After almost half a century, Southwest Arkansas' favorite monster looks even better than new, according to fans of cult-favorite movie "The Legend of Boggy Creek."
Hundreds attended the premiere of the movie's digital restoration Friday at the Perot Theatre in Texarkana, Texas. It was a hometown celebration of the idiosyncratic indie thriller, which introduced the world to the Sasquatch-like Fouke Monster and pioneered a blending of documentary and drama now more common.
Pamula Pierce Barcelou, daughter of "Boggy Creek" director Charles B. Pierce, spearheaded the restoration project.
"You can see the creature again. He was lost for almost 50 years," Barcelou said, adding that the restoration work possibly made the movie even better looking than the original prints.
Author and Fouke Monster expert Lyle Blackburn, a "Boggy Creek" superfan since he first saw it as a child, agreed. He said the restoration was so much clearer than the bootleg copies of copies available before now that at points it was like watching the movie for the first time.
"Some of those scenes (in the bootlegs) were just black," he said. "The improvements are astronomical."
Pierce, a longtime Texarkanian, released "Boggy Creek" in 1972, and it became a cult hit often remembered for frightening young people at drive-in movies. Pierce also directed "The Town That Dreaded Sundown"—loosely based on Texarkana's infamous 1946 Phantom Killer murders—and other independent features.
It scared the crap out of me.
Experts at the George Eastman Museum in New York created a high-definition digital restoration of the movie using a pristine source copy pieced together from prints and film negatives. The restoration appears as "Boggy Creek" did during its theatrical release, according to Barcelou.
Attaining rights to the film was the first step, and Barcelou got some local help. Steve Ledwell of Texarkana manufacturing company Ledwell and Son assigned Barcelou copyright of both "Boggy Creek" and another Pierce film, "Bootleggers." Ledwell's father, L.W., helped finance the films' production.
Laughter and spontaneous applause punctuated Friday's screening, with audience members at times seeming to delight in seeing on screen people they knew. Pierce cast actual Fouke, Ark., area residents in "Boggy Creek," many as themselves, and shot at some actual locations of monster sightings.
Keith Crabtree, one of three men who portrayed the monster in the movie, said seeing it brought memories of family members who were in the movie but have since died.
Others reacted after seeing the movie for the first time Friday.
"It was great to see this staple of the Texarkana culture here at a wonderful landmark of our community," Jennifer Davis said.
Jennifer Crews' reaction was more emotional: "It scared the crap out of me."
After the movie ended, the mayors of Fouke; Texarkana, Ark.; and Texarkana, Texas, read proclamations declaring Charles B. Pierce Days.
Blackburn then led a panel discussion featuring Barcelou, "Boggy Creek" cast members, and others who were involved in the production. All recalled Pierce fondly and reminisced about various aspects of the production, including improvising off-script, the rented gorilla suit and wigs used to create the monster costume, and leaning out of open planes to get aerial shots.
Asked if making the movie was scary, Aaron Ball, who at age 3 played a child whose family is terrorized by the monster, left no doubt.
"The Fouke Monster has invaded my dreams recurrently my whole life," he said.
Glenn Carruth, who played a character attacked by the monster in the movie's climactic scene, never acted again. But he cherishes the memory.
"I enjoyed every minute of making this movie," he said.
Barecelou said she aims to release "Boggy Creek" on Blu-ray and also bring it back to movie theaters. A restoration of "Bootleggers" is also in the works, she said.
Multiple screenings of the restoration continue Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call the Perot Theatre at 903-792-4992.
Texarkana Gazette reporter Aaron Brand contributed to this story.