Friday, April 29, 2011

Guest Post: GW Thomas on John Hanson of The Space Patrol Service

Dark Worlds Magazine's GW Thomas is back with the next in his series of articles looking at the great space pulp characters. If you're not familiar with Dark Worlds you should check it out. It's full of great, fascinating, and educational stuff like this. Thanks again, GW! --Michael

Buck Rogers may have been the first recognizable hero in Science Fiction, so much so that his name became synonymous with the genre, but his fictional adventures were quite earthbound. Only once in the comic strips did he take off for the stars, quite often with little or no scientific basis. (For example, the classic Frank Frazetta cover from Famous Funnies #212 shows Buck and his beautiful damsel as well as some troll-like aliens, all flying about space without oxygen. Buster Crabbe did similar things in his serial appearances too.)

The next series hero after Buck is not a household name but anyone reading his adventures will immediately associate them with Science Fiction TV shows like Star Trek. The space patrol recollections of Captain John Hanson read today like the adventures of Captain Kirk. Appearing over thirty years earlier, the ten stories about Hanson and his crew of dependable spacemen, helped to establish the nautical feel of space opera. The stories contain the military ranks, submarine-style stations and the all-too-familiar military man who is not understood by civilians motifs.

The series creator was Sewell Peaslee Wright (1897-1970) a journalist, advertising writer, radio operator and Pulp writer who penned westerns, horror, mystery as well as Science Fiction. Wright published the entire series in Clayton’s Astounding Stories under editor Harry Bates, who would in turn create the next great hero (but more about that later). Bates’ attitude as editor was quite different from Hugo Gernsback’s, who believed Science Fiction and inventions could save the world. Bates offered his tales as entertainment and nothing more. Because of this, the John Hanson stories are not mired in lengthy description of gadgets but have a speed of pace similar to other Pulps.

Wright begins with an ancient device in adventure writing, the old man recounting his memoirs, in this case to young punk spacers who don’t know how hard it used to be out there. “It must be remembered that I am an old, old man, writing of things that happened before most of the present population of the Universe was born— that I am writing of men who, for the larger part, have long since embarked upon the Greatest Adventure.”

His recollections of his old ships, first the Tamon and later the Ertak, feature a familiar crew as well known as McCoy, Spock and Scotty. These are the impetuous and scrappy First Officer Correy who “loved a fight more than any man I ever knew”, the staid and trustworthy Kincaide “a cool-headed, quick-witted fighting man, and as fine an officer as ever wore the blue-and-silver uniform of the Service” and the third officer Hendricks “while young and rather too impulsive, was a good rough-and-ready scientist, as well as a courageous and dependable officer.” The great screw-shaped door on its gimbals and the television disc which allows the men to see out of their ship are familiar devices while the menore was a clever invention of the author’s.

Unlike the aliens on Star Trek, Space 1999 or Doctor Who who all speak English, Wright, back in 1930, addresses the inability of Earthmen to speak alien languages. The Menore allows them to do this using telepathy. This kind of logical working out of such problems is one of the reasons Wright was a good SF writer and not just a run-of-the-mill hack.

Some of the Star Trek parallels, which are unavoidable for a ST fan reading today, include: getting stranded on an asteroid and having to fix the ship, killer trees, a world with a hidden dark culture working against the other, time travel, a scene in which an officer tells the captain he is too valuable to go on an away mission, nostalgia for Earth, a piece of Earth technology being confused for a god, laser weapons, and giant space amoebas.

The ten stories were:

The Forgotten Planet” (Astounding, July 1930)
The Terrible Tentacles of L-472” (Astounding, September 1930)
The Dark Side of Antri” (Astounding, January 1931)
The Ghost World” (Astounding, April 1931)
The Man from 2071” (Astounding, June 1931)
The God in the Box” (Astounding, September 1931)
The Terror from the Depths” (Astounding, November 1931)
Vampires of Space” (Astounding, March 1932)
Priestess of the Flame” (Astounding, June 1932)
The Death-Traps of FX-31” (Astounding, March 1933)

John Hanson and his tales are not well-remembered after eighty years. The Golden Age of Science Fiction would eclipse much of what came before it but Hanson did go before the Space Opera heroes to come from Hawk Carse to Captain Future and beyond into television with Captain Video, Tom Corbett to Star Trek, and beyond. Sewell Peaslee Wright went ahead of many of them, and his work still stands as enjoyable entertainment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Western Wednesday

In honor of this summer's Mondo Sasquatch anthology and my Western Bigfoot Steampunk story therein, the middle day of the week will henceforth be known as Western Wednesday on this blog and will celebrate all things Western, Bigfoot, and Steampunk.

