The Bray Road Beast is the 7th documentary feature from Seth Breedlove and the filmmakers at Small Town Monsters. As with their other releases, The Bray Road Beast focuses on the folklore and mystery surrounding North America’s numerous cryptozoological creatures; creatures rumored by many to exist, but for which there is no concrete evidence. In particular, this film focuses on an enigmatic entity purported to stalk the stretch of highway called “Bray Road”, located in the quiet rural community of Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
The film opens with a shot of a full moon as seen from below. A barren tree branch stretches out, reaching across the face of the moon, much like some skeletal finger pointing at the night. The scene, although brief, evokes memories of a similar moment in Disney’s 1949 cartoon version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The comparison is made all the more fitting by the fact that both films are tonally perfect for Halloween-season viewing… which is when I originally intended to have this review posted last year.
The shot pans backwards, through a window and inside of what would appear to be a cabin in the countryside (albeit one rendered in CG). Really, the type of residence is inconsequential. What is not, however, is the grimoire that lay upon a nearby table, the words “The Bray Road Beast” emblazoned across the cover. The book opens, greeting us with the tale of Lycaon of Arcadia, a king who murdered his own son and attempted to deceive the god Zeus into consuming the boy’s flesh, but was instead cursed by the god and turned into a wolf. This is all still within the film’s first 2 minutes.
We are then presented with a brief look at the founding of the town of Elkhorn, as well as some background on Wisconsin’s rich history of supernatural occurrences and other unexplained events. From UFO sightings to lake monsters, to phantom hitchhikers, the state has a long legacy of bizarre shit going down. And let’s not forget that Wisconsin was also the state in which the recent “Slender Man” stabbing occurred. Never mind. On second thought, LET’S forget all about that stupidity.
Those other tales will have to wait for another time. This tale focuses on Bray Road, a generally overlooked stretch of rural blacktop near the outskirts of Elkhorn that, until the road was finally paved in the 1960’s, basically served as a “driveway” for the few scattered residents living in the area. Prior to that, Bray Road is reported to have been a trail used by Native Americans to travel between the area’s lake. However, it is events reported to have occurred only 3 decades ago that helped put this unassuming 4-mile stretch of marshland road into the cryptozoological spotlight.
The strange occurrences are alleged to have started sometime in the mid-80s, with a small number of residents reporting having seen a large canine creature roaming along Bray Road, usually under the cover of night. The incidents were reported to a local wildlife official, who documented and saved these accounts in a folder that he fatefully labeled “werewolf”. Sightings continued to quietly filter in throughout the late 80’s. However, the first publicly recorded sighting of “The Beast” would not occur until just a few years later…. on Halloween night in 1991!! See? Told ya this one should have posted back in October.
A high school senior, traveling Bray Road after an evening at work, stops her car after believing that she had hit an animal. Getting out of the vehicle to check on the injured critter, she soon encounters a large “dog-like” biped with bright red eyes that almost appear to glow. The girl retreats to her car and speeds away from the scene, but not before the creature manages to lunge at her car, scrapping its claws down the length of her trunk.
This is soon followed by a similar report, again filed by a local high school student. As in the 1st report, the young man was traveling home at night when he alleges that an animalistic hand (or paw) lashed out from the trees bordering Bray Road and scratched the driver’s door of his car as he drove past. However, unlike the first account, this alleged incident was witnessed by others as there were passengers in the vehicle the time.
Journalist Linda Godfrey covered the story for the local newspapers, even including a drawing of the Beast that she based off of witness descriptions. This only opened the door for more reports of sightings and encounters, leading to articles in regional papers and on local area news broadcasts. As might be expected, this provoked even more people to come forward with their own reports of sightings, more than a few presumably from folks just seeking to have a little fun with what was becoming the “big story” in the area. Godfrey and her editor assumed that the locals would enjoy the attention that the small town was receiving before settling back into their normal everyday lives within a matter of weeks.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Not only were there continued sightings of the creature (as should have been expected), but encounters from years prior were now being reported as well. One particular resident recounted his father’s alleged run-ins with the creature as far back as the 1930’s, an incident in which the creature is claimed to have spoken!
