ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A.C. Nicholas, who has a sketchy background and hails from parts unknown in Western Pennsylvania, was once a drive-in theater projectionist and disk jockey, Currently, in addition to being a writer, editor, podcaster, and voice-over artist, he contributes to Drive-In Asylum. His first article, “Grindhouse Memories Across the U.S.A.,” was published in issue #23. He’s also written “I Was a Teenage Drive-in Projectionist” and “Emanuelle in Disney World and Other Weird Tales of a Trash Film Lover” for upcoming issues.
Unlike the Louis Armstrong song featured in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “We Have All the Time in the World,” I’ve been thinking about how little time we really have in this life. I’ve been around long enough to have lived in a generation with no cable TV, pay TV, VHS, DVDs, or streaming, where we watched genre films in grindhouses, at midnight screenings, and on broadcast TV shows such as The CBS Late Movie and Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater. Few of those films featured senior citizens, and if they did, the older timer was usually a psycho-lunatic, like Neville Brand in Eatea Alive. Today, however, things have turned, and it’s in vogue to feature senior citizens in genre films—and to show them having sex. See X from director Ti West, for example.
Until the film I’m about to review here, the best exploitation film featuring the elderly—and how shabbily society treats them—was Bubba Ho-Tep, Don Coscarelli’s imaginative, funny, and ultimately sad, meditation on what it’s like to grow old. (George Romero’s elder-abuse public service film, The Amusement Park, was years away from rediscovery.) I think though, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, equals, if not betters, Coscarelli’s cult gem, which had Elvis and JFK, at the end of their lives, fighting a reanimated mummy.
Reading the title of writer/co-producer/director Robert D. Krzykowski’s film, going in, I didn’t know what to expect. You have “killed,” “Hitler,” and “Bigfoot.” Gotta be trashy exploitation, right? But it’s The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, with the pretentious-sounding definite article “the” before Bigfoot, raising a parallel to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Is it a hybrid high- and low-brow film? I’m happy to report that it is—and strides both the arthouse and grindhouse perfectly.
America’s wonderfully grizzled character actor Sam Elliott, with a look and voice for the ages, in a performance for the ages, is Calvin Barr, a World War II veteran who lives by himself in a small town. He has his dog and a mysterious trunk under his bed. He leads a simple, reclusive life. About the only person he regularly talks to is his brother, Ed, the town barber, in a nice performance by comedian Larry Miller. Calvin’s life is winding down until the day two government agents, one from the U.S.A, played by Ron Livingston (credited as “Flag Pin”) the other, a Canadian, played by Rizwan Manji (billed as “Maple Leaf”), knock on his door. They know about Calvin’s hidden past. During the war, he had killed Adolph Hitler during a secret mission, a mission which is classified, so no one will ever know that Calvin is a hero.
Flag Pin and Maple Leaf implore Calvin to go on another dangerous mission. You see, Bigfoot in the Canadian Pacific Northwest is sick with a virus that could potentially wipe out mankind. (Man, this movie was sure prescient about the pandemic! Calvin’s immune to the disease (don’t ask for the particulars, just go with the flow), so they want him to kill the Bigfoot and save the world.
And, thus, we get to the heart of this beautiful film. What is your legacy? Are you a hero if no one ever knows of your heroic actions? What is the price of being a hero? (You can guess that there’s a sad flashback about a lost wartime love.) And finally, can you find meaningful closure to your life while up against the Grim Reaper? The film asks you to ponder these questions, and by the end, you’ll be thinking about them for a long time. I know I have.
But lest you think the film is what Joe Bob Briggs would describe as a “lobster,” a pretentious arthouse film, let me assure you it delivers with some highly entertaining, gory exploitation action featuring the horribly diseased Bigfoot. As I said, it straddles that line between art and exploitation perfectly.
I loved The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. It’s a film that’s so conceptually weird that it couldn’t possibly be good. But it is, just like Bubba Ho-Tep. As an aside, you’ll note that brilliant indie writer/director John Sayles and legendary special effects artist Douglas Trumbull are credited as executive producers, with Trumbull doing the special effects. They obviously had faith in Robert D. Krzykowski’s vision, and when you see the film, you will too. I hope he creates more oddball gems in the future. His first feature is amazing, a cult film waiting to be discovered.