Friday, May 26, 2017

Cry Wilderness (1987) – MST3K Review

Paul Cooper (Eric Foster) is away at boarding school when Bigfoot (Tom Folkes) arrives on campus in the middle of the night. The big lug tells Paul that his father Will (Maurice Grandmaison) is in danger and Paul should come to his aid. Why would Bigfoot come to see Paul in the first place? Well over the summer Paul spent time with his forest ranger father, ran into the big cryptid and befriended him over Cokes.

Paul runs away from school and arrives in the forest. His father seems ok. But Will and his Native American pal Jim (John Tallman) are hunting an escaped tiger. For some reason Jim thinks everything is funny and spends most of the film in full-throated laughter. Don’t ask. Then acclaimed hunter Morgan Hicks (Griffin Casey) arrives. At first everyone thinks he is there to hunt the tiger, but Paul discovers that Morgan may be after Bigfoot! Can Paul find and warn his huge hairy pal, or will it end in tears as we all Cry Wilderness.

Movie Review:

Yeah I was missing Link, but now that the new
Zelda game... oh sorry wrong Link.
At first I was baffled about the origin of this fine film. It was unleashed in 1987, well after the Bigfoot mania of the 70s and early 80s. You can see it was going for the “kid meets alien friend” genre inspired by E.T. The Extraterrestrial and further developed by movies like Mac and Me and Pod People. But then I saw that Harry and the Hendersons came out in 1987, so that pretty much confirmed it. Cry Wilderness was an attempt to cash in on that family friendly flick.

The result is a movie that rivals Pod People in sheer confusion and oddity. Cry Wilderness never seems to have a handle on what kind of movie it wants to be, who its audience is, and what kind of tone it is reaching for. I think most people who attempt to watch this film will spend their time trying to untangle the web of bizarre strangeness in front of them.

Either Paul is receiving a message from Bigfoot, or
the mother ship just landed in San Diego!
Let’s start with the basic story and how it is told. The key plot element is Paul attempting to save his father from some kind of danger. Bigfoot was really vague when he delivered the message, so Paul doesn’t know what to look for. So the bulk of the film follows Paul, Will and Jim wandering around the forest, with Paul trying to keep his dad from doing anything. For his part Will has a dangerous job, so he keeps trying to keep Paul from getting into trouble, but Paul won’t listen to anyone taller than him, but shorter than Bigfoot.

Not a lot of Bigfoot in this movie, but there are plenty
of raccoons. You like raccoons, right?
This “conflict” doesn’t drive the movie forward. Instead, Cry Wilderness just kind of meanders around, not really sure what to do with itself. Morgan is supposed to be an antagonist of sorts, but his conflict is with Bigfoot and Paul, and has nothing to do with Will. So it is really a side story that also meanders around. Mostly Morgan smiles evilly and shows Paul pictures of Bigfoot. It’s just an odd story element.

When the danger that threatens Will is revealed, it turns out to be rock fall in a mine. A rock fall caused by Will shouting for Paul, because the little idiot wandered away again. So in classic twist right out of Greek Tragedy, Paul is the cause of his own father’s momentary danger. Then Bigfoot shows up and pulls the Styrofoam boulders off Will and saves the day. Sorry, no spoiler warning, but the plot twist is so dumb, I don’t even count it.

Not a lot of Bigfoot in this movie, but there's plenty
of this tiger. You like tigers right?
The other issue here is the fact that you have a movie with Bigfoot plastered all over the marketing materials and trying to ride the wave of popularity of Harry and the Hendersons (was that movie even popular?) and yet Bigfoot is barely in the film. You would think that if you were trying to follow the whole E.T. bandwagon, you’d have the movie focus on the discovery and development of the friendship between Paul and Bigfoot. But we don’t even get a flashback scene to establish that. Paul just goes around telling his classmates and disbelieving teacher all about it for the first ten minutes of the film.

This leads some folks to think that Cry Wilderness is a sequel to something. But try as we might, there is no evidence of a first adventure featuring Paul and Bigfoot drinking Cokes in front of a waterfall.

