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Mythical Skunk Ape and wrestler The Bunny return to Tampa to star in movies

“The Wild Man 1883″ is a prequel to a Skunk Ape movie shot here in late 2020. The AEW wrestler is in a Lifetime movie.
Makeup artist Derek Garcia touches up the details on the Skunk Ape headpiece during production of "The Wild Man," which was shot in Tampa in 2020. A prequel to that movie is tentatively scheduled to begin shooting here in March.
Makeup artist Derek Garcia touches up the details on the Skunk Ape headpiece during production of "The Wild Man," which was shot in Tampa in 2020. A prequel to that movie is tentatively scheduled to begin shooting here in March. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 19|Updated Jan. 23

TAMPA — Area residents might want to hide their lima beans, the preferred snack of Florida’s mythical Sasquatch-like creature known as the Skunk Ape.

The large, hairy beast named for its foul stench will make another local appearance this year.

Well, a cinematic appearance.

More than two years since “The Wild Man: Skunk Ape” filmed in Hillsborough County, the producers are planning a prequel, “The Wild Man 1883,” tentatively scheduled to shoot in March.

But first, a professional wrestling bunny will make another appearance in Tampa for a different movie.

Laura Dennis, who performs as The Bunny for the All Elite Wrestling promotion, is currently starring in “She Wants My Baby,” a Lifetime movie being shot on both sides of the bridge through Jan. 27.

She was also featured in “Bad Tenant,” which filmed in Tampa Bay in November.

“Tampa Bay continues to be a hot market for independent filmmakers and made-for-TV movies,” said Tyler Martinolich, head of Hillsborough’s film commission, Film Tampa Bay. “Each film is another chance for Tampa Bay to shine on screens across the country.”

According to its application for a $65,000 Hillsborough County film production incentive, “She Wants My Baby” is about a woman who suspects the nanny is plotting to steal her baby and husband, “but no one believes her due to the postpartum depression she suffered in the past.” The production will spend an estimated $400,000 in Hillsborough.

Laura Dennis, who performs as The Bunny for the All Elite Wrestling promotion, gets her makeup touched up by makeup artist Cyn Cervantes before filming a scene for the movie "Bad Tenant" on Beach Drive NE in St. Petersburg in November.
Laura Dennis, who performs as The Bunny for the All Elite Wrestling promotion, gets her makeup touched up by makeup artist Cyn Cervantes before filming a scene for the movie "Bad Tenant" on Beach Drive NE in St. Petersburg in November. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“The Wild Man 1883″ production is seeking a $50,000 Hillsborough incentive, according to its application, and will spend $500,000 in the county.

The Hillsborough incentive program is marketing-based. In exchange for the money, each production must promote the area through the film and via social media.

The Skunk Ape prequel explores the origins of the mythology. It’s a “western horror film based around H.B. Plant and railroads coming to Tampa in 1883,” director and producer Ryan Justice said.

According to its application, “Taking place on the outskirts of a rural agricultural community in Florida, fear spreads among residents as mysterious deaths lead to a growing concern that something unnatural is living in the surrounding swamps.”

The application says the movie could begin shooting in March, but dates have yet to be finalized.

Skunk Apes are said to be between 6 and 8 feet tall with short hair covering their bodies.

Unlike the five-toed Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch and the Abominable Snowman allegedly seen in other parts of the world, Skunk Apes have four toes and climb trees where they sleep on homemade mats. Florida’s Skunk Ape sightings date to the Seminole Wars that spanned 1816 to 1858.

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In more recent years, they’ve supposedly primarily been spotted in the 730,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve and the neighboring 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park where, legend has it, pots of lima beans go missing at campsites due to the Skunk Apes love of the legume.

The first Skunk Ape movie, shot here in late 2020, follows a group of young filmmakers who, while in the Florida wilderness as part of a documentary investigating a rash of missing persons, discover the mythical creature and learn that it might be tied to a secret high-tech government facility.

It’s currently streaming on Tubi and Apple TV.

“I’ve said for years what makes Tampa Bay unique is the diversity of our locations,” Martinolich said. “The fact that a movie, now franchise like ‘Wild Man,’ can film a movie with semifuturistic settings in the first movie and then come back to film a period piece that takes place in the 1800s is amazing.”