The Cinematic Legacy of Boggy Creek
by Dave Alexander
Whether or not some sort of cryptozoological creature skulks around Boggy Creek is obviously up for debate, but there's no denying that monsters live in the muddy areas of our minds. Horror is the obscuring, confusing, or even destroying, of boundaries – the destabilizing of the categories that help us understand the world and conquer our ancient fears of it. Between science and mythology, human and hominid, animal and monster, resides the Fouke Monster, a.k.a. The Beast of Boggy Creek. The scariest movies also inhabit that space, where things are concrete enough to be threatening yet shadowy enough to be mysterious. Like your average piece of Bigfoot footage, these creatures tease us by being just a little too far away for a good look, partially hidden in the landscape or, more often than not, blurry when captured by the unprepared lens. Beware the thing that's too far away to be properly studied, yet close enough to tear out of the trees and grab you.
The Legend of Boggy Creek uses that lack of clarity as its aesthetic after all, the print looks like it may have been dragged through a boggy creek before reaching the film projector. It's that dirty, shaky feel, similar Tobe Hooper's 1978 genre classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that lends Charles B. Pierce's movie its raw and highly effective pseudo-documentary aesthetic. There's a chilling verisimilitude to its handheld shots, out-of-focus close-ups, uneven lighting and exposure, not to mention those rather, well... creative eyeline matches. Boggy Creek blurs all kind of boundaries, swinging sometimes randomly from scholarly documentary, complete with maps stock footage of the Fouke area; to Disney nature documentary with stock wildlife footage set to both stock music and heartland ballads, and tied together by some particularly down home narration; and then to good old fashioned horror movie about a menace in the woods - the kind of critter that can…GASP!... even scare a little kitten to death.
The ground that The Legend of Boggy Creek is built upon is indeed unstable. The viewer is left with all sorts of questions about: What kind of a film is this? How much of it is real? Why the hell is everyone named Crabtree? Pierce may have been making things up as he went along to some degree (one gets the sense that he shot around a loose concept and then made the most of his footage in the editing room) but he understood one very key thing, to which The Legend of Boggy Creek owes its success as a horror film. Pierce understood how effective it is to keep the creature obscured enough to let the imagination fill in the blanks. We never see the beast's face, but rather its silhouette, its foliage-obscured profile in the distance, or shocking blurred flashes of it in close-up. Or, more often than not, simply horrified reaction shots to its presence. (The film is often cited as a major influence on The Blair Witch Project, which too employs this aesthetic, taking the concept to its logical conclusion by not showing a monster at all!) Without a look into beast's eyes, there's no humanity to connect with, nor is there an animalistic drive at work to be determined. Just how intelligent is the creature? Just how deadly? Its motivations – as the narration at the end of the film makes clear are completely mysterious. It kills animals, however, only actually attacks when attacked. Again, Pierce refuses to give us enough information to get a handle on just what the hell this hulking thing is capable of; rather we're left to assume the worst. That's the brilliance of Boggy Creek. When that beast appears, the movie is shot and edited to encourage viewers to create the real horror in their minds.
That said, horror filmmakers owe The Legend of Boggy Creek much more than crediting it with inventing the mockumentary monster movie. There's a strong case to be made that the 1972 release was also fundamental in creating the slasher film. The evidence lies mainly in its final twenty minutes, when the out-of-towners who have rented a house near Boggy Creek are stalked by the creature after the sun goes down. Young city folk trapped in a house in the woods, an arm suddenly thrust through a window to grab at potential victims, and – most notably – those menacing P.O.V. shots are all standard slasher fare. Replace the hairy limbs with a large cutting tool and you're in Michael Myers territory.
John Carpenter, has long been credited with creating the slasher film - with some major inspiration from Alfred Hitchock's Psycho (1960) and Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974) - via his debut horror feature Halloween, in 1978. It seems likely that Boggy Creek played a vital role, as well. The hit film played all over the drive-in circuit around the time that Carpenter was a film student. But, more convincingly, the Beast of Boggy Creek moves much like Halloween's knife-wielding psycho Michael Meyers, standing still in the shadows, appearing and disappearing with supernatural efficiency and, of course, taking on the role of lurking voyeur, spying on people in their houses. That stoic, dehumanized figure waiting in the dark places to get you is what makes the boogeyman the boogeyman. Myers is referred to as "The Shape" in Halloween, which is certainly an apt description of the creature in The Legend of Boggy Creek. Even the film's poster, featuring a bestial shape in the swamp, is a very archetypal rendering. So, the thing that's been creeping around the woods since pre-Brothers Grimm folklore, and the modern day movie boogeyman of slasher lore, who creeps around suburban homes, are different points on an evolutionary path of the stories that frighten us. And the link between them just might be The Legend of Boggy Creek.
- Dave Alexander
* Dave is the editor-in-chief of Rue Morgue magazine
Want to know more about the making of The Legend of Boggy Creek? Pick up a copy of The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster. CLICK HERE