Few Bostonians are unfamiliar with the work of John Campopiano – even if they don’t realize it. If Campopiano’s name – or, more to the point, his face – fails to ring a bell, that’s partly by design. Because his far more famous alter-ego has built something of a stock-in-trade of being mysterious: The Boston Yeti.
For the unfamiliar, the Yeti first appeared during the memorably godawful winter of 2015. True to his cryptic roots, the Yeti did not announce himself, but simply appeared – first on the snowy streets of Somerville, then in candid photos and videos across social media. As word of mouth spread, the sightings continued, and the Yeti became a beloved figure, posing for photo shoots at the Brattle and even collaborating with Mayor Walsh. It was one of the biggest – perhaps the only – bright spot of that winter.
With more temperate climes and less of the white stuff, last winter saw fewer opportunities for our favorite hometown cryptid (“I think I was the only one bummed about the weather last winter!” Campopiano bemoans). But where some might take that as a sign to hang up the old monkey suit, the Yeti opted to ramp up his summer profile, first appearing in a delightful photo shoot for the Doubletree Hotel, then curating a month of classic animal-attack midnight movies (which we previously covered in this space).
That last bit in particular speaks to Campopiano’s personal interests, as well as those of his hairier half. An archivist for WGBH during the day, Campopiano is a dedicated champion of gere film, particularly that which falls somewhere in between the beloved and the forgotten. “I’m a super nostalgic person,” Campopiano muses, and that nostalgia has fueled a number of projects that may well increase his non-ape-suited profile in the near future.
The first of these endeavors is Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, a feature-length documentary screening at the Brattle this Saturday (in a double feature with its subject, naturally). The film, Campopiano explains, came about as a result of his longstanding hobby of seeking out the locations of his favorite films (Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery, he tells me, is located in Scituate, MA, and is now an artists’ commune with free admission to the public). While visiting the locations for Pet Sematary in rural Maine, Campopiano and co-director Justin White began encountering locals more than willing to talk about their involvement with the film. Sensing a story, Campopiano realized he might have the makings of a fun short film.
Things snowballed from there. Each local with a story knew someone else with a story, who knew someone else still. As the interviews piled up – and as the interviewees began revealing props and previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage – what began as a diverting Youtube video started to look like a serious, feature-length film. “It’s a very New England story,” Campopiano explains; at the author’s request, Pet Sematary was the first Stephen King adaptation to actually be filmed in his beloved Maine, and as such has become a point of local pride. Unlike characters in a King story, these people are more than happy to relate their shared history.
Following the success of Unearthed — his first feature film — Campopiano is turning his attention to the literary world. His next project is a book, tentatively entitled Kreatures for Kids, cataloguing the peculiar world of monster movies focused on, and aimed at, children. These films, according to Campopiano, are remarkable for the way they frequently tackle heavy subjects – death, divorce, even addiction – and make them comprehensible to younger viewers by dropping them into stories about witches, aliens, and sasquatches. And, thanks in large part to the home video boom of the 1980s and ‘90s, the landscape is massive. Campopiano carries with him a hefty spreadsheet of titles, from the well-known (Gremlins, The Witches) to the obscure (Al Lewis in the Australian-produced My Grandpa is a Vampire – originally titled Grampire – and the late-period Meat Loaf vehicle To Catch a Yeti). Despite the ever-growing nature of the list – nearly everyone Campopiano tells of the project has their own fuzzy childhood memories to add – the book is rapidly taking shape, and thus far boasts input from everyone from Fred Olen Ray and Roger Corman to Candace Cameron and Alan Thicke.
As for the Boston Yeti, don’t count him out yet. The old cryptid has several projects of his own in the works – though, as only befits such a legendarily elusive creature, you likely won’t hear about them until they happen. And when the weather inevitably takes a turn for the worse, don’t be surprised if you happen across some familiar footprints in the snow. Winters in Boston can be a drag, but this snowman makes them just a little less abominable.
Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary
dir. John Campopiano & Justin White
Screens Saturday, 10/29, 9:00 PM @ Brattle Theatre
Double feature w/ Pet Sematary – special introduction by Campopiano