Saturday, March 13, 2010

R.I.P.: Charles B. "The Legend of Boggy Creek" Pierce

… not to be confused with noted female impersonator Charles Pierce, who died in 1999.

Regional filmmaker Charles B. Pierce made a series of low-budget movies in the 1970s and '80s, of which the most famous was the first: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), a faux-documentary about a Sasquatch-like creature that scared the bejabbers out of the good people of Fouke, Arkansas. It cost some $160,000 dollars and made a reported $25 million, and helped launch a wave of exploitation-oriented mock-docs.

Director Daniel Myrick has regularly cited Boggy Creek as one of the films that inspired The Blair Witch Project. Pierce went on to direct a total of 11 genre features between 1972 and 1987; he made Westerns with a Native-American slant — Winterhawk, 1975; The Winds of Autumn (1976); Greyeagle (1977); Sacred Ground (1983) and Hawkin's Breed (1987) — a Viking picture (The Norsemen, 1978) and a southern-fried action comedy (Bootleggers, 1974. But he's best remembered for Boggy Creek and its sequel, Boggy Creek II: The Legend Continues (1985), along with the deeply disturbing The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1977), inspired by an unsolved series of murders committed in post-WWII Texarcana.

Pierce was born in Hammond, Indiana, and raised in Hampton, Arkansas, where he grew up with future producer Harry Thomason (Designing Women). He sold advertising in Texarkana, spent 30 years working as a Hollywood set decorator for both film and TV; and died in Dover, Tennessee at the age of 71. In addition to directing his films, he wrote or co-wrote them, often with Earl E. Smith.

Pierce is also widely credited with coining the Clint Eastwood catchphrase, "Go ahead — Make my day," first heard in Sudden Impact (1983), the fourth Dirty Harry picture. While that sounds like so much Hollywood malarkey, it may well be true: Sudden Impact lists only one screenwriter, Joseph Stinson, but Pierce and longtime collaborator Earl Smith share story credit.

Pierce wasn't a genre-expanding talent on a par with George Romero, David Cronenberg or John Carpenter, but his movies, especially Boggy Creek and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, were an integral part of my exploitation-movie education. And let me tell you, when I saw David Fincher's Zodiac (2007), it brought back a flood of Town That Dreaded Sundown memories; they're very different movies made in very different times, but the hooded sociopaths who haunt both are the pure, unadulterated stuff of nightmares — just say "trombone bayonet" to any one who's seen it and watch them go pale.

So a moment of silence, please, for an unpretentious, largely unlauded filmmaker who nonetheless left his mark.

1 comment:

A different Rob said...

I saw "Legend of Boggy Creek" when it first came out. I was 14. Didn't think much of it--a few really good scary bits, most of which had been featured in the advertising, preceded by what I dimly recall as an endless travelogue--and hadn't thought much about it since. As for it being a faux-documentary...this was the heyday of Eric von Daniken, and I couldn't tell the difference. But, nice post. I will have seek this out and re-evaluate.