Friday, November 30, 2012

THE BOGGY CREEK SERIES [Series 31]

THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972)


SYNOPSIS: In the exceedingly tiny Arkansas town of Fouke, people start to have encounters with a huge hairy man-beast who travels the waterways of Boggy Creek.  This pseudodocumentary accomplished a couple of different things.  A) It made Charles B. Pierce a ton of money, B) it made the real people in Fouke very mad, C) it inspired many rip-offs and traumatized many youngsters into becoming cryptozoologists.

WHAT WORKED:
Most of this is filmed in the kind of documentary/newscast style that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and BLAIR WITCH would exploit so lucratively.  The conceit really works well here, too, especially in the film's early goings, since we have an essentially disconnected series of vignettes which only thread together because of the Fouke Monster (mostly—I mean, I don't know why the guy who's spent 20 years living in the swamp is in the film, but he says that he doesn't believe in the Monster at the end of his portion).  So LEGEND basically becomes the Decameron or Canterbury Tales of southern sasquatch films.  Even with the shaky-camera thing which we've all grown to love, though, you can tell that this was made carefully and artfully.  The framing of people walking behind trees, the quick editing of spat tobacco, even some crane shots or something.  

Depiction of the creature is super-solid.  He's generally shot at a distance, through bushes or fog, and this adds a ton of atmosphere to the encounters, giving them an arcane, almost supernatural feel.


The narration was a necessary and brilliant touch, for multiple reasons.  Obviously, it allows LEGEND to hop from eyewitness to eyewitness and avoid the character-building that ordinary narratives must do.  Additionally, it centers the viewers' sympathy.  I grew up in a town like Fouke and have seen outlander reactions to people who only know how to discuss hunting and fishing or a guy who "accidentally shot part of his foot away in a boating accident".  If LEGEND lacked a narrator, the cast of eyewitnesses would seem as alien and bizarre to non-Deep Southern viewers as the monster itself.  It also adds blue-state class to what might have otherwise turned out southern skeezy, much as the high Gothic font of the credits does.

   
The music, mostly.  I like the parts that others seem to loathe, like the haunting song done from Creature POV that talks about his loneliness or the blithesome "Hey, Travis Crabtree".  


WHAT DIDN'T:
The climax is the attack on the Ford house.  This portion of the film occupies the final third and includes no narration and is focused totally on these characters, who we never get to know in any great detail.  Suffice it to say that LEGEND loses it ways during this long long stretch of scenes.  I much prefer the skitzo jumpin'-around of the first hour.  Even the music is better, as the "attack" scenes are scored with bleating honks and other jazz/symphonic mistakes.  

HOUSE RECOMMENDATION:
The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster by Lyle Blackburn is worthwhile, whether you're a believer or not.  It delves a bit into the animosity that followed LEGEND's success, with many Fouke residents (who appeared in reenactments in the film) feeling that they'd been duped by Pierce.  Buy it!  Use the money that you'll save by not buying LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK and watching it for free right here:


RATING: 6

RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK (1977)


SYNOPSIS: LEGEND was a massive hit, netting $20 million on a $100K budget.  So it's quite puzzling that this sequel jettisoned almost everything that worked about the original in favor of a dull, saccharine Disney-style friendly-bigfoot approach.  There's no Fouke Monster in this incarnation, as the resident sasquatch is named Big Bay Ty.  A city slicker in a sweater vest catches sight of it and enlists the aid of local French-like jerk Bruno to capture it.  There's a storm brewing, though, and kid-fishermen Evie Jo, T-Fish, and Jean Paul boat out to spy/help.  Meanwhile, their mom, grandpa, and his Cajun best friend worry.

WHAT WORKED:
One thing that is thankfully ported over from LEGEND are the monster shots.  It's generally kept hidden or shot from the back or through a patina of thick fog.  RETURN doesn't give us a lot of monster time, as it was more important to show the full ten minutes of a kid conversation about hand signals, but what's here at least looks good.


