Friday, April 01, 2011
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
I don’t remember who told me about the White Elephant Blogathon, but if you’re not familiar with it, it’s based on the concept of the White Elephant gift exchange where everyone brings a (usually crappy) gift and hijinks ensue as people open them and fight over who goes home with what. The Blogathon does the same thing, but for movies. You submit a movie to be reviewed, and then write about another blogger’s submission. The movie I drew was The Legend of Boggy Creek.
I was actually kind of excited about this one because it’s all about a bigfoot-like creature that lives in the swamps of southern Arkansas. How bad could it be? And since I’ve got a Bigfoot story coming out in the Mondo Sasquatch anthology next month, it’s a timely movie for me to be watching and talking about.
I admit that my heart fell though when I opened the Netflix envelope and read on the sleeve that The Legend of Boggy Creek: A True Story is a documentary with interviews and reenactments of encounters with the shaggy swamp creature. I had a flashback to this other documentary my dad and brothers and I saw in the late ‘70s that was marketed to look like a sci-fi adventure film, obviously piggy-backing on the popularity of Star Wars. (That tragic disappointment may have been Are We Alone in the Universe?, but I remember the title’s being catchier than that. [Edited to add: My brother reminds me that it was The Outer Space Connection.]) If Boggy Creek was anything like that, I was going to be upset. But it wasn’t. It was oh so much more.
Though the production is crap and the direction amateurish, The Legend of Boggy Creek is incredibly watchable. Like Catfish, whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s best to think of it as completely fictional; a precursor to The Blair Witch Project, only way more imaginative. Boggy Creek combines several genres – investigative documentary, nature film, slice-of-life, horror, and musical – in an utterly fascinating way.
It takes about twenty minutes though before the movie gets good. There’s an interminably long pre-title sequence that shows nothing but shots of swampland and wildlife to the sounds of animal cries. That might’ve been okay had the production values been decent, but the film quality is miserable and the camera’s as likely to focus on twigs or the base of a tree trunk as it is on a beaver or a flying crane. After that, there’s another endless bit with a kid running through a field, frightened by noises he’s heard in the woods. He eventually makes it to a general store to tell the old timers there about the shaggy man in the woods, but they of course laugh it off.
The kid turns out to be the narrator as a young boy and from there it’s a lot of him talking about the small town of Fouke, Arkansas and the many sightings of the swamp creature by Fouke’s residents. There’s scene after scene of this farmer or that housewife seeing something hairy lurking out in the trees and just as I’m starting to despair that this is the entire movie...
Musical Interlude [starts around 1:30]:
That, my friends, is fantastic.
That’s not the only one either. There’s another number a little later that’s all about this one kid and how he enjoys going out hunting in the woods and visiting the hermits who live there. Absolutely, thrillingly meaningless.
The musical numbers clued me in though that something awesome is working in Boggy Creek. After those, I was suddenly less bored by the ceaseless shots of the swamp and the town. Instead, I began to be lulled into this lazy, Southern mood and found myself dreaming wistfully of some of the small, rural communities I grew up around. That carried me through the next half-hour of the film, which is where the horror movie kicks in and something like a plot begins to take shape.
There’s little warning of what’s about to happen. Up until now the film’s been nothing but a montage of people talking about their sightings, hunting the creature to no effect, and – in one very long sequence – never having seen the monster at all. But the incidents have been building in intensity with the creature’s now killing some animals and getting awfully close to houses and trailers.
When the narrator introduces a pair of young couples who have moved to the area with their kids, it sounds at first like he’s just setting up the latest in the series of “reenactments.” But something’s different about this one. Maybe it’s because the characters are young; maybe it’s because they’re all sharing one house in the middle of the woods, but I immediately thought that this sounded like the set up to a potentially interesting horror movie. And indeed, that’s where Boggy Creek goes with it.
The husbands work nights on a local ranch, leaving the wives and the kids alone in the cabin when the creature appears. This time though, he’s coming up on the porch and trying the doorknob, something he’s never done before. I won’t blow the ending, but it plays out in a legitimately suspenseful way and is downright frightening at times. What the hell does this thing want?
The narrator has been relentlessly reminding us the entire film that no one knows what’s going on in the creature’s brain. But he just as insistently persists in using variations of the word “lonesome” to describe the beast and its calls. Though it’s never revealed exactly what the creature wants in the cabin, the ultimate implication is that loneliness may be driving it mad.
Which, now that I think about it, is something approaching a theme. The whole movie is full of long, lonely shots. The characters in the film interact with the narrator as they tell their stories, but never with each other. It’s a portrait of isolation.
The Netflix sleeve also describes The Legend of Boggy Creek as a cult film and I can see why. I can’t think of a single person I know who would enjoy it or appreciate it as much as I did, but I’m already thinking about watching it again.