By TONY BAUGHMAN Staff writer
Neither the snake handler nor the drag queen nor the cackling, mullet-wearing mountain man is the most unusual character in ex-legislator-turned-filmmaker Bubba Cromer's first movie.
That honor belongs to an elusive 8-foot-tall dude with matted fur.
"The Long Way Home: A Bigfoot Story" is a campy, over-the-top horror flick set in a North Carolina mountain town shaken by a rash of Sasquatch sightings. Produced with borrowed video cameras and $18,000 from Cromer's personal savings, the grainy and shaky 71-minute feature is now paying artistic – if not box office – dividends for this Columbia attorney who served eight years in the S.C. House of Representatives.
"I've always been fascinated with Bigfoot and other matters of the paranormal – UFOs, lizard men and the like," said Cromer, 44, who still works part-time as the State House's reading clerk. "The Bigfoot infatuation started as a child with 'The Legend of Boggy Creek,'" a low-budget 1972 thriller about a small Arkansas town terrorized by a big, hairy swamp creature.
From that early influence, and after watching a TV documentary about Bigfoot, Cromer decided that he should retell the hairy monster's legend with an Appalachian flair. He enlisted relatives and friends around his family's weekend home in Transylvania County, N.C., and told the locals to let their imaginations run wild while the cameras were rolling.
"I spent several weeks priming and pumping my friends up for this project. I planted big, fat walnuts instead of small seeds and let these creative people go off," Cromer said. "I told them what I wanted and gave them plenty of time to think about it, but I did not make them rehearse lines."
Cromer cast himself as D.J. Galloway, a disgraced Miami Herald reporter looking for one more shot at the big-time by following the Bigfoot story. Cromer's real-life father, Lewis Cromer, portrays a small-town sheriff obsessed with proving the mythical creature's existence.
Rounding out the cast were Cromer's cousin as a devout, serpent-handling villager and Columbia-area female impersonator Pat Patterson (stage name: "Patti O'Furniture") – both of whom, according to Cromer, "taught me how to be a director. They said, 'What do you want? We don't want to interpret; we want to perform.' I was bossy, I told them exactly what I wanted, and they were perfect."
"The Long Way Home" has been screened to sold-out audiences in Columbia four times and took the "Best Narrative Feature" award at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival in July. Cinematically, the movie has been likened to the works of Cromer's off-kilter directorial heroes, John Waters and Ed Wood.
More importantly to Cromer, though, is the fact that proceeds from the first 200 DVDs were donated to "Miz Romaine" Johnson, who portrays one of the mountain women terrorized by Bigfoot. Johnson used the money to buy a tombstone for her late son Timmy, who died last October from liver failure.
"Timmy died two weeks before we started shooting," Cromer said. "In the first scene, Miz Romaine jumps up on the cooler and laughs as Mona Lisa (Johnson) runs through the bar with her honky-tonk badonkadonk and a shotgun and Miss Glenda is screaming bloody murder with blood on her face. I was behind the camera crying because it was the first time Miz Romaine had laughed since her son died. I would never edit that out."
In the closing credits, "The Long Way Home" is dedicated to Timmy Johnson's memory.
Despite – or perhaps because of – its improvised dialogue and handmade look, "The Long Way Home" soon could be taking giant steps toward "cult classic" status. A California-based distributor has agreed to pick up the movie for national release, and just this week, a representative from a nationally syndicated talk show asked Cromer for a screening copy of the DVD, which could be featured on an upcoming show.
All this attention for his little Bigfoot movie has Bubba Cromer thinking sequel, perhaps centered on another ferocious creature from Southern lore, The Lizard Man. "I want to do another one as soon as I can make up my savings account that's zeroed out," he said. "I don't have the energy to do it right now, and I've got to make some money on this one, but I definitely will be doing another one."
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