Paul Cooper (Eric Foster) is a little boy away at a boarding school, although he does miss his home in the wilderness living with his father (Maurice Grandmaison) who is a forest ranger. But he has a secret friend too, and when on a trip to the natural history museum he sees a large exhibit of what Bigfoot is supposed to look like, he surprises his teacher (Navarre Perry) by telling him he is friends with the mythical creature, a claim that leads the man to admonish the boy and threaten him with the headmaster. However, that night when everyone has gone to bed, Paul hears someone calling to him outside, and goes over to the window: it's Bigfoot! And he has a warning that Paul's father is in danger!
OK, you will have surmised by now this is a children's movie, and falls into the category of kids flicks that are inappropriate for actual youngsters since the people making them were potentially insane, or at least did not have any idea of how to appeal properly to the younger members of the cinema audience (oh, yes: this received a theatrical release). Such efforts are an object of fascination to cult movie buffs, though there are many which fall through the cracks thanks to poor distribution, the case with Cry Wilderness. The tell-tale name in the credits for aficionados of weirdness was Philip Yordan, an Oscar winner in the nineteen-fifties whose career took a downturn later.
To put it mildly. Although Yordan was more notorious as a front for blacklisted writers in the McCarthy era, this seemed to have harmed his reputation once that controversy was over, and though he could get his scripts made in the seventies and eighties, they were a far cry from the top end mainstream he had made his name with. This was his children's project, after branching out into tacky horror that nevertheless contained a wide streak of the bizarre, and there was much of that wayward manner of presentation here, as if he had not gotten his grimmer point of view adopted for the chillers out of his system, and was actually embracing it, foolhardily.
It's safe to say the hardy few to have made it through the entirety of Cry Wilderness will likely not have been little kids thoroughly enjoying the experience, they will have been adults looking for laughs, and not because this was a comedy - it wasn't. That said, there is plenty of laughter from the characters, who burst out into gales of mirth at the drop of a hat, no matter the situation, which makes them look as borderline lunatic as the filmmakers when Yordan's storyline takes seemingly random right angle turns in an attempt to entertain. Needless to say, the widest exposure this won was on television when Mystery Science Theater 3000 chose it to lampoon, and it did have its amusing moments, yet quite often it was purely offputting in its oddity that a previous encounter with late period Yordan will prepare you for.
We're talking about a kids' movie that ends with a man having his eyes bloodily scratched out by an eagle, after all, and when would that seem like a good idea? Before that jarring act of animal violence, there was a lot to digest: Paul wore an amulet that glowed whenever Bigfoot's presence was felt, he ran away from school in the dead of winter to walk all the way back to his home in the forest, presumably at least a few hundred miles away (worry not: he is picked up by a trucker, perfectly safe, then), there is a tiger on the loose (!), a hunter is introduced eating what appears to be Paul's pet raccoons in his father's house, but when the raccoons are revealed as still alive, we never find out what this maniac was eating anyway... then he strangles a raccoon. Well, you get the idea, except that in amongst this Native American mysticism and product placement for a soft drink manufacturer the further this progressed the more punishing it became to watch, so by the point Bigfoot lumbers to the rescue it's the toughest of bad movie watchers who have made it that far. Music by Fritz Heede.