Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973)
Studio: AGFA/Something Weird Video
Release date: July 10th, 2018
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
The history of regional filmmaking is littered with outsider artists who etched their names into immortality with storied, often infamous careers; others, however, were more transient, their contributions amounting to brief, fleeting moments that create something of an enigma. Falling into the latter category is Fredric Hobbs, a California artist whose filmmaking career produced four films in as many years before his other artistic preoccupations—and an interest in Nevada’s storied silver mining history—carried him off to other whims. Before his time behind the camera was finished, he graced the world with Godmonster of Indian Flats, a haywire monster movie of sorts. Emphasis on of sorts because, as you shall come to see, there’s quite a few ways to describe this one—if, indeed, it can be adequately described at all.
I’ll try my best: set in Hobb’s beloved Nevada, Godmonster initially follows the exploits of Eddie (Richard Marion), an affable cowboy who rolls into a Reno casino and hits a jackpot, in the process earning the attention of a big shot named Elbow Johnson (Terry Wills) and his group of revelers. After loading up into Elbow’s car for a night of carousing, he finds eventually finds himself dumped off in Virginia City, where the locals are much less accommodating. A ruckus leads him to being kicked out of a bar, right into the back of a truck belonging to Dr. Clemens (E. Kerrigan Prescott), an anthropology professor who owns a giant sheep ranch and an adjacent laboratory. Emerging out of this word salad of a plot and Eddie’s drunken haze is the discovery of a bizarre, bloody creature that nestles up beside the cowboy in a barn. Clemens decides it’s some kind of malformed embryo that must be studied and nurtured to health.
Okay, so—this is admittedly a lot of nonsense; however, it’s workable nonsense where you can detect the faint impression of a sustained plot. Granted, it leaves you with some questions (chief among them: did Eddie have sex with a sheep, causing it to give birth to this abomination?) and isn’t the most elegantly photographed portrait of the American west, yet you can see the potential for a monster movie lurking within the mangy seeds sewn in this rough, dusty patch of filmmaking. Surely, Clemens’s experiment will grow out of control, leading to this creature terrorizing Virginia City and the surrounding countryside, its yokels sufficiently hacked up in the process.
Well, about that: it would not be much of a spoiler to say that it does happen—eventually. Explaining why it takes such a circuitous route also isn’t a spoiler but rather a warning: for much of the runtime here, be prepared to witness the intricacies of mining politics. The other, largely disconnected half of Godmonster of Indian Flats involves corporate rep Barnstable’s (Christopher Brooks) attempt to buy the town’s defunct silver mine from Mayor Charles Silverdale (Stuart Lancaster), an old-timer with no intention of signing over his life’s work. Hobbs proceeds to wobble back and forth between both plots, with the twain barely meeting during the climax.
Imagine a very special, brain-damaged episode of Gunsmoke where a mutant sheep causes mild havoc—that’s Godmonster of Indian Flats in a nutshell. Once Eddie passes through Reno, he might as well enter a time warp, as Silver City feels like a location out of time. Hobbs might have shot and released Godmonster in the early 70s, but it nestles the soul of a 50s B-movie into an even more anachronistic Bonanza Days Americana that would have felt retro at the time of release, so imagine how it plays now, 50 years later. It’s a distinctive, twangy flavor nonetheless, highlighted by scattered absurdities: ADR’ed sheep bleating, dumpster diving, ridiculous dialogue, fortune telling, and quite possibly the most insane funeral scene I have ever witnessed on screen. I will spare the details because it’s the sort of nonsense that’s best experienced first-hand, so your jaw can be sufficiently coaxed to the floor by Hobbs’s unhinged whims.
Along the way, one detects the faintest notion that Hobbs expects all of this to truly be about something: between the nods towards environmental pollution and the cultish town’s racist treatment of Barnstable, Godmonster of Indian Flats strains ever so slightly to be reach for some kind of larger meaning. It mostly futzes around it, though, almost as if Hobbs knows this gangly clump of a movie has to eventually climax with the mutant sheep breaking loose to raise hell. This is true, but, as is the case with much of Godmonster, only technically so: yes, this oversized, bipedal Muppet causes a frenzy, but much of it apparently occurs off-screen. A shot of the creature lurking in the background while some innocent, oblivious children play outside should be unsettling; in truth, it’s kind of a hoot—at least until you later hear a woman exclaim that this thing actually did kill her child.
It’s a weird, sobering moment buried in the din of the agitated mob that gathers to gawk at the captured creature during the film’s final scene, where it does come closest to finding something to say about rich assholes and their ability to manipulate underlings into undying support. Godmonster of Indian Flats reaches a feverish, almost evangelical pitch as the mayor unleashes a rant with the ramshackle delivery of a holy roller caught in a fit. Nothing captures the film’s essence quite like this resolution—or, should I say non-resolution since it climaxes with the mob turning on the creature (and the mayor?), sending it careening to a fiery death in the back of a car. Whatever Hobbs did have to say is lost here among the flames and smoke of this smoldering garbage heap, leaving viewers to wonder what’s meant by this garbled transmission. Godmonster of Indian Flats feels like it should only be broadcast over static-ridden, analog airwaves, almost as if it should only exist as an ephemeral thing whose meaning is forever elusive.
Hobbs would provide no further filmic illumination into his madness. Following Godmonster, he resumed his passion for creating radical art by pioneering ART ECO, an entirely new form of expression altogether. He would also author a book detailing the history of Nevada’s prosperous history, all while operating a hotel in Virginia City itself. A true Renaissance man, Hobbs’s life reveals a fidgety man who was never quite content to settle down, which perhaps explains why Godmonster of Indian Flats feels so scatterbrained. If it feels like this review is heavy on biographical details, it’s only because Godmonster is the sort of bizarre film that sends you down a rabbit hole trying to understand who could have produced such madness.
Oscar Wilde once wrote—via the musings of Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray—that only “bad artists” are “delightful,” with “inferior poets” proving to be “absolutely fascinating.” “The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look,” Wotton insists, adequately capturing the appeal of the likes of Fredric Hobbs and Godmonster of Indian Flats. There is something to be said about the purity and sincerity of Hobbs’s vision: even if the brushstrokes aren’t refined, the passion is clearly evident. Much like the character that spends much of Godmonster digging through the trash in search of curios, so too does Hobbs look to turn up something, anything to gawk at.
For its latest release, the AGFA has partnered with Something Weird Video to bestow an unlikely Blu-ray edition upon Godmonster of Indian Flats. While the film’s immaculate restoration will have to suffice for fans of this particular feature, the disc does feature more assorted eccentricities from the Something Weird vaults, including three shorts: “Strange Sightings,” which details UFO hysteria; “School Bus Fires,” whose title is not in any way metaphorical; and, finally, “White Gorilla,” a truncated version of a 1945 feature. Some trailers for other creature features also appear in addition to the full-length presentation of a second feature, 1975’s The Legend of Bigfoot. While some might be irked by the lack of supplements dedicated explicitly to Godmonster itself, this more than makes up for it. Besides, I like to think that the AGFA recognizes that nothing could adequately explain Godmonster of Indian Flats and have let it speak for itself in all its manic, jumbled glory. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: