DirectorFrederic C. Hobbs
Release Date(s)1973 (November 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Bremson International (AGFA/Something Weird/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) is an odd and obscure Western horror/science fiction hybrid. If it was released theatrically at all when it was new, presumably it was limited to a handful of regional showings on a states-rights basis, and perhaps not even that. No one-sheet poster or other advertising material was created, at least none that I could find.
Nevertheless, through home video releases in various formats, the film has built a minor cult following, viewers gobsmacked by its oddball aspects. AGFA’s second Blu-ray release (having previously released the film in 2018) is amusingly packaged with lots of extra features, including an entire second feature, The Legend of Bigfoot (1976).
Watching Godmonster, I kept thinking to myself, “How am I ever going to review this?” Bad movies come in as myriad forms as good ones. Some are sincerely made but utterly incompetent; others are cynically made but competently produced. Only very rarely do they fall into what’s usually (but inaccurately) pegged as “so-bad-it’s-good,” such as the films of Ed Wood. But Godmonster of Indian Flats defies categorization.
For starters, the film has no central character but rather is a kind of ensemble piece. Filmed in and around present-day Virginia City, Nevada, the film opens with local shepherd Eddie (Richard Marion) having a strange dream and waking up to find one of his sheep has given birth to a colossal, mutated embryo. Professor Clemens (E. Kerrigan Prescott) and assistant Mariposa (Karen Ingenthron) take the embryo to his remote laboratory in the desert where he surmises phosphorus vapors emanating from a nearby mine caused the mutation.
Meanwhile, Barnstable (Christopher Brooks) is an agent acting on behalf of an East Coast conglomerate anxious to buy mineral rights around town. However, the town’s mayor, Charles Silverdale (Stuart Lancaster), wants to preserve the community’s “Old West” tourism trade, and conspires with Sheriff Gordon (Robert Hirschfeld), Philip Maldove (Steven Kent Browne) and others to thwart his plans.
From here the film becomes increasingly strange. The townsfolk fake, badly, the gun death of a family dog, blaming Barnstable for the deed, during an Old West festival and parade, Barnstable inexplicably given six-shooters with live ammunition he gleefully fires in all directions. They even hold an elaborate church funeral for the dog, which we learn is hiding out-of-state. Later Barnstable is framed for attempted murder (this time of a human being) and threatened by a posse inexplicably dressed in period clothes. As Barnstable, Christopher Brooks is the only African-American in the cast, yet nothing in the script suggests an underlying racial angle to the story. (This aspect may have been influenced by Duane Jones’s role in Night of the Living Dead.)
Disconnected for nearly the entire film, the mutated sheep soon breaks out of its glass cage and terrorizes the community (well, some picnicking children) for a while, until the genuinely bizarre, almost indescribable climax, which is like a low budget horror-Western version of the apocalyptic end of The Day of the Locust.
Horror and science fiction fused with something resembling a modern Western is rare enough, but to bifurcate it with an impenetrable yarn about local rural Western politics borders on obscene. What sort of audience did the filmmakers hope to appeal to? Ranchers fond of weird sci-fi? Advocates of sustainable tourism?
Writer-director Hobbs’s background only adds to strangeness of Godmonster. He was, in fact, an acclaimed artist whose works are part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Metropolitan Museum of Art and elsewhere. He pioneered a style he called ART ECO, based on environmental consciousness. He wrote and illustrated a book tracing the history of Nevada’s Comstock Lode, for a time owned Virginia City’s historic Silver Dollar Hotel, and wrote, produced, and directed more than a half-dozen films. Obviously, many of Hobbs’s interested are rolled into Godmonster of Indian Flats.
Artist Hobbs also created the Godmonster costume itself. Though the basic idea of a monster sheep is inherently absurd, the wooly creature admirably anticipates the Lovecraftian work of Rob Bottin in the John Carpenter The Thing (1982), rather than, say The Alligator People or The Wasp Woman. Though clumsy (for one thing, it delicately walks on its tippy-toes), the costume might have actually been scary in the hands of a more talented filmmaker; in the film, we see way too much of it.
Virginia City developed as a boomtown in 1859 with the discovery of major silver deposits and still resembles a town of the Old West. The Rod Cameron TV series State Trooper (1956-59) was mostly filmed on location all over Nevada including, frequently, Virginia City. Many of Godmonster’s locations are instantly recognizable from that enjoyable series, including even the Mayor’s home. The film, however, doesn’t use these same locales as well, and Hobbs really missed an opportunity to show off the area’s appeal and accurately capture the color and concerns of its citizens.
Godmonster probably cost something like $150,000 to produce. It’s undeniably cheap but not exactly shoddy. The acting is variable: Christopher Brooks is actually quite good, the others vary from barely acceptable to hammy, but all the major speaking parts seem to have been cast with actors with at least local theater experience.
Though almost certainly shot with 1.85:1 widescreen framing in mind, Godmonster of Indian Flats is presented in 1.37:1 standard format, sourcing “the only known 35 mm print in existence.” It’s rough around the edges—i.e., the heads and tails of each reel—but otherwise the transfer offers a sharp image (maybe this was the only print ever in existence!) and good color. The mono audio is straight off the print, so it has plenty of pops and other damage, but overall the presentation reminds viewers of the grindhouse experience, not a bad thing for this kind of picture. The disc is Region-Free and the menu screen gets into the spirit of the thing, with options like “Open the Cage,” “Choose an Escape Plan,” and “Sheep Huggin’ Extras.”
One of these extras is a second feature, The Legend of Bigfoot. It’s indescribably awful though its combination of ineptitude and earnestness is amusing and even unintentionally hilarious at times. The film was part of the ‘70s vogue for speculative and highly dubious “documentaries,” many produced by Sunn Classics and distributed four-walled. This couldn’t have cost more than $100,000 to make and was successful enough to spawn two sequels.
Unlike most such films, it’s told entirely through the eyes of a single character, animal tracker Ivan Marx, who with his wife, Peggy, also photographed all or nearly all of the film. Composed mostly of nature/travelogue-type footage, even Marx rarely appears in front of the camera lens, perhaps less than 10 minutes of its total running time.
The film traces Ivan’s growing belief in the existence of Bigfoot (actually, many Bigfoots), using his tracking skills and knowledge of nature to zero in on the alleged creature, and making his way up and down the west coast of U.S., including Alaska though apparently skipping Canada altogether.
He does, however, narrate the film. Boy howdy does he narrate. His delivery is a strange mixture of gravitas and folksiness. Marx carefully enunciates every single vowel and tries to sound professional in a Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom sort of way, but instead he comes off like an SCTV parody of such shows. The scant “authentic” Bigfoot footage is disappointingly phony—the costume is pathetic—even for a low-budget movie. It looks like the “real” Bigfoot in the same way The Mighty Gorga resembles the original King Kong.
The Legend of Bigfoot (72 minutes) is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, again using a 35 mm theatrical print as its source, though most of the film at least looks like it was blown-up from 16 mm.
Also included are three shorts. Strange Sightings (1964, 36 minutes) is a rather dull film with people sitting around talking about their UFO sightings, but it does include some lively special effects footage near the end. Just in Case: Suppression of School Bus Fires (1977, 25 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like, an educational film that includes the staging of several different types of school bus fires. White Gorilla is actually a one-reel (10-minute) digest version of White Pongo (1945). A fun reel of related trailers rounds out the extras.
Obviously, a film called Godmonster of Indian Flats is not intended for the average Blu-ray buyer, but for those attracted to off-the-grid ‘70s whatsits, AGFA presents an entertaining package.
- Stuart Galbraith IV