MOMO: The Missouri Monster
Directed by Seth Breedlove | Small Town Monsters
One of my favorite memories from when I was a kid was staying up late on Friday and Saturday nights and watching monster movies. Sometimes it was a classic like “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” or maybe an underrated gem like “The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.” And sometimes it was a terrible made-for-TV movie like “Gargoyles” or “Dark Night of the Scarecrow.” They were all great fun, mostly because I was watching with my dad, but also because I have loved scary movies since before I can remember. But perhaps the one that affected me most was “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” And I’m definitely not the only one this movie made an impact on.
For the uninitiated, Small Town Monsters has become the preeminent paranormal documentary film production company. Combining a serious, measured take on the subject matter with top-notch production values and contributions by renowned cryptozoologists such as Lyle Blackburn and Loren Coleman, STM has cornered the market on cryptid documentaries. Each of their films, which focuses on a different small town monster legend, has improved upon the last, and I have anxiously awaited each new release. Early descriptions of their latest offering, “MOMO: The Missouri Monster,” described the film as part-documentary and part-grindhouse flick, and honestly, that concerned me a little bit. Was the STM team abandoning their signature style in favor of something less serious? And if so, how would it play out? Well, I have some thoughts.
First and foremost, “MOMO” is a loving homage to classic B-move drive-in fare, most notably the aforementioned “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” Both movies focus on a specific small town being terrorized by their own Bigfoot-type creature. “The Legend of Boggy Creek” examined the Fouke monster, so named because it lurked in and around Fouke, Arkansas. MOMO is short for “Missouri Monster,” also a Bigfoot-like creature, more akin to the three-toed, extra-hairy and extra-smelly swamp creatures of the south, like the Skunk Ape, Fouke monster, or Honey Island Swamp monster. It was mainly seen in and around the town of Louisiana, MO starting in the early 1970s. “The Legend of Boggy Creek” was a low-budget docudrama, mixing in factual narration, eyewitness interviews, but also some campy and badly acted reenactments. The film was a bizarre amalgamation of serious documentary and cheesy horror movie, but it worked brilliantly, and it instantly became a cult horror classic at drive-ins and later, on late night TV. With “MOMO,” director Seth Breedlove has tried to recapture the unique charm of “The Legend of Boggy Creek” and other early ’70s B-movie classics by recreating that formula (and even some of the cinematography). But catching lightning in a bottle is not always an easy task.
“MOMO” is admittedly a strange film. It’s not like anything Small Town Monsters has done before, and it’s certainly not like anyone else has really done before. Instead of going the straightforward documentary route, the film is presented as a fictional episodic television show called Blackburn’s Cryptid Case Files, hosted by none other than frequent STM narrator, Lyle Blackburn. In “MOMO,” this “episode” is focusing on the Missouri Monster and a fictional “unreleased” film from 1975 eponymously titled “MOMO: The Missouri Monster.” Clips from the fictional film serve as the reenactments, fleshing out the narrative tale of the MOMO sightings, first by Joan Mills and Mary Ryan, and later by Terry, Wiley, and Doris Harrison. Interspersed between the reenactments/movie clips, Blackburn interviews local townspeople, historians, and MOMO experts in more traditional documentary film style. The legend of MOMO is not easy to decipher, with conflicting accounts, possible and understandable misidentifications, and even some UFO sightings thrown in for good measure. It’s often difficult to tell where the facts stop and the embellishments begin, something this film doesn’t shy away from. In fact, STM unflinchingly faces this truth head-on, making the somewhat more lighthearted approach to the storytelling all the more appropriate.
Some of the reenactments are laughably awful (intentionally so, as they are striving for that that cheesy early ’70s vibe), especially the one featuring Cliff Barackman and James “Bobo” Fay, of Finding Bigfoot fame. The acting is bad, the jokes are bad, the monster costume is…well, bad. You get the gist. But it works. And ultimately, that’s what matters. “MOMO: The Missouri Monster” has a certain indelible charm, at the same time being oddly unique yet wonderfully nostalgic. It hits all the right notes for anyone interested in the Bigfoot mythology, but also anyone who misses the old campy fright flicks they grew up on.
Clever as the reenactments are, I do have a few minor nitpicks. Some of the scenes could have greatly benefited from some editing, both for time and for pacing. A phone call from the kids to their dad to tell him what they saw did not need to be acted out completely, and some scenes of witnesses staring at the monster in horrified awe just seem to go on a little too long. But again, I think that was sort of done on purpose, just to emphasize the cheese factor. They in no way hinder the enjoyment of this film. Just things that stood out to me overall.
Otherwise, this is classic Small Town Monsters. Excellent narration by Blackburn, an amazing score, and the self-awareness that comes from doing a documentary in this genre. No agenda, just the story – good, bad, or just plain bizarre. I particularly liked the little illustrated title cards (by cartoonist Travis J. Hill) that would signify the “episode” coming back from a break, each one a drawing of Lyle Blackburn hunting a different cyrptid, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
In my review of “Terror in the Skies,” I likened the Small Town Monsters team to The Beatles. And if we follow that analogy, this is definitely their White Album. Strange, unorthodox, experimental, satirical, self-deprecating, but also remarkably brilliant, “MOMO: The Missouri Monster” is perfect Halloween-season fare.
“MOMO: The Missouri Monster” will be available to rent or own on Amazon Instant Video, Vimeo OnDemand, DVD and VIDI Space starting September 20th, 2019. Or you can pre-order now!