Delving into the boggy recesses for a barely glimpsed but fondly remembered horror classic
There are moments in our lives that shape our current and future selves forever.
It may seem completely innocuous at the time, you may never even know what it was. Things that make us confident, that make us laugh, that make us feel in danger can, I believe, be linked to something we’ve reacted to in a certain way or experienced as a child. We can’t always pinpoint those moments because, by and large, it doesn’t really matter…I don’t really care why hearing Sheena Easton on the radio makes me think of bacon, it just does!
A good few years ago I was looking at the cheap horror DVDs in a discount book shop and came across a title that resonated with me. It was the harmless looking Boggy Creek 2: The Legend Continues. Except it wasn’t that particular film that brought back memories and awakened a latent fear that had been buried within the dark recesses of my subconscious. It was the film that preceded it, an early ’70s monster flick called The Legend of Boggy Creek, the unexpected recollection of which sent shivers down my spine. At that jarring moment, I very suddenly and distinctly remembered a long-forgotten childhood experience of being exposed to a film that I probably really shouldn’t have.
Thanks to the magic and wonder of the Internet I was able to look up the film and see if it stirred up any more emotions. At the time I discovered little more than a number of forum posts from people who, just like me, had seen this mysterious film on UK TV in the early ’80s, at a similarly impressionable age. Further research over the years took me to a date, one that is as important to me as the day that Doc Brown banged his head on the sink and had a vision of the Flux Capacitor. The Legend of Boggy Creek was screened at 6pm on 17th December 1981 on BBC2…now confirmed as the day I fell in love with horror movies.
To put this oddity of a film into context, back in the early ’70s, as drive-in horror movies were somewhere approaching their peak, American theatres were always on the lookout for something different. In the land of opportunity, and perhaps sensing that there was a profit to be made with a small amount of money and lots of drive, one Charles B Pierce (who went on to direct The Town that Dreaded Sundown and wrote the story for Clint Eastwood vehicle Sudden Impact) borrowed $100,000 to make a quasi-documentary about a bigfoot type creature terrorising a small Arkansas town. Using locals and students instead of actors the result is a movie that struggles to escape its low-budget trappings yet manages to have some kind of strange hold over people who, like me, saw it at a young age, allowing it to become a piece of celluloid shrapnel, lodged in our combined movie consciousness.
It has a simple premise that sees the narrator of a ‘docudrama’ return to his home town and reminisce out loud about his close encounter with what locals call ‘The Fouke Monster’, a Bigfoot type creature that, legend has it, roams the nearby ‘Boggy Creek’. The disembodied voiceover takes us on a nostalgic journey to recount some of the significant events in the legend’s history and asks us to make up our own minds about the existence of the beast.
What we have here is a film not unlike The Blair Witch Project, its effectiveness lying within the context of the time and place that it was created and consumed. My consumption was when BBC 2 decided that it was acceptable to screen the film at tea time, in a period when there were only three terrestrial TV channels and kids would be watching. It didn’t matter that the film is blatantly fiction, at the age of 4 you believe what you see with your own eyes and are very easily frightened by something that appears different. The voiceover and documentary style made it look more like the news (which had just started on the other channel) rather than a film. A four year old can’t be expected to tell the difference! Parents had no way of knowing what the content of this film would be…it was on early, was followed by a double bill of Warner Bros. cartoons (according to the archived TV guides). There was no Internet back then to check it out and it probably looked as hokey to them as it does to me now. At the time I was scared but I had no idea why I found the experience strangely enjoyable; a conflict of hitherto unknown emotions that left an enduring mark.
This is where nostalgia kicks in and reality takes a back seat. 37 years after that evening’s baptism I got to see it again, discovering it ‘On Demand’, and it’s incredible how much of the movie I remembered and misremembered. A song that I had attached to the film wasn’t in it, but there are songs; my memories had transferred meaning from this unfamiliar film onto something more familiar to make sense of it. I vividly remember a single line and scene that genuinely frightened me…a cat dies following an encounter with the monster and the narrator says “There was not a mark on it, it was literally scared to death”. I remembered this scene virtually shot-for-shot and word-for-word, such was the power of that particular moment for me. Imagine something so frightening it can kill an animal just by looking at it.
