Hulu’s ‘Sasquatch’ Doc Captures the Fear and Loathing Behind Mendocino Folklore

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A moment from new documentary series, 'Sasquatch', featuring Bigfoot himself.
A moment from new documentary series, 'Sasquatch'. (Hulu)

On the face of it, new Hulu documentary Sasquatch is about the mythical mountain creature and whether or not it murders people on pot farms in Northern California. Once you get into it, the three-part series is far more concerned with the underworld that operates in the so-called Emerald Triangle—Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. But at its core, Sasquatch is about the dark heart of rural Northern California and the lore that springs up out of it.

I have written about strange things afoot in the mountains before. I chased ghosts in Grass Valley and LSD-addled monkeys in La Honda. And on both occasions, I found zero skeptics living in the communities concerned. Documentarian David Holthouse notices this himself in the very first episode of Sasquatch. “There’s a current of belief in supernatural forces,” he says of rural Northern California, “that runs deeper up here than in most places.”

Holthouse’s series is born from an incident he witnessed on a friend’s remote pot farm in the fall of 1993. One evening, his friend’s cabin was visited by two men, one of whom was visibly frantic. The men said they had just found “three bodies on a pot farm that were mutilated, mangled, torn to pieces.” And they believed wholeheartedly, “that a sasquatch had done it.”

Over the course of the series, Holthouse does his best to get to the bottom of the mystery. And, remarkably, he succeeds in arriving at a reasonably satisfying conclusion. On his journey to doing that, he explores how lore is often born from a human desire to make sense of fear. “Monsters aren't born, they’re made,” notes interview subject Brian Regal, author of Searching For Sasquatch. “We make them. All of our monsters are human-made. We make them out of the things we’re afraid of; we make them out of the things we hate ... It’s a human coping mechanism.”

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Real-life human horror is not hard to find in Sasquatch. It’s in the lawlessness that exists in the most remote parts of California. It’s in an engulfing paranoia that entire livelihoods could be lost overnight to government and police intervention. And it’s in the countless disappeared people who flock to the region to cash in on the marijuana farms. (“The rate of missing persons cases in Mendocino County and all throughout the Emerald Triangle is, per capita, the highest in the United States by far,” Holthouse reports.)

Razor, a former Emerald Triangle cannabis farmer who operated in the ’90s, backs up the theory that monster mythology is often born from real, personal terror. “I feel like all the sasquatch stories I ever heard emanate from that traumatic feeling of like, ‘I might not belong here and something is going to take me out,’” he says. “Someone doesn’t have to be a methamphetamine addict to be out in the woods maybe too long; traumatized by being out there and fearing for their lives.”

Despite its title, Sasquatch is more about the harsh realities of criminal underworlds operating on the margins than it is about Bigfoot legends. At times, the show’s juxtaposition of evasive, hardcore criminals and enthusiastic sasquatch investigators is both jarring and borderline absurd. But only by combining the two does one get a true snapshot of the expanse of peculiarities specific to these Northern California communities. The threads that run between them are the rumors, tall tales and false accusations that spread like wildfire across small towns.

But there is something else lurking in the mountains of Northern California. It is a darkness that appears to have seeped into the very land. And you have to experience it in order to understand its cumulative and insidious effects on small communities. Netflix’s five-part documentary series Murder Mountain tried in many ways to capture that atmosphere, but it never quite hit the mark. Sasquatch gets much, much closer—thanks in great part to an unlikely philosopher, Razor.

“When the gold fields of California opened up,” he notes, “it wasn’t the best and brightest that came to pan for gold. It was people trying to extricate a high profit for a little amount of work. The same thing happened with growing cannabis ... That darkness from the [gold] mining camps, and from the first logging camps that took the land away from the Indigenous people. That trauma never stopped, and it just snowballed into trauma for everybody who’s come since then. It gets paved over and painted over and developed over, but in the more rural areas, it’s there. You can feel it. I don't think you can stop it or erase it at this point.”

Not only is Razor right, but the rest of Sasquatch doubles down on the idea that, when it comes to the Emerald Triangle, there is far more to be afraid of than Bigfoot.