By Alex Schomburg. [Golden Age Comic Book Stories]

By Craig Wilson.

[Calvin's Canadian Cave of Cool]

[From the Files of the Canadian Cave of Cool]

[Calvin's Canadian Cave of Cool]

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

100 Things I Love About The Movies

Inspired by Cinema Fanatic and Jason.

1. Raul Julia and Angelica Huston as Gomez and Morticia Addams
2. Harrison Ford's caving to Gary Oldman in order to save his daughter's life in Air Force One
3. Grumpy the dwarf
4. Nick and Nora
5. Disney's version of Captain Nemo's Nautilus
6. Mr. Whitmore and Helga in Atlantis: The Lost Empire
7. The five notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
8. Both performances of Peter Pan in Finding Neverland
9. Ernest as the snake farmer in Ernest Saves Christmas
10. Bowing to the Hobbits in Return of the King

Monday, April 25, 2011

I am apparently a Master of Many Styles

According to I Write Like, when reviewing Annie...

I write like
Dan Brown
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

This concerned me until I learned then when composing updates on my writing and reviewing Camouflage...

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

And when reviewing Atlantis: The Lost Empire...

I write like
Douglas Adams
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

And when reviewing The Legend of Boggy Creek...

I write like
George Orwell
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

So obviously this is an extremely sophisticated and accurate tool.

Annie (Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis)

This weekend we went to see Annie at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. Even though it's based on an adventure-filled comic strip, I wouldn't typically talk about Annie here. There are bad guys, but it would be stretching to call it an adventure story. Hopefully it's saying something that I want to tell you about it anyway.

This was my first time seeing a live performance, but as it's performed in the couple of movie versions I've seen, Annie is more or less just a schmaltzy rags-to-riches tale with some extremely memorable musical numbers. CTC is known for quality productions, so I should have guessed as much, but I knew we were in for a different take on it as soon as I opened their program.

Right away, you notice that they're grounding their version in a specific, historical time and place. The two movie versions are set in the '30s of course, but that's just flavor. "Times were tough, yadda yadda, let's get to the songs." Maybe that's not fair and I need to see those again, but CTC's program immediately got me thinking about the Great Depression, Hoovervilles, and what it would be like to have to hand my son over to a government-funded orphanage because I couldn't afford to take care of him. And of course about the similarities between that time and ours today.

The play reinforces those thoughts as soon as the curtain goes up (figuratively speaking; CTC doesn't use a literal curtain). The first person on stage is homeless and begging for change from passers-by. A wealthy couple on their way to or from the theater (ouch) goes around him, a young sailor and his date laugh and cavort through him, and a policeman eventually shoos him off. As he leaves the stage however, a woman - dressed not much better than the beggar himself - gives him a coin and a sympathetic smile.

This kind of thing goes on throughout the performance. When Warbucks (Lee Mark Nelson) takes Annie (Megan Fischer) out on the town during the "NYC" number, he buys her a hotdog. Annie immediately turns around and gives it to a hungry person in the crowded street scene. The poor are among us. And while the play reminds us that this especially was true during the Depression, it also reminds us that it's still true today. That awareness puts an entirely different atmosphere over a group of parentless children singing "It's a Hard Knocks Life."

Panu Yang as "Molly," Megan Fischer as "Annie," and  Jade Moné Stumon as "July." Photo from the Star Tribune.

Not that the production is devoid of any joy or hope. On the contrary, that's it's theme. "It's a Hard Knocks Life" is still a fun, thrilling number with the girls' banging mops and brushes on the floor in time to the music; I just believed what they were singing in a way I never had before. I wanted to adopt Molly, the littlest girl in the joint (adorably played by Panu Yang) myself. She shouldn't be in a place like that. But it's only by selling the despair these people were in that Annie's optimism means anything.

I'd also never noticed the change in lyrics between the first time "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" is sung and its reprise at the end of the show. I've always remembered its last line as, "You're only a day away," but the first time Annie sings it, it's "always a day away." I imagine it's written that way in the book, but I'd never noticed it before. I did this time though because I was so keyed into the hopelessness of her situation. She's trying to be optimistic, hoping for a better tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. It's always a day away. That's freaking sad. It's not until the end of the story that she changes it to the much more expectant "you're only a day away."

