Ohhh History Channel--you've really outdone yourself this time! I thought you'd reached the sublime heights of ludicrosity with your presentation on "Stalin's Monkey Army,"* but I was wrong. Indeed, last night's viewing of "The Real Wolfman," a two hour documentary program teaming the attempts of an ex-cop and a cryptozoologist to track down the true story of the Beast of Gevaudan, reached new ranges of jaw-dropping non-science.
*Brief summary: 57 minutes spent on how records of dubious Soviet provenance might indicate that Stalin was funding experiments in UNSPEAKABLE UNIONS in the hopes of creating half-mans-half-monkeys super soldiers, followed by 3 minutes of scientists going "no way in hell, dude, cos of chromosomal mismatch FAIL and stuff."
Between 1764 and 1767, a series of attacks and killings were perpetrated on the villagers of the rural French town of Gevuadan. Depending on which source you're choosing to believe, anywhere from 100 to over 200 people were victims of gruesome violence that included wounds that appeared to be inflicted by biting, tearing, dismemberment, and partial devouring of the bodies of the dead. At this same time, a number of large, wolf-like animals were observed in the countryside surrounding Gevaudon, with eyewitness reports corresponding in their general details of a bad-smelling, red-furred, furry quadraped beastie. If this is sounding pretty familiar to you, it's because you spent way too much time in the occult section of your local library as a kid (guilty!) or you saw the sumptuous screen presentation of this tale in "The Brotherhood of the Wolf" (also guilty!).
Now, with forensic science being what it was in the French countryside in the mid-Eighteenth Century (to wit: probably a lot like the witch-ducking scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"), one needs to be very careful with the eyewitness accounts and the "Correlation Equals Causation" impulse. It's quite a bit easier to blame monstrous creatures for savage deaths than it is to blame monstrous men for these deeds. However, the Maneaters of Tsavo and their 135 victims give credence to the possibility of ravenous animals being responsible for the attacks. Add in a tantalizing trail of alleged physical evidence and there's a really interesting investigation here. Sadly this documentary didn't show it.
Enter our protagonists in this documentary--retired police investigator George Deuchar (veteran of such venerable programs as "Psychic Investigators") and fan of pretty young goth girls and also cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard (check out his MySpace page--srsly). Both men, with their fluency in the French language and depth of knowledge in the late period of the French Monarchy are imminently qualified for the investigation! Oh wait--did I just say that? I meant the exact opposite.
Let's re-start: this documentary is really all about the entire country of France making minor American reality teevee personalities look like idiots. Great moments include:
- A distant relative of the man who allegedly shot the Beast recounting the folk tale to our investigators, and seeming kind of confused that they don't quite get the idea that he didn't KNOW his great-etc.-grand-uncle on a personal level.
- A tour guide at a historical church trying incredible hard to restrain a smile while telling our investigators that it would be "impossible" for the Catholic Church to have conspired to create a mania surrounding the Beast for its own promotional good.
- A zoologist (the kind that studies real, actual animals--not imaginary ones) spinning a tale about how a French peasant could have kept a stable of hyenas and trained them to do his murderous bidding.
If you're thinking this is both the BEST and the WORST documentary you've ever seen--just hang in there to the final moments, when these haters of Occam's Razor sum up their findings and rest easily at night, having solved the mystery once and for all. Let's put it this way--if you've seen "Brotherhood of the Wolf," imagine something even less plausible than that.
I really think The History Channel, now that it has abandoned its mission as The Hitlery Channel (that role mantle has been taken on by the expanded cable Military Channel), should be forced to change its name to the Disreputable Crackpot Channel. It's entirely more honest, and I'd be sure to watch it more frequently to boot! Let's hear it for truth in advertising, folks.