In Search Of… S02E16: Swamp Monster

A sighting episode! Yay!

We open on footage of trees reflected in swamp water. Nimoy waxes lyrical about the terrors to be found in a swamp. We're told that an 'experience guide' went into the swamp in '73. "His outing became the stuff that nightmares are made of".

The monster's afoot!

Oh, I think we're in for a good one!

Footage of alligators, while Nimoy talks up how experienced this guide was. But then something struck his boat! The camera jerks around hysterically while the soundtrack plays growling noises. This is the sort of stuff I watch this show for!

Now we're looking at… mountains? Oh, the Himalayas. Of course. Nimoy's lyrical narration is beautiful, as he talks about the high peaks and local farmers, but really we're just killing time while we get to the sole purpose of this segue: the word 'yeti'.

Now talking about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay scaling Everest. Nimoy claims Hillary returned years later to look for the yeti. To my surprise, this actually happened in 1960, though Hillary later became a yeti sceptic.

Rocky Mountains, and Peter Byrne from the Bigfoot episode. Beautiful, beautiful narration. I'm pretty sure it's stock footage, because we never talk to Byrne. Just show him looking for Sasquatch. With binoculars. Oh, and a rerun of the crappily re-enactned mountain-men vs Bigfoot fight, again from the Bigfoot episode.

Nimoy is in the forest now, explaining how Bigfoot might just be yeti that crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia. It's just Sasquatch boilerplate, but it does serve to whet the appetite.

Now we're in New Orleans! Time to party down! Oh, no, we're moving on again to a swamp that isn't far from the Superdome. Honey Island Swamp. Looks good. Good and swampy. Quality. Quality swamp, you know? Now we're looking at houses in the area, and the town of Covington, where stories of mysterious things in the swamp are known, but seldom shared with outsiders.

I watched True Blood, so my money's on sexy vampires and/or sexy werewolves.

We're talking to this old boy, who farms and traps locally. He has this awesome accent. In fact, most people interviewed on this show about their sightings have awesome accents. If your accent sucks, make damn sure you never see anything out of the ordinary, because I sure as Hell don't want to hear about it.

Anyway, he said he saw a grey, seven foot creature in the swamp that 'jumped about'. Later he saw two, one bigger than the other, swimming in a 'human' way with a 'forehand stroke'. The next bit of his story gets too accent-y for me. He tried to get one to look at him but it ran off? Best I can do after listening to it six times. But, man is his accent cool!

The interesting thing about this part of the story is that footage of the water (where I guess he saw the things?) is shot from a modern roadway bridge. I get the impression that this isn't far into the wilderness at all.

The old guy says he thought about shooting the creatures, but they seemed to human to kill. He says he doesn't like talking about this because he doesn't like being called a liar. Well, you came to the right show. No judgement here, that's for sure.

Nimoy talks about how vast and unexplored the swamp is. Camerawork is pretty good. They're doing that handheld camera thing to give the viewer the feeling of moving through the swamp.

Nimoy talks about a systematic search for the creature. A guy in hunter's cammo and with an even more impressive accent (deeper and less mumbly). Nimoy says he's Harmond Ford, a retired air-traffic controller, which I guess explains the clear voice. He claims to have seen the creature while camping. He followed it to the water's edge, but found no tracks until he got the water's edge. There the thing went on all fours to drink 'like a bear' leaving clawed prints where its hands were.

Talking now about seeing its eyes at night. This part's illustrated with a torch shining right at the camera and a loud growl. It's real shiver-up-the-spine material.

A friend of the Ford took a gun to hunt the creature. Ford's says his friend says he encountered an eight to nine foot tall creature and fired on it, but didn't seem to have hit anything. He goes onto talk about the creature crossing a sandbar and leaving tracks.

"Men are hunting the creature with guns," Nimoy says, and wonders what the creature will do if cornered. Rising tension sting. This is a good point to stress that there's literally nothing here. We see footage of trees and water and that's it. No sign of the monster at all, none, zip, zero, zilch. And yet that electronic music rises spookily over footage of a monster-free swamp and, aga--, shiver up the spine. This show does this so well at times, making an absence into a presence. If the creature bounded through the frame right here, it would almost be a disappointment.

