumsily striving for a new visual style.
Efforts to update iconic but less grisly films like The Amityville Horror fell flat when story became a forgotten component, and repetitive moments of flash-edited Madness and Loudness were deemed more effective for audiences. It makes for a stimulating, sensory roller coaster ride, but the cheap tricks render many such films as disposable, with little reason to revisit or recall them with any fervor or nostalgia.
In the midst of the current crop of horror films - including no-holds barred TV productions like the recent Masters of Horror series and its extreme endeavors like Takashi Miike's "Imprint" - Abominable is kind of an anomaly, and ought to succeed in the home video market because it's not like its more grisly kindred.
Citing influences such as Day of the Dead and the Friday the 13th franchise (which became increasingly and deliberately sillier after the second film), writer/director Ryan Schifrin injects his retro horror script with a few choice moments of bone-crunching and epidermal trauma, but his dramatically measured approach and the film's deliberately silly decision to use a guy in a Bigfoot suit appropriately evokes the drive-in thrillers of the seventies - but delivered with better acting and more production gloss in spite of being a low-budget production.
Schifrin does walk a very uneasy line: the boobs and blood quotient is a typical exploitation ingredient in theatrical and direct-to-video flicks, which can easily negate any moments of genuine character sincerity; Tiffany Shepis, who's folded (but not spindled & mutilated) onscreen in Abominable, also appeared in The Hazing, a direct-to-video thriller which eventually had to move beyond its satire and sex, and in so doing, ran aground because there was no intriguing story left at the film's midpoint.
The reveal of Bigfoot (still a tall guy in a furry suit) does knock down the fear factor for audiences, but the alternative would have been the kind of low-budget CGI that ruined any vestiges of suspense, as in nonsense like Anacondas, Crocodile, or Komodo (a flick made by an effects whiz about a big lizard that still needed more money).
Effects man and first-time actor Christien Tinsley (he who made Jesus lose chunks, and bleed most profusely in Passion of the Christ) plays male nurse Otis in Abominable. As shown in the surreal gore effects segment on the DVD's making-featurette, Tinsley crafted a life-like dummy of himself, from which Bigfoot bites off the face; the grossly entertaining effect counter-balances the obviousness of the monster's more human puppeteers, and the gore manages to support audience disbelief a wee bit longer.
The performances also require directorial caution, because tonal differences between leading cast members can be offset once the monster suit is more clearly revealed. Matt McCoy's acting is deeply sincere - his character lost his wife, he's now a guilt-ridden paraplegic trapped in a house with a hostile male nurse (Otis), and like Hitchcock's Rear Window, which Schifrin deliberately evokes, McCoy can only watch as the monster picks off the women in the opposing mountain chalet - but at times McCoy's efforts are displaced when the drama and danger, as seen through binoculars, is standard exploitation silliness (like Bigfoot folding Shepis before dragging her through the bathroom window in one outrageous move).
To Schifrin's credit, Abominable manages to steer clear of any disaster because he sticks to a straightforward story and satisfying resolution, but the varying tones within the film make for a few uneven moments. The orchestral score by father Lalo Schifrin is equally sincere, but it's one of the important elements that augers the drama and ensures McCoy's strong performance isn't neutered by misplaced satire. Key moments of effective scoring involve McCoy revisiting the chalet and touring the home in his wheelchair, touching his dead wife's photo as he recalls his past love, and him later explaining past trauma to youthful Haley Joel in a brief but needed scene for the characters to bond before Bigfoot comes crashing through the door.
These scenes offset the film's caricatures, like the local yokels (Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs trading fireside insults before their own demise) and the bumbling police (sincere deputy Phil Morris vs. an ethically challenged sherrif, played by the late-great Paul Gleason), and the score follows the same methodical design as the composer's superior music for the original Amityville Horror (itself superior to the daft remake).
Director Schifrin admits in the DVD's making-of featurette and commentary track that he drew from contemporary heroes like Steven Spielberg, and found the use of close-ups in works such as Duel was an effective way to create tension without elaborate production value. More interestingly, Abominable actually looks like a seventies shocker, and while some shots are oddly combined, the only missing ingredient here is a Panavision ratio of 2.35:1. Neal Fredericks' cinematography nicely frames the actors in widescreen portraits, and it's a marked difference from the shakycam approach mandated in the over-hyped but influential chiller, The Blair Witch Project, which was the cinematographer's breakthrough film. (This is sadly Fredericks' last completed work, as he died before the film's premiere.)
Anchor Bay 's transfer is first-rate, and the 5.1 sound design adds some effective shocks, with Lalo Schifrin's score giving the film some elegance and maturity. With the exception of a dedication to the film's cinematographer (who also functioned as unofficial mentor to director Schifrin), most of the production details are already present in the commentary track, recorded shortly after Paul Gleason (the bull-horned principal The Breakfast Club) had just passed away. The film's score is also given a nod in the making-of featurette, with the composer separately commenting on his themes and suspense cues in selected scene extracts.
Actors McCoy and Jeffrey Combs join director Schifrin in a consistent commentary, and the trio address the usual subjects of location filming, casting, weather, favourite scenes, and some of the in-jokes and geek references within Abominable. The director also describes some needed reshoots for extra character bits and the campfire attack, and the deleted and extended scenes gallery offers additional material removed mainly for pacing.
An interesting bonus is Schifrin's 16mm USC student film, Shadows. Shot in black & white, it's very much a debut effort, and deals with a paranoid man who ventures beyond the safety of his home to get paint supplies, while news of a local serial killer appears in the paper and on the radio. According to the director, the film was indicative of the visual approach preferred by the film school department, which eschewed dialogue-heavy scripts so students would learn to tell a story through pictures and sound. Classical in its narrative structure and visuals, it's very much an early attempt to explore suspense, with an abrupt finale that's more perfunctory than shocking.
The years between film school graduation and the production of Abominable are nicely summarized in the DVD's booklet, which also includes a tribute to Paul Gleason, and reproduces the film's gorgeous poster art by veteran artist Drew Stuzan, who crafted the iconic posters for the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones flicks.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan