THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK
Directed by Charles B. Pierce. 1972. United States.
The 1972 directorial debut from Charles B. Pierce, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, feels like a film meant for a small audience. The subject of the film is the Fouke Monster, a Bigfoot-like cryptid that allegedly dwells in the swamps and countrysides of Fouke, Arkansas, a small town with less than 1,000 inhabitants. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone outside The Natural State had ever heard of the Fouke Monster before 1972. It was a small town legend, confined by city limits. Pierce brought it to the national stage.
THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK was a major financial success, raking in an estimated 25 million on a meager $100,000 budget. It created the template for the docu-horror and the television series In Search Of.... It’s impossible to imagine films like THE LAST BROADCAST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT existing without it. It might not get name dropped a lot in conversations about influential genre films, but make no mistake, the influence of this film lives on today, strong as ever.
But influence aside, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is not some little seen masterpiece. I wrestle with even calling it a good film. It’s a curio piece, for sure, a film that should be seen by every genre fan simply for what it represents, for the impact it had, and for the sake of historical perspective. However, the film itself is fairly tame and has been rendered all but obsolete by time. For a first effort in the docu-horror sub-genre, it works quite well. As a straight forward horror film, time has robbed it of its charms.
The film begins with some lovely nature photography. Woods, fields, swamps, rivers, etc. We see a young boy running through a field. A narrator chimes in to explain what we’re seeing. This is him as a boy, scared shitless, running to get some help. His mother spotted the creature again, a hulking, hairy beast that lurks around their property. The boy’s story is disregarded by some townsfolk. THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, we surmise, is a film made by that young boy, now returned to the area as an adult to tell others about the legend that has haunted him since childhood.
This is of course a total ruse. The narrator is a work of fiction. All the on-screen encounters with the beast are fake, nothing more than reenactments. THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is just a ghost story we are being told, but instead of a bonfire, we’re gathered around a cinema screen. I imagine these were the tales adults told to children in Fouke, Arkansas. “Better get to bed or the Fouke Monster will get ya”. For people whose homes looked out upon the woods and fields at night, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK must have scared them to death.
But for someone like myself, viewing the film in 2017 from the confines of a concrete jungle, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is just a repetitive experience with a few good moments to break up the overall monotony. And it is a repetitive experience. The majority of the film is nothing more than dramatizations. Here we see a man chasing off something in the dark with his rifle. Next we see the monster terrorizing some girls in a small home in the woods. Now we see a young boy coming face to face with the beast while tracking a deer. The film is a long list of monster encounters, some of them good, some of them bad. The final third of the film is its strongest. It settles down for a lengthy tale of an encounter with the beast, one that quickly becomes a mini-home invasion thriller, albeit one in which the trespasser has giant fake claws.
Because this is a docu-horror and not a full blown mockumentary, there is no grand narrative to all of this, no connective tissue holding the film together. It is simply a collection of mini-horror flicks, a series of encounters that builds ever so slightly in intensity as it goes on. THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK made a killing at the drive-ins and it’s easy to see why. The episodic nature of the film works well in that environment. People coming in late wouldn’t miss anything. You could dive in and out of the film while diving in and out in the backseat. Trips to the concession stand wouldn’t ruin the experience. Sitting down on the couch and watching the film in one uninterrupted go seems like the wrong way to watch it. Undivided attention is a negative here.
Turns out, telling the tale of Boggy Creek as an honest to goodness narrative film would be a negative too. Tom Moore’s RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK, a 1977 follow up, ditches the docu-horror formula for a family friendly nature adventure narrative, killing any chills (and box office appeal) along the way. The proper sequel to the film would come when Pierce returned in 1985 with BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES.
Like RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK, Pierce’s sequel tries to play it straight, with a traditional narrative in lieu of the docu-horror style of the original film. Taking a page out of his own THE EVICTORS formula, Pierce does include a few reenactments of encounters with the beast, the best (and most hilarious) involving a man in an outhouse. As the film plods along, it pays homage to several horror films, most notably CUJO, JAWS and ALIEN. The beast looks better here than it did in the original. In the 1972 film, it was just a large man covered in shag carpeting wearing monster gloves. Here, the beast actually looks like a proper Sasquatch.
Unfortunately, that’s the only positive about the film. BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES is simply awful, a tiring, dull and uninteresting mess of a movie whose best scenes are those it shamelessly rips from other films. There’s a reason it found its way onto Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s laughable and inept, certainly a career low for Pierce.
It’s yet another case of “you can’t beat the original”. While THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK is pretty damn far from perfect, I still think it’s a film worth watching. Personally, I don’t believe in monsters, gods or ghosts. I don’t believe in the Sasquatch or the lake monsters or spectral entities. But I certainly love the docu-horror. I grew up with re-runs of In Search Of.... I could spend hours watching wholly ridiculous, obviously fake shit like MonsterQuest or Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. I find the idea of monsters fascinating. Part of me wishes they were real, that there were beasties and creatures of legend lurking in the forests, waiting to terrify hikers and trespassers.
Unfortunately, the only monsters that exist are human. But when I sit and watch a film like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, I get to be a kid again, curious of what may lurk outside the comfy confines of city living. It might not be the best example, but it deserves respect for being a true trendsetter. Without it, the landscape of horror would look quite different.