The strange, twisted tale of Mothman is not one that can be easily summarized. Even within the paranormal community, Mothman eludes easy and agreed-upon categorization. To some, it was merely a misidentification, a large sandhill crane. To others, it was a cryptid, some as-of-yet undiscovered animal. Theories became even wilder when reports of UFOs, Men In Black and the enigmatic Indrid Cold were thrown into the mix, suggesting the creature could be of extraterrestrial or inter-dimensional origin. So it’s no surprise that there hasn’t been an in-depth documentary on Mothman. Until now.
“Eyes of the Mothman” is the new film from director Matthew Pellowski and Red Line Studios/Virgil Films, and is available starting today on DVD. The film takes a slightly different approach to exploring this paranormal phenomenon than most of the other TV shows and documentaries in the genre have. And in this case, it really works.
Mothman has been examined before, on such shows as “MonsterQuest” and “Weird Travels,” as well as numerous books. But “Eyes of the Mothman” sets out to tell a story, not just of Mothman, but of the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in which he made his home, and of the people who lived through his 13-month stay from November of 1967 to December of 1968. Reenactments are kept to a minimum, and most of the story is told by eyewitnesses, members of the press who reported on Mothman, and residents of Point Pleasant who lived through the weirdness. All of the filming was done on location in Point Pleasant. You are seeing the town, hearing the stories from the people who actually experienced Mothman, and all of this gives the viewer a sense of immersion. The film clocks in at 155 minutes, but if you want a thorough and comprehensive telling of the Mothman story, it can’t be done in an hour.
The film starts off with the tale of the Curse of Cornstalk. Briefly stated, Chief Cornstalk was a Shawnee leader who tried to negotiate peace between his people and the white settlers, but he was betrayed and killed. Legend has it that with his dying breath, he cursed the land that would later become Point Pleasant for 200 years. Residents go on to detail some of the hardships Point Pleasant has dealt with over the years, including fires, floods, poor economic growth, contaminated wetlands, the collapse of the Silver Bridge, and of course, Mothman.
We are told about the TNT area, an old munitions plant that was operating during World War II but has long since been abdondoned and turned into a nature preserve. Ironically, many of the chemicals used in the making of the explosives have seeped into the ground and water of the preserve, contaminating it and according to some reports, mutating some of the indigenous species of fish. The real impact of the contamination may never be known.
Next we get to the actual Mothman sightings. The reports of a tall, hulking, flying creature with glowing red eyes terrorizing the people of the town are chilling, especially heard from first-hand witnesses. Many people actually experienced physical and psychological aftereffects as a result of seeing the creature, including nightmares, conjunctivitis, and in some cases, a harsh sunburn or something akin to radiation burns. The most popular skeptical theory, that Mothman was simply a sandhill crane (or perhaps even a mutated sandhill crane) is examined, and while not shot down by the filmmakers, eyewitnesses explain why they believe this theory was a bit too neat. In an interesting twist, the Mothman legend is also likened to other flying beasts in cryptozoology and folklore, such as the Jersey Devil and the thunderbird.
During the Mothman weirdness, Point Pleasant also experienced an explosion of UFO sightings, sometimes with dozens per night, with many witnesses. People who reported their sightings were often visited by the mysterious Men In Black, who seemed to appear human but acted strangely and were apparently not familiar with such things as ball point pens. A local newspaper woman, Mary Hyre, was even visited by of of these MIBs.
But the story gets really strange when Indrid Cold enters the picture. This enigmatic entity may have been an alien, or possibly an inter-dimensional traveler, or simply a figment of the imagination of Woodrow Derenberger. Mr. Derenberger reported a man who looked as “ordinary as any other” who had a strange smile. He apparently communicated via telepathy, and Derenberger reported that Indrid Cold took him on his spaceship to other planets. This sounds strangely familiar to the “contactee” stories of the 1950s, but there are also many stories of “The Grinning Man” in folklore that has some eerie similarities to Indrid Cold.
The movie ends by detailing the collapse of the Silver Bridge. The bridge spanned the Ohio River and on December 15th, 1968, collapsed into the water, apparently due to too much traffic on the bridge and a weakened eye bar. But according to Mothman legend, this was the culmination of his visitations. Mothman, the UFOs, the Men In Black, and Indrid Cold were all blamed for the collapse. And once the bridge was gone, so too was Mothman and his cohorts. While part of the legend of Mothman is that he was a portent of disaster, and once the bridge collapsed, he had served his purpose, “Eyes of the Mothman” posits another theory: that the townspeople were simply too busy grieving for loved ones, and picking up the pieces after yet another disaster in their quiet little town. They couldn’t pay attention to silly things such as Mothman and UFOs any more.
“Eyes of the Mothman” is about Mothman, to be sure. But it is much more than just a Mothman film. It is about Point Pleasant, about the people who live there. This is a documentary told by the people who lived the story. The tale of Mothman may not have the same impact, the same creepiness, if it took place in any other town, and giving the legend that context is the real strength of this film.