The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

The Legend of Boggy Creek first published by

“This is a true story. Some of the people in this motion picture portray themselves – in many cases on actual locations.”

So declares text at the beginning of this directorial debut from Charles B. Pierce, introducing its essential paradox. For much as it is set, and mostly shot, around the tiny Miller County town of Fouke, near the double city of Texarkana which is split by the Texas-Arkansas border, the film itself occupies a liminal space somewhere on the boundary between documentary and fiction.

On the one hand, The Legend of Boggy Creek features interviews with real Fouke folk, and offers a portrait of smalltown life on the edge of wilder natural landscapes. On the other, the film is, as its very title implies, concerned with an elusive local myth, a three-toed version of the sasquatch known as the Fouke monster, whose incursions are shown in fictive reenactments. For these reconstructions, Pierce cast non-actors from a local gas station to realise a screenplay which writer Earl E. Smith had adapted from local newspaper accounts and interviews conducted by Pierce. The creature itself is reduced to a shadowy silhouette in the background or a hairy limb out of focus in the foreground – an entity always on the boundary of perception, and made fully real only by the viewer’s imagination.

As ill-defined as it is, the Fouke monster comes to embody many of the anxieties that afflict frontier life: the encroachment of nature on precarious civilisation, the psychological impact of isolation and loneliness, and the fear of lawless rapine. Vern Stierman’s voiceover, purporting to be the reminiscences of an adult named Jim who was terrified as a child by its otherworldly howls at night, insists on speculating, without further evidence, that the creature is both the last of its kind, and male. This latter detail brings the threat of not just mutilation and murder, but also rape, to any of the several scenes in which women are unwelcomely approached by the creature. We might as well be watching an old oater, with the white folk in their settlements beleaguered by indigenous peril. Not long afterwards, Pierce would direct two actual westerns, Winterhawk (1975) and Winds of Autumn (1976), while in 1978 he would once again exploit Tex-arcana for genre thrills in The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

The Legend of Boggy Creek was made for $160,000, most of which Pierce borrowed from a local trucking company. It was shot on an old 35mm camera with help from a crew largely recruited from a local high school. All this amateurishness adds to the film’s (constructed) sense of authenticity – while the addition of homespun songs (in fact written by Smith) balladise the monster as a part of the local folklore. The film became a cult hit on the drive-in circuit, grossing around $20 million – a remarkable return on investment. Though not found footage, it would go on to inspire the makers of The Blair Witch Project (1999), which not only would enjoy a similar ROI, but whose characters are trying to make a local-legend documentary similar to the one that Pierce’s film purports to be. Its influence can further be felt in the bigfoot-based found footage films Willow Creek (2005), Bigfoot County (2012) and Exists (2014). That said, amid all the footprints found, the livestock deaths, the sightings and close encounters, what The Legend of Boggy Creek lacks is a coherent narrative to lend urgency, or even shape, to its otherwise loosely episodic structure – as slow and meandering as the creek after which it is named.

Summary: Though innovative in form, Charles B. Pierce’s cryptozoological pseudo-documentary on smalltown America also falls a little flat.

© Anton Bitel