Southern Movie 42: “The Legend of Boggy Creek” (1972)

In May and June 1971, the headlines were a regular occurrence in newspapers across Louisiana and Arkansas, even into neighboring Missouri: the monster had been seen again! The large, hairy, and elusive Bigfoot-like creature that seemed to live in the backwaters of southwestern Arkansas had attacked a man at a home near the tiny town of Fouke, Arkansas, south of Texarkana, then had disappeared. But now it was back, and by the fall of that year, the story had spread across the country, appearing in newspapers in Connecticut, Ohio, Tennessee, and Idaho. The creature was typically referred to as the Fouke Monster and had been seen on-and-off since the late 1950s.

So it was no surprise that, by early 1972, some of that news coverage was about Charles Pierce’s forthcoming documentary, originally titled with the distinctly un-creative Tracking the Fouke Monster, but later renamed The Legend of Boggy Creek. Pierce was quoted in a February 1972 Associated Press wire story as saying that the Fouke Monster was “no laughing matter,” despite the sensational promotions that included a t-shirt giveaway from a Little Rock radio station. The AP coverage also explained that some people who had heard the story found it to be comical to the point of unbelievable, though Pierce had no intention of subjecting the small-town residents to that kind of “humiliation.”

The Legend of Boggy Creek is hard to encapsulate because there really isn’t any plot. It begins with a scene of a little boy in overalls running across a grassy field to find an old man who he has been sent to fetch. The boy’s family have seen a big, hairy monster at their place, and they want the man to come check it out. Instead, the old man laughs with his friends, saying he’ll come tomorrow, and they shoo the boy away. A section of narration follows that explains how the adult-that-boy-became has come back to tell the story of the Fouke Monster, who lives in the swampy terrain along Boggy Creek, off the Sulphur River. The film, which runs just under an hour-and-a-half, contains mostly disjointed testimonials and re-enactments of encounters with the creature, most of which have no significant outcome. The majority of the people who say they have seen the Fouke Monster made no claim to it being aggressive or violent, beyond finding animal carcasses that appear to have been mutilated.

The first section of the film, of about a half-hour, captures a variety of narratives about the earliest sightings of the Fouke Monster around the time of the boyhood incident that opened the film. The re-enactments, we learn from the opening credits, mostly involve the real people who had the actual sightings. Their tales are strange and compelling, and there is lots of mood music, but nothing of import occurs from them. They saw the monster, were afraid, and it either took no action or snuck away. Then, we’re told, the monster disappeared for about eight years.

The middle section of the The Legend of Boggy Creek is an awkward, very-1970s twist into . . . building sympathy, maybe? The creature has disappeared from view for the rural Arkansans, and we listen to a folksy song about its loneliness. That section is followed by the brief story of a teenage boy who likes to go out into the bottoms alone to hunt, and his little section has a folksy-balladeer song to accompany it, too. At the end of that bit, he arrives at the home of a hermit named Herb Jones, who has lived in the bush for more than twenty years and has never seen this creature. Jones doesn’t believe that it’s real. In terms of storytelling, this portion of Boggy Creek is anticlimactic.

The latter half of the film then focuses on more anecdotal evidence of the Fouke Monster, all of which culminates in the attack of a man named Bobby Ford. The narrator explains that two young families had moved into an isolated house near Fouke. The couples were living together in the house to save money, and because the husbands would be working long hours, the wives would be there for each other. That set-up leads to a visit by two family members, Bobby Ford and a young nephew, who’ve come to visit and to do some fishing in the creeks. However, the monster, which had been lurking nearby, came and attacked the families in the night. Though no one was hurt physically, Ford had to be taken to a hospital for shock, and the two families soon moved out and left the area.

The Legend of Boggy Creek ends with the narrator re-visiting his old homeplace, which is now abandoned. He recollects the story of the monster and closes by wondering out loud if it is still out there in the woods. That was in the early 1970s – nearly fifty years ago – so some of the impact of that approach to suspense is lost with time.

As it stands today, this movie – call it a “docu-drama” – is slow-paced, awkward, and disjointed. It could easily have been about a half-hour shorter than it was, especially since the sections about the monster’s supposed loneliness and about the teenager and Herb Jones served little to no purpose. But it does document a slice of local Southern history, which drew national attention for a moment, that would have otherwise been lost to time. The re-enactments came off as sincere, and the locals were not held up as types, but as people. As cheesy and amateurish as it can be in places, that sincerity is this movie’s strength. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas‘ entry on the first film:

The film, shot as a faux documentary-style drama, centers on the real town of Fouke (Miller County). Since the 1940s, many sightings of a creature known as the “Fouke Monster” have been reported. The film presents an interesting portrait of Southern swamp culture in the 1970s by juxtaposing interviews with local citizens, ranging from a police officer to hunters, talking about their experiences with the creature with dramatic recreations of some of these purported encounters. According to witnesses, the creature is similar to Bigfoot, standing more than six feet tall and covered with hair. Many claim to have fired upon it, and although some say it is dead, others think it is alive.

Some efforts were made to keep this story going, but mostly failed. Return to Boggy Creek, released in 1977, was a fictional story that piggybacked on the original. It featured Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann in Gilligan’s Island, and Dana Plato, who played Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. It has the feel of an after-school special. Seven years later, in 1984, Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues was released, and unlike Return, it had Charles Pierce involved again. This latter-day treatment centered on a University of Arkansas anthropology professor and a trio of students hiking around in the woods and trying to verify the myths. This last one employed the use of the narration like the original documentary, and appears to bring in more of those real-life anecdotes, but it still falls pretty flat. The professor comes off as wanting to be a tough-guy Indiana Jones figure but he is a long way from it, being a middle-aged academic in knee socks and smoky sunglasses.

Evaluated separately, it is clear that the first movie is the best and most original of the three Boggy Creek movies, even despite its awkwardness and weaknesses. You might call the original film a “cult classic.” The latter two are attempts at riding the coattails of that initial surge of public interest, and what results is not good. I’m sorry to share that another one, a horror film simply titled Boggy Creek, was added to the list in 2010, though on the upside, Charles Pierce’s daughter did a restoration of the original 1972 film for release in 2019.


 

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