Expert interview now, we're talking to a monster hunter. Hm. Maybe a monster finder would have been better. Anyway, because 'traditional scientists' don't seem interested in the monster, he's looking for something to convince them. He's doing so by  by walking loudly through the swamp in a red jacket. Don't question. He's an expert monster hunter.

He finds a track. Right there on camera. "Clearly," Nimoy says, "it was not made by a man." Well, they aren't human tracks, I'll accept that, but 'not made by a man' is yet to be seen.

Now we're looking at a bunch of plaster cast tracks. George Stevens, a Lousiana state naturalist. He estimates that the creature is seven to eight feet tall, four hundred pounds and covered with hair. Nimoy says that it will take more than a cast of 'three-toed webbed feet' to convince the sceptical. And you know what? It probably will.

Cut to a professional makeup artist in New Orleans. Now that is someone who will convince the sceptics. He's been commissioned (by who?) to create a costume of the creature to match the descriptions of witnesses. He has furry claw-gloves, foot-shoes and a mask. Nimoy claims the mask is less accurate than the feet, and I guess he'd know.

Lovely close-up shot of a caterpillar climbing a tree, tracking and zooming out to see a man walking in the swamp. Beautiful! Nimoy argues that if a human can survive in the swamp without tools, than a hominid creature can too. The guy the camera is a military expert on swamp survival. He's been asked to check out the swamp and guestimate if he could survive in it. He wanders along in a check shirt, talking in very general terms about what he'd look at to survive in a swamp. The most interesting thing he says is that you could survive, but most of your waking hours would have to be devoted to collecting food. He eats a couple of things to prove his point.

Nimoy start talking about how the creature would be adapted to the area and omnivorous. This bit goes on for a strangely long time. It's kind of fun to watch him collecting ants, and he catches a snake barehanded which is just as cool as it sounds. I'm not sure what the point of this is until Nimoy says that the creature 'would have to roam the swamp almost constantly, in search of it's next meal, and would be roaming even now.' Rising electronic music. Cut to alligator. Beautiful!

Nimoy suggests such a large creature wouldn't need to fear much from alligators, but it might need to fear… man! With constant encroachment on the swamp, the creatures may be losing their habitat and a conflict might become inevitable. To prove this point we talk to a guy with a haircut that's bad even for the time. His interview is intercut with a crappy re-enactment of a fishing trip with his wife.

He heard a scream, getting constantly closer. The between the interviewee's accent, the rising music and the FX of screaming, it's hard to make out what he's saying. Basically he was scared, but didn't stop building a fire. He built a ring of fires to keep the thing at bay, and in the re-enactment waves a burning stick. Nimoy hopes that the creatures' existence won't be proved by a fatal confrontation between them and humans.

Now we're talking to the air-traffic controller, who says that he saw what he saw; doesn't claim it's a monster, necessarily; and you can believe that or not as you see fit.  When he's camping in the swamp he keeps a loaded gun with him. He talks up how isolated parts of the swamp are, and claims there are places there where you could be the first man to set foot. Perhaps people could search for centuries and never find it.

It's actually quite a nice speech, and the understated music helps it a lot. Its positions the monster as something uncertain, on the edge of human knowledge, there but not there. It's too long to reproduce in its entirety, but it sums up nicely the emotional appeal of cryptozoology—the mystery, the uncertainty, the comforting feeling that we don't know everything—all without that self-righteous demand to be taken seriously that so many crypto enthusiast fall into. And then Nimoy ruins it with a self-righteous demand to be taken seriously, stating basically that scientists are failing us if they don't go into the swamp right now and pull out the monster.

This is a really good episode, perhaps my favourite of the sighting episodes so far. It's low key creepy and the music is well used. A huge amount of the footage is nothing but a) swamp and b) some guy in a swamp. And you know what? It works. The trees are dense enough you can almost imagine that something could be just metres away from our field of view. The sum total of all this isn't fear in a horror movie sort of way, but low-grade disquiet that stays with you when the episode is over.

Quotes:

Nimoy: "If we are on a collision course, man and monster, then it would be a tragedy for both."

Ford: "Whatever this is, if it prowls and continues to prowl at night in a swamp area this huge, it could stay in there another two or three hundred years and not be located."

Summing up:

Creepiness: 10/10, Interviewees: 9/10, Music: 9/10, Crappy reenactments: 8/10, Nimoyness: 8/10. Overall: 44/50. High Distinction.

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