In my opinion, the movie’s script didn’t focus on the key conflict of the story – Paul trying to save his father. Or it could have been Paul trying to save Bigfoot. By trying to do both and trying to weave them together the movie is just a mess from the start.

Be very very quiet. I'm hunting cryptids.
Heck I think we could have gone the full 1980s route with this. Ok, stick with me here. This is my pitch for a new and improved take on Cry Wilderness. So Paul doesn’t see his father much because Will is a forest ranger. Even when he goes to the woods to stay with his father, Will just isn’t around because of his work. So Paul finds Bigfoot and he becomes a surrogate friend/father figure. Morgan shows up hunting down the escaped tiger, and actually sees Bigfoot and changes his plans. Will might also see Bigfoot and decide to protect him. This puts all the characters into conflict with each other, and it drives the narrative. The hunt for the tiger turns into a hunt for Bigfoot, and maybe the tiger gets Morgan, or maybe Bigfoot saves Will from the tiger, or maybe Morgan tries to kill Will to get him out of the way and that is how Paul can save his father. I don’t know, but anything is better than what we ended up with.

This scenery is too good for this movie.
There are some good points. All the location shooting in Cry Wilderness is pretty impressive. Paul’s school was filmed in Balboa Park in San Diego, California. It is a lovely locale and they do some fun stuff with it. But the real treat is all the outdoor work for the forest, an old mine and eerie Mono Lake, all filmed in central California. These impressive locations provide a great setting for the film and is probably the best part of it.

Well, there is the end title song, which is such a bizarre thing that it provides plenty of unintentional laughs. It is an inspirational folk ballad, except someone forgot to tell the singer to actually be inspirational. Instead he tells the listener to not try too hard, because you’ll probably just fail anyway. I would think it was a parody if it wasn’t so sincere. The rest of the music and sound are adequate. I don’t think the composer tried too hard, because he was afraid he’d fail anyway.

Keep trying Will, but Paul isn't going to listen.
But let me tell you about the acting in Cry Wilderness. First off Eric Foster as Paul isn’t bad. He’s playing the precocious kid well enough. I don’t like to pick on child actors, because it’s a tough job and they usually are doing the best they can. No, the character of Paul is obnoxious and annoying as written. I don’t think Foster is to blame for making us all want to lock the kid in a log cabin with his raccoon pals.

Now the adults are another matter. First off, nearly all of them are dubbed. I have no idea why. Will sounds especially hilarious, with a very deep voice that just doesn’t seem to match the actor. Maybe Maurice had an accent, and they thought dubbing would help. But then why dub Jim? His voice actually fits, so maybe it was all done in post, but it is still odd. Morgan seems dubbed half the time. Faith Clift who plays Dr. Helen Foster, the vet that appears halfway through the film for no reason, is fully dubbed. Her voice also doesn’t seem to fit.

Keep that raccoon away, or Morgan may have it
for dessert.
Oh and I should note that Morgon is another disturbing villain in the long pantheon of disturbing villains in Mystery Science Theater films. He’s a loud-mouthed jerk. You kind of expect that when you first see him chowing down on stolen food like a barbarian. But when he starts strangling a raccoon that just goes past the point of no return. And yes, it looks like the actor is actually roughing up the poor little creature, so any of you with soft hearts to animals may want to look away. The movie does end up giving Morgan his just desserts in the end, but he’s so loathsome and stupid it can’t come soon enough. He seems too overboard to be in a kids flick, more like the kind of villain you’d run into in a Golan Globus Ninja action movie.

But dubbed movies on Mystery Science Theater are not a new thing. And neither is bad acting. I guess all the adults figured that since they are in a kid’s film they need to play everything as big and broad as possible. So you get performances that are loud and abrasive to hilariously over the top. There are scenes where everyone is gesticulating so much you wait for someone to get wacked in the face by a flailing limb.