Palpable despair also changes the nature of her relationship to Warbucks. At the beginning of the play, she's the only girl in the orphanage with any reason to hope that her parents might one day come back for her (which also, by the way, grounds her optimism in something real instead of allowing her just to be that way naturally). That hope in reuniting with her parents is what drives her, so that when it's dashed towards the end, she's lost everything. It's at that point that she realizes how important Warbucks is to her. Not because he's wealthy, but simply because he loves her. The wealth is just fantasy to make the story more thrilling. You could replace Warbucks with a homeless man and the heart of the story would still work. It would be melodramatic and not nearly as cool, but it would have the same point: that love conquers despair. When Annie and Warbucks sing, "If tomorrow I'm an apple-seller too, I don't need anything but you," I believe them.

Like I said earlier, I haven't seen the movie versions of Annie in a while. Maybe this is all there in them too. Maybe my noticing it now has a lot to do with where I am in life and where the world is economically. But it's also to do with some very specific choices CTC made with this production that allowed me to connect with these characters in a way I never had before. Enough so that I'm anxious to get the original comic strips and spend some more time with them. I don't expect that that will replicate the experience I had at the theater, but by God I want it to.

Megan Fischer as Annie. Photo found at abcnewspapers.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Kill All Monsters and Other Updates

It probably isn't smart of me, but I try not to post about it every Friday when new Kill All Monsters! pages go up. For one thing, I know that a lot of folks read it in chunks instead of every Friday, but I also figure that this way it makes a bigger impact when I do say you should go over and catch up. And folks, you should go over and catch up. If the image above isn't enough to do it, I'll add that page 71 features my favorite panel yet for reasons you'll find very obvious when you see it.

Mondo Sasquatch

In other news, the Mondo Sasquatch anthology will be delayed from next month to later this summer in order to make sure that it's not rushed and that the finished product will look as cool as everyone wants it to.

Robot 6

Something else I haven't regularly been mentioning here is my Robot 6 posting. Part of that is because I figure that those of you who are interested in that are probably reading Robot 6 anyway. But also, I've been doing more daily posts over there lately and it would be annoying for me to say something here every time I did something over there.

Still, I would like to direct your attention to a couple of reviews I wrote for some really excellent books: Incredible Change-Bots 2 (although I actually review both volumes in the article) and Pepper Penwell and the Land Creature of Monster Lake. I feel like Change-Bots needs less promotion, because a lot of people already know about it, but Pepper Penwell is just as good and it would be a shame if people overlooked it. Especially people who like junior detective mysteries and laughter.

Jessica Hickman's new book

Cownt Tales artist Jessica Hickman has illustrated a children's book that's coming out this Halloween. Written by Tom Waltz, Little Jackie Lantern tells the story of a young boy who's too frightened to enjoy everyone's favorite spooky holiday. I haven't read it yet, but I can't imagine a project more suited for Jess' interest in things cute and scary.


The SpringCon guest list has been posted (for a while now, actually) and I'm on it. Looking forward to seeing all of you who live in the Twin Cities. Jason and I are working on a second printing of the Kill All Monsters, Chapter One ashcan, so hopefully that'll be ready in time.

A review I didn't write, but am nevertheless responsible for

I meant to say something at the beginning of the month, but my contribution to the White Elephant Blogathon was Cutthroat Island. For which I owe an apology to Non-Union Mexican Equivalent. I'm sorry you had to watch it, but glad you were able to nail so firmly why that movie didn't work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coming Soon: Snow Beast

This...looks...AWESOME! I don't know which is cooler, that it has John Schneider in it or that the Yeti is a guy in a suit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Alpha Flight 0.1 preview pages

I don't run press releases as a rule, but I'll make an exception for Alpha Flight. Marvel sent me a preview of Alpha Flight #0.1 with the following information:
Marvel is pleased to present your first look at Alpha Flight #0.1, from New York Times bestselling writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente and acclaimed artist Ben Oliver! As Fear Itself approaches, the fan-favorite super hero team returns in this special POINT ONE issue, a great starting point for new readers! Meet the founding members that made Alpha Flight great! Super-powered terrorists attack as the nation goes to the polls on Election Day and the country's greatest heroes rise to stop them — but are they on the right side?

“Alpha Flight Fans rejoice! One of comics’ greatest teams is back in their own book! Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak have crafted a perfect jumping-on point for the new reader and AF loyalists alike,” said Marvel Senior Editor Mark Paniccia. “In just a few pages, the two scribes get you caught up with your favorite heroes, get them right into the action and seed a major plot point for the new maxi-series debuting in June with fan-favorite artist extraordinaire, Dale Eaglesham. Get on the horn, the message boards, communication devices of all types and tell your friends that Alpha Flight is back!”

