The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

*. A lot of reviews, by which I mean a lot of online reviews since this movie is rarely discussed much in print, refer to The Legend of Boggy Creek as a piece of shit. I can understand that as an initial reaction — it looks grim, with the sound and picture quality as muddy as Boggy Creek itself — but I think it’s an unfair and ill-considered judgment.
*. What it is, is a very cheaply made independent film. That doesn’t excuse everything. Romero did a lot better with even less in Night of the Living Dead, and Tobe Hooper did more on a comparable budget in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But still, Charles B. Pierce made a little go a long way here, not working with professional actors and even building the camera the movie was shot with himself. The creature is, of course, a man in an ape suit.
*. “This is a true story.” Not “based on a true story” or “based on true events.” This is a true story. Which is kind of an odd claim given that the title refers to the story as a “legend.”
*. It’s hard to believe today, but there was actually a whole sub-sub-genre of Bigfoot movies that came out around this time. All forgotten, even by me.
*. “I doubt that you could find a lonelier, spookier place in this country than down around Boggy Creek.” The emphasis falls on the loneliness. The creature, after all never hurts anyone. The fellow at the end is hospitalized for shock, and quickly recovers, while even the dead kitten is found “completely unmarked, apparently she had simply been scared to death.”
*. The Arkansan Bigfoot is sadder and lonelier even than Frankenstein’s monster. This is underlined by the lyrics to his mournful ballad: “”there’s no other such as I / to touch or love before I die.” It’s also heard in his “terrible, lonesome cry,” and is given as the justification for his erratic behaviour (born of the “lonely frustration where he is the only one of his kind”).
*. And the creature isn’t the only lonely one. Travis Crabtree sings of his loneliness (“nobody sees the flowers bloom but me”) while on his way to visit Herb Jones (“a man who likes a lot of privacy” and who has been “living alone in these bottoms for twenty years”). Just look at all the lonely people.
*. A movie that’s often linked to The Blair Witch Project, in part because the makers of Blair Witch cited it as a major influence. But I don’t see much connection. This movie is not found footage, it is a documentary, and doesn’t attempt to tell any kind of linear narrative involving a particular set of characters. In addition, its monster is something out of nature (the film seems at times to be a nature documentary), not a supernatural bogeywoman.
*. The laid-back voice of the narrator might seem at first to be an odd fit with a horror film, but this is a very laid-back horror film. From the opening shots of the boy gamboling through the fields, through the numerous shots of branches and wildlife, it’s clear Pierce has some time to kill and is in no rush to tell a story. And yet this relaxed pace doesn’t work against the movie. The suspense scenes are nicely placed, economically introduced, and quite capably edited (note the number of cuts in the dog hunt episode). Not much happens in this movie, but it isn’t dull. Ugly and cheap, but not dull.
*. And while I’m on the subject of the narrator, hats off to Vern Stierman. His voice really carries the film, and suits the dominant note of melancholy: a much older man looking back at childhood events.
*. The eleventh highest-grossing movie of 1972, on a budget of $160,000. Astounding. It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening today (Blair Witch isn’t really comparable, for various reasons). But then, 1972 was a different world. It was, for one thing, the year of porn chic. Number four on the box office list was Behind the Green Door. Number six was Deep Throat. Tied for number ten was Fritz the Cat. So yes, a very, very different world. I miss it.

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