When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez unleashed Grindhouse on us in early 2007, it was an essential orgy of nostalgia dressed up in zombie violence and car-chase-mania. It was an exhilerating experience for anyone who'd gone, back in the day, to the drive-ins and--yes--the grindhouses to catch Death Race 2000 or Dawn of the Dead or God Told Me To. It seemed to get every detail right--the weathered prints, the visible splices in the film, the exciting casting, the blaring music, the hit-or-miss previews with their ostentacious graphics, and the garish colors.
But Grindhouse also looked like it had a lot of money behind it ($53 million, to be exact) and with that money, it posed a rich illusion of a film unearthed from obscurity. However, with Justin Meeks and Duane Grave's petrifying new horror film The Wild Man of the Navidad, the illusion comes in at a fraction of the cost and, in many ways, with a surplus of vividness. These newcomers have also gotten every detail right in telling the story of Dale Rogers, whose experiences being terrorized by an unspeakable, carnivourous monster in the Texas midlands town of Navidad form the film's basis.
If you're a fan of this genre or a confirmed film geek, you'll notice the little things here--how the sound pops noticibly as a placard tells us this is based on a true event, or how the grain of the "film" looks. How the credits look imperfectly printed on the image, or how they include a slyly-reworked version of the MPAA ratings logo as dischordant music cries in the background. Take a look at the constant rack-focusing or the insistant use of zoom lenses, or too-close close-ups that sometimes even cut off the mouths of their subjects, or the choppily-edited visions of fly-covered gore after the Wild Man goes on his rampages. And notice the jarring juxtoposition of violence with jaunty country music, or the cheerily amatuer quality of most of its acting, which goes a long way, ironically, to making The Wild Man of the Navidad feel more authentic. The casting of an wide array of suspicious, hairy old men is a stroke of genius, as is much in this well-crafted film that, I swear, could be mistaken for a lost Sunn Classic (which made bad but entertaining documentaries about UFOs and Bigfoot in the 1970s) or a once-buried inspiration for Charles B. Pierce's The Legend of Boggy Creek (Pierce acted as an advisor to Meeks and Graves; also, Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Last Night at the Alamo writer Kim Henkel produces and plays a supporting role).
The whole production was spearheaded by the Meeks family who not only owned the house that serves as its main locale, but also served as everything from actors (Justin Meeks is the lead, and cousin Stacy Meeks plays his drooling, invalid wife) to boom operators and designers of the monster's horrifying costume and makeup. Justin Meeks is notably impressive in his tense, sweaty, multi-lingual portrayal of the put-upon trailer denizen whose midnight feedings of skinned rabbits to the Wild Man lead the monster to wanting more dangerous game. (The movie does fine job of keeping its monster in a box until it simply has to be loosed--a triumph of restraint that most ADD present-day horror directors have forgotten is a choice for which they can opt.)
Ultimately, The Wild Man of the Navidad remembers the one-time charm and horror of low-budget filmmaking--that its qualities, too, were a certain "look" that viewers imprinted on and loved, and that needn't be forgotten in the face of what's popularly called artistic and technological progress. Mr. Tarantino, take your power and throw it behind this one. It's a winner.