Get in on the ground floor for one of this year’s hottest new series before they head into the fight of their lives during Fear Itself! Do you fear your country turning on you? Watch as the team gets drawn into a civil war all its own this May, only in Alpha Flight #0.1!

ALPHA FLIGHT #0.1 (MAR110629)
Penciled by BEN OLIVER
Rated T+; $2.99
Final Order Cutoff – 4/25/11.
On Sale – 5/18/11

Monday, April 18, 2011

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

The movie's ten years old, but in case you haven't seen it and think you might some day: SPOILERS BELOW.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an almost perfect film.Typically when I'm watching an adventure movie I spend a lot of time thinking about how I'd improve it. Even if it's one I really like. Especially if it's one I really like. "Oh, that's so good, but if he did this..." Or, "That was awesome except for the ending. What if this happened instead." Since those thoughts often turn into actual stories, I find that flawed movies are even more inspirational to me than perfect ones.

Take Atlantis, for instance. When I watch it, I enjoy it so much on almost every level: the steampunk setting, Mike Mignola's production designs, the quest for Atlantis, the eclectic team of diverse characters who are searching for it, the fantastic voice cast, the humor in the script and animation, the plot twists and how they're resolved, the giant robots... There's little that I want to change. If anything, the film kills my interest in writing a story even vaguely similar to it, because it's already been done and done so well.

If there's anything I'd want to change, it's Atlantis' being powered by a sentient crystal that protects itself in times of danger by merging with a member of the royal family. Mostly that's because sentient crystals go into the red section of my New Age Tolerance gauge. I understand that the idea of Atlantis is pretty New Agey to begin with, but it doesn't have to be and the film was doing so well when it was just focused on the conflict between questing for knowledge and searching for good, old-fashioned, non-mystical, material gain.

But while the crystal bothers me, it's wrapped into the plot so well that you really can't pull it out without unraveling a bunch of other stuff. It's a great object for the movie's villains to desire because - unlike gold and jewels - it represents Atlantis itself. The city can't survive without it. That means that the good guys and bad guys can all fight over it and that the victorious good guys can still go home with unbelievable wealth bestowed on them by a grateful city. Which is something I really like: the good guys being rewarded for their trouble. I don't want to pull at the loose thread of the crystal and risk unraveling the whole sweater. It's a really excellent sweater.

There is one other thing that I'd change if I could do it without ruining everything else: Helga's death. Or, no...what it really is is her playing sidekick to Rourke. Her death is just the natural consequence of that. When we meet Helga - all husky voice and legs in the shadows - she's in charge. And she stays in charge up to the point that Rourke appears. Even though she works for Whitmore, she's more than his right-hand, she's his field agent; his eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, and weapon outside the sanctuary of his large, spooky house. Once Rourke shows up, she's nothing more than a goon. Such a waste of potential.

I take back what I said about not being inspired by Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I want some stories about a tough femme fatale who works for an eccentric, rich dude who wants to go on collecting knowledge and artifacts, but is too old to leave his creepy, old mansion to go on his own adventures anymore. That's the sequel to Atlantis that I'll never get unless I end up writing it for myself.

(Speaking of sequels, by the way, have any of you seen Atlantis: Milo's Return? Is it as heart-breakingly mundane as it looks?)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Win Kill All Monsters original art!

Some lucky Kill All Monsters! fan is about to win this drawing. It's ink on bristol, measures about 8.5″ x 9″ and will be mailed to the winner.All you have to do to be eligible to win it is to go like the Kill All Monsters! Facebook page. Jason and I will draw the winner’s name later today!

And if you haven't checked in on the webcomic in a while, today would also be an excellent time to do that. Things just got ugly. Literally.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Read My Stuff: Panels for Primates

For those who aren't familiar with it, Panels for Primates is a charity anthology webcomic on the act-i-vate site that's meant to raise money for the Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky. It's entirely free to read, but if the ape and monkey stories move or entertain you at all, you're invited - but not obligated - to contribute.