Moving onto the film itself, for today’s audiences brought up on CGI and well versed in found footage dramatics, it’s likely to be largely forgettable, but it does have a certain something. The narrator’s dry, dull, monotone is oddly detached from the onscreen proceedings, despite supposedly being made by someone personally affected by the legend. The film itself oozes backwoods American nostalgia and the opening few scenes, perhaps three minutes of seemingly innocuous stock footage of wildlife, are suddenly shattered by what we’re led to believe are the shrill cries of the monster, causing water voles and birds to flee and behave erratically. It’s a genuinely frightening prologue that oozes authenticity but is soon destroyed by the human cast which, unfortunately, are as wooden as the forests and log cabins that define Fouke.
We’re ‘treated’ to some dramatised re-enactments of Fouke Monster encounters which range from quite well done to bloody awful, perhaps outstaying their welcome to a certain extent (we don’t literally have to see people fall asleep on screen). There are also some interviews and voxpops of the “There’s definitely something out there” variety that start to wear a little thin. There’s a fair bit of padding in the second half of the film, as if they had a decent 50 minutes of footage with no idea about where to get the other 30.
The best example of this is around the half hour mark where the film is inexplicably broken up with not one but two very odd and horrendously misjudged musical numbers. First up is a bizarre folk song that posits the theory that the monster is lonely and just needs a mate. It is cringeworthy to the say the least with lines such as ‘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’. Once that’s over, a brief interlude brings us to a second folk song that sets the bar even lower. ‘Nobody Sees the Flowers but Me’ appears to have no significant purpose other than to introduce us to a young boy, a peripheral character by the name of Travis Crabtree. His sole purpose in life is to ramble through the woods on his own with a gun, delivering food and supplies to an old hermit called ‘Herb’ who shot off most of his foot in a tragic boating accident. It wouldn’t seem so out of place if young Travis has a role to play but he pretty much disappears from the film before the final chords are plucked. I think the modern term is a ‘wtf moment’, and not in a good way.
Thankfully, before it veers too far off into unintentional comedy territory it does take a long hard look at itself to give us a few good scares in the final half hour with those fairly dark and creepy reconstructions of the monster terrorising a family at night. The straightforward storytelling of this final third is strangely at odds with the trappings of the earlier documentary style and, of course, those musical numbers, which adds up to a very disjointed experience on the whole.
But when all’s said and done it’s a straightforward movie. There is no hidden meaning or pretence but, as an exploration of childhood fears, the film works well. Such is its obscurity, ‘Boggy Creek’ is unlikely to attract many new viewers so there are parallels between the narrator revisiting a frightening experience he had as a kid and the way viewers like me approach the film as adults. It also works very well as an exercise in investigating the deep-rooted nature of local legends. I still remember being afraid of passing a certain pub in the small town where I grew up and I still have no idea why. The building has been knocked down but the thought of it still creeps me out. I don’t know if it was the name of it, the motif on the sign hanging on the wall, if I was told off whilst outside, if I woke up from a nightmare whilst passing it…all I know is that I associated it with fear and that’s what this film is about. The narrator heard an animal noise in a forest town and, because of the stories of monsters and local legend, his imagination incorporated the legend into that memory. At the time it was the only way he could attach meaning to the experience and, due to his youth, it has stayed with him.
Fake documentaries and found footage movies are ten a penny these days and have been for years. You can thank The Blair Witch Project for that. There’s an argument to be had that ‘Boggy Creek’ was where it all started and the film has gone on to gross some $20,000,000, which some lists claim puts it in the top ten highest grossing films of that year. Let’s also not forget that this is based on a ‘real’ legend. There are countless Pinterest pages, social media sites and websites dedicated to the Fouke Monster, as well as a number of awful sequels or tie-ins, the most recent being Boggy Creek Monster (2016), with another called Boggy Creek listed as ‘in development’ on IMDB, both of which make the original look better with every viewing.
The movie still has a cult following, largely from people like me who saw it as an impressionable child and it stuck with them…just like the shrill cry of the Fouke Monster stuck with the fictional documentary maker within the film. For years, no genuine attempt to re-release the film was made, but a more recent demand has led to an upcoming 4k release, which means The Legend of Boggy Creek will be boggy no more.