Appellate Judge Tom Becker knows what it's like to be the bad man...behind red eyes.
The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
Apparently, in the mid-1960s, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was a hotbed of paranormal activity.
First, people started seeing a strange winged beast with piercing red eyes. Nicknamed "Mothman," the creature seemed to live near an old TNT plant and got its kicks chasing people and making random appearances on deserted roads and rooftops.
After a while, Mothman apparently tired of this quaint but welcoming burg, but then residents started seeing strange lights in the air and experiencing unsettling phenomena like bad telephone reception. A strange scene witnessed by a lake confirmed what everyone was thinking: UFOs had come to Point Pleasant, and the "strange sighting" was of a group of tiny men apparently loading stuff into a spaceship.
If UFOs have shown up, can Men in Black be far behind? Evidently not, because Point Pleasant soon found itself visited by strange, dark-skinned guys in black suits and shades, and they weren't there to entertain the locals with a rockin' version of "Soul Man." The mysterious strangers seemed intent on discourage locals from telling their tales of UFO visits.
Meanwhile, in a nearby town, Woodrow Derenberger encountered perhaps the most social alien since the Great Kazoo: Indrid Cold. Indrid parked his spaceship on the highway one night, blocking Derenberger's truck, and engaged the West Virginian in a little small talk—only instead of talking, Cold communicated through telepathy.
Then, 13 months to the day after the first reported Mothman sighting, the Silver Bridge, which connected this part of West Virginia with Ohio, collapsed, killing 46 people.
Was it the work of Mothman? Or was Mothman there warning people of this impending tragedy? Or was the bridge collapse attributable to murdered 18th Century Native American Indian Chief Cornstalk who, with his dying breath, put a curse on the people of the region? Granted, some wonder if being shot 11 times might have inhibited Cornstalk's ability to spit out a full sentence with that dying breath, but no matter.
I'm usually pretty up on my urban legends, but somehow, the story of Mothman passed me by—despite it being the subject of a number of books, articles, and even a movie with Richard Gere.
Writer/director (etc., this being a low-budget indie) Matthew J. Pellowski seems to have set out to give us the definitive film on the Mothman saga, and Eyes of the Mothman is pretty comprehensive. Pellowski gives us interviews with residents of Point Pleasant who remember the Mothman days—even if they didn't actually see the creature or the UFOs—as well as local historians, researchers, paranormal experts, and a couple of witnesses.
It's an interesting story, as most urban legends are, but Pellowski drags it out to near epic length. This puppy runs over two-and-one-half hours—155 minutes, if you're keeping score. That's longer than The Departed. It's longer than 8 1/2. It's seven minutes shorter than the theatrical release of Avatar and four minutes shorter than Nashville. It is an irresponsibly long running time for a film that, with its "eyewitness" and "expert" interviews, somber narration, and "dramatic recreations" should have been this generation's answer to The Legend of Boggy Creek.
Instead of a fun, punchy narrative and a few cheesy-effects recreations of the Mothman, Pellowski comes at this like an investigative reporter bringing down a civilization-changing political scandal. Every aspect of the legend is covered meticulously with a range of interview subjects throwing in their two (or more) cents. A point is made, and then all kinds of folks come popping up to reiterate it. The description of the Mothman, for instance: a big creature with piercing red eyes and wings like an angel. Fine. But then, something like 15 interviewees come along to give the same description—all second or third hand. Although there were allegedly around 100 Mothman sightings in '66, Pellowski only comes up with one actual witness, a woman who was evidently a young child at the time, and she doesn't weigh in until long after we've gotten the initial Mothman descriptions out of the way.
The Mothman himself doesn't even get introduced until around the 40-minute mark. Before that, we get a long story of Chief Cornstalk and an in-depth look at the TNT plant. A little background on these would be fine, but the amount of screen time Pellowski lavishes is overkill, and seriously detracts from the central story.
Things pick up a bit once Mothman is introduced, but again, Pellowski larders on the information and dulls the impact with an overabundance of redundant interviewees. Otherwise, the whole thing follows the template of the old Unsolved Mysteries TV show, with a narrator laying out the story and recreations of things like people looking at the sky or Men in Black showing up at a diner.
Like any speculative documentary, your own belief in things like UFOs is going to determine how much you buy into what Pellowski is selling. It doesn't help that he uses mainly anecdotal evidence from people who didn't actually see Mothman or the UFOs, and evidently, even with all the hysteria, no one thought to pack an Instamatic camera in case Mothman or a spaceman or a Man in Black turned up looking for directions. There's not a single photo to be had of the creature, the UFOs, or the Men in Black. The most compelling argument here: that everyone who claimed to have seen something was a good, upstanding citizen who was not crazy and had no reason to lie.
While the Mothman and UFO sections are pretty intriguing, Pellowski loses ground when the Men in Black arrive, complete with silly "recreated" footage of guys who look like Mafia Bible salesman stalking the streets of Point Pleasant. Were these Men in Black government agents trying to cover up the UFO and Mothman sightings? Pellowski seems to suggest so when he uses a tinkly piano version of "The Star Spangled Banner" to introduce the segment. But wait! All the MiBs had olive complexions, wore oversize, eye-obscuring sun glasses, had trouble communicating with basic English, and couldn't master everyday Earth stuff. "They didn't understand basic things, like ball point pens…or Jello," interviewee Chad Lambert—who's written a graphic novel, Return to Point Pleasant, about the whole Mothman thing—ominously informs us. Could they have been doing recon for planet Whajasayyournamewas? Could be. If there's any doubt, consider this: a short, Asian-looking guy showed up at a reporter's office, stole a pen—perhaps for further study back at the mothership—and laughed maniacally as he (it?) fled the building. If that's not proof of extra-terrestrial activity, than I don't know what is.
Then there's the Silver Bridge collapse, which in and of itself is a horrible story. I realize it's part of the Mothman lore, so obviously it's going to come up here.
But Pellowski spends a lot of time on the history of the bridge, its construction, and so on, and then gives us testimony from people on what a devastating tragedy it was. By the time the whole Mothman connection is introduced, it feels sleazy and opportunistic. We've heard a few scientific and mechanical explanations on why the bridge would go down, listened to some terribly sad stories—and then, we're told that a winged space creature might have been responsible. It just doesn't sit right.
While Eyes of the Mothman certainly could have used some editing, the disc from Virgil is pretty great. The shot-on-video image is as good as it's going to get, and the stereo audio track does the trick fine. This is a two-disc set, with the film plus a commentary featuring Pellowski, the DP, the sound designer, and the producer on the first disc, and a "making of" featurette, extended interviews, and "psychic walk through" with "paranormal investigator" Susan Sheppard on the second.
Conjecture docs like this can be a lot of fun, but Eyes of the Mothman is so overlong and overdetailed it's draining. UFO and urban legend buffs might get a kick out of it, but for the casual viewer, it's overkill.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Virgil Films
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