When I was a kid, I looked forward every week to the articles on TV Guide’s website from the Televisionary and FlickChick (better known as critic Maitland McDonagh). These proto-blogs were where perplexed readers who had reached the outer limits of their personal research could ask what this film or that TV show was that featured that thing–you know that thing–and finally get an answer after years of trying to recall. “What was that movie with the kid living in the walls?” Bad Ronald. “What was that series with the girl whose dad was an alien and she talked to him through a crystal?” Out of this World. “What was that movie that was like Blair Witch Project but, like, from the 70s?” The Legend of Boggy Creek.
I was lucky enough to take in a viewing of this 1972 oddity at the Alamo Drafthouse last night, projected from the last known extant 35mm copy, loaned to the theatre by its owner, a certain director you may have heard of named Quentin Tarantino. Boggy Creek is a curious entry into the canon of 1970s horror flicks. Like Blair Witch, which was made nearly 30 years later, the film is shot largely as a documentary, featuring interviews with individuals who encountered what became known as the Fouke Monster, a three-toed, vaguely sasquatchian cryptozoological beast that supposedly roamed (or perhaps still roams) Fouke, Arkansas and the surrounding waterways. The film was made by a relatively amateur director, Charles B. Pierce, who had made a series of commercials for Texarkana-based trucking firm Ledwell & Son Enterprises before borrowing $160,000 from the company to produce Boggy Creek. Surprisingly, the film became the 11th highest grossing film of 1972, netting $20 million(!) dollars. More people saw Boggy Creek in theatres than Hitchcock’s penultimate outing Frenzy, or Peter O’Toole’s Man of La Mancha, or the film adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five. In fact, were it not for the surprise mainstream popularity of Behind the Green Door–a movie that is literally pornography–Boggy Creek would have cracked the top ten, not a bad legacy for an independently produced flick about one town’s personal Bigfoot.
Boggy Creek is not an excellent movie, but it is obviously a labor of love and was made by someone with an untrained but doubtlessly cinematic eye. There are lovingly framed shots of a child fleeing across a field from the howling in the night, accompanied by voice-over from the film’s narrator: “I was seven years old the first time I heard him scream; it scared me then, and it scares me now.” The omnipresent narration of the film, some of it framed as the recollections of an adult who lived in Fouke as a child and some of it having a more documentarian distance, is one of the odder elements, but it contributes to the feeling that this is not a work of fiction–and many of the people interviewed in the film would argue that it is not, recalling individual interactions and inexplicable events. Some of these interactions are recreated on screen, and although the Fouke Monster, a furry creature with hair hanging down in its face, looks silly to the modern eye, it nonetheless is effectively discomfiting, and by the end of the film feels like a real creature that you might see dart across a dark highway while driving at night, or be caught washing its feet in a stream by a wandering hunter.
The last third of the film is taken up with an extended reenactment of the monster’s two-night assault on a multi-family household. This is the most captivating section, and it feels like it was spliced in from a very different film, although it would likely not work as well as it does without the backstory provided by the more Direct Cinema elements of the first two-thirds. There are certain parts of this segment that are somewhat repetitive, but there are some legitimate scares and shocks in it, so it works. There are other sections of the film that can charitably be described as “padding,” but these also yield something memorable. Pierce wrote and performed two songs for the film; one, which is either titled (or should be titled) “The Ballad of Travis Crabtree,” plays over a montage of said teenager (who was also the film’s key grip) checking traps and engaging in standard rural lifestyle activities. The second is a lovingly crafted ballad about what it must be like to be the only monster in the world, and whether that life would be terrible lonely or not. It’s an undeniably silly excursion that’s treated with complete sincerity, which is the best way to describe the film overall. It’s a slow burn, but it finds its fun in both camp and otherwise, and is a great testament to how one person can create a career out of finding one narrative and following it through to its end.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond