Friday, October 16, 2020

The Legend of Boggy Creek


For about a hundred years (or maybe it’s a couple of decades, I dunno), I’ve owned one of the multitudes of public domain DVD copies of The Legend of Boggy Creek, which is just this side of unwatchable—grainy, jumpy, dark, most likely taken from a VHS copy of a fading 16mm print. Mind you, I have loved The Legend of Boggy Creek, more or less irrationally, since the day I caught it at the Rives Theater in Martinsville, VA, in 1972, when I was twelve or thirteen. To me, The Legend of Boggy Creek is the ultimate cryptid film. It’s creepy, campy, shot as a docudrama, and features quite a few of the residents (who play themselves—or, in some cases, their own relatives) of the tiny town of Fouke, Arkansas, where the real-life events of the film ostensibly occurred. Having viewed only the abysmal DVD over all these years, it was a joy to discover that, in 2019, Pamela Pierce Barcelou, daughter of Charles B. Pierce, the film’s producer/director, took on the task of restoring the The Legend of Boggy Creek to its rightful quality and aspect ratio, which has given the film a whole new life for those of us who love it (however irrationally). 

Shot for a relatively paltry $100,000, the movie grossed $20 million in 1972 alone. With The Legend of Boggy Creek, Charles B. Pierce made quite the name for himself. In the 1970s and 80s, he enjoyed a successful career as a director, screenwriter, producer, set decorator, cinematographer, and actor (he reportedly wrote the line "Go ahead, make my day!" for Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in 1983’s Sudden Impact). His 1976 filmThe Town That Dreaded Sundown, made in a similar style to Boggy Creek, also achieved fair critical and commercial success. In 1985, Pierce returned to his roots with Boggy Creek II: The Legend Continues, though this movie, in which he starred (to less than stellar notices), failed by a long shot to match the success of its progenitor.
Chuck Pierce as young Jim

The Legend of Boggy Creek opens with a young, blond-haired lad named Jim (Chuck Pierce, the director’s son), frantically hauling ass through fields and woodlands until he reaches downtown Fouke, where a gaggle of elderly gentlemen are swapping exciting stories about their day-to-day existences in their rootin’-tootin’ town. Jim blurts out that some kind of huge-hairy-manlike-yet-not-quite-a-man thing has been lurking around his family’s place. The gentlemen chuckle good-naturedly at his panic and send him back home, assuring him that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Of course, it isn’t long before other folks in the community begin seeing our hairy, bog-dwelling friend. Apparently, living in the bog for extended periods can be boring, and the creature has decided he wants to experience civilization for himself. For him, this does not end altogether well. Before long, half the town has succumbed to panic, and our large, hairy friend ends up receiving a few reasonably well-placed bullets as a result. For a time, he disappears, presumably having decided that being bored in the bog is better than fucked over in Fouke.
Dennis Lamb as farmer O. H. Kennedy, wondering what the HELL is lurking out there in the Sulphur River bottoms.
If you are a cryptid, always remember to stand BEHIND the dude with the gun.
The story as it progresses is narrated by Jim, our young blond friend from the beginning of the film, as an adult. Actor Vern Stierman, who provides the running commentary, does an admirable job of injecting gravitas when gravitas is needed and adopting a light, conversational tone when characters aren’t in the throes of panic. And in true, early 1970s spirit, a couple of ballads interrupt the tense proceedings, the most memorable perhaps being the ballad of young Travis Crabtree, one of many Crabtrees who make appearances in this film. Travis plays himself (and, behind the scenes, was the film's key grip), and earning the right to his own ballad (titled “Nobody Sees the Flowers Bloom But Me”) is probably the most noteworthy thing he does in the film.

Hey, Travis Crabtree,
Wait a minute for me.
Let’s go back in the bottoms,
Back where the fish are bitin’,
Where all the world’s invitin’,
And nobody sees the flowers bloom but me.

