There's Nowt So Queer as Foulke
I know what you're thinking: the world's foremost streaming site has just announced a slate of seventy new movie releases for this year, so why is the h2g2 Post's most doggedly enduring frivolous film-review column still messing about with obscure and terrible old movies lurking in the darker recesses of the internet? Well, you know, I want to keep things balanced, and not turn this estimably bully pulpit into a weekly commercial for the same company (especially as they've just raised my subscription fee). So, until they cut me some slack, or the proper cinemas reopen, terrible obscurities it will (more than likely) be.
Besides, I like to keep the column a broad church when it comes to these golden oldie film reviews: just as I'll go to see just about anything (with the possible exception of modern mainstream American comedies and a certain flavour of horror film), I'll happily write about it as well. Nevertheless it occurs to me that lovers of micro-budget redneck cryptozoological docu-drama of the 1970s have been ill-served of late, and in an attempt to plug this gaping hole, this week I thought I'd have a look at Charles B Pierce's magnum opus of this particular genre, 1972's The Legend of Boggy Creek.
This movie purports to be an account of the Foulke Monster, a giant hominid – also known as a 'skunk ape' – native to swampland in southern Arkansas. Various local characters pop up to recount their encounters with the hairy enigma, which are reconstructed for the benefit of the viewer. Initially the creature seems to have been rather reticent around people, though not above scaring the odd kitten to death, but after being actively hunted and driven into the heart of the inaccessible swamps for nearly a decade, it returned with a bit of a chip on its shoulder, engaging in a number of increasingly aggressive (one might even say preposterous) assaults on property and people in the area.
Hum, well. Just so we're all on the same page here, I'm willing to entertain theories of many a cryptid but as far as Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Beaman, Grassman, and the rest of the tribe go, I tend to go with the prevailing consensus. This is that north America has no history of indigenous primates other than humans, so there's no explanation of where these creatures could have come from, and that there is no way that breeding populations could survive undiscovered in a modern first-world country, so there's no real explanation of what they are anyway. So there.
Nevertheless a Bigfoot movie is basically what this is, and probably the best-known (after Harry and the Hendersons, anyway). T'internet says that, barely credibly, this very low-budget, extremely clunky movie was nevertheless the 22nd most popular release of 1972, which if nothing else goes to show you how different things were back then (just for comparison, the 22nd biggest movie of 2019 was Dumbo, a major studio release). Whatever profile it enjoys in the UK is probably down to the fact that it was actually shown on national network TV at tea-time, at least twice in the early 1980s. That's when I first saw it, anyway, at the tail-end of a short season of ‘monster movies' (they showed King Kong, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Mighty Joe Young and then kind of ran out of steam).
This was obviously a different kind of film but it did have an effect on me: parts of it are, simply, very memorable if you're the right age. The opening sequence, in which a young boy runs desperately across fields while, in the woods behind him, something inhuman howls and shrieks, is brilliantly conceived (if not executed). A later scene, in which the monster lunges in through the window of a house to grab someone, was a genuine shock moment (and one which seems to have warped my memories of the end of the film).
But, for all of that, this is a very primitive piece of work, clearly cobbled together as the film-makers went on. The Bigfoot suit is reasonably good, and carefully filmed to maintain credibility (for the most part, anyway), but much of the rest of the film is barely competent. It's probably a bit of a moot point as to how much of this is documentary and how much is actual hoax, but most of the reconstructions, where people with names like Herb and Corky and Lloyd either relive or make up their moments of glory, feature that very special kind of appalling acting you only get when non-professionals are at work both in front of and behind the camera.
This isn't a long movie, clocking in under the 90 minute mark, but even so you sense the film-makers scraping around to find enough material to bump the film up to a workable duration. As I mentioned, there seems to have been a bit of a rethink partway through, when something previously fairly sober becomes rather more lurid and exploitational, but in another way this is responsible for giving the film much of its atmosphere, which is probably responsible for whatever success it achieves.
Initially this seems like a rather reserved and thoughtful film, opening with three minutes of voiceless shots of swampland and only the sights and sounds of nature. Later on, the narrator provides lengthy and rather poetic descriptions of Foulke, the surrounding countryside, and the lives of the people there. In hindsight these are all obviously present to pad out the script, but they're well written by someone called Earl Smith and well delivered by one Vern Stierman. Stierman has a very mellow and mellifluous delivery which makes one instantly well-disposed towards whatever he's currently on about, although he does have his work cut out at one point when describing the travails of one local woodsman: ‘Herb walks with a limp,' he informs us pleasantly, ‘after he shot off part of his foot in a boating accident.' Shot off part of his own foot. In a boating accident. Right. One of those 150 proof accidents, I bet.
(The narration is a bit weird, to be honest, as it's never completely clear who the narrator's supposed to be, beyond an unspecified local man who's grown up hearing stories about the monster. And when he actually shows up at the end of the film, he's played by a different actor. Oh well: it's a useful framing device, I suppose.)
The only time all the padding really grates and you wish that the guy in the monster suit and the terrible non-acting reconstructers would all come back is about half-way through, where the whole thing grinds to a halt so the audience can be forced to endure not one but two separate musical numbers. One of these is (conveniently) entitled ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek' and is (so far as a uke player like myself can tell) a waltz-time number, featuring immortal lyrics such as:
Here the Sulphur River flows
Rising when the storm-cloud blows
And this is where the creature goes
Safe within a world he kno-ows
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.
Yup, it's a romantic ballad about the broken heart of Bigfoot. And not even an especially well-written one, but it's still better than the second offering, a folksy number about the joys of rustic life apparently entitled ‘Nobody Sees the Flowers Bloom But Me', but built around the repeated line ‘Hey Travis Crabtree'. (Travis Crabtree is a local kid whose main pastime is keeping Herb supplied with ‘tobacco' and ‘sugar'.) I think I would rather shoot off part of my own foot in an unfortunate ‘boating accident' than listen to it too many times.
Apparently, Neil Marshall (director of, amongst other things, The Descent and the remake of Hellboy) lists The Legend of Boggy Creek as one of his guilty cinematic pleasures. Guilty, certainly, but a pleasure? It is, as I think I've made clear, much too obviously cobbled-together to really work as a proper film – but on the other hand, this same approach has given it some really weird and interesting features: the atmosphere, the real sense of a particular place and time, and –if we really must – the songs. How all these things managed to get into what's basically a G-rated horror Z-movie is a much bigger mystery than anything depicted in the actual film.