Film review: Mothman of Point Pleasant

The Mothman was immortalized in the American consciousness with John Keel’s classic book The Mothman Prophecies, and the tale was re-energized by a 2003 Richard Gere film by the same name.  Centered in the Ohio River town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, it’s one of my all-time favorite weird tales (I gave a quick-and-dirty overview of the Mothman furor here).

Now we have a new documentary on the Mothman phenomenon, including all the attendant high-strangeness hijinks, courtesy of  Small Town Monsters.  After the fashion of STM’s three other films, Mothman of Point Pleasant (their first non-bigfoot-related film) presents the story unembellished, straight from the mouths of Mothman witnesses and longtime Point Pleasant residents. There are no cheesy “re-enactments” in Small Town Monsters’ films.  Mothman creatively makes use of animation to illustrate some of the eyewitness accounts, but if you want to see flailing actors feigning horror as a CGI creature closes in, you will have to look elsewhere.  Mothman of Point Pleasant is creepy, educational, tragic, and deeply human.  The film manages to gracefully walk the less-traveled road between monster tale and tragedy, taking the viewer on an unexpected emotional roller-coaster along the way.

The Mothman story is far from straightforward.  Sure, there’s the weird, red-eyed, winged cryptid terrorizing small-town American teens, but perhaps what impressed me most about this film is how all of the story’s disparate elements were represented.  From all the weird “Men in Black” encounters, a Native American curse, possible extraterrestrial meddling, and the involvement of John Keel and local reporter Mary Hyre — it’s all here.

The filmmakers found Mothman witnesses willing to speak on camera about their decades-old experiences; the creepiest may have been the man who described awakening in the wee hours to see the Mothman in his bedroom.

Here is the peculiar strength of the Small Town Monsters films:  their treatment of the human element.  Seeing these people on camera, it becomes nearly impossible to dismiss such phenomena as “myths” or “urban legends.”  Real people are affected — often permanently and profoundly — by these events.  How would you feel if Mothman were standing at the foot of your bed at 3 a.m.?  Not too chipper, I reckon.

The Mothman story, of course, culminates in the tragedy of the Silver Bridge collapse.  The old bridge spanning the Ohio River collapsed without warning on December 15, 1967, sending dozens of cars plunging into the frigid current.  Forty-six lives were lost that day, and nobody in Point Pleasant was unaffected.  The bridge collapse is heartbreakingly chronicled in the film with interviews played over vintage footage from the disaster.

Was the collapse related to the Mothman?  Nobody knows, and this film avoids making the connection.  Nevertheless, after the disaster, Mothman sightings pretty much ended.

Of all Small Town Monsters’ films to date, this one succeeds the most at the “small town” angle.  It’s a biography of the town equally — if not even more — as it is of the monster.  The healing process after the weird events and devastation of fifty years ago has not been easy for Point Pleasant; for better or worse, the town will always remain in the Mothman’s shadow.  The townspeople have learned to live with and even embrace the Mothman’s legacy, with a Mothman Museum and a popular annual Mothman Festival.  But their story — like the film — is undeniably sad and haunting.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Film review — Boggy Creek Monster: The Truth Behind the Legend

remxqzq2rdqzrjq3mky4qjq0qzu6ntfmotnhyjvjmzgxyzi0zdfindewmziwnmjmyzm5mgu6ojo6oja

For their first two documentaries, the Small Town Monsters production crew chose a pair of little-known bigfoot incidents: the Minerva Monster (near my Ohio hometown) and the Whitehall, NY sightings (which I reviewed here).  Both films were nicely produced and preserved for posterity these fascinating, but nearly forgotten, bits of bigfoot Americana.

This time they tackle the famous Fouke Monster of Fouke, Arkansas, immortalized in the 1972 b-movie docudrama, The Legend of Boggy Creek.  To be honest, I thought this was a bit of a departure; there’s arguably no better-known bigfoot case in modern America.  I knew they’d make another good movie, but what I didn’t know was how much more there was to be told.

