by Mark Matzke
Bigfoot and I go way back. I owe my introduction to the hairy hominid to Sid and Marty Krofft, whose “Krofft Supershow” (1976) featured fifteen-minute episodes of “Bigfoot and Wildboy.” Needless to say, my four-year- old self envied Wildboy’s friendship with the big biped, and the show inspired many imaginary adventures played out in the wilderness of my basement. The same year saw Steve Austin tangling with Bigfoot (as played by both wrestler Andre the Giant and actor Ted Cassidy) on “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Sasquatch ruled the small screen in 1976, much to my delight.
Over the next couple of years, I could not help but dig deeper into Bigfoot lore, and since my research took place during the “Bigfoot Boom” of the 1970s, my local library yielded no shortage of Sasquatchiana. Marian T. Place’s “On the Track of Bigfoot” became my primary text. While comprehensive and readable, it gave the distinct impression that Bigfoot was exclusively ensconced in the Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t until I got my hands on works such as Elwood Baumann’s “Monsters of North America” and Place’s subsequent “Bigfoot All Over the Country” that I learned that reports of giant man-apes were far more widespread than I had been led to believe. What is more, Baumann’s book devoted three whole chapters to a series of sightings in Fouke, Arkansas—sightings that had evidently inspired an honest-to- goodness Bigfoot docudrama called “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” made in 1972. It became a fervent hope of mine to see this movie, although the chances of catching it on television seemed about as good as seeing a seven-foot- tall hairy primate in my own backyard.
For years, Baumann’s description of “The Legend of Boggy Creek” fired my imagination, and I had come to accept that the images it produced in the theater of my mind would probably have to suffice. My hopes for seeing the film would rise, however, whenever it was mentioned in books such as Janet and Colin Bord’s “The Bigfoot Casebook”—at the very least, I could take comfort in knowing the movie really existed, and that someone, somewhere had seen it.
And then one day, in my early teens, it appeared. There, in the television listings, which I habitually scoured for monsters of all persuasions, was the title: “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” It was scheduled to run far too late for me to stay up and watch, but fortunately, my family had purchased our first Video Cassette Recorder. With the precision of a surgeon I set the timer, double-checking my work, and then it was done–all I could do was wait and hope.
The next morning I rewound the tape, took a deep breath, and pushed play. These orange words appeared against a plain black background: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. Some of the people in this motion picture portray themselves—in many cases on actual locations.” After years of waiting, the legendary Bigfoot was in my possession.
When I finally had the long-awaited pleasure of watching “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” I was not disappointed—if anything, it was more absorbing than I had hoped. Moreover, it felt plausible, and some of the vignettes were genuinely unnerving, beginning with a sequence in which a young boy runs from the sound of a howling Bigfoot, admitting in voiceover that “I was seven years old when I first heard him scream. It scared me them, and it scares me now.”
After quickly establishing the geography and general culture of Fouke (which is to say, the Deep South of the early 70s), two eyewitnesses report their experiences on location in a matter-of- fact tone that roots the proceedings in reality. One of the men eerily relates the tale of his two-hundred pound show hogs being carried away—by something—over a barbed wire fence.
Two re-enactments follow, in which hunters run across the creature ambling through the woods. These scenes avoid sensationalism and give the viewer a sense of what seeing an unknown creature must be like. The costume used for these scenes is effective, in that it is never glimpsed in much detail, and the suit actor moves about naturally, giving the impression of something large and hairy yet not abnormal.
Next, three women and a baby living in a back-country shack are terrorized by a nighttime visit from the creature. The monster’s appearance is only hinted at, yet the sequence is gripping. It also concludes with a mildly disturbing image of a cat that had been “scared to death” by its close encounter with the cryptid.
That is followed by an intense segment in which an adolescent hunter brings the hominid to its knees with a couple of rifle shots. The young actor in this segment is convincingly spooked, and the viewer is, too.
The film offers a slight breather at this point, showing hunting parties and tracking dogs searching in vain for Bigfoot. More unpredictably, a musical montage begins! The plaintive “Ballad of Boggy Creek,” written by Earl E. Smith (and probably sung by Charles B Pierce), is set to shots of both the natural beauty of the Sulphur River bottoms and the lonely Fouke Monster trudging along the creek bed. The lyrics ask:
“Here the Sulfur River flows, Rising when the storm cloud blows, This is where the creature goes, Lurking in the land he knows. Perhaps he dimly wonders why, Is there no other such as I? To love, to touch before I die, To listen to my lonely cry.”
As one musical interlude ends, another takes its place. This one is dedicated to Travis Crabtree, a teenage trapper and outdoorsman. We learn that Travis, in his forays up and down the river, occasionally visits Herb Jones, a man who lives in seclusion deep in the swamps. Jones, who seems like someone who should know, steadfastly declares that “there ain’t no such thing” as the Fouke Monster.
Jones’ denial notwithstanding, evidence is presented in the form of large, three- toed footprints, discovered in a bean field. This serves a transition to another recreated sighting. Three young children lead their aunt to the place where they claim they saw “a wild man”—and right on cue, he appears upon their return. It is a simple set-up, made effective by the panicked reaction of the woman, who paradoxically screams “Don’t run!” as the group flees in horror.
