Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) is an obscure and complicated movie written and directed by Fredric Hobbs. It attempts many interesting things, but doesn’t know how to put them all together in the end. And yet, watching all its spinning wheels is interesting.
Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) is a part 1950s Science Fiction, part black hero takes on a racist town, part small town America being bought up by corporate interest, part environmental, part western—film.
The plot starts off like a standard B-movie. A rancher is gambling in Reno and is shanghaied to the town of Comstock, where we will be spending the rest of the film. All of his winnings are stolen by the local organized crime racket and with nowhere to go he happens upon a kind scientist that lets him sleep in his sheep barn.
The rancher is overwhelmed by strange lights, and the sheep in the barn go wild. Suddenly, one of the sheep gives birth to a pulsating rubber mass that will become the Godmonster. The rancher is never seen again.
The scientist decides to keep the mass to study it in his state of the art lab that for some reason happens to be in an abandoned mine shaft.
And this is where the film changes.
Your typical B-movie would stay in this cramped lab for the majority of the film as the characters grow more worried about their scientifically unknown plot device and/or a romance develops. And it all comes to a head three quarters of the way through. But once Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) sets up the scientist and the Godmonster it moves them to the C-plot and we rarely see them.
Instead, we spend the bulk of the film out in Comstock. And this is where we meet our real main character, Barnstable (Christopher Brooks). He is an emissary for a large corporate firm that wants to redevelop the town. He also happens to be the only black person in town. He and Mayor Silverdale (Stuart Lancaster) but heads, because the Mayor is proud that his grandfather settled this town and wants to keep it the way it is.
This might sound like the main plot of the story, but it isn’t. Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) relegates this to the B-plot.
The A-plot starts when Barnstable attends the town’s annual fair. He tries shooting bottles in the shooting gallery, but is framed by the corrupt sheriff for shooting his dog. The town holds a funeral for the dog and they lock Barnstable up. He stays in jail for most of the film until a mob comes to lynch him.
And this is where we get into social commentary. And it’s a lot, but here we go.
The town of Comstock is modeled after a nineteenth century gold rush town, i.e. a defining American image, cowboys, six shooters, and all. Many of the characters dress like it is the 1870s, but it’s not. The movie is set in the 1970s. Comstock is now a struggling town and is ripe for redevelopment. The hope of a gold rush town juxtaposed with the sad nostalgic obsession with nineteenth century clothing and the fear of modernization, creates a powerful metaphor for America in 1973.
In the 1970’s America’s monopoly on manufacturing was beginning to slip as Europe and Japan were bouncing back from World War II. Also in the 70s the U.S. saw a rise in inflation without a rise in productivity and wages to match it. The outlook for the country seemed grim. And so we started looking back instead of forward. This is part of the reason why shows like Happy Days and movies like Grease became popular. They depicted a time when America was on top (for some) and didn’t have to worry about rising prices, or crime, or experimentation both sexual and chemical.
The heated relationship between Mayor Silverdale and Barnstable is another example of this. The Mayor’s grandfather settled Comstock and it hasn’t changed since then. And now there is someone who wants to change it all and he also happens to be black. This clearly is depicting race relations in America in the 1970s.
We have the old pseudo-cowboy era white man wanting things to stay as they were and a young black man offering change. Their metaphor is to show the rapid social and political power people of color gained in the 1960s and white America’s response to it.
Now, finally to the Godmonster itself.
I wondered if they were trying to put forth some Christian imagery with the monster, since it’s a sheep. But there isn’t much there.
It is far more closely related to the environment and the exploitative/exhibitionist nature of the U.S.
It turns out that the monster was created when a pregnant sheep breathed in too much of the toxic gas leaking from a nearby mineshaft. And when the plot gets back around to showing us the monster it has grown into a full adult sheep-thing that lumbers on two legs. The monster breaks out of the lab and starts to terrorize people. It goes after some children having a picnic and then blows up a gas station.
The idea here is that the way we exploit the earth has far reaching and unknown consequences that may lead to our collective downfall.
Mostly we see the guy in the monster suit waddling around the desert.
Comstock gathers a posy to go catch the monster. They do. And this is where the exhibitionism comes in.
Mayor Silverdale unveils the monster in a cage to the townspeople. He says that they’ll have an attraction to bring in tourists now.The townspeople aren’t happy. They want the thing dead. Without getting too political, this touches on another thing America does well, profiting from it’s tragedies. We have a long history of taking disastrous things, moments, and ideas and honing their power for political, ideological, and monetary gain. The monster is that.
But this movie has one last surprise.
Mayor Silverdale, after belittling, falsely imprisoning, and attempting to lynch, is selling the town after all to Barnstable. The townsfolk frenzy and we see the last bit of commentary Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) has to offer.
In 1973 there was growing unease and anger at the fact that President Nixon may have stolen information from the DNC. It turns out he did and the American People’s trust in the political upper-crust was shattered. Silverdale represents this feeling. He promised throughout the movie that he wasn’t going to sell the town because loved it, was proud of it, and wanted to keep its greatness untainted. But it turns out he was lying too and decided money was more important than principles.
The final moments of the movies are nuts. Not just because of the political commentary, but also because Mayor Silverdale raises his arms to the sky and starts screaming about how time will be the judge of us all. The Godmonster then explodes and all of the townspeople run down a hill covered in garbage and fire.
The Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) is ambitious for a ninety minute movie. But there isn’t enough room for all of its ideas. It’s like a multi-course meal, but every course is a full entree. They all may look enticing, but there’s no way to consume them all in one sitting.