Whether you choose to view it as a bigfoot movie or as an interesting little bit of folk-history, Boggy Creek Monster succeeds.  Lyle Blackburn serves as the film’s narrator and our guide through the swamplands surrounding the small southern Arkansas town. His laid-back southern personality is perfect for the role. Blackburn literally wrote the book on Boggy Creek, a book I shamefully have not yet read.  He’s clearly very personally invested in the story, having a fascination with the Fouke Monster since childhood.  The film follows Blackburn as he interviews “monster” eyewitnesses and revisits scenes from the 1972 movie.

The crew found plenty of people willing to go on camera to share their experiences with the monster, including the retired sheriff who investigated the actual case that was profiled in Legend.  A lengthy and intriguing recorded interview with Smokey Crabtree, a lifelong Fouke resident who was instrumental in the 1972 movie, is featured as well. (Crabtree passed away last year at age 88, a reminder that it’s vital to preserve oral history while we still can.)

They also speak with a number of ordinary folks — some of whom have never publicly shared their stories — who have sighted the monster right up to recent years.  While nationwide interest in the Fouke Monster died down after the initial release of Legend, that wasn’t the end of the story.  Far from it.  Bigfoot-type creatures are reported in the area fairly regularly.  The witness tales are compelling, made even more so by the filmmakers’ choice to interview them right there on the mucky Arkansas backroads.  In fact, to say the filmmakers nailed the atmosphere of the area is an understatement — there’s not much creepier than a swamp, but in this movie, it’s absolutely chilling.

I also watched the “extras” on the DVD, something I don’t normally do, but it was fun to see the process behind filming the documentary.

While the wide variety of interviews and the scenery make the movie well worth watching, one thing that I would have liked to know more about is the general opinion of your average Fouke resident on the “monster” stories.  It was stated in the film that when the 1972 movie came out, about half the residents were all for it and half wanted nothing to do with it.  It seems the town is embracing its bigfoot heritage — a grocery store called Monster Mart and the local museum figure prominently in this documentary — but I wonder if that 50% is still reluctant to associate with the “legend.”

Some day maybe I’ll go find the answers for myself.  For now, I’ll have to content myself with living vicariously through Boggy Creek Monster, and look forward to the next Small Town Monsters movie, whatever it may be.

Boggy Creek Monster is available at Small Town Monsters.

 

 

 

Beast of Whitehall: “What the hell was I lookin’ at?”

I got an awesome Leap Year present last night when I received access, via the Interweb, to the long-awaited pre-release of Beast of Whitehall.  This, of course, is the new short documentary  produced by Small Town Monsters.

A group of bored teenagers cruising through the dark woods encountered a creature they could not explain one evening in 1976.  Inhuman screams ripped the still night.  A huge, hairy beast walking on two legs lumbered into the road.  What was lurking in the Adirondack forests around Whitehall, NY?  Decades later, the Small Town Monsters crew uncovered and resolved to document what occurred that summer on Abair Road.

I first became familiar with Small Town Monsters’ work at the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, where their documentary Minerva Monster premiered last year.  I appreciated their approach:  no speculation, no costumes, no re-enactments, no cheesy made-for-Hollywood moments.  They simply allowed the witnesses to the Minerva “monster” to tell their stories for the camera.  The same methods are used in Beast of Whitehall, making for a compelling bit of oral-history Sasquatchiana.

Unfortunately in the decades since 1976, many of the original witnesses to the “Abair Road incident” have passed away, making it all the more critical for the story to be preserved now. The filmmakers piece together the story through audio interviews from 1976, news reports, and commentary from Brian Gosselin (quoted above), a police officer and the brother to one of the original witnesses.  Brian was the first to take the boys’ report the night they saw the creature.  The film makes use of generous fly-overs and forest shots to illustrate that the Adirondack mountains in this part of upstate New York are still vastly uninhabited wilderness — perfect habitat, perhaps, for our favorite hairy hominids.  This is further borne out by the fact that Bigfoot sightings around Whitehall did not begin or end with Abair Road; the area has a long history of reports, some of which are also discussed in the film.

Beast of Whitehall is an economical but perfectly paced and well-produced little film.  Students of Bigfoot history will appreciate the story it reveals. The film will be officially released April 1 and you can reserve your copy now on www.smalltownmonsters.com .

Ohio Bigfoot Conference 2015

My friend, who shall herein be referred to as Not-Platypus, and I sat sipping beverages at her home.

