E.L. King says Bloodlines gives audiences an in-depth and fascinating analysis of the origins of the Jersey Devil that will leave them wanting more.
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
The Jersey Devil is a fearsome creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens forest in South Jersey. With director Seth Breedlove, Small Town Monsters brings the bone-chilling folklore to life in Bloodlines: The Jersey Devil Curse. The documentary, written by Jason Utes and researched by Heather Moser, combines interviews with folklore experts and researchers, terrifying dramatizations of eyewitness encounters, and an exploration of the creature’s origins through historical evidence.
The film depicts the Pine Barrens forest's seemingly idyllic landscape as home to a sinister presence, with countless stories of a cryptid roaming the isolated wilderness.
Historian and co-author of The Secret History of the Jersey Devil (2018), Dr. Brian Regal, Ph.D., conveys the American gothic romanticism of the location, its deafening silence, and the otherworldly fantasy of the landscape that makes it a convincing home to monsters in the dark. Regal is a Historian of Science, Pseudoscience, the Occult, and Monster Studies and a professor at Kean University in New Jersey.
Its gorgeous images, shot by cinematographers Zachary Palmisano and Courteney Swihart, capture the fierce magnificence of the forests' vast and largely unoccupied landscape with close-up and aerial shots of towering trees consumed by moss, desolate backroads, and untouched terrain. It’s beautiful and inviting but eerie in its stillness. Folklorist Dr. Eleanor Hasken-Wagner, Ph.D., explains that the Pine Barrens has gained a community understanding, like with many unexplored regions, that it is a dangerous place that belongs to nature. She also eludes to its long folk history as a haunted place, in part thanks to the forest overtaking the structures that the steel industry left behind. Hasken-Wagner is a folklore expert with a degree in anthropology from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate in Folklore and Ethnomusicology from Indiana University.
The Jersey Devil, also known as the Leeds Devil, is one of North America's most famous urban legends. The creature has been described as a flying biped with leathery wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, legs with cloven hooves, and a forked tail. Those who've allegedly seen the beast say it's quick moving and emits a high-pitched blood-curdling scream. Its appearance varies with each telling of the legend, but to quote Dr. Regal, "Imagine Pegasus at the wrong end of a really bad meth addiction."
The legend is told through interviews and three dramatizations of encounters with the creature in the Pine Barrens forest. They act as supporting short films. The first is set in the 1980s, during the Satanic Panic, when rumors of devil worshippers roaming the forest and performing sacrificial rituals were at their height. The second is a silent film set in 1909 when news articles were sensationalizing sightings of what they referred to as the Jersey Devil. The third, set in 1735, tells one variation of the Leeds Devil legend, where Mother Leeds is a witch who cursed or, in league with the devil, gives birth to the creature. Regal concludes that the heart of the Jersey Devil story is socio-political, with influences from the legend deriving from Daniel Leeds in the 1600s with the formation of what is now known as Leeds Point, New Jersey.
Breedlove gives audiences an in-depth and fascinating analysis of the origins of the Jersey Devil that left me delving into research on the cryptid. The film is well executed, and there is good cohesion between each element of its educational narrative. However, the short films felt like an unnecessary addition, with the silent film being the most likely to shatter audience interest. The interviews and historical imagery are far more compelling, engaging, and informative for folk horror enthusiasts and scholars.