Point Pleasant is a sleepy little town straight out of a Steven King novel. Set within the sprawling forests of West Virginia and with a population of just 4,000, not much goes on around these parts. Except, that is, for repeated sightings of a terrifying demon — a seven-foot tall, half-man, half-bird creature with red eyes that burn like the fires of hell. Locals have a name for it: The Mothman.
It is said to be a harbinger of doom, akin to the Garuda from Hindu mythology or a Banshee from Irish folklore. Its presence is seen as a message from the spirit-world that tragedy is afoot — signaling death, particularly of a close family member.
Beginning in 1966, over two hundred sightings of the creature were reported in the area. Residents were terrified; children couldn’t sleep. Then, one week before Christmas in 1967, disaster struck as the town bridge collapsed, claiming 46 lives. Since then, whilst appearances of the Mothman have dwindled, his legend has grown. In 1975, supernatural journalist and famous “UFOlogist” John Keel chronicled the events in “The Mothman Prophecies,” which led to the 2002 release of a Hollywood movie of the same name, staring Richard Gere and Laura Linney.
Such attention has made Point Pleasant a hotspot for fans of the paranormal. A large statue of the winged beast stands in the town center, while the Mothman Festival (now on its 20th year) draws over 10,000 visitors every year. The creature has not only become a part of the town’s identity, but something of a national fable. Yet, according to writer/director Seth Breedlove (“Terror in the Skies”), the Mothman has not disappeared into history and stories, but instead lies hidden in the present.
At times, Breedlove’s film which is meant to highlight its omnipresence, The Mothman Legacy, can feel like a piece of fan fiction. It was financed through a Kickstarter campaign (presumably by other paranormal enthusiasts) and is dedicated to The Wamsley family — owners and curators of the world’s only “Mothman Museum.” The 77-minute runtime presents various interviews with them and other Mothman witnesses, each describing their encounter and respective visceral terror. Breedlove inserts creepy graphics, sound effects, and visualizations of the creature to give the stories legitimacy and make the sequences flow like a typical horror movie, and though the result can be a little obvious, it is still deeply unnerving.
The film attempts to provide some background context to the legend, however, it still feels aimed at Mothman aficionados rather than Mothman novices. Personally, as a non-US resident, I’d never heard of the Mothman. Yet it has something of a cult status, with the museum itself even featuring in the apocalyptic videogame “Fallout 76,” released in 2018.
For viewers already familiar with the books, films and games dedicated to the creature, The Mothman Legacy will serve as a welcome appendix that keeps the legend alive. For everyone else — the documentary provides enough of an opportunity to learn and catch up, while an insidious fear builds of what could be lurking outside. Speaking as someone in the latter category, the movie left me locking my windows extra-tight, nervously listening for the thrust of wing-beats across the silent night sky.