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Monday, February 17, 2020

The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) review


Vern Stierman (Narrator), Chuck Pierce (Young Jim), William Stumpp (Adult Jim), Willie E. Smith (Willie), Buddy Crabtree (James Crabtree), Jeff Crabtree (Fred Crabtree), Judy Baltom (Mary Beth Searcy), Mary B. Johnson (Mary Beth's Sister)

Directed by Charles B. Pierce

"... if you're ever driving down in our country along about sundown keep an eye on the dark woods as you cross the Sulphur River bottoms and you may catch a glimpse of a huge, hairy creature watching you from the shadows. Yes, he's still here. And you know, I'd almost like to hear that terrible cry again. Just to be reminded that there is still a bit of wilderness left; and there are still mysteries that remain unsolved; and strange, unexplained noises... in the night."

The Short Version: One of the most successful independent features, Pierce's fictionalized "True Story" of the Fouke Monster started an entire sub-genre of movies and documentaries built around hairy hominids with outsized appendages. It's quaint on scares but big on atmosphere. What the film lacks in polish it makes up for with Pierce's sense of composition and ability to turn nature into a foreboding sense of dread. In the 70s, regional horror was a thriving business; those days are gone in these increasingly industrialized times, but BOGGY CREEK remains a LEGENDary example of the Southern Fried Gothic form.

A narrator documents sightings and interactions with a 7-foot monster haunting the swamps and backwoods areas of Fouke, Arkansas.

Costing a meager $160,000 and using locals for the cast and crew, Charles B. Pierce's THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972) remains one of the most influential and successful independently produced motion pictures of all time. Available for years on video in poor quality, fullscreen presentations, the 1972 classic has recently been restored in 4K by Pierce's daughter--released once more to theaters and on DVD and blu-ray for fans to experience either for the first time, or in a format not seen since its original release.

Seeing it today, and just like regional horror itself, BOGGY CREEK is clearly a product of its time. There's nothing particularly scary about it, but there are a handful of instances of genuine dread, though; much of this is derived from the foreboding sound of nature and the occasional expanse of a critter-filled swamp; or a desolate field whose only occupant is a dilapidated barn. It's scenes like these, and the atmosphere of the locality--from the gas stations, automobiles, and backwoods domiciles--that defines a time period virtually extinct today.

Based on the legend of the Fouke Monster of Arkansas, the film is told in a documentary style with interviews and reenactments of sightings by the residents of Fouke. Sightings of the creature in and around Texarkana reportedly date back to 1946; but it was a news story from May of 1971 that brought this Bigfoot national attention. On that fateful night, a family was attacked by a seven-foot, red-eyed, hairy creature. One man suffered minor injuries while other eyewitnesses on the property got a glimpse of the thing before firing at it. When police arrived they found no blood, only claw marks on the porch and strange, three-toed footprints around the area.

It was this attack that inspired Pierce to make his movie; and the same one depicted during the film's climax. With the furor at the time over the alleged monster, a movie about the incidents and sightings was a surefire winner. But Pierce and others probably weren't expecting the level of success THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK would accrue. Initially released in August of 1972, that first Texarkana showing led to long lines of curious moviegoers anxious to see this little movie about the mysterious Sasquatch haunting their communities and surrounding lands.

After major Hollywood distributors passed on the picture, indie outfit Howco International (THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS; TEENAGE MONSTER) bought the rights and brought BOGGY CREEK to an astonishing $22-$25 million haul. Re-released in 1975, the Fouke Monster continued to scare up good business in drive-ins across the country.

The magic of capitalism ensured Fouke would maintain notoriety through souvenirs and book sales of its mystery monster. Sightings of the creature continued (and to this day), but no photographic evidence throughout Texarkana has ever been submitted. By the mid-80s the Fouke Monster was being called a hoax by then mayor Virgil Roberts and others, believing it all to be a fabrication to bring attention to the area.

Elsewhere, Pierce's surprise moneymaking machine spawned a slew of imitations. The Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1969 stirred the initial curiosity of Sasquatch lore and its legitimacy, but BOGGY CREEK showed the topic had lucrative legs... hairy as they may be.

Pierce's first movie, BOGGY CREEK's deficiencies are evident throughout. Some of the monster scenes are sloppily executed and one scene where the creature casually reaches through a bathroom window where a man just sat down on the toilet comes off as humorous. However, Pierce's strong suit in his debut outing is an eye for composition. Here he succeeds at capturing a palpable sense of fear and dread in his use of shadow, and the sights and sounds of nature. The monster's roar, for example, is utilized to a far greater effect than some scenes where people come face to face with the thing. Other shots of the creature obscured by trees and the encroaching cover of night are highly potent in creating a goosebump or two.

If you grew up in the 70s and early 80s, the chances are high you saw a Made For Television documentary on Bigfoot, or a regional low budget production following in the footsteps of the Fouke Monster's big screen success. While Sasquatch was elusive in real life, he was cropping up all over the place in the entertainment medium. IN SEARCH OF BIGFOOT (1976), SASQUATCH, THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT (1976), THE MYSTERIOUS MONSTERS (1976), THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT (1976), CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976), and SNOWBEAST (1977) were some of the similarly themed Cryptid creature features. 

The big screen monsters eventually haunted small screens at home as well. In November of 1981, a double bill of CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK aired on CBS beginning at 2:45am. A sequel surfaced in 1977 titled RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK without the participation of Pierce. The man himself did return to his creation in 1985 with BOGGY CREEK 2: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

BOGGY CREEK's documentary style (along with 1980s controversial CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST from director Ruggero Deodato) was likewise instrumental in the plethora of 'Found Footage' movies that exploded after THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) enjoyed a similar success story. One of that movie's two directors, Eduardo Sanchez, made his own Bigfoot movie in the 'Found Footage' format with EXISTS (2014).

It may seem quaint and outdated today, but THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972) was a pioneering work from the man who would show a more confident hand (and garner genre attention yet again) upon directing THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976); another picture based on a true story. The audience that will likely get the most out of the experience are those who saw the film during its original run; or those who caught it (or some of its imitations) on late night television... and especially by those who lived it.

*You can purchase the DVD/Bluray combo and other BC merchandise HERE.*

This review is representative of the Blu-ray/DVD combo restored and released by Pamula Pierce. Specs and extras: restored in 4K HD; 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; restored theatrical trailer; running time: 01:27:00.


JMR777 said...

I remember seeing this on TV a few times as a kid on UHF stations, I sometimes watch bits of it on youtube.

As you said it isn't a flawless film, but its the flaws that make it special. The documentary style and use of real people is what makes this film so unique, it seems quite believable to the viewer that the eyewitnesses saw what they saw, and the two songs in the film about Travis Crabtree and the monster are unexpected but welcome surprises in this film.

Could a major Hollywood production with a budget of millions make a better version? The answer is no, Hollywood would only end up turning out another turkey worthy of a Razzie award. It took a skilled amateur filmmaker with an eye for detail and a respect for his audience that turned Boggy Creek into a gem of a movie. Its a flawed gem but a gem all the same.

Thanks for the review of one of my favorite low budget (but not low quality) films.

venoms5 said...

You're welcome, JMR777. The restoration definitely works in making for a better viewing experience.

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