Monstermania: 30 years hence: 'Legend of Boggy Creek' considered a cult classic

An artist's rendition of the Fouke Monster greets visitors at fouke's Monster Mart. Staff photo by CHRIS DEAN.
By SUNNI THIBODEAU/Special to the Gazette

Not everyone liked the cult movie classic, "The Legend of Boggy Creek."

Some people thought it made inhabitants of the rural town of Fouke, Ark., look like buffoons.

Some thought it made the creature into a veritable monster.

Some said the publicity created serious problems for them.

In fact, about the only thing that everyone can agree on is that the movie and the town are irrevocably, forever bound to each other in the annals of time.

"To this day people still talk about it," said Dave Hall, a former journalist who played himself in the movie. "People still talk about whether it was real or a hoax. There is a lot of mystique there. It put the area on the map."

The movie chronicled a May 1971 attack on the Bobby Ford family by a Bigfoot-like creature.

At the time, Hall was the news director of Texarkana radio station KTFS.

He and former Texarkana Gazette reporter Jim Powell broke the story in May 1971.

The movie, which premiered in 1974, is reputed to have cost about $165,000 to make.

It was the No. 7 grossing movie of that year, and eventually earned $22 million. It is considered a horror film classic in some circles, with its influence extending to encompass such direct descendants as the recent smash independent film, "The Blair Witch Project."

It has even inspired the author of a Canadian children's mystery book, who recalls that her father used to tell her stories of the movie.

Using only local talent, director Charles B. Pierce pieced together the story of a single encounter with a creature from the unknown, taking more than a few literary liberties with the yarn.

Pierce, a local talent who performed in a children's television show, was, at the very least, flamboyant.

John Welsh, who worked with Pierce on a subsequent movie, "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" which chronicled the Phantom Killer in the Texarkana area, posted a group of embellished stories about Pierce on a movie Website.

In an e-mail correspondence, Welsh related the story of one local who was still upset over "The Legend of Boggy Creek."

"Apparently, the man threatened Charlie, and wanted to meet with them. Charlie and Steve (Lyons) and Earl (Smith) all took to wearing guns, but the guy never showed," Welsh wrote. "It was pretty comical."

Lyons was Pierce's brother-in-law and Smith was the scriptwriter for the film.

Those involved in the movie production remember Pierce as a man who was able to create special effects long before there was specialized technology. Much of the footage is dark and gritty, but Pierce also went into the river bottoms and shot extensive footage of area wildlife.

Internet reports propagate the story that Pierce heard and recorded the monster, and the soundtrack makes liberal use of the recording. Pierce could not be reached to either verify or discount that story.

Much of the movie was shot in the area where the action took place, but Pierce was unable to obtain permission to shoot the original house on U.S. Highway 71 where the monster sighting took place. Instead, he used a house in Texarkana.

The original house, located on U.S. Highway 71, no longer stands.

Other scenes were filmed in areas that lent color to the story line.

"The part we were involved in was shot north of town in the Red River bottoms," Hall said. "For a three-second clip, it took us a half hour to 45 minutes to get it right."

The movie made stars out of the locals, or so they thought at the time.

"We all thought we were stars," Hall said. "I saw it on TV a few months ago, and the acting was really bad."

Even if the acting wasn't Oscar-quality, the movie caught the fancy of a viewing public enmeshed in Watergate, post-Vietnam and a recession. It chilled fans across the country in big city theaters and rural drive-ins.

Nearly a year after the Texarkana premier, Hall remembers traveling through Oklahoma and stopping at a motel for the night.

The film was playing at the drive-in theater next door to the motel.

"The girl at the des

k kept looking at me and said she knew me from somewhere," Hall said. "I'd never been in that town before."

As it turned out, the girl had seen the film the night before, and she recognized him from the movie.

Even the locals who played in the movie gained celebrity status.

Keith Crabtree was cast as the monster, mostly because of his size, but also because he was available. The monster sightings took place next door to his uncle's property.

"I cut Keith's hair during the filming," Fouke Mayor Cecil Smith said. Smith was a barber in the city at the time, but like others in the community, he remembers the initial uproar after the sightings.

Things have settled down since the madness of the 1970s, but there are still occasional queries.

"We get calls, although it is not as popular as it used to be," Smith said. "We get a lot of letters from students making school projects, and we do have literature we send them."

Fouke had a population of about 500 people when the monster was sighted in 1971. Today, the population has grown to 814, and the town enjoys a yearly Monster Days, a typical, small-town festival celebrating the event that put the town on the map.

The only other outward tribute to the Fouke Monster is the Monster Mart, which hawks souvenirs such as T-shirts, caps, mugs and postcards.

Rickie Roberts, who owns the business, is the unofficial monster spokesman. "We get calls from all over the world--some from Florida, and a lot from Maine," he said.

Arkansas is a hot spot for monster sightings.

USA Today ranks Fouke among the 10 great places to find monsters.

Other Arkansas counties also claim their share of Bigfoot-like creatures, including nearby Sevier.

"I've been here 15 years, and I've never heard of one," said Sevier County Sheriff John Partain.

Roberts said people were still reporting monster sightings--just not to the authorities.

"We still get a few," he said. "There were three last year, with the latest in October. But people don't report it because they are afraid someone will laugh at them."

Miller County authorities said they were unaware of any recent sightings.

But the Internet is alive with Fouke sightings and Fouke rumors, including a purported video of the monster.

Videos of the movie are also a popular request, and several Internet sites sell the film as a "rare movie," although Roberts doesn't currently carry the item.

He has seen the movie, though.

"It was OK," he said. "There was a lot real, and a lot that wasn't."

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