October Horrorshow: The Legend of Boggy Creek

Joe Bob Briggs, drive-in movie reviewer and movie host extraordinaire, once referred to this strange film as a ‘horror documentary musical reality show’, and that pretty well sums things up. But, in the interest of being thorough, and to stretch out this review to over 600 words, a little more detail is in order.

The Legend of Boggy Creek comes to us from way back in 1972. The brainchild of local Arkansas TV personality Charles B. Pierce, Boggy Creek, to add to Joe Bob’s flowing description, is a docudrama. It consists of dramatic recreations of encounters the people of Fouke, Arkansas had with a bigfoot-like creature in 1971. These stories were taken seriously enough to be featured in newspapers and on television.

Pierce decided this material would make for a great movie, so he convinced an advertising client of his to front some money, and off Pierce went to Fouke. With a budget of only a hundred grand, Pierce spent the winter of 1971-72 in Fouke shooting, with locals and students from the high school serving in his crew. Most of the cast play themselves. These are the people who claimed to be terrorized by the monster earlier in the year. Notable exceptions are Buddy Crabtree, who plays James Crabtree, and Jeff Crabtree, who plays Fred Crabtree. Why the real James and Fred Crabtree weren’t available is anyone’s guess, as Travis and Smokey Crabtree had no issue appearing in the film as themselves.

Pierce had his cast recount their run-ins with the beast, and plays the audio over the dramatic recreations. We see families cowering in rural cabins as the monster stalks around outside; we see a hunter stumble onto the monster washing its feet in Boggy Creek; we see the monster terrorize another family in a scaled-up version of an earlier encounter. At least, we can somewhat see these things happen. This flick didn’t have the best camera (there was a single, rebuilt 35mm), lenses, The Legend of Boggy Creekor film stock, and prints haven’t exactly been cared for in the five decades since its release. Everything is dark and muddy. In addition, all daytime scenes are very brown. Whether through age or incompetence, the print used for digital distribution is very degraded. One will have to be comfortable with barely discernible nighttime scenes and the color brown in daylight scenes if they are going to watch this flick.

During scenes when a guy in a bigfoot costume isn’t standing thirty feet away from the camera, Pierce fills his movie with local flavor. We meet the residents of Fouke, including the many members of the Crabtree clan, and follow them throughout their day. Here, the film becomes an experience in pure Americana, and gripping shitty filmmaking.

The standout scene amongst these sequences is when Pierce follows Travis Crabtree as he spends a day in the bottoms of Boggy Creek fishing and trapping. Pierce added some music to this scene. Composed by Jaime Mendoza-Nava (a rare member of the production who had actual Hollywood experience), with lyrics and vocals by Pierce, the song, titled Nobody Sees the Flowers But Me, overlaying this scene makes for a shitty music video to rival that found in Truck Stop Women. And it’s not the only contribution Pierce made to the soundtrack. He also sang and wrote the theme song — an introspective dirge about the loneliness of being a monster. Extraordinary stuff from a filmmaker who wasn’t content to just produce, write, direct, photograph, and narrate his magnum opus. He had to serenade his audience, as well.

Normally in a shitty monster movie like this, the scenes between when monster stuff happens are the weakest. Not with this flick. In fact, it was the scenes with the monster that were the hardest to endure. They were slow, repetitive, and not all that interesting — mostly because it was so hard to see anything. The monster part of this monster movie is amateurish in the extreme. But the parts when we meet the people of Fouke are engaging.

This is a bizarre movie. Despite the shittiness, this thing went on to gross more than 20 million bucks. It became the 10th highest-grossing film of the year. That’s amazing for a movie of such low quality. But, sometimes, things just click. Right time, right place, right movie, and Pierce made a haul. It has since become a cult classic.

The Legend of Boggy Creek looks bad, sounds bad, has bad music, bad special effects, bad narration, bad acting (sorry, people of Fouke), and it’s about twenty minutes too long. But its charm and kitsch are through the freaking roof. That makes placing it in the Index a tough call. But, a film’s value as a historical artifact bears no relation to its watchability, and that is what the Index is for. All this flick’s bona fides don’t mean too much if it’s hard to sit through, and it is hard to sit through. The Legend of Boggy Creek tumbles down the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index, landing with a howl and a wet, furry slap at #158, between Chernobyl Diaries and Prince of Darkness. This one is for shitty movie devotees and cult flick aficionados.

A couple of final notes. One, this might be the only horror film I’ve ever seen that earned a ‘G’ rating from the MPAA. Two, the trailer above is of much better quality than the print I saw, and there are a couple quick glimpses of the monster’s face. It’s a cheap mask, and a viewer can clearly see the actor’s eyes. Glorious.

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