Sunday, August 4, 2013

Roots Of Horror: The Jersey Devil - The Monster Of The Pine Barrens

~by Marie Robinson

These days when you think of New Jersey you probably think of some pretty horrifying images: spray tans, meatheads, awful accents and vocabulary… but believe it or not, a legendary creature far more frightening is said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of the Garden State.

The Pine Barrens are one million acres of thick forest that stretch across seven counties of New Jersey. The region is protected by the state and great care is taken in keeping the region as natural and undisturbed as possible. Almost half of it is public property and is divided into various parks where hiking and camping is available. However, there is something you should be warned about before you decide to spend the night under the canopy of the Pines…

The legend of the fearsome cryptid known as The Jersey Devil dates back about 300 years; the Native American Lenni Lenape tribe were among the first to spin this yarn. In a place now known as “Leeds Point” was a woman named Deborah Leeds, also known as Mother Leeds. Mother Leeds, a poor woman who had twelve children; she was also believed to be a witch, so it wasn’t really too much of surprise when she inexplicably became pregnant with her thirteenth child. She claimed that the unlucky baby would be the Devil, himself, and when she gave birth in 1735 it was to a horrible creature. The monster—which killed the midwife before it escaped, shooting up through the chimney—had a horned goat’s head, a kangaroo-like body, a forked, serpentine tail, cloven hooves and leathery wings.

This diabolical beast has been popular with paranormal investigation reality TV shows; the teams of MonsterQuest, Paranormal State, The Lost Tapes, and Destination Truth have all sought after the Jersey Devil, unsuccessfully. It does make for a creepy concept though, a small group of brave (and naïve) people stumbling around the forest with nothing but flashlights and cameras.

Such was the subject matter of the 1998 found-footage film, The Last Broadcast; set-up in the style of a documentary concerning the murder of a group of men who spent a night in the Pine Barrens. Locus and Stephen were the creators and hosts of a local access television show called Fact or Fiction, the subject matter of which was primarily the mysterious and paranormal. In hopes of boosting their ratings they plan to live broadcast a trip deep into the Pine Barrens in search of the Leeds Devil. They bring along two others, Rein—who specializes in recording EVPs and other paranormal sounds—and Jim—a self-proclaimed psychic. Their trip turns deadly and all of the crew ends up dead or missing, except for Jim - who appears to be the only suspect, unless it was something… unnatural.

Another film that directly references this myth is the 2012 flick, The Barrens. It stars Stephen Moyer (the one and only Bill Compton) as Richard, who decides to take his family on a camping trip to—well, you know. There are plenty of reasons for Richard to be stressed; the disappearance of the family dog, the tension between his teenager daughter and his new wife, and now, the growing number of mutilated bodies found in the woods. As Richard’s fear builds and his sanity wanes, he can’t help recalling the legends of that grotesque beast that is said to inhabit the very forest he is lost in.

The Jersey Devil has made quite a name for itself in fiction. A few television shows have dedicated an episode to the fiend, such as Supernatural and The X-Files. Several authors have penned their own tales inspired by the legend, as well. Horror author F. Paul Wilson has written twice about the Devil, once in short story form and the other in his novel, All the Rage. Although it has never been confirmed, one could speculate that H.P. Lovecraft may have taken inspiration from this myth. A Jersey Devil-like creature is described in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and The Dunwich Horror has similarities to the legend of Mother Leeds.

As there is really no sure way to prove the Jersey Devil does not exist, naturally many people believe that it is, in fact, real. “The Devil Hunters” are one such group that are confident in the creature’s existence. They have appeared on several TV shows and have a pretty in-depth website if you are interested in checking it out. You can find countless stories of people’s alleged experiences with the Devil online. Each vary a bit, some are pretty freakin’ creepy, but one signature quirk of the Jersey Devil is a loud, "blood-curdling scream" that it likes to let ring out through the forest.


steve prefontaine said...

It must be so cosy and nice for that monster having literally one million acres of forrest to hide in.

jimmie t. murakami said...

Thats 1,562.5 square miles and that creature probably knows literally every inch of them like the back of his claw, thats why he`ll NEVER be caught because from his point of veiw hes living a charmed life in a perfect world ! ! !.