Seth Breedlove (The Mark of the Bell Witch, On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky) and Small Town Monsters’ latest documentary, Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou takes them down to the bayous of southern Louisiana. This time the subject is the Rougarou, a local variation on the werewolf. Breedlove dealt with shapeshifters a few years ago when he examined a well-known case from Wisconsin, The Bray Road Beast. Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou could be seen as something of a companion piece to that film, an examination of another aspect of the shapeshifter legends.
As with his other films, Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou examines the culture and people of the area. How their beliefs, be they religious or folklore, can combine to influence what people believe. In this case the Catholic faith of the French settlers, the beliefs of the Native American tribes already in the area, and the influence of slaves from Jamaica and their belief in Voodoo. The film looks at their similarities and how they can blend together to help shape how they perceive what they see or hear.
Granted that’s a bit different in the case of a purely supernatural creature like the Rougarou than with Sasquatch or UFOs. It’s a much bigger leap from something you get a glimpse of in the sky or in the woods being an unknown entity to your neighbour turning into a wolf at night. Or the hitchhiker you just passed actually being a shapeshifter that wants to eat your soul.
There are also interviews with those who claim to have seen the creature and recreations of their encounters. They’re well done, whether shot in live-action or animation, but it’s also where the film begins to have problems.
Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou feels more like a collection of “Haunted Louisiana” stories than a documentary with a strong focus. There are tales of a tribe that became beast-like through cannibalism and black magic. There are stories of creatures that can change into one other form, others can change into anything or anyone. Two witnesses recount what are variations on the urban legend of the ghostly hitchhiker. There’s even a headless figure, complete with blood gushing from its neck, that allegedly chased a pair of hunters.
All of these are attributed to the Rougarou either in folklore or by those recounting their experiences. I’m sure the idea was to highlight how much of a fixture the creature has become in local folklore. The ghostly figures at the roadside were allegedly the Rougarou in human form. And the headless figure, while it sounds like a generic boogeyman, is claimed by the teller to be a Rougarou. The stories are just so different and in some cases so peripherally related to the main theme, that Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou felt very disjointed to me.
While never boring, Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou is never as engaging as it could have been if it was more focused. In the end, it’s a mildly diverting collection of spooky tales that go well with the upcoming Halloween season, it’s just not as good as I’ve come to expect from these guys. Possibly they need to dial back on the number of titles they’re putting out every year. Between that and their segments for YouTube, they seem to be stretching themselves a bit thin.
1091 Pictures will make Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou available on Digital platforms on September 14th. A special edition will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray from the Small Town Monsters website. You can check there or their Facebook page for more information.