(As October is bookended by Halloween, we thought it appropriate to recount the tale of one of the Mountain State’s most hair-raising urban legends—and how one West Virginian has taken it upon himself to get to the bottom of it.)
Braxton County’s tourism is getting a jump start with a new documentary that delves deeper into the fabled Flatwoods Monster of West Virginia. Seth Breedlove’s 45-minute “The Flatwoods Monster: A Legacy of Fear” premiered in Braxton County at the Elk Theater in Sutton (WV) back on April 7, 2018, and aired as part of a double feature on monsters just last month.
“The documentary is well made and is a perfect commercial for our area,” said Andrew Smith, executive director of the Braxton County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s helpful because it features one of the main interests of our area, and will bring people in to learn about the monster.”
Braxton County also has a Flatwoods Monster museum that features historical artifacts, photos of witnesses, and memorabilia commemorating the infamous monster’s legacy. Smith said he’s seen a resultant uptick in business for the restaurants and hotels in the area due to the museum, and that the film will only add to this effort.
“The movie premiere here at our local theater did really well, and sold out the first night,” he noted. “We’re hoping to be able to play the documentary every anniversary of the sighting, which happened on September 12, 1952.”
According to Breedlove and local lore, the monster in question was spotted by five children in 1952 who were playing football in the small town of Flatwoods (WV) when a strange object appeared above them. Streaking across the sky, they watched it crest a nearby hill, slow, and then descend just over the top of the ridge. What followed their sighting has become an infamous local legend.
That night, seven area residents encountered a hovering, mechanical monstrosity that was described by area newspapers as “glowing,” “Frankenstein-like,” and breathing fire. The event helped shepherd in the ‘50s obsession with flying saucers and alien lifeforms—and the “Green Monster” (one of three names given to the creature) has become a pop-culture figure in the decades to follow.
In an attempt to solve the mystery that since has evolved from a terrifying, true-life event to little more than a fable, Breedlove films two of the original witnesses who will hopefully set the record straight on what they saw.
“This was something I always wanted to make a movie about,” he explained. “Since it happened in 1952, and many of the original witnesses have passed away, I had been begging it off. Last year, I decided to make a short documentary about it and put it on YouTube. But then the project morphed into a longer form when we found two original witnesses, brothers Ed and Fred May, who would have been teens at the time of the incident. Ed had never been interviewed about it before. Once we had them on board, it took on a different form. As far as I know, these are the only two witnesses still alive. The documentary bloomed into an examination of how an actual incident has become a modern myth.”
Breedlove added, “I think the people involved in the story consider this to be the last time telling the story. It gives them a platform that isn’t over sensationalized.”
Breedlove also believes the brothers.
“I’m usually skeptical about stories in our films [about monsters], but I’m a hundred percent convinced this happened,” he said. “Their description isn’t that unusual of a strange hovering rocket. It sort of morphed with time into a thirteen-foot space alien that breathes fire, which is not what they encountered. But they have nothing to gain from making this up. My personal theory is that it was an experimental rocket used by the United States or Russia during the height of the space race, though I don’t insert this theory into the film. I do know the government showed up the night of the incident, went over the grounds, and sent recovered bark from a scorched tree to the Air Force for analysis, who later denied this fact.”
Breedlove said the documentary cost $12,000 to make, got a strong reception in Flatwoods, and was one of the top five documentaries on Amazon for a couple of weeks. It has also played in San Francisco and Ohio, as well as in a couple of film festivals.
“We built a fifteen-foot-tall tall replica of the monster, and the story is told in a 1950s science fiction style—black and white, with cheesy effects,” he explained.
To that end, the official poster for the movie was created by acclaimed horror artist, Sam Shearon, as well as two alternate takes on the monster itself by Mark Randall and Brandon Scalf.
“Each poster gives a unique, alternative view of the creature—indicative of the direction the movie itself takes in examining the constantly changing portrayal of what was seen,” Breedlove pointed out.
The film was released by the award-winning Small Town Monsters production company, who are responsible for “The Mothman of Point Pleasant”—another documentary centered around a well-known West Virginia legend. “Flatwoods” is directed and written by Breedlove, who was also director of the award-winning Boggy Creek Monster. The film’s original score was composed by Brandon Dalo, with cinematography by Zachary Palmisano, special effects by Santino Vitale, and fully animated sequences by Chris Scalf.
The Flatwoods Monster is the sixth movie Breedlove has made with Small Town Monsters. The film is part of Small Town Monsters’ annual Kickstarter campaign, which will be used to fund post-production on “Flatwoods,” as well as two additional films (all to be released in 2018).By Lisa Troshinsky