Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 27th, 2010
Intriguingly, the SyFy channel’s broadcast of a new grade B-horror film called “Mothman” last weekend continues to see ripe effects online. Fortean Terry Colvin is passing around an old item by John C. Sherwood about the alleged “hoaxes involved in ‘Mothman’ Investigations,” from “Gray Barker’s Book of Bunk Mothman, Saucers, and MIB.” It first appeared in the Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 26.3, May / June 2002.
It perhaps is unfortunate to see old recycled material like this appearing again now, eight years after the Richard Gere movie screened. The article wasn’t very good back then, and to be re-visited because of a horrible SyFy flick seems like a double-insult.
Of course, in 2002, when this Sherwood’s article first appeared, it was timed to be some kind of “film review” of the then-current adaption of John A. Keel’s 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, which had appeared as the new Mark Pellington film. However, in 2002, this essay failed miserably to achieve that goal, just as it does now.
Sherwood’s total lack of insights and/or sense of humor has forced him into making some rather unenlightened statements, such as the following, in which he says that within the pages of Keel’s book:
“There’s no sign of Gere’s character, the fictional tormented widower ‘John Klein’ invented by screenwriter Richard Hatem.”
Of course, the fictionalized narrative, brought up to contemporary times, uses “John Keel” (who was a newspaper stringer/columnist) for the model of the “John Klein” character (who is a news reporter). Keel=Klein drove to WV, got lost, knocked at people’s doors, investigated the Mothman, bonded with a local investigator (Keel with a newswoman, Klein with a woman cop), and other overlaps. Sherwood seems to have missed these details that merged the factual with the fictional, entirely.
The “Leek” and “Klein” characters in the Keel movie.
But then Sherwood goes on, since he wishes to tie this to Gary Barker, and unbelievably wrote:
“The researcher played by Alan Bates morphs into Gray Barker, whose influence on Keel’s book was palpably self-serving-and documentable.”
Of course, it is widely known that the Alan Bates’ character, whose name is “Leek,” is partially based on John Keel. Here’s a hint for Sherwood. If you spell “Leek” backwards, it is “Keel.” The Bates=Leek=Keel character is the speculative, historically intriguing part of John Keel’s personality. I am floored that Sherwood missed this.
Furthermore, Keel’s early cryptozoological influence in his investigations regarding the Mothman were through consultations with Ivan T. Sanderson. Sherwood has overblown any minor ufologically hoaxing influence from Gary Barker.
Sherwood’s contribution to the literature is an unfortunate example of a very personalized prose that seems to brand his material. It is difficult to read and even more incomprehensible to fathom its logic. This essay has much to do with Mr. Sherwood wanting us all to know how he was involved with his described hoaxing events, which seem to have little or nothing to do with most of the Mothman specifics of 1966-1967.
Sherwood’s “review” would be like someone using the Bigfoot movie, Harry and the Hendersons, to inform us that Ray Wallace and Ray Pickens were known pranksters on the fringes of the Sasquatch field. To try to critique a movie about Mothman by enlightening us that Gray Barker was a trickster is not too informative. Everyone already knew that.