Some legends are so powerful they can never die, but they might be able to kill. That is a pervading idea behind Sasquatch, Hulu’s three-part murder-mystery documentary that explores a strange story of the famous cryptid tearing three men limb from limb on a pot farm in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle.
Fittingly premiering on April 20 a.k.a. the weed holiday “420” the series is told through the eyes of investigative journalist David Holthouse. A man who has built his career chasing monstrous humans, such as Neo-Nazis and sexual predators, Holthouse heard of these Bigfoot murders back in 1993 while laying low to avoid some gangs, and passing time working on the farms in the Redwoods. Now, nearly three decades later, he revisits the region to further uncover the truth behind the story.
Directed by Joshua Rofé (Lorena), and produced by Duplass Brothers Productions (Wild, Wild Country), Sasquatch is more than a monster hunt. It does dig into Bigfoot culture, and features interviews with notable squatcher James “Bobo” Fay (Finding Bigfoot), anatomy and anthropology researcher Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum — and even Bob Gimlin, one-half of the Patterson-Gimlin film, the most famous supposed Bigfoot video ever. But the series is likewise an exploration of the illegal marijuana trade in the Emerald Triangle. A haven to where the hippies of the 1960s counterculture once escaped, parts of the three counties that make up the triangle — Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino — have become off-the-grid zones where interlopers might vanish.
While a legend of a potentially killer Bigfoot looms large over the area, crossing the wrong character equally poses a mortal danger, and the documentary conveys that palpable human threat. In this way, Sasquatch is gripping, and full of shocking revelations as it takes the viewer on a journey that’s both an examination of cryptozoology and paranormal phenomena, and a true crime investigation.
Rofé joined Den of Geek for a Paranormal Pop Culture Hour to discuss the series, and how he became connected to Holthouse’s strange tale. In the following interview the director opens up about a childhood fear of the Jersey Devil, and how that fear was nothing compared to the frightening nature of some of the people he had to interview for Hulu’s Sasquatch.
Note: Quotes edited lightly for clarity and length
Den of Geek: There are weird parallels here with Lorena, the Lorena Bobbitt documentary, because you take something you assume people know a lot about, but they really only know part of the story.
Joshua Rofé: It’s interesting, my producing partner, Steven Berger, we sort of started to realize in the last couple of years, that our M.O. is we like a story about a household name, a word that is just part of common vernacular … where you come in with a totally preconceived notion. And by the end of it, hopefully, you will never think of that name or that word the same way again.
Why Sasquatch? Was it your own pre-existing fascination?
I grew up in New Jersey. When I was a kid, we’d go to day-camp in the summer, and it was in the Pine Barrens. I grew up terrified of the Jersey Devil. You’d have one or two sleepovers a summer, where you’re camping out, and [counselors] would take you to the old canteen, which is just an abandoned shed. You think, as a nine-year-old, that this is where the Jersey Devil resides. You grow up and sort of never think about that again but it’s still in your being.
Cut to February 2018. I’m making Lorena, and I have dinner with a buddy of mine, Zach Cregger. He’s one of the executive producers on this show. His parting words to me are, “By the way, you’ve got to listen to this podcast. You’re either going to love it, or you’re going to think I’m crazy for loving it, and it’s called Sasquatch Chronicles.”
Immediately, I just had no interest. Despite what I had been sort of terrified over as a kid, with the Jersey Devil, cryptids were just, at that moment in time, they were not something that I gave much thought to. And he said, “Just listen.”
What Sasquatch Chronicles is, is people calling up with their encounter stories. The next day, I listened to one episode. By the end of four days later, I’d listened to 11 episodes, and I was not hung-up on whether or not I believed the details of the stories. That was sort of irrelevant to me. What I was immediately taken by and really overwhelmed by was I sensed authentic, visceral fear as through-line with every story, from every caller.
I started to have this conversation with myself. Am I going to make a Sasquatch something? I can’t. I make social issue documentaries. My collaborators are going to laugh at me. And then I got to this point at the end of the week, where I said, “I’m going to make a Sasquatch-centric story. I don’t know if it’s a doc, I don’t know if it’s scripted, but this is amazing. And I’m going to do something.”
In the first episode of the documentary, you reveal David hasn’t told this story before. He has plenty of insane stories but kept this one in his back pocket. Why did he tell you about it now?
Keep in mind, David was working on Lorena with me at the time. I knew that in his experience as a gonzo journalist, he had seen and done a lot of crazy things. I sent him a text, and I just said, “Hey, I promise this is the craziest text I’m going to send you for the next five years. I want to find a murder mystery that’s somehow wrapped up in a Sasquatch story and pursue it as the next project.” He texted me right back. He said, “I love it. I got one. I’ll call you in five.” And then he proceeded to tell me that story from 1993, and here we are.