Some unintentional comedy, some that you admittedly have to practically build yourself. Por ejemplo, there's a weird recurring motif of baddie Bruno just wanting to kill things and the movie's clearly looking down on such brutality.  But the kids spend all of their time fishing!  Which entails killing fish, right?  There's even a scene of bait-making in which someone says, "We're trying to catch fish, not kill them!"  Which made me yearn for scenes of this vegan family catching live catfish and gar for some fucked-up pet shops or something.  Plus we're allegedly in Arkansas, yet there are Cajuns(!) and a hurricane comes through(!!).  

WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Boring boredom.  This is a children's movie, but it must have been aimed only at the dullest-witted, most paste-eating children.  Empires fall and mountains crumble and yet nothing happens in RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK.  Children's interactions and boat-oaring consume no less than half the film.  This evil movie even uses one of LEGEND's key strengths, song, only here it's twisted into this cyclical, Lortab-groaned country thing.  "Danger lives there...and men have died...that old creek...has a...secret to hide."

Unlike LEGEND, RETURN actually attempts actual characterization and the results are basically what you'd expect.  This thing is kid-driven, which is almost always a problem, but the adult characters aren't that great themselves.  Dawn Wells steps out of her Gilligan cage as a concerned mom and is fine, given that there's no content there to enliven.  The others are pro but bland, not even entertaining on an accidental level unless you count Bruno yawningly threatening, "One day I'll beat you kids at fishin'!"  Plus, and this has little to do with RETURN itself, Dana Plato is in this as a kid and it's depressing to watch it in light of how things ended up for her.  I don't like kid actors mostly because I don't like kids, but also because kids should be out chasing monsters, not making movies about them.  It's not good for anybody.  Plus, also, if you don't prefer the 9th-grade swamp dropouts of LEGEND to the below, you are not my friend.

Be sure to wear a sweater vest and expensive watch when you go monster-hunting and bring a $500 dog
This coincides with the complaint about boredom, but the film's main threat is a moderately heavy storm.  I realize that this is a kids' film, but please realize that it also takes thirty minutes for this summer shower to be resolved, when (spoiler) the friendly monster tows the boat to safety.  Even as a kid, I think I would have scoffed at this and demanded my parents' money back.


Fuck you.

RATING: 2

BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES (1985)


SYNOPSIS: Yes, I watched the MST3K version, what of it, sirrah?  Charles B. Pierce returns to his famous series, this time composing, directing, and playing an Arkansas anthropology professor who gets wind of creature sightings near Texarkana.  He enlists the aid of a top ample-breasted student, another shirtless boy-student, and a random girl-friend.  He spins tales of the creature, some involving poop humour, before the quartet discover the truth behind the creature's agitated, attacky state.

WHAT WORKED:
It seriously blows my fucking mind, you guys, that this is on the IMDB Bottom 100 and RETURN isn't.  This isn't a good movie by any violation of the phrase, but it's far more faithful to the BOGGY mythos than that Disneyized POS.  Matter of factly, the hilariously-named II recycles a bunch of stuff from LEGEND.  It's not on the same level, but we've got an attempt at the same episodic storytelling, even including literal toilet scenes.  I suspect that MST3K nerds are responsible, as usual.

I like Charles B. Pierce as the professor, although there's no reason for you to do so.  My enjoyment mostly stems from admiration for the antique eighties southern fashion.  My dad and all his friends looked exactly like this—the cap, the beard, the works.  Praise be to God, I never saw short-shorts, though.


More southern aesthetics.  Cuties in Daisy Dukes, well before the 69 Boyz hit, plus dat LEVIS shirt.  The hotness of Sears or Roses, minimum thirty-minute drive away, I guarantee.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
II is way more conventional in terms of construction.  Like RETURN, we're trying to establish a cast of characters rather than go from vignette to vignette.  Like RETURN, the characters aren't that convincing.  The girls are GLOW-level shallow and the boy exists just to not wear a shirt.  

As with RETURN, the denoument is pretty unconvincing.  A fat redneck mutant in overalls is indisputably a bigger threat than a storm, but still, eh.  


Too much monster.  This is the first (and last!) in the series that gets a bit too familiar with the creature, too often.  It loses its mystery and becomes just another guy-in-a-suit flick.  


Nothing to be proud of, but a big step up from the abysmal RETURN.

RATING: 4

SERIES AVERAGE: 4


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