Now, to be fair, Travis, on one of his canoe outings, takes us deep into the bottoms, where he introduces us to old-timer Herb Jones (played by Herb Jones), who has lived alone out yonder for twenty years. Herb doesn’t believe for one minute that any creature exists out there. In fact, Herb’s sole purpose for being in the film is apparently to offer a less-credulous view of the goings-on around Fouke.

Hey, Travis Crabtree... wait a minute for me!
Herb Jones: “I ain’t never seen nor heard no monster!”
After some years, our lonely, hairy friend has again grown bored of the rural life and decides to take another shot at socializing. If it went bad before, this time, it goes really bad. Our friend the Fouke Monster has decided to pay a visit to a couple of young couples who have moved into a place along Boggy Creek. The couples—Don & Sue Ford (John Wallis, Bunny Dees) and Charles & Ann Turner (Dave O’Brien, Sarah Coble)—seem sociable enough, but soon, nephews Bobby & Corky Ford (Glenn Caruth, Billy Crawford) arrive for a visit and seem to rile the creature, perhaps because they decided go fishing in its territory. For whatever reason, when the Fouke Monster comes calling, quite the ruckus results, making this the most energetic and engaging story in the movie.

Following the climax, adult Jim returns to his childhood home and reminisces about those long-gone days when he would hear the creature’s frightening cries coming out of the darkness. In a memorable scene, as the sun sets on the landscape, Jim says, “I almost wish I could once again hear that terrible cry, just to remind me that there is still some wilderness left.” And so the cry does again rise into the night, and the ballad of the Boggy Creek Creature—sung by Charles B. Pierce himself (credited as Chuck Bryant)—plays over the end credits. It’s cheesy yet evocative little piece, which conveys the loneliness the creature feels out there in the bog.

Perhaps he dimly wonders why
There is no other such as I.
To touch, to love, before I die,
To listen to my lonely cry.

As crude and even naïve as The Legend of Boggy Creek must seem to those of the younger set, who never experienced the allure and excitement of fright flicks at drive-in theaters and weekend movie-house matinées, the film was, in its way, ground-breaking. With its low budget and earthy documentary style, the film clearly influenced the makers of The Blair Witch Project and other minimalist, ostensibly “real” indie movies. In Boggy Creek, at no time do we get a clear, vivid view of the monster. It is always scene in shadows or silhouetted, often partially obscured by foliage—all of which works to the viewer’s benefit, for that which cannot be fully seen can hardly be criticized as “fakey.” Indeed, it is not seeing the creature in its entirety that makes it more convincing.

As for the human cast, there are no “stars.” Most of the residents of Fouke were able to make an appearance, either in front of or behind the camera. Director Pierce simply wrangled as much help as he could get from the townsfolk, which certainly kept the film’s the budget manageable. While few of the cast would ever find themselves accused of being actors, in most cases, their raw, untrained energy brings a touch of both whimsy and verisimilitude to the proceedings.

There is no doubt The Legend of Boggy Creek helped spawn a plethora of movies about big hairy cryptids. The early 1970s saw plenty of them (many of which I still quite love, however bad they might be). The Creature From Black Lake, Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot, Snowbeast, The Mysterious Monsters, and many more owe much to Charles B. Pierce’s vision. While The Legend of Boggy Creek itself was part of an already rolling cryptid bandwagon, it rose well above most of its contemporaries and imitators, and it is one of the few that are now well-remembered, going on fifty years after its release.