The scene that follows is one of my favorites, because it depicts a staple of Bigfoot sighting lore: the old “road crossing” scenario. It happens quickly—in less than five seconds, the thing has crossed the road and hidden in the woods. This is a situation I had read about and visualized for years, and to see it captured on film was oddly thrilling.
Another creepy vignette portrays the monster stalking a trailer full of teenage girls. Their fear is palpable as they pull out Daddy’s gun and fumble for bullets on the kitchen floor. When one of the girls musters up the courage to peek out the window, the viewer knows what is coming, yet it is hair-raising all the same.
The final portion of the movie is its longest set piece; an account of the events experienced by the Ford family as something Big tries to enter their homestead. The most dramatic elements of the real-life Ford encounter (as documented in Baumann’s book) are brought to life, such as a hairy hand reaching in through an open window, and Bobby Ford crashing in through the screen door in an effort to escape the creature’s clutches.
Unfortunately, this sequence features both the most and least convincing monster appearances in the film. When the shadow of the creature slinks across the porch, and the boards creak under its weight, the effect is chilling. However, when Bobby Ford finally collides with the creature in the front yard, an ill-fitting gorilla mask, complete with loose eyeholes, is easily glimpsed by the viewer, and the spell of suspense is broken. That is the only misstep that the movie makes in portraying the monster, and it is a shame that it takes place during what is effectively the climax of the film.
“Boggy Creek’s” denouement is a moody shot of a man (the narrator and grown- up version of the boy in the prologue) inspecting an old cabin while reflecting, in voice- over, on the mystery of the Fouke sightings. The viewer almost expects one last shock to occur, but it never does, and the movie seems to coast to a stop, like the funhouse ride it is.
Charles B. Pierce caught lightning in a bottle with “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” managing not only to bring the Fouke Phenomena to light, but also to preserve a snapshot of Southern culture in a way that does not feel exploitative. Whether by design or budgetary necessity, “Boggy Creek” is a study in understatement, which is perhaps a strange thing to say about a Bigfoot movie. What is far stranger is that Pierce would take precisely the opposite approach in filming “Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues…” in 1985, employing crude Southern caricature, mild lasciviousness, and much monstrous melodrama. It is a film custom-made for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, which it received in 2004. (At one point, host Mike Nelson quips, “With a degree in Boggy Creek studies you can pretty much write your own ticket.”) While it makes for a fantastic MST3K episode, “Boggy Creek II” raises questions about Pierce’s true feelings for the subject matter, illustrating that there is a fine line between cult classic and B-movie embarrassment.
In addition to Pierce’s own ill-conceived “sequel,” “The Legend of Boggy Creek” inspired a wave of Sasquatch cinema, such as 1975’s “The Mysterious Monsters,” a straightforward documentary narrated by Peter Graves; 1976’s “The Creature from Black Lake,” an affable tale featuring the menacing talent of Jack Elam; and 1978’s “Sasquatch: the Legend of Bigfoot,” which seems consciously patterned after “Boggy Creek’s” docudrama structure. Bigfoot stomped his way onto the small screen as well, in the aforementioned “Bigfoot and Wildboy” and “Six Million Dollar Man” series, as well as more sober fare such as the Leonard Nimoy-narrated “In Search Of…” Pierce, who died on March 5, 2010, helped make Bigfoot a household name in the 1970s, and in the process enjoyed modest financial success.
The peculiar, haunting quality of “The Legend of Boggy Creek” gave some viewers not just a few moments of escapist entertainment, but a calling to pursue. In his book “Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America,” renowned cryptozoologist Loren Coleman names no less than ten prominent individuals whose participation in current Bigfoot research is a direct result of seeing the “Boggy Creek” movie. One of those named by Coleman is Chester Moore, Jr., the author of “Bigfoot South.” His comments are fairly typical of those whom Coleman profiles: “Seeing “The Legend of Boggy Creek” lit my interest in the Bigfoot phenomenon into a full-blown passion. While the Pacific Northwest seemed a world away to me, Arkansas did not…The impact it had on me as a youngster was immense.”
Moore’s statement helps explain “Boggy Creek’s” enduring appeal. The picture suggests, especially to younger viewers, that deep mystery might lurk closer to home than anyone expects. While hardly told from a skeptical viewpoint, the film is earnest in its presentation of regular people grappling with inexplicable events, with the documentary style heightening the sense of “extreme possibility.” Pierce’s film is nothing less than a great American campfire story: scary, fun, and just believable enough to make you reconsider your next woodland hike. My hunt for this elusive quarry was well worth it.
Bauman, Elwood (1978). Monsters of North America. Xerox Education Publications. U.S.A.
Bord, Janet and Colin (1982). The Bigfoot Casebook. Stackpole Books. Harrisburg, PA.
Coleman, Loren (2003). Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. Paraview Pocket Books. New York, NY.
Place, Marian T (1974). On the Track of Bigfoot. Dodd, Mead & Company. New York, NY.
Mark Matzke is the host of SasWhat Show and Monsterland Ohio Radio and you can find him on Facebook and Twitter
Images via Pixabay.com