Monday, May 6, 2019

“Could We Have a Dracula Running Loose Out There?” - Bog (1979)

Classic Wisconsin cinema is not limited to the masterworks of Bill Rebane (see The Capture of Bigfoot, 1979; The Game, 1984; and Blood Harvest, 1987) or to the charms of The Pit (1981). One of the finest Wisconsin films is Don Keeslar's Bog (1979), a film that shares similarities with Bill Rebane's earlier Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1975), but which adds fascinating actors like Aldo Ray, Gloria De Haven, and Marshall Thompson of the TV series Daktari (1966-1969) and of course Ark II (1976-1976).

A selection of your universe's critics' reactions to this classic: Reviewer Pretentious_crap (clearly the reviewer's given name, unlike some of these ridiculous pseudonyms) writes, "When all is said and done, this movie is boring and irritating." Reviewer tavives writes, "My God, this movie is awful....The acting is abysmal, the editing is ridiculous." And reviewer t_brown_17 writes, "BOG is one of those movies that cannot be described in words. Well, that is, if the words 'atrocious' and 'stomach-churning' and 'mind-boggling' aren't in your vocabulary." Needless to say, these reviewers have missed the point of the film...and they have missed the proverbial boat. Please read on...

The film opens with shots of a foggy swamp in the morning. A man rows a boat into the swamp and, clearly concerned with the environment, starts fishing with dynamite (charmingly referred to as a “Dupont lure”).

We watch the fisherman picking up the dead fish that float to the surface, but then surprisingly we find that his dynamite fishing has resulted in an unforeseen problem as the fisherman is pulled by something into the water.

The title sequence then begins, along with a beautiful song called “Walk with Me,” some of whose brilliant lyrics I must transcribe here:

“Hold me, soft and warm
As a summer’s breeze
And show me you love me
One more time.

Your kisses stir feelings
I’ve left locked inside.
Waiting for someone to set free.
We’re closer now, baby,
Than we’ve ever been before.
Guess this is love, it’s plain to see.

Walk with me
Hand in hand, endlessly.
Tonight, we’ll live forever
In our minds.

Hold me, soft and warm
As a summer’s breeze
And show me you love me
One more time.”

Two couples from the city drive in their green station wagon to the swamp for a little fishing. “I bet they got muskies out there big enough to eat my whole entire body,” says one of the men. They immediately stumble upon the abandoned boat left by the dynamite fisherman—including the dynamite.

At night, in a comical sequence, the wives berate the husbands for drinking too much beer. “With any luck,” says one of the wives, “maybe you and W. C. Fields here will wind up in the sack together.”

The two men, Chuck and Alan, do a lamentable W. C. Fields impression: “Ohhhh, yeah!”

The women decide to sleep in the back of the station wagon, leaving the men to sleep in the tent.

“Wait a minute,” says Alan. “Isn’t that, what, incest or something?”

In the morning, the couples steal the abandoned boat. Chuck and Kim take the boat to the middle of the lake, while Alan and May fish from the shore.

After a nice underwater POV shot, something big bumps into the boat.

Chuck prepares his fishing rod to catch whatever hit the boat, thinking it’s a big muskie, though Kim complains that she wants to go home. They hear a scream from May on shore, who has fallen into the water and is being touched by some kind of tentacle.

Despite being a few yards from each other, nobody can find May, and none of them realize that she has fallen into the water. The men tell Kim to run to the car and lock herself inside. She does so, but she sees something big and screams.

The film cuts to the sheriff’s station, which is presided over by Sheriff Aldo Ray. “There’s always been a lot of stories about that lake. I’d give my eyeteeth to know what’s going on out there now,” says Sheriff Ray.

A search party led by Deputy McWeeny soon finds the dead bodies of both women, with May floating among the lily pads in a crucified position.

The bodies were found exsanguinated, somehow. The local M.D. says, “It’s sort of like someone was preparing those two girls for embalming, all except pumping the fluid in.” Some kind of tube was shoved down the women’s throats to penetrate their aortas and suck out all their blood.

The local pathologist Ginny, a middle-aged woman played by Gloria De Haven (whose appeared in Chaplin’s Modern Times in 1936), asks the question on everyone’s minds: “Could we have a Dracula running loose out there?”

The M.D. does a classic double-take in response.

Next, we find out more about the mystery, as a man in the swamp runs into a hairy, bigfoot-like creature, but instead of attacking, the creature responds to the man’s gestures and runs away into the trees. But it appears the creature attacks and kills Deputy McWeeny a few minutes later.

No longer interested in performing mediocre W. C. Fields impressions, Chuck and Alan go to a gun shop to buy whatever the can for revenge, but they are frustrated because out-of-state residents are not allowed to purchase weapons or ammo. This problem is solved by the presence of the Torgo-esque man from the swamp, Wallace Fry, a hillbilly with a high-pitched voice and an Indian accent. Mr. Fry, who refers to himself in the third person, tells them, “Wallace Fry can get you anything you want.”

Mr. Fry takes Alan and Chuck into the swamp, where they find a creepy cabin.

The cabin belongs to a swamp witch named Adrianna, who is probably the bigfoot creature Mr. Fry met earlier. She says that whatever killed their wives has been known by many names. “Namath, Whatna, Crad. Many names. Ancient, long dead through all the centuries...but alive. If feats on blood while awake and once satisfied, sleeps.” She says the monster sleeps in the slime in the bottom of the lake.

They hear the monster growling outside. Despite Adrianna’s assurance that they will be safe in her house, Mr. Fry runs outside in a panic and we hear him screaming.

The film delves into the relationship between Ginny the pathologist and Brad the M.D., both well past middle age, who make out on Ginny’s couch for a long, long time while the opening song “Walk With Me” plays on the soundtrack.

