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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

The Wild Man of the Navidad: Unrated Director's Cut

The Wild Man of the Navidad: Unrated Director's Cut
2008 (2009) - IFC Films/MPI Media Group
Released on DVD on August 11th, 2009


As a monster-loving child of the 70s and 80s, I grew up with a soft spot for cryptozoological horror movies like In Search of Bigfoot and The Legend of Boggy Creek. My favorite episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man were those that pitted Steve Austin against Bigfoot. That affection is clearly shared by writer-directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks. The Austin-based team's first feature, The Wild Man of the Navidad, is a loving tribute to those fondly remembered cheese-fests.


Based on an actual Texas legend and set in the 70s, Meeks stars in the film as Dale S. Rogers, whose journals the film is ostensibly based upon. For generations, Dale's family has kept their land along the bottoms of the Navidad River off-limits to hunters. Somehow, an understanding has been reached with the strange titular creature, keeping it placid with nightly offerings of skinned rabbits. But when Dale loses his job and money for his stroke-afflicted wife's medication runs out, he reluctantly opens the land up to day hunts for some extra cash. One by one, hunters start disappearing. Seems the Wild Man is none too excited about having to share his happy hunting ground.

Meeks and Graves do a credible job capturing the vibe of these flicks from the 70s. There's the occasional anachronistic slip-up, such as shots of redesigned cash that didn't exist back then, but considering the amazingly low budget and do-it-yourself work ethic, these can be forgiven. Unfortunately, the movies that are being emulated here aren't really all that great to begin with. I can identify with the fond memories Meeks and Graves are working from but I've never totally understood why some filmmakers intentionally try to ape some pretty bad filmmaking. I kept wishing the movie was funnier or scarier or brought something new to the table. If anything, it would have been improved by more polished effects. These are OK but they're unimaginative, limited to throwing fake blood and butcher-shop scraps at trees. By far the most entertaining aspect of the film is the supporting performances by local residents. Meeks and Graves did a great job casting these non-professionals. They have a great look and their slightly stilted line delivery goes a long way toward convincing you that this movie was actually made back in the 70s.

IFC's presentation of The Wild Man of the Navidad looks and sounds exactly the way you think an ultra-low-budget movie will on DVD. It's perfectly acceptable but if you're looking at this as a potential reference-quality disc, you're out of your mind. The disc is loaded with extras, starting with a video introduction by co-producer Kim Henkel, one of Graves' and Meeks' film professors, familiar to horror buffs as the co-writer and associate producer of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The Director Meet & Greet featurette is exactly that: Graves and Meeks introducing themselves and telling us a little something of their backgrounds and how they met. Behind the Screams is more interview footage of the directors delving into specific detail about Wild Man. In both, they come across as amiable, extremely pleasant guys you wouldn't mind sharing a beer or two with. The disc also includes some pre-production footage (auditions, location scouts, etc.), a trailer and an earlier, more avant-garde short film from Meeks and Graves, The Hypostatic Union. The two best extras are the audio commentary and a featurette called Character Study. The documentary interviews most of the cast, all of whom are extremely enthusiastic about the movie and real talk-your-ear-off characters. It's fun stuff. The commentary by Meeks and Graves offers up a wealth of info about the making of the film... maybe too much, as they start identifying the origins of virtually every prop and bit of set dressing that appears on screen. But again, they know a lot about movies and the level of detail should prove educational and even inspirational to aspiring filmmakers.

The Wild Man of the Navidad is nearly a successful movie. I have nothing but admiration for Duane Graves' and Justin Meeks' ability to persevere and make their own damn movie. The flick shows that they have both talent and determination. I just wish they'd set the bar a little higher for themselves, even if it meant knocking it down a few times.

Film Rating: C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/C/B+


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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