The beautifully restored version of the film can be rented on Amazon.com for $3.99. I strongly recommend it.
Now, what do you reckon that big old dude over there is up to?
Well, maybe not a lot, but what a mighty fun fellow!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Season’s Greetings

The Halloween season, of course. This year, I feel somewhat compelled to work overtime conjuring up the Halloween spirit, mainly because, well, it’s fookin’ 2020, and we all know how that has gone so far. But beyond that, Ms. B. and I had precious little Halloween last year — not that I would trade our big honking Europe trip for anything in the world — and I think we both want to immerse ourselves in the spirit this year until we start to prune. Now, at Casa de Rodan, the customary decor is Halloween 365 days a year, but I still like to put out a few subtle extras. Pedro the Spider, for example, has moved from his usual indoor perch to his slightly more extravagant outdoor abode. There will be gravestones and jack-o’-lanterns. And traditional as well as non-traditional Halloween movies have been running virtually nonstop here for the past couple of weeks.

Night (Curse) of the Demon is a given each year, as it is my favorite horror film; it appeared on last week’s viewing schedule. House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows ran this past weekend. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the absolute, inarguable harbinger of Halloween and cannot be missed; it is slated for this coming weekend at our friends’ outdoor movie night extravaganza, along with Hocus Pocus, which I’ve never seen. Ms. B. and I have also treated ourselves to Sleepy Hollow, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Terrifier, Lake Mungo, Restoration, Sea Fever, Silence of the Lambs, and others. Me, myself, and I have binged on every Hammer Christopher Lee Dracula, the two Count Yorga movies, King Kong, Frankenstein, Invasion of the Saucer Men, The Mothman Prophecies, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Sasquatch - The Legend of Bigfoot, Westworld, Madhouse, Theater of Blood, War of the Worlds, and lord knows what all else.

It is that time of year, yah. Also on the docket for Ms. B. and me is a trip up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, to Villa Appalaccia and Chateau Morissette wineries, another part of our traditional lead-in to Halloween. Sadly, the pandemic precludes the always-anticipated breakfast at Mabry Mill and lunch at Chateau Morissette’s restaurant. That part really sucks. But we will make do. Lord knows, yes, we are gonna make do.

It is the Halloween season, and that’s all there is to it.
Pedro catching some rays

Friday, October 9, 2020

Birds of a Feather

In the days of yore, geocaching-wise, there existed a series of caches called “Bird Watching: Feathered Friends 2K Series,” placed in honor of one of our favorite local geocachers, Big Tom, who — believe it or not — goes by the handle “Feathered Friends.” Big Tom is a birdwatcher, and should you ever have a question regarding anything bird, he would be your go-to. The caches in the original series, placed back in the mid-2000s, all contained clues that, when collated, provided the coordinates to a cache now considered something of a classic. Over the years, most of the caches in the series have gone missing or fallen into disrepair. Through it all, though, the well-hidden final cache has remained in place and in fair condition; the problem is that, without being able to find all the stages in the series, you couldn’t calculate the final cache’s coordinates.
A beautiful afternoon on the greenway

Happily, thanks to certain old timers willing to share the all-but-unattainable coordinates, I had found the final Bird Watching cache quite some time ago. Recently, however, our local puzzle cache guru (read “heartless monster”), friend Dave, who goes by the handle Rhodorooter, took it upon himself to call on the local caching community to refurbish, restore, and replace the original caches in the series so that the still-extant final cache might once again be found in the manner it was originally intended. I agreed to participate in this venture and, a few weeks ago, placed a cache called “Archaeoptryx - FeatheredFriends 2K Series” (GC8ZNKK). Now, if you frequent this blog, you might be aware that I have some fondness for the climbing of trees. It seemed only apt that a bird-themed cache might involve a change of altitude, and I would never dare disappoint anyone who harbored such expectations of one of my caches. So, yeah, you go after my cache, you get to climb a tree. Have fun.