Fed up with pretty much everything, as only Aldo Ray can be fed up, the sheriff decides to blow up the swamp. One of the surviving deputies, Corky, drops a block of an explosive called RDX into the water, then connects the wires to a car battery.

The swamp blows up.

Everyone stands around the water to see if any swamp monster bodies float to the surface. They do not. Mr. Ray and Corky drive away, but Alan and Chuck remain. This is unfortunate for Alan and Chuck, as, moments later, we hear gunshots. Mr. Ray and Corky return to the lakeside only to see Chuck’s arm being dragged underwater.

Seconds later, we hear Corky scream, and Mr. Ray turns away from the scene of the deputy’s death (which the filmmakers do not show, presumably because it is so emotionally devastating).

Back at the town medical lab, surviving deputy Jensen tells the M.D. and pathologist, “Corky and McWeeny were my friends.” Everyone agrees that there is a swamp monster, and it is immune not only to bullets but to high explosives. The doctors also discover that the monster is like a mosquito, in that it sucks out blood with a chitinous tube, but that somehow it is made of cancerous cells composed of tungsten. The M.D. explains poetically, “Every time I look out at those bogs, those glacial lakes, I can’t help but think. Fifteen thousand years ago they were covered with ice. Ten thousand years ago it began to melt. I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened beneath that glacial carpet. What strange forms of life could have existed those millions of years ago, only to be caught, trapped, crushed and held under the ice mass, waiting for the first warm days to come...slumbering in the ooze, just waiting?”

Showing competence unusual for small-town sheriffs in the cinema, Mr. Ray decides to close off the area around the swamp and to get Adrianna the swamp witch out of her shack. However, she is no longer in her shack, and the roadblock is unsuccessful at keeping visitors away from the swamp, as two young women bicycle down the road, unnoticed by Deputy Jensen. Of course, the women are soon attacked by the swamp monster, which we see only in quick glimpses.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ray employs two elderly scuba divers to search for bodies and/or monsters in the bog. They explore for quite a long time, allowing for some impressive underwater photography, until they find what appears to be some kind of Christmas tree decoration.

As the divers climb back into the boat, they are attacked by the monster, the result of which is shots of elderly scuba divers doing flips underwater.

Back at the lab, the doctors discover that the Christmas decoration is some kind of reproductive contraption. “Not exactly a seed and not exactly an egg,” the pathologist says. “Something in between the two.”

At night, the monster breaks into the lab, and we only see its claws in an expressionistic sequence. Of course, it has come for its eggs/seeds, which it takes out of a bowl.

When they discover that the monster retrieved its eggs/seeds, the doctors come up with a plan. “We’ve been thinking of building a blood scent generator. We’ll get it upwind from the lake and then fill the air with the scent of blood.” Then they will get the fire department to spray poisonous chemicals on the monster, once it takes the blood-scented bait.

The next morning, the entire town comes out to trap the swamp monster. In a matter of minutes, the monster appears from the water, but the impulsive Mr. Ray runs through the fog of the blood scent, getting it all over him. He runs to the eater’s edge with his gun, but the monster makes quick work of him, then advances on the fire truck.

Adrianna the swamp witch runs through the trees, yelling to the monster that it’s a trap, but the monster continues and the volunteers douse it with chemicals from the fire hoses.

After the monster is captured, we see a shocking image reminiscent of the ending of Night of the Living Dead (1968) in which Aldo Ray’s corpse is carried away.

The doctors keep the monster alive in a net in the lab with water dripping on it from overhead sprinklers. What’s more, Ginny has run blood tests on both the monster and (somehow) Adrianna the swamp witch, and the two share characteristics. Ginny explains, “It’s some sort of a blood affinity. But we don’t know how, why, or what.” This explains why the monster did not attack Adrianna, and possibly why Adrianna tried to warn the monster about the trap.

Later, their friend John, an ichthyologist, explains further. “The creature can’t reproduce itself without the help of a human female, but with the vast incompatibility of vital body fluids, it must do something to modify it, so it injects its own blood, after which the victim willingly participates.” Although this explanation raises far more questions than it answers, the doctors seem satisfied.

Naturally, the monster breaks out of its net, attacks Ginny, and carries her back to the water. Brad and John race toward the swamp. “He needs her, John. He doesn’t have Adrianna anymore. We just gotta catch him before he infuses her.”

They find the monster and the middle-aged men attack it.

Fortunately, Deputy Jensen is able to ram his car into the monster, setting it on fire. Despite its immunity to explosives, the creature dies.

The film ends as the camera prowls underwater and finds the eggs/seeds.

While Bog might seem like just another swamp monster movie, it has its own rhythm and its own epic feel. The film begins by following the two tourist couples who visit the lake, and the audience is taken with them on a tragic roller coaster ride with the highest of fishing and the lows of murder. When the two couples are killed by the swamp monster, the film follows Sheriff Aldo Ray, but eventually it reveals that Brad and Ginny, the two doctors, were the main characters all along. Such a complex storyline truly gives the film an epic feel.

It is the wonderful dialogue, though, that sets Bog apart from its contemporaries. Who other than screenwriter Carl Kitt could bring such classic writing to the big screen? Let us leave on a high note as we revel in the wonderful dialogue Mr. Kitt conceived.

  • “Corky and McWeeny were my friends.”
  • “I bet they got muskies out there big enough to eat my whole entire body.”
  • “Could we have a Dracula running loose out there?”
  • “We’ll fill the air with the scent of blood.”

And of course there is Brad's classic monologue about the mysteries buried during the ice age: "What strange forms of life could have existed those millions of years ago, only to be caught, trapped, crushed and held under the ice mass, waiting for the first warm days to come...slumbering in the ooze, just waiting?”

Poetry. Pure poetry.