At this point, the Small Town Monsters crew are essentially The Beatles of the paranormal world. Not just in the quality of their productions, but also much like the Beatles, the frequency with which they are released. The fact that they turn out amazing documentary after amazing documentary, and in such quick succession, is nothing short of amazing. It seems like I just wrap up reviewing one offering, and I have another new review copy to watch. And with each successive film, they prove that they are a formidable team of film makers. I’m not sure how Seth Breedlove, Mark Matzke, Jason Utes, Zac Palmisano, Adrienne Breedlove, Lyle Blackburn, and the rest of the talented crew ever get any rest. The fact that they do, in and of itself, is almost a paranormal phenomenon all its own.
Just as with the Beatles, STM will have some offerings that appeal to you more than others. Perhaps you prefer the edgier, more political John songs over the kind of lovey-dovey Paul tracks, or the later, experimental albums over the earlier straight-forward rock ‘n roll, but in the end, you realize it’s all great stuff. And it’s no different with Small Town Monsters. I say this because their latest offering, “Terror in the Skies,” examines a corner of the cryptozoological world that I don’t have much interest in: big birds. Thunderbirds, pterodactyl-like creatures, large vultures – they were never really my thing. I was always drawn to creatures like Bigfoot, or even more bizarre creatures like the Jersey Devil, the Dover Demon, or Mothman. And I’ll touch more on Mothman in a bit, because he kinda-sorta makes an appearance in this doc, too. But a good film is a good film, and this one had me hooked. Whether it’s Bigfoot, aliens, or giant winged terrors, Small Town Monsters knows precisely how to weave an interesting yet chilling tale.
“Terror in the Skies” mostly focuses on big bird sightings in the state of Illinois. And you can’t have a film about weird creatures in the Prairie State without Loren Coleman, the world’s leading cryptozoologist and Illinois native. Mr. Coleman is featured heavily throughout, and relates some fascinating accounts of some of the monster-bird encounters detailed here. Author Troy Taylor, another Illinois native, also gives his insight into the phenomena of “winged weirdies” (to use Coleman’s term) to flesh out the overall narrative.
The river city of Alton, IL, is examined first, and there are a lot of parallels to this city and to another one little river city, not to far to the east, that also has a “winged weirdy:” Point Pleasant, West Virginia, home of the infamous Mothman. The film continues to take us through some of the better-known big bird encounters, such as the Piasa Bird (or Thunderbird) of Native American folklore; the Lawndale Incident, in which 10-year old Marlon Lowe was allegedly picked up and almost carried away by a large, vulture-like bird; sightings of prehistoric-looking birds, much like pterodactyls; and the interesting yet inconclusive “Texas John” thunderbird footage. The film wraps up by examining the 2017 Mothman flap in Chicago.
Like previous STM documentaries, there’s no agenda here to get you to believe, one way or another. In fact, both sides of the arguments are presented here, especially when it comes to the controversial Texas John footage and the Chicago Mothman sightings. The Texas John footage is interesting yet perplexing, I think falling victim to the same pitfalls that a lot of aerial paranormal phenomena suffer from – plainly stated, it’s hard to get a sense of scale from the video alone. Sure, the bird he filmed is large, but there are some large birds out there. But was this just a turkey vulture, or some massive monster bird? It’s up to the viewer to decide. A little easier to dismiss, and in fact almost wholly dismissed by most of the experts in the film, is the Chicago Mothman craze. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s pretty handily debunked here, especially considering the population and makeup of Chicago. Some still believe, and maybe, just maybe there was something to it. But I admire the Small Town Monsters team for being honest about what could have been the most sensational part of this documentary.
Lyle Blackburn is back on narration duty, and if by some miracle every unknown cryptid is suddenly discovered, categorized, and recognized by mainstream science, he could easily make a very comfortable second career doing voice-over work. The cinematography and musical score, which have been fantastic in every STM offering so far, are just as amazing here, and seem to get better and better with each film. This is a crew with a true passion for their work, and that love for the subject material can be felt throughout. This is not a series produced for ratings, or for sensationalizing. These films are love letters to the mysteries of our world.
Full disclosure? I happily backed this film (as well as the upcoming Momo documentary) in the STM Kickstarter. But only because I love the work these guys do, and I respect the passion and dedication they have to bringing us quality cryptid documentaries on a regular and consistent basis. A new standard has been set, and just like The Beatles, I don’t think anyone will be able to outdo these guys anytime soon.
“Terror in the Skies” will be available to rent or own on Amazon Instant Video, Vimeo OnDemand, DVD and VIDI Space starting June 7th, 2019. Or you can pre-order now!