The latest documentary from Seth Breedlove (American Werewolves, Minerva Monster) and his Small Town Monsters production company, Bloodlines: The Jersey Devil Curse is a look at one of America’s lesser-known bits of folklore. Sure plenty of people have heard of it but unlike Bigfoot or even Mothman, few people seem to know anything about it. In fact, this is the first non-fiction film on the subject I can think of.
Directed by Breedlove and written by Jason Utes (Momo: The Missouri Monster), Bloodlines: The Jersey Devil Curse begins with several folklore experts giving a brief rundown on the creature. My favourite part of this is Dr. Brian Regal describing it as looking like “Pegasus at the end of a very bad meth addiction.”.
This gives way to a dramatization of a sighting from the 1980s involving a park ranger and a cop saving a missing kid from a CGI monster. At least I think it’s supposed to be a dramatization. But there’s no context given, just a year flashed on the screen at the start. Either way, it’s well enough shot with effects in the range of one of the better SyFy films.
That in turn gives way to the return of the talking heads, this time putting the creature in a sort of cultural perspective starting with modern events like the naming of the Jersey Devils hockey team and the creature being caught up in the Satanic Panic of the 80s. And that’s the format the rest of Bloodlines: The Jersey Devil Curse follows, some discussion of the creature followed by a short scripted segment. It’s the same format Utes’ script for Momo: The Missouri Monster followed.
In that film, however, the segments all had the same style, as though they were excerpts from the same film. Here they’re all different, the second one being shot partly in sepia and partly in a blue tint. It’s a silent film set in 1909 about a pair of bank robbers hiding in the woods who meet something more fearful than the posse.
The third segment, shot in black and white, deals with the creature’s origin and does incorporate Mrs. Leeds and her thirteenth child. However, it’s a much more sensational version than the one I’ve usually come across. This one involves witchcraft and Satanic altars and feels a bit silly rather than creepy.
The various experts we hear from don’t seem to believe that the creature actually exists and are more interested in talking about its origins in colonial-era religious politics and the various factors that lead to various resurgences in its popularity from tabloid newspapers, think of it as a predecessor of The Weekly World News’ “Batboy”, to a museum full of fake oddities and the previously mentioned Satanic Panic.
So, in that sense, Bloodlines: The Jersey Devil Curse is as much a sociological look at folklore and urban legends as it is a film about cryptids. And it is interesting to see how the leaders of a group of Quakers dispute with a man whose family crest contained a dragon could give birth to a monster. Of course those more into tales of flesh and blood cryptids, or some of the stranger UFO incidents the filmmakers have been covering in the likes of On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky may not find the approach Bloodlines: The Jersey Devil Curse takes to be so interesting.
I did find the approach interesting if perhaps not as much of a convincing debunking of the legend as they seem to feel it is. I can easily believe people who were still executing women for witchcraft being scared into seeing a nonexistent monster. But more recent sightings need a bit more explanation than a three-hundred-year-old feud.