That's right Jim, laugh away the shame.
But the one thing you will never forget about Cry Wilderness is the laughing. Anytime Jim is on the screen, it won’t take long for him to burst out in full throated, head thrown back laughter. Nine times out of ten, someone else will join him in his mirth. And if you’re lucky everyone on screen is laughing at something. It doesn’t’ take much to set Jim off. It could be a slightly amusing story, wrestling with a bear (for no reason at all), or because everyone else is just standing around and there doesn’t seem to be anything else to do. Or maybe, he realizes what a horrible move he is in, and figures that more laughter is the only way to dull the pain. Poor guy.

Finally we get to the direction. With a script this messy, there wasn’t a lot of hope for the film in the first place. But the movie is edited together with less care. I compared this film to Pod People, and I think the editing is what does it. Much like that film, Cry Wilderness jumps from scene to scene, sometimes with no relation to what happened before or what happens next. There are few transitions and even fewer that make any sense. Part of the issue with the jumbled narrative is a direct result of the poor editing. The movie feels like a bunch of vignettes stitched together to form some kind of plot. Just throw in some whimsy here, throw in some animals there, throw in Native American mysticism and you’ve got movie gold.

Wait, did this really happen? 
Yeah I forgot to mention Red Hawk (Foster Hood). He is a shaman (I think) who lives in the forest, but he may be a ghost (it is all so unclear). He babbles something about knowing Bigfoot, and there is a magic amulet that kind of plays into the story, but not really. It just comes out of nowhere and you are left wondering if you’re having a fever dream.

As far as bad movies go, Cry Wilderness is a good one. Because of the broad acting, non-stop laughing, bizarre editing, Bigfoot in a fake looking cave/temple and all the bad dubbing, you have a movie that is begging to be riffed on. Lets see what Jonah and the bots make of it.

Episode Review:

Either Bigfoot is going to push him off a cliff, or he's
going to start singing.
Season 11 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 features a few films that seemed to be targeted at a younger audience. In some ways this feels like a bit of a cheap shot. Most people making a “kiddie flick” aren’t looking to make anything great, or even good. I’m not excusing this, but with all the crap I’ve seen shoved out for kids during my tenure at the video store, it was obvious to me that most creators of “kiddie flicks” are focused on profit over story or entertainment value.

Cry Wilderness never became the next E.T.; it was unable to do much of anything really. It is a bad movie, no question about it. That makes it fair game for Jonah and the bots, and I’m surprised they picked this one as their second film. It is such a bizarre barrage of a movie I would think they might want to have a few more films under their belt before tackling this mess.

"This movie is just like 'Ice Road Truckers' only
less staged."
But for the most part the riffing is solid. They do comment quite a bit about how odd the movie is and how they are having issues following it. But the movie is jam packed with odd sequences, over the top acting, stupid dialogue and endless laughing. It really is serving up all the right material to make this a classic.

When Paul is in the boarding school and talking to Bigfoot, Jonah comments that this must be Harry Potter and the Hendersons. Bigfoot is the butt of a lot of jokes actually, the funniest ones to me and my wife was when they kept making references to the giant Muppet from The Muppet Movie, Sweetums. I also got a kick out of Crow’s exclamation “Dr. Zaiss, you’re nude!”

Paul is the only one not packing heat in this pic... BANG!
Paul is also the source for a lot of the humor in riffing Cry Wilderness. He is such an obnoxious character and he never does anything his father or any adult tells him. In a scene where Paul is tied up Jonah declares, “Paul the people who love you had to tie you up. You’re NUTS!” But there is also a running gag that whenever characters with guns (nearly all of them) are on the screen and waving the guns around with reckless abandon (and usually when they are pointed at or near Paul) one of the boys yells “BANG!” Like the best running gags the timing on these is perfect, often popping up when you least expect it and providing plenty of laughs.

Speaking of laughs, the moments where Jim or any of the characters lapses into a hysterical fit of mirth is prime moment for riffing. Much like the joke in Starfighters about the mid-air refueling, Jonah and the bots go into a whole mess of different riffs to explain this odd phenomenon.

But a similar issue occurs here that happened in Reptilicus, some of the riffing ends up coming way too fast. One joke lands well and you are chuckling, but missing the next three rapid-fire riffs. In this way the pacing seems off to me, and makes the whole episode feel like it just misses hitting that sweet spot. But this does make Cry Wilderness a prime target for a rewatch to pick up on the bits you may have missed.

