Monday, March 8, 2010

The Legend of Charles B. Pierce, 1938 - 2010

Arkansas filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, the auteur behind The Legend of Boggy Creek and The Town that Dreaded Sundown, passed away last week in Dover, Tenn. He was 71.

If there were a Mount Rushmore of regional filmmakers, Pierce's mug would be right up there alongside George Romero and Herschell Gordon Lewis. While it doesn't necessarily have the same cultural cachet as Night of the Living Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Legend of Boggy Creek is a touchstone film for fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and had even a passing interest in bigfoot. The supposedly true story of the Fouke Monster -- a hairy biped that supposedly roamed the Fouke, Ark., region in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- terrorized legions of young viewers who saw the film either during its initial release or one of its many, many TV airings.

When I started working on The Dead Next Door, Pierce was at the top of my interview list; unfortunatley, he was already in poor health by the time I tracked him down, and the interview never happened. I have tracked down various Pierce- and Boggy Creek-related items from a number of old newspapers and magazines, so I'll try to post those over the next week or so.

Pierce worked in advertising, and even appeared as a kiddie show host on Texarkana television before launching his film career with Boggy Creek. The low-budget faux documentary reportedly made $25 million, and he followed up with a string of horror films, westerns and even an ill-fated viking movie starring Lee Majors (The Norseman, 1978). Along the way he also found time to write the original story for the Dirty Harry flick Sudden Impact (1983).

Among his later horror offerings were Boggy Creek II (1983, which featured Pierce and his son in lead roles, both wearing alarmingly tiny cut-off denim shorts), and The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1977), which was based on the unsolved Texarkana Moonlight Murders that took place in the 1940s. As with most of Pierce's "based on a true story" projects, this one took significant liberties with the source material (the memorable death-by-trombone sequence being an obvious highlight).

In 2008, the Little Rock Film Festival honored Pierce with a tribute that included a Q&A between Pierce and childhood friend Harry Thomason. The Festival also established the Charles B. Pierce Award for the best film made in Arkansas.

You can read Pierce's Associated Press obituary here, or check out the coverage in the Texarkana Gazette.

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