September 15, 2011
In the early- to mid-seventies, frightening and unexplained “real” creatures were all the rage, fed in part by sensationalistic television shows like “In Search Of…” and “That’s Incredible!” The public seemingly couldn’t get enough of mysterious monsters like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and filmmaker Charles B. Pierce decided to exploit the craze further by concocting a faux-documentary called The Legend of Boggy Creek. At the time, he didn’t know that the film he would make would not only influence dozens of future filmmakers, but it would scare the hell out of thousands of impressionable kids.
The Legend of Boggy Creek is a mix of interview footage and reenactments of supposed actual events. The interviews tell the story of a huge, ape-like creature called the “Fouke Monster” who roams the swamps and forests of rural Arkansas. The film, narrated by Vern Stierman (who was a weatherman for a local T.V. station), takes the viewer through several dramatized encounters with the beast, finally culminating in a climactic showdown between the monster and a family named Ford when the creature tries to get into their home.
Written by Earl E. Smith and directed by Pierce, The Legend of Boggy Creek’s phony documentary style got the ball rolling for films like The Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast and even The Fourth Kind. Pierce and Smith used friends and townspeople for most of the roles, giving the movie a more realistic documentary quality. They attempted to make it as believable as possible, because, like most of the films influenced by it, the only thing that makes The Legend of Boggy Creek scary is the fact that it was supposedly real. Take away the reality aspect, and the film is amateurish and dated. But, to an idealistic and gullible public (they wouldn’t make a “true” movie that wasn’t!) who, at the time, was obsessed with monsters (Bigfoot was a character on “The Six-Million Dollar Man”), The Legend of Boggy Creek was terrifying.
Probably the creepiest thing about The Legend of Boggy Creek is the fact that the monster is never truly revealed to the audience. It’s obviously a sasquatch-type hominid, but it’s always obscured by trees, shadows or the darkness of night. The mystery served to keep the audience guessing as to what the creature actually was, and what they saw in their imagination was more horrifying than anything Pierce could show onscreen.
Besides its pioneering of the faux-documentary style of filmmaking, The Legend of Boggy Creek is historically significant for another reason. With its G rating, The Legend of Boggy Creek’s main audience was kids. The G meant that it could be played on broadcast television, and most children of the 70’s remember the film as the first time they had truly been scared by a movie. After staying up late to watch the movie on T.V., kids everywhere crawled into bed to sleep with their parents, afraid of the real monster that might be lurking outside their bedroom window.
Charles B. Pierce and Earl E. Smith would team up again four years later on The Town That Dreaded Sundown (using much of the same crew as The Legend of Boggy Creek, including narration again by Vern Stierman), a technically superior (and far scarier) film that was also based on a true story about a masked serial killer, but it will always be The Legend of Boggy Creek for which the pair will be remembered.
As for the monster, well, The Legend of Boggy Creek wasn’t completely fabricated. The monster has lived in Arkansas legends since the 1940’s, and the final encounter in the film is based off of real reports from the Ford family. However, there has been overwhelming amounts of evidence proving that both the creature and the attack were hoaxes. Real or not, the Fouke Monster lives on in the hearts and minds of every kid who couldn’t fall asleep after watching The Legend of Boggy Creek.