Friday, October 23, 2015

Horrortober: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2015 at 10:50 AM

click to enlarge Some people will believe anything. Those people are invariably armed to the teeth.
  • Some people will believe anything. Those people are invariably armed to the teeth.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the toilet it’s time to discuss The Legend of Boggy Creek, a low-budget documentary-style tingler about a three-toed Arkansas Sasquatch that will flat knock you off the pot. With Halloween just a week away, it’s also time to talk about what it means to be genuinely afraid. See, it’s easy to make an audience jump in their seats. But those momentary jolts? Those are nothing compared to the big furry fear that followed a lot of people home from the drive-in movies back in 1972.

The Legend of Boggy Creek isn’t campy, it is kitschy—an authentic souvenir from a time before slasher films existed as a genre. Before the proliferation cable TV and pagers, when people felt a little more alone, and a little less entertained. But Boggy Creek doesn’t quite fall into the so-bad-it’s good genre of horror schlock, either. It's a legitimately terrible campfire story of a film that comes on like a populist political candidate, gaining credibility from its rough edges and ineptitude. The things that make it silly beyond belief — from its Ken Nordine-esque narration to its wildly inappropriate musical interludes — are indistinguishable from the things that make it convincing.

click to enlarge screen_shot_2015-10-23_at_10.06.36_am.png

A card at the film's opening reads, "This is a True Story. Some of the people in this motion picture portray themselves... in many cases on actual locations." Authenticity is seldom clever or slick.

Boggy Creek was shot in and around Fouke, Arkansas and features a cast of drawling homespun locals, right out of central casting. It’s sometimes described as the Blair Witch Project of its day because both films were cheaply made faux-artifacts that earned millions in revenue. But Boggy Creek is also the big bang of modern bigfoot culture. It’s the prototype film for cheaply made docu-horror and much of the History Channel’s inexplicable monster programming. Written and directed by autodidact/auteur Charles B. Pierce, this independently produced feature crawled out of Texarkana and started attracting crowds like a tent revival. Not only did it turn audiences into true believers, convincing them Bigfoot was real, it convinced them he was violent and wouldn’t hesitate to attack victims while they were pooping. That’s the stuff terror is made of.

click to enlarge If you don't know what it is, shoot it.
  • If you don't know what it is, shoot it.

Boggy Creek
plays out like an ambitious home movie because in so many ways that’s exactly what it is— an ambitious home movie made for ordinary folks, by ordinary folks. Ordinary folks who live out in the boondocks where they fish, whittle, drink Coca Cola, and love shitty music unironically.

This seems like as good a place as any to randomly insert the lyrics to the film's impossibly saccharine theme song, “Lonely Cry,” as performed by Chuck Bryant (AKA writer/director/producer Charles Bryant Pierce).

Lonely Cry
This is where the story plays,
A world on which we seldom gaze,
A page from the book of yesterdays,
Birds and beast and wind and water.

Here beneath the bright blue sky,
No man smoke blinds the eagle’s eye.
And things that crawl or swim or fly,
Feed and breed and live and die.

Here the sulfur river flow,
Rising when the storm cloud blows.
And this is where the creature goes,
Safe within a world he knows.

Perhaps he dimly wonders why,
There is no other such as I.
To touch, to love, before I die,
To listen to my lonely cry.


Where he searches where he goes 
This of course nobody knows. 
But once you’ve heard his lonely cry
You can guess the reason why. 

Whether he’s a beast or man,
what drives him wandering across the land,
Is love for others of his clan
And loneliness he cannot stand. 


Perhaps he dimly wonders why,
There is no other such as I.
To touch, to love, before I die,
To listen…
To my lonely…


Like a perfectly respectable church propaganda film about Hell torture (for sinners), or the dangers of gay Satanic drug cults, Boggy Creek’s awkwardness proves its earnestness. The reporting is fair and balanced too, thanks to the testimony of Herb Jones, a grizzled old hermit who likes his privacy as much as he likes his tobacco and who walks with a limp because he shot off part of his foot in a boating accident. Jones swears he’s been living in the bottoms for 20-years and has never seen nor heard any consarn monster. If that testimony doesn’t confirm Boggy Creek’s journalistic integrity, I don’t know what can.

Herb Jones, grizzled as shit.
  • Herb Jones, grizzled as shit.

F is for fake, according to master hoaxter Orson Welles (and the alphabet, I suppose). It’s also for Fouke. And Boggy Creek concludes with the filmmaker, Charles B. Pierce himself, stepping into the frame to silently explore the ruins and grounds around an old shack where he grew up listening to a depressed wild man scream his fool head off. As the melancholy filmmaker pokes about the woods and the wreckage, first-person narrator Vern Stieman gives audiences permission to doubt the story they’ve been watching. Then he ties the whole thing up in a spooky, weirdly sentimental bow reminiscent of the epilogue from Welles' War of the Worlds. And his commercial voiceovers too.  

“I decided to drive out to our old home place, now run down and abandoned,” Stieman says in voiceover, as sunlight fades and Pierce walks through the Arkansas countryside. “Standing out in this field it all comes rushing back and an icy tingle starts down my spine when I recall that terrible, lonesome cry. It was so long ago it seems incredible that the creature is still out there somewhere. Maybe even watching me. Of course you may not believe that, or any of this story. You may think the whole thing’s a hoax, and that’s your privilege. But if you’re ever driving down in our country, long 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. There are still mysteries that remain unsolved, and strange unexplained noises in the night.” Cue the bullfrogs, roll the credits.

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