This is a murder investigation of sorts, and an exploration of this outlaw territory, but you begin with interviews from that Sasquatch community. Why did you find it was necessary to include them? You could just have gone straight to the territory where these murders took place.
If we were going to try and figure out what happened with this Sasquatch murder mystery, we needed to start at ground zero. And ground zero in many was, “Well, let’s understand Bigfoot culture. Let’s understand the history of Bigfoot.” Talking to people who can explain that very credibly, particularly in the Bigfoot community, and also talking to people who when they’re telling you about their experience … it feels authentic. You never for a second think, “Oh, this person is putting me on.” You know that they believe what they’re telling you … There’s a former cop in this who, when he relays his experience, I mean, this grown man is about to cry. He is terrified just recalling it, and it’s very tough to dismiss that.
Can you walk me through the unique challenges you faced as you filmed in this pretty dangerous Mendocino area?
All of the credit for that goes to David Holthouse. That’s his work, that’s his reporting, that’s his skillful and relentless development of sources, and frankly, putting himself in really dangerous situations when there was no camera present.
There’d be moments where we would be up there in Northern California, and maybe the next day was an interview with a Squatcher. Certainly, not somebody in the criminal underworld. [The crew] leaves the hotel, 8:00 AM, to get to somebody’s place. David, that night before, was going to meet a potential source, very much from that underworld and say, “Here’s where I’m going to be. If you don’t hear from me by this time, that’s bad.”
I remember just sitting, wide awake till two, three in the morning, just waiting for that text message, “I’m out. I’m safe. I’m heading back to the hotel. I’m good.” So there was a lot of that, and then there was a lot of, when we were in the places that we were, sort of being overcome with this feeling of, “We better not overstay our welcome, because we’re not welcome here to begin with essentially.” And so, that was a new experience.
Do you think some of these folks up there in the Emerald Triangle, legitimately do believe in the existence of Sasquatch?
Absolutely. There are a ton of people up there who believe in the existence of Sasquatch, and they would base that on experiences they will tell you they’ve had. There’s a line David has in the show, where he talks about the belief in the supernatural up there, meaning Northern California, deep in those woods, running on a higher vibration.
You said that you hadn’t really previously experienced this kind of threat of danger with your work. Was this something that David tried to prep you for?
It was more conversation, sort of as a group, of, “Do we need security?” … Actually, you know what? I haven’t thought about this since it happened. We looked into hiring security. Nobody would go. Nobody would go, and it was something more or less like, if it’s going to go down, it’s going to go down.
I don’t remember David prepping us, so much as those conversations as a group, but I think everybody just understood. I think a big rule for me personally, and my crews, when we’re shooting docs is, somebody’s letting us in their home. Man, I don’t care if you have totally different political beliefs, I don’t care what. Someone’s letting us in their home. It’s like please and thank you, and take your shoes off, and be respectful. It was kind of that on steroids for this, which is, “Oh, and somebody might have an AR-15 in the bedroom, so everybody just behave yourself.”
…And the answers to our original question of, “What happened the day that these people claimed a Sasquatch murdered these people?” Well, some of those people were going to potentially hold the answers.
Let me backtrack a little bit to the hardcore Bigfoot stuff because you do talk to Bob Gimlin as well as Bob Hieronimus, who claims he was the guy in a Bigfoot suit. Did you walk away, finding one or the other slightly more reliable?
Oh, I don’t want to answer this one … I think there are going to be people who are going to believe both of these guys. These guys are in their eighties now, and — we’re going into very mild spoilers, but it’s one of my favorite things in the show, actually — there’s a real rivalry that is clearly decades old between the two of them, and it turns out they live down the street from each other, which is amazing. It’s a wild dynamic between the two of them, for sure. As surly as they get when they can be talking about each other, they’re both the nicest guys. They’re both the nicest guys, so welcoming, so thoughtful.
From that nine-year-old kid, camping in the Pine Barrens, terrified of the Jersey Devil, to now being on the other side of this three-part documentary, what is your takeaway about the power of legends?
Like you were saying, from being a kid who was afraid, camping in the Pine Barrens, to then listening to those stories on Sasquatch Chronicles, and hearing that visceral fear from these folks, to then making this and being in those woods — and feeling fear again. I think fear is a very powerful tool, and legends are often born out of people feeling afraid or wanting to make others feel afraid for specific reasons. And that’s where the real story lies, I think, a lot of times. I’m not coming down definitively on the existence of whatever or not, but people like to wield fear in the name of control. I think that’s where a lot of legends are born, and I personally find that endlessly fascinating.
Sasquatch, the three-part documentary directed and executive produced by Joshua Rofé, and produced by Duplass Brothers Productions is available to stream on Hulu now.