Now, most of the other participants in this venture have their own antisocial inclinations — Dave, for example, favors creating puzzles so hellish that God himself threw up his hands, said some dirty words, and cursed Dave for all eternity. (Well, that’s what I heard.) Friend Jean (a.k.a. Sull427), also a puzzle maker, shares a similar warped mentality (and may suffer a similar fate). She offered a cache for the series that did require a wee bit of deviant thinking, but at least not the sort that results in permanent brain damage. Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob) opted for one of his customary challenging woodland hides. Similarly, friend Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom), placed a traditional cache at the site of the original hide in the series which has, quite literally, been swallowed — irretrievably so — by the hollow tree in which it resides. Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), bless his heart, also succumbed to the accursed lure of the puzzle; at least his was solvable without surgically removing his brain and downloading its vile contents into a William Gibson-esque biocomputer. Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) went for a classic, relatively simple bird-themed cache. All in all, these made for a bunch of exceptionally fun caches, at a time when, as far as I am concerned, new caches in the area are a godsend, given the pandemic and all.

Today after work, I found the last cache of the new series — “Stately Birds”(GC8ZHEJ) — hidden along the northern reaches of the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway in Greensboro. The afternoon turned out gray and a tad chilly, but it was perfect for a mile-plus hike through some gorgeous woods that I haven’t visited in several years. I am compelled to tip my hat to friend Dave, twisted though he might be, for heading up this project and enlisting so many fellow geocachers to do what they do best. Maybe God will cut him some slack for being an otherwise almost decent fellow.

Anything is possible.
Old dude on the hunt
Fall is in the air.
Shades of the Blair Witch

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Accent on Nerds

The things you sometimes find when you’re looking for other things....

I was going through old files, searching for a copy of my dad’s obituary, when I happened upon a folder full of family memorabilia, mostly from the 1970s and 80s. Among them were some singularly horrific items featuring my brother and me, the most egregious being an Accent on People feature from The Martinsville Bulletin, Sunday, May 12, 1974. The article was titled “Mark Rainey: A Monstrous Success,” and it related the story of a lad preoccupied with monsters — specifically, Godzilla and other daikaiju — to the point of mania. I can scarcely imagine a sadder, more tragic waste of a young life.

I don’t recall how the feature writer, a Ms. Gail Dudley, stumbled upon me and my unearthly hobbies, but I do recall her (and Bulletin photographer Mike Wray, who only relatively recently retired) coming to my house to conduct an interview and take photos. To be sure, it was an exciting day for me, and an even more exciting one when the article appeared in print. Once in a while, I have actually wondered if any copies of this thing might still exist. Apparently so. At one time, I may have had one tucked away in the vault upstairs, but I am not going in that scary place to hunt for it. The excavation required would prove prohibitive anyway.

But here it is... probably the nerdiest thing you’ll see today. Or maybe ever. If you can’t make out the little print, consider yourself lucky.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Fungus Amungus

The world’s most dejected mushroom

Fungus is fun. I’ve always found mushrooms in the wild kind of neat, but Brugger is an honest-to-god mushroom nut. She enjoys photographing them and then making watercolor & ink paintings or mixed-media images of them. These days, whenever I go out geocaching and come upon any striking examples of ye fungus, I make sure I take a few photos of them and send them along her way. This year, the late summer/early fall mushrooms have been plentiful and, in some instances, remarkable in shape, size, and color. As I have photographed these for Ms. B., I have  found myself oddly enamored of them as well.

Yesterday at Piedmont Environmental Center in Jamestown, on a caching outing with friends Old Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob) and Ms. Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), I happened upon what was probably the hugest examples of fungus I have ever encountered. Big, big clusters around a huge tree, each cluster as big or bigger than three or four dinner plates. I know nothing of mushroom types or which ones are edible (so I eat none of them); only that they can be remarkably photogenic. I am including a few shots here. You try not to eat these. Very bad.

The Fungi From Yuggoth, perhaps?
More Yuggothians!
Happy mushrooms! No sign of dejection whatsoever.
More happy little dudes
A mini-mushroom forest
A pretty parasol!
L: There's a nose on that tree! R: Little dudes wearing floppy hats
It’s another Tequila Sunrise
Amanita is the name they call her.
Ma & Pa Shroomie with the young'uns