Fredric Hobbs, 1973
Stars: Christopher Brooks, Stuart Lancaster, E. Kerrigan Prescott
“WANTED! Have you seen this sheep?”
A young man named Eddie is taken in by scientist Dr. Clemens after being robbed and beaten by the local populace in a seemingly quaint desert village. Eddie develops a relationship with Clemens’ hippie assistant Mariposa, and the three discover an infant mutant sheep. Thinking he has stumbled across some sort of mutant messiah, Clemens rushes it back to his isolated laboratory deep in the desert to study it and help it grow. Meanwhile, back in town, a stranger named Barnstable arrives, hoping to buy up property for his wealthy employer. Though they pretend to be friendly to him, the town’s elite craft an elaborate set up, in which they make Barnstable think he killed a local’s beloved dog. They have him arrested, beaten, run out of town, and nearly lunched. He escapes to Dr. Clemens’ laboratory, where some of the cowboys find out about the mutant sheep, now fully formed, and are determined to kill it. The monster escapes and goes on a rampage through the desert, though it is headed right for the village.
This blend of Western and horror is a Z-grade effort that shockingly has not been given the Mystery Science Theater treatment, though it richly deserves it. Director Fredric Hobbs is also known for his career as an ecologically-minded artist, though he also directed Roseland (1970) and Alabama’s Ghost (1972), among others. Godmonster of Indian Flats remains his bizarre and somewhat unsung masterpiece.
Hobbs used the real town of Virginia City, Nevada as his shooting location and worked directly with the locals. Virginia City is something of a legend, as it was a gold-rush era town that has been preserved over the decades and transformed into a tourist destination. The town’s motto is actually “Step Back in Time,” and, somewhat amazingly, Hobbs co-wrote a book about the phenomenon, The Richest Place on Earth: The Story of Virginia City and the Heyday of the Comstock Lode. Without the town’s fascinating appearance and history, it’s unlikely Hobbs would have had the budget to make the film as visually impressive as it is.
If you really want to catch Virginia City in all its bizarre glory, check out the scene that captures the Bonanza Day Festival. Truly a dizzying affair, it is one of the film’s more interesting moments. It almost feels like a Western farce at this point, with drunken cowboys, children eating (and throwing) pies, brass bands, screaming prostitutes, and more. Weirdly, the mutant sheep doesn’t take up the majority of the film’s plot. That honor goes to Barnstable, an African American sent to town to try to buy up land for his rich boss and is denied at every turn by the two-faced locals. There’s also the story of Eddie, who has a really rough time in town before falling in with the cute, yet flaky Mariposa and her scientist boss. These different strands of plot eventually weave their way together by the psychotic conclusion, though I can’t say it makes a lot of sense.
The “Godmonster” or mutant sheep is actually quite a tragic, pathetic figure. It may be hideous, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of murdering or rampaging. Its struggles to walk around upright are frankly hilarious, but its defeat at the hands of some cowboys is actually pretty depressing and the creature just looks pitiful and helpless. This is certainly another instance where I wish the monster of the film would prevail and devour the town and all its crooked inhabitants in some sort of ecstatic frenzy of feeding and destruction. Alas, it really only runs amok through the countryside, scared and hungry, then accidentally blows up a gas station and harmlessly frightens some children.
Aside from the scientific experiments and mutant sheep, there are a slew of other insane things: racism, fascism and military rule, political corruption, and some insane events such as a malicious pie eating contest, a near lynching, an elaborate, though fake dog funeral, an attempted bisexual seduction over brandy that turns into a double cross, and so much more. The ending features a surprise riot from the townsfolk that must be seen to be believed, as they fight with the cowboys and utter chaos reigns.
Something Weird kindly put out a special edition release, which is a must-see for anyone who loves schlocky monster movies or Western-horror hybrids. This comes recommended to all fans of more ridiculous horror and is an inspired, creative work, despite its low budget and completely nonsensical script.