Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jersey Devil Expeditions: The unholy beginning

The Jersey Devil Expeditions is the movie diary of Fighting Owl Film's new independent monster movie of the same name. Over the course of the next several weeks and months, you'll get an insider's peek at what it's like for filmmakers to craft a new entry of paranormal pop culture from Erin Lilley, a producer and actress on the film.

Last October, just before Halloween, indie production company Fighting Owl Films released to DVD its first feature-length movie, The Night Shift. The film centered around an undead caretaker, Rue Morgan, and the "lively" cemetery he oversaw. The little lower-than-micro-budget picture made it into a handful of festivals (including the Paranormal Pop Culture Film Festival), winning Best Fantasy Feature at Shockerfest International, as well as the praise of critics and viewers alike as a "potential cult classic" that all ages could enjoy. Personally, I thought it was a ground-breaking, thought-provoking, phenomenal piece of cinema - not to be missed - but then again, I could be a little biased. Afterall, I did produce and co-star in the film.

With TNS under our belts, Fighting Owl Films founder and director Thomas Smith decided it was time to branch out. "While The Night Shift was a family-friendly paranormal adventure, [the next feature] Jersey Devil Expeditions (JDE) shifts its tone to a more adult nature; a horrific creature feature that maintains a sense of fun, excitement and adventure."

Goodbye, zombies, demons and ghouls! Hello, curious cryptid! I'll confess, when Thomas started writing the script, I knew little to nothing about good ol' JD. When the first draft made it to my inbox, I realized that, in order to help polish the story, I was going to need to bone up on my folklore, so I did what any self-respecting researcher would do and hit Google. I'm sure that, as I type this, somewhere one of my journalism professors is shuddering, and has no idea why.

The origins of the Jersey Devil, or Leeds Devil, are, at best, questionable. Unexplained America sets the creature's birth year as 1735, but the Elk Township Local Mythology Page states that, "differing legends put the birthdate at 1735, 1778, 1850, 1855, and 1857." However, the same page also starts tracking sightings of the creature in the early 1800s. Let the confusion begin!

While the Elk Township researchers might be a little fuzzy on the exact date, they are fairly certain of the birth place, the Shrouds House in Leeds Point, Atlantic County, New Jersey. According to the site, "This crumbled ruin of an old stone house is ground zero for Jersey Devil fans. It's where Mowas Leeds allegedly gave birth to the beast many years ago."

Mowas Leeds. That name brings up another question: just who or what gave birth to the creature? Was it Mowas Leeds, as the Elk Township page suggests? The same site later relates the tale of Mrs. Shrouds, who learned to be careful what she wished for when she hoped her 13th child would be a devil. He flapped his wings and flew up the chimney, never to be seen again...unless we're really talking about Mrs. No-Name-Specified Leeds, who also got her wish of a devil child. This thirteenth child had the head of a horse, wings of a bat, and a tail, and when kicked out of the house, returned daily to a mother who told it to go away. Then again, the birth mother could be Mother Leeds, a witch whose baby the Devil, himself, supposedly sired; or, perhaps, she could have been a young woman who was cursed for the crime of falling in love with a British soldier during the Revolutionary War. Unexplained America retells the story of Mrs. Shrouds, but with a Jane Leeds as the main player. Paranormal Pop Culture editor Aaron Sagers has more to say about the legend in this 2009 video from the Paranormal Pop Culture Show.

No one seems to be able to get a handle on how the creature came into being. Not only that, but even the details of the birth are a convoluted mess. There's the aforementioned tale of the baby flying up the chimney, but was that after eating his family first? Did the mother, whomever she may have been, tell the child to go away, or was she killed in childbirth? The Menu of Menace has a list of reader submitted Jersey Devil rumors, with nearly every sort of birthing scenario imaginable. Was the creature the product of incest? Was it the 7th son of the 7th son, born on the 7th day at the 7th hour...or was that the 6th son of the 6th son?

The Jersey Devil is veiled in mystery, and its origins are just the beginning. Luckily, as in the dark as I may feel, this confusion and questioning can only make for an even more exciting, adventurous journey for our Jersey Devil Expedition characters. Afterall, how can you fight an enemy you know nothing about?