Multiple theories into the Beast’s origins are presented. Some theories, such as a lesser-seen breed of wolf or some other form of canine hybrid, are fairly mundane and commonplace. Many support the theory of lycanthropy being at play, a more fantastical possibly. A more sinister theory (or absurd, depending on your point of view) supported by some is that the creature is of demonic origin, possibly even the Devil itself. Why the Devil would choose to eat livestock and wild animals and not just go to a restaurant like a more civilized deity is its own mystery.
Propelling this belief were the rumors of Satanic cults congregating in the county’s many woodland areas during the late 1980’s and early 90’s. This in itself stemmed from discoveries of what many believed to be animal mutilations, but what local authorities claimed to be nothing more than a livestock boneyard. Again, your own theories and beliefs may vary.
At this point, the film takes a slight, but insightful detour into the significance of the wolf in world history, religion, and mythology. While some of the stories stem from Greek mythology or from Roman Catholic scriptures, quite a bit of the lore originates with the indigenous people of North America. Many Native American legends involving wolves or even magicians with the power to transform themselves into wolves are presented.
Focus then shifts back to the town of Elkhorn; in particular, the media attention that was brought to the community by not only local news stations, but also from nationally marketed programs such as Inside Edition and Sightings. The circus would soon die down and life would return to normal in Elkhorn. However, in 2003, Godfrey would release a book chronicling the numerous alleged sightings of the Beast, as well as providing speculation on its nature of origin. The release of the book serves to yet again stir up more reports of sightings and encounters.
Residents of Elkhorn are interviewed, each providing their own recollections of their encounters with the Beast (possibly Beasts, plural), usually occurring on their own properties which run along Bray Road. One particular gentleman, who moved to the area after the sightings began, recalls hearing rumors and gossip from locals about the Beast. Curious, he tested the legend by setting roadkill out on his property, only to (allegedly) find it mutilated shortly after. Determined to solve this riddle, he then set up cameras on his land, which record a number of bizarre occurrences (including claims of a deer carcass being consumed by a strange mist that seemingly appeared out of nowhere), but no conclusive photographic evidence of the Beast (or anything else, for that matter).
The Bray Road Beast concludes with a look at Elkhorn today, as well as its relationship with and repercussions from the “legend” that their town has become so associated with. Despite the amount of focus placed on the town by the media during the height of the story, as well as by those seekers of the unknown that now flock there in hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive creature, Elkhorn remains relatively unchanged. Today, little fanfare is made about it’s cryptozoological claim to fame.
While I can’t say during which season this was filmed, nor can I speak to the normal climate conditions of Wisconsin, the film features few moments of significant brightness. The skies over Elkhorn always appear to be overcast and grey, with only scant sunlight penetrating through the clouds. Interior shots, usually during interviews, feature low lighting and heavy use of shadow (some of which is achieved through use of filters). Overall, this stylistic approach helps enhance the hauntingly eerie nature of the narrative.
The subject matter may be a bit scary for some younger horror fans, but the entire presentation (as with all STM documentaries) is quite safe for all ages, with no obscenities and no unnecessary gore added in for “dramatic effect”. I watched the film with my own children shortly before Halloween last year (2018), and it undeniably fit right along with the rest of our customary seasonal viewing.
What I’ve personally enjoyed most about Small Town Monster’s productions (or at least the ones that I have watched) is that they provide a rather in-depth look at the history and cultural impact of their respective topics, as well as introduce us to those that claim to have encountered these phenomena, but never treat the topic at hand as a conclusive fact or a definitive hoax. It wisely allows the viewer to make their own opinions.
That said, what we choose to believe or not believe should take a backseat to the modern-day folklore created by the mere notion of these creatures’ existence. Whether it be Bigfoot, U.F.O.s, the Loch Ness Monster, or even the Beast of Bray Road…. these are our new myths and legends. These are our new dragons and leprechauns. These are the stories that we tell each other when gathered around the campfire, or late at night at slumber parties, or even on the spookiest of Halloween nights. These are the tales meant to scare us; the precautionary tales meant to teach us a lesson or to prevent us from learning a cruel one. And sometimes, it might just all be true!
Small Town Monsters will be launching the Kickstarter campaign for their 2019 slate of films on February 7th, 2019. This year’s projects include On the Trail of… Bigfoot, Terror In the Sky, and MOMO: The Missouri Monster. For more information of these films, as well as their past projects, be sure to visit Small Town Monsters at smalltownmonsters.com, or follow them on Facebook or as @small_town_monsters on Instagram.