“I can’t believe we’re going to a Bigfoot conference,” she said.

“What you should be saying,” I said, “is, ‘I can’t believe we haven’t gone to a Bigfoot conference sooner.”

This exchange should tell you quite a bit about our relationship. A friend who says “yes” when you ask if she wants to spend a weekend at the Ohio Bigfoot Conference with you is a friend indeed.

The following morning, Saturday, after an adventurous start to the day that began with an unsuccessful breaking-and-entering attempt and a near-riot over expired food at a Kroger in the middle of a cornfield, Not-Platypus and I pulled into Salt Fork State Park, ready to experience our first Ohio Bigfoot Conference.

Salt Fork State Park

Salt Fork State Park

Salt Fork State Park has been a hub of Bigfoot activity for decades, with many reported sightings. There is a persistent tale that, at one time, certain campgrounds in the park were closed due to Bigfoot activity. The veracity of said tale depends entirely upon the person to whom you are speaking at any given moment. Well, I live in Montana, and we can have campgrounds or trails closed for bear activity, so I guess, why not?  (Local fauna.  Sometimes you’ve just gotta shake your head.)  Anyway, in recent years the park has become something of a Squatcher magnet.

And Salt Fork is massive, so it’s not difficult to imagine the area as prime Sasquatch habitat. After passing the park entrance sign, my Smurf-blue rental car wound its peaceful way along several miles of blacktop, past golf courses, camping areas, a “beach,” and thousands upon thousands of acres of woods. In fact, the park consists of over 17,000 acres of woods as well as several thousand acres of water. Here and there as we trundled toward our destination, the lake would reveal itself, a long, narrow body of water that snakes through the heart of the park. Finally we found the park lodge, site of the conference.

The day was spent browsing the vendor area, listening to presentations – and songs! How wonderful (and unexpected, to the uninitiated) is it that someone has taken the time to write songs about Bigfooting? — on various aspects of Sasquatchery, and rubbing elbows with Bigfoot researchers and enthusiasts. And you know what? We had a great time.

We enjoyed meeting with Eerie Eric, an artist who paints Sasquatch landscapes, as well as cryptozoological creatures of all kinds. I don’t know why Not-Platypus didn’t buy one. They are fantastic.

Squatchscapes by Eerie Eric

Squatchscapes by Eerie Eric

I was especially excited to see the premiere of the documentary, Minerva Monster. Minerva, Ohio is a typical small town near where Not-Platypus and I grew up, and the location of a rash of Bigfoot-type activity in 1978. But neither of us had ever heard of the “Minerva monster,” and our parents don’t remember hearing of it, either. In fact, according to the filmmakers, practically nobody in Minerva had any recollection of the monster. Even the woman sitting next to me for the screening, who said she’d lived all her life in Minerva, didn’t recall a thing about the monster sightings – despite the fact that they’d caused quite a flap at the time.

I enjoyed the film and thought the filmmakers had done a wonderful job editing it so that the people who figured in the narrative – the policeman and reporter who investigated, and those who witnessed the “monster” for themselves – were respectfully portrayed and able to tell their own stories.

Another highlight was meeting Bob Gimlin, of Patterson-Gimlin Film fame. He is a cowboy and a gentleman, and it was fun to speak with him, if only for a minute.

Bob Gimlin and your host

Bob Gimlin and your host

The next day, Sunday, we made our way to the oddly post-apocalyptic-looking beach area at the park for the cookout/chainsaw-carving demonstration. Snuffy Destefano, an artist from Pennsylvania, crafts incredible life-sized Sasquatches from blocks of solid wood, using only a chainsaw and a fabulous imagination. We also were able to speak with some researchers who told us about experiences they’d had tracking Bigfoot right there in Salt Fork State Park.

Snuffy DeStefano

Snuffy Destefano

We didn’t know what to expect for our first OBC. But the conference was fun, interesting, and the attendees were welcoming and not at all strange. In fact, I felt the gathering of people at the conference was far more normal than most groups of people one may see in a regular, day-to-day public setting. But I guess that may say more about me than about the conference. If we could have done one thing differently, it definitely would have been to stay in the park, instead of a nearby motel — Next year. Watch out, OBC 2016.