I'm a huge fan of these animals, so I was thrilled when editor Troy Wilson invited me to contribute a short, two-page story. And even more thrilled when he told me I'd be working with the awesome Simon Roy. Between the two of us, we packed a ton of action into two pages including giant cephalopods, tiki-men, a sinister elephant, a mad tortoise, slime-monsters, werewolves, mummies, and I'm self-indulgent enough to have thrown in giant monsters, giant robots, and yes, gorillas riding dinosaurs. It also features that most famous of Kentucky primates, Daniel Baboon. Please go check it out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Certainty is Certain

Image cheated from Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

US taxes are due at the end of this week and preparing them is competing with this blog for resources. Unsurprisingly, the government is winning. I'm going to try sneaking in a post or two where I can, but if updating continues to be light this week, that's why.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Review: Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I don't finish a lot of novels. I follow Bookgasm's Hundred-Page-Rule that states, "If a book's not good by page one-hundred, stop reading it." In fact, I've modified it into my own, even more hardcore version: "If by page one-hundred you can stop reading; do." That keeps me from debating whether or not a book is "good." The standard isn't technical quality; it's whether or not I can put it down. So on the rare occasions that I do finish a book, it's because it's really damn compelling. Camouflage is that kind of book.

I picked it up because there's an undersea angle. In prehistoric times, a spacecraft crashes into what will eventually become the Pacific Ocean and settles on the seabed. A lifeform leaves the craft and we're told that it's from a planet so volatile and forever quick-changing that the inhabitants have learned to evolve just as quickly. In effect, they've become immortal, because they can transform themselves into whatever it takes to survive whatever they encounter. This particular specimen spends its first million or so years on Earth as an undefined sea monster, eventually transforming itself into a shark and then a killer whale (basically whatever's at the top of the local ecosystem's food chain) as it discovers those species. When it encounters humans, it decides to become one of those.

Alongside this plotline is a separate one that begins in the year 2019 when scientists discover the craft and attempt to raise it and then study it. The leader of the project is a grizzled, former Navy admiral named Jack Halliburton, but the main character in these sections is Russell Sutton, the marine engineer whom Halliburton hires to oversee the project. Other characters come along as the project develops, including a NASA scientist named Jan whom I couldn't help but imagine as Helen Mirren. These sections - with their enjoyable banter and hints at a romantic triangle between the three main characters - ground the novel and gave me some likable people to relate to. Which was very important early on as the alien - Haldeman calls it "the changeling" - learns to become human in its own story.

As enjoyable as the science project plot is, the changeling's story is the fascinating one. It comes ashore in 1931, more or less human in form, but with all the moral development of a great white shark. It's tragic then, but not shocking when the changeling's first action on land is to kill a young man and take his identity. Nor is that the last heinous act the changeling will commit as it learns to assimilate into human culture.

What's utterly captivating is the skill with which Haldeman gradually endeared me to this character. He doesn't pull any of the usual, manipulative tricks. In fact, he makes his job harder for himself by refusing to give the changeling a name, consistently referring to it as "it," and continuously putting it into situations that show how inhuman it is. It endures rape dispassionately, for instance. Why wouldn't it? It can feel pain (though it's tolerance for pain is much greater than ours), but doesn't understand emotions like anger or humiliation. Not at first anyway.

Well, not ever, really. But as it continues life amongst humans, switching from one identity to another (some kept for years or decades; others for very short periods of time), it does begin to pick up concepts like compassion and wonders if it will ever understand love. But even then, Haldeman never anthropomorphizes the creature. It's not "becoming human," it's very much alien, but is simply trying to understand the culture in which it's found itself. I sort of fell in love with it, and with Haldeman's unbelievable ability to set up impossible writing challenges and then meet them with such apparent ease.

I've always enjoyed it when authors run parallel, independent stories that are going to meet up eventually. It's a lot of fun to try to anticipate how the pieces fit together and Camouflage is no exception. There's a second immortal character that I haven't mentioned yet - Haldeman calls him the chameleon - who's much more violent and bloodthirsty than the changeling and wants to find others like him only to destroy them. Unfortunately, I figured out how this character fit into the 2019 story fairly easily (although Haldeman did make me question my theory at least once), but that was only a small bit of enjoyment stolen. The final confrontation between changeling and chameleon is exciting and satisfying. 

As remarkable as any other part of the book is the end. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it, because you absolutely need to read it, but Haldeman finishes the story exactly where he needs to and not one second later. It's abrupt, but as I thought about possible ways to make it less so, I realized that it's also perfect. Like the rest of the novel.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

I don’t remember who told me about the White Elephant Blogathon, but if you’re not familiar with it, it’s based on the concept of the White Elephant gift exchange where everyone brings a (usually crappy) gift and hijinks ensue as people open them and fight over who goes home with what. The Blogathon does the same thing, but for movies. You submit a movie to be reviewed, and then write about another blogger’s submission. The movie I drew was The Legend of Boggy Creek.