That's right Jonah, laugh away the shame.
The host segments are in the middle of the road here with one fun exception. Things start off with Gypsy attempting to do some repairs on the ship and keeps dropping tools on folks below. Crow tries to use his net to catch some and it goes wrong. For the invention exchange Jonah thinks Thanksgiving should have some carols attached to it, so he combines turkey carving with a Theremin to give Thanksgiving its own other-worldy soundtrack. It gets a bit Bernard Herrmann-esque. Kinga and Max present the Wheel of Fudgie the Whale, which allows you to create all kinds of neat ice cream cake characters from the same Fudgie the Whale mold. At the first break Jonah is laughing and laughing and the bots are cute raccoons, and there’s cereal boxes and mischief and Jonah can’t stop laughing and it all gets very surreal in a funny way. At the next break Jonah and the bots attempt to figure out how the movie got made. Using some models they come up with a workable theory.

These three are still up to no good!
But the next treat is the one longtime fans of the show will enjoy. Kinga gets a visit from her Grandma Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl), Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) and Brain Guy (Bill Corbett). Seeing these three villains from the Sci-fi channel years show up and banter with Kinga and Max was really fun, and everyone is in character like no time had passed. It is all very silly, as you expect, but it is great to see the new series pay homage to the previous versions with special appearances from old cast members. The episode ends with Crow appearing as Red Hawk and choosing Max as his hero to save them from Kinga’s experiment. It almost works too, until Kinga walks in and spoils it all.

Bigfoot is delighted or horrified... you decide.
Cry Wilderness is fun episode, but the movie is so strange it is actually a bit distracting. I’ve watched it twice now and both times I’m so busy trying to figure out what the hell is happening and how this got made that I miss the riffing. The pacing of the jokes is a bit problematic too, and that leaves me enjoying this one, but not loving it. What is strange is that I’ve seen a lot of fans thinking this is one of the best episodes of the series. Its good to see that that aspect of the show continues, some folks love the episodes you don’t care for. But we can all agree it’s a fun time at the movies.

I give the episode three laughing Jims out of five.

This episode is available on Netflix Streaming.

The movie is so confusing because it takes place on Solaris!


  1. Maybe Bigfoot could have done a Darth: “I am your father Paul.” It would explain why Will is distant. I guess Paul will need a good shaving kit when he hits puberty.

    1. LOL. Well that would be a twist and a half. It might also explain the fever dream quality of the film.

  2. I watched a Bigfoot made-for-TV movie the other night that was streaming on Roku. It had Clint Walker in it, and it was watchable, but at the same time I think any of these films could be riffed on. It was called Snowbeast. When the weather warms up I like to see these snow movies. It sounds like Cry Wilderness was a mishmash, but all the more to make fun of. Sounded like a lot of wondering around trying to find a plot. I'd agree, how did that get made? It seems at one time in Hollywood if you could at least come up with an idea, and actually sit down and write a script you might get the the green light to make a movie. Things sure have changed.

    1. Yeah, I'm not convinced they had a completed script on this film. It really feels like they are winging it a lot of the time. They must have had enough of something to get the green light, maybe permission to do the location shooting and access to a Bigfoot suit?

  3. I've been really enjoying this new iteration of MST3K, the new host pretty effortlessly steps into fairly large shoes and the casting of Patton Oswald and Felicia Day is inspired...just finished "Carnival Magic" which was really, well, "enjoyable" seems a strange word to use but I'll go with it

    1. I agree. I think the casting of the reboot is just about perfect. We finished watching the season last week, and while I think they ran out of steam a little bit in those final two episodes, overall I think they did a great job. Jonah's camaraderie with the robots works great and fits the whole feel of the show. I've read some folks not liking Felicia Day too much because she "isn't evil enough" - not sure what that means. I like that she seems like she tries to be mean and wicked, but just doesn't have the heart to really follow through.

      Yeah "Carnival Magic"... that movie is up there with "Red Zone Cuba" and "Manos" in the how the hell did this get made category.