In the 1972 cult film The Legend of Boggy Creek (which actually made $22 million during its original run), there is a scene where a thirteen-year-old boy is sitting on the front porch outside his family home–which is located beside the woods that border a portion of the small town of Fouke, Arkansas. Suddenly, dogs begin to bark in the distance. The boy, realizing a deer has been spotted, grabs a rifle and dashes into the woods. The camera races behind him, matching the boy’s pace, stopping with him as he looks deeper into the woods, hoping to see what has caught the dogs’ attention.
When the dogs bark again, the boy is off, further into the woods. The camera pans out to a wide shot that depicts the immensity of the trees surrounding the young lad. The camera returns to ground level, behind the boy–who is again peering into the woods, listening, seeking. He moves past a large tree–and there, maybe fifteen yards in front of him, stands the legendary bog-monster of Boggy Creek.
That scene is the scariest moment I have ever experienced in watching a movie. Honest.
A couple of other sequences have come close, notably the opening cemetery scene in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and a half dozen scenes during Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but none surpass that scene from Boggy Creek.
The reason that cinematic moment remains so terrifying to me is related to the environment I was in when I first saw it. In late 1972 (or early 1973, I don’t remember the exact date other than it was a Sunday late in the afternoon), my parents allowed my brother and me to go by ourselves to see The Legend of Boggy Creek at the local United Artists theater. We were thrilled. We got to go to a brand-new monster movie–a horror movie–alone (I was eleven at the time; it really was a big deal).
We were dropped off, our admission paid, and into the theater we went. It’s an experience that has haunted me to this day.
The theater was packed. I had never been in a movie theater so full of people. The movie started off slowly–establishing the narrator, the town, the people, the surrounding countryside, the nearby river and its intricate extensions of streams and creeks, and the legend of the bog monster.
My brother and I knew the first monster sighting was close when a local hunter made his way down an embankment to Boggy Creek and saw something odd a ways downstream. What we didn’t anticipate was the reaction of the audience. When that monster appeared on-screen, half the audience shrieked . . . loud . . . and that terrified me at that young age.
For the rest of the movie, whenever the monster appeared (usually to just stand there or shamble a bit), the entire audience got into the act and shrieked as loud as they could. These shrieks sent chills through my body, they made my heart race, and they sent my brother to the theater floor. The scene with the 13-year-old boy encountering the monster looms the largest because it was the first full shriek that shattered my unprepared senses.
Ever since, I have measured the quality of terror in every horror movie I have watched and horror comic I have read by that Legend of Boggy Creek experience (though terror in real life merits a different criteria).
The Walking Dead #61 (May, 2009) comes close to evoking Boggy Creek in me. Frighteningly close. Of course, that’s a good thing. All it took was one moment, one panel, in an already riveting story to give me that extra-chilling Boggy Creek feeling and win me over.
I’m familiar enough with The Walking Dead–having read the first volume Days Gone Bye a few years back–to know its set in a post-apocalyptic United States of zombies, with normal humans (like me!) on the run from them. While issue 61 is a long way from volume one, some things haven’t changed.
A small band of men, women, and children remain on the run from zombies and are hoping to find safety in Washington, DC. I remember Rick and Morgan from the first chapter–along with Rick’s son, Carl. Included in the group are twin brothers, and one kills the other in this issue. His fate is intensely debated (would they actually execute the surviving brother for murdering his twin?).
Later, after a wandering priest casts his faith and lot in with the group, one of them, Dale, comments to his wife or girlfriend, Andrea, that not one “roamer” (a zombie) has been seen all day. He cannot recall that happening before. Something about Dale’s comment, the suspicion and dread he feels in not having seen a zombie all day, unnerved me, unhinged me, freakin’ scared me–and to compound matters this misfit band of agitated refugees had their own inner horrors to contend with.
I could once again feel those shrieks in the theater around me, and all I could think was, “yeah, I know the zombies are out there, but where are they?” Along with zombies on the prowl, I wondered whether this group could survive themselves? The matter of the brother’s fate is indeed resolved, but under circumstances that only intensify the situation.
For me, Dale’s observation was a genuinely scary moment, and I realized that this is good. The Walking Dead isn’t just a zombie comic any more than Boggy Creek was just a monster movie. It was an experience in terror, happening again.
Aside from the cover, no zombies appear in The Walking Dead #61. At chapter’s end, after a harrowing day and night, the group breaks camp and sets out for the nation’s capitol on horseback, a big rig truck, and in a newly acquired van. Secluded in the brush are silhouetted men (creatures?) with rifles who aim to follow the group–another disturbing moment.
The shrieks rise again. I’m hooked. If series creators Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard ever get us to Fouke, Arkansas, and the zombies team up with the legend of Boggy Creek, I’m going to pass out.