I was actually kind of excited about this one because it’s all about a bigfoot-like creature that lives in the swamps of southern Arkansas. How bad could it be? And since I’ve got a Bigfoot story coming out in the Mondo Sasquatch anthology next month, it’s a timely movie for me to be watching and talking about.

I admit that my heart fell though when I opened the Netflix envelope and read on the sleeve that The Legend of Boggy Creek: A True Story is a documentary with interviews and reenactments of encounters with the shaggy swamp creature. I had a flashback to this other documentary my dad and brothers and I saw in the late ‘70s that was marketed to look like a sci-fi adventure film, obviously piggy-backing on the popularity of Star Wars. (That tragic disappointment may have been Are We Alone in the Universe?, but I remember the title’s being catchier than that. [Edited to add: My brother reminds me that it was The Outer Space Connection.]) If Boggy Creek was anything like that, I was going to be upset. But it wasn’t. It was oh so much more.

Though the production is crap and the direction amateurish, The Legend of Boggy Creek is incredibly watchable. Like Catfish, whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s best to think of it as completely fictional; a precursor to The Blair Witch Project, only way more imaginative. Boggy Creek combines several genres – investigative documentary, nature film, slice-of-life, horror, and musical – in an utterly fascinating way.

It takes about twenty minutes though before the movie gets good. There’s an interminably long pre-title sequence that shows nothing but shots of swampland and wildlife to the sounds of animal cries. That might’ve been okay had the production values been decent, but the film quality is miserable and the camera’s as likely to focus on twigs or the base of a tree trunk as it is on a beaver or a flying crane. After that, there’s another endless bit with a kid running through a field, frightened by noises he’s heard in the woods. He eventually makes it to a general store to tell the old timers there about the shaggy man in the woods, but they of course laugh it off.

The kid turns out to be the narrator as a young boy and from there it’s a lot of him talking about the small town of Fouke, Arkansas and the many sightings of the swamp creature by Fouke’s residents. There’s scene after scene of this farmer or that housewife seeing something hairy lurking out in the trees and just as I’m starting to despair that this is the entire movie...

Musical Interlude [starts around 1:30]:

That, my friends, is fantastic.

That’s not the only one either. There’s another number a little later that’s all about this one kid and how he enjoys going out hunting in the woods and visiting the hermits who live there. Absolutely, thrillingly meaningless.

The musical numbers clued me in though that something awesome is working in Boggy Creek. After those, I was suddenly less bored by the ceaseless shots of the swamp and the town. Instead, I began to be lulled into this lazy, Southern mood and found myself dreaming wistfully of some of the small, rural communities I grew up around. That carried me through the next half-hour of the film, which is where the horror movie kicks in and something like a plot begins to take shape.

There’s little warning of what’s about to happen. Up until now the film’s been nothing but a montage of people talking about their sightings, hunting the creature to no effect, and – in one very long sequence – never having seen the monster at all. But the incidents have been building in intensity with the creature’s now killing some animals and getting awfully close to houses and trailers.

When the narrator introduces a pair of young couples who have moved to the area with their kids, it sounds at first like he’s just setting up the latest in the series of “reenactments.” But something’s different about this one. Maybe it’s because the characters are young; maybe it’s because they’re all sharing one house in the middle of the woods, but I immediately thought that this sounded like the set up to a potentially interesting horror movie. And indeed, that’s where Boggy Creek goes with it.

The husbands work nights on a local ranch, leaving the wives and the kids alone in the cabin when the creature appears. This time though, he’s coming up on the porch and trying the doorknob, something he’s never done before. I won’t blow the ending, but it plays out in a legitimately suspenseful way and is downright frightening at times. What the hell does this thing want?

The narrator has been relentlessly reminding us the entire film that no one knows what’s going on in the creature’s brain. But he just as insistently persists in using variations of the word “lonesome” to describe the beast and its calls. Though it’s never revealed exactly what the creature wants in the cabin, the ultimate implication is that loneliness may be driving it mad.

Which, now that I think about it, is something approaching a theme. The whole movie is full of long, lonely shots. The characters in the film interact with the narrator as they tell their stories, but never with each other. It’s a portrait of isolation.

The Netflix sleeve also describes The Legend of Boggy Creek as a cult film and I can see why. I can’t think of a single person I know who would enjoy it or appreciate it as much as I did, but I’m already thinking about watching it again.


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