“Mindless spirit things lend to thee what we cannot see, deliver us from evil thoughts as we walk amongst the shadows.”
– The Howl of the Rougarou – Oceans of Summer
Many cultures have their own version of a Lycan, a werewolf, a man-beast. In the Louisiana Bayou, it’s called a Rougarou. A French derivative of Lougarou. Lou, French for wolf, Garou, French for a man able to change form.
In Seth Breedlove’s Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou, we dive deep into its origins from many different angles: primarily French-Canadian and Indigenous Tribes such as the Chitimacha, Choctaw and the Coushatta. Each encounter with this mythical (or perhaps not) lycanthrope is more terrifying and gruesome than the one before. And these aren’t your run of the mill “I have a friend who knows a guy who saw” tales, these are firsthand accounts of coming in close contact, and even more ghastly, face to face with the creature itself. What’s instantly attractive about this documentary is the historical nature of this creature in relation to its surroundings. The locals know of it, have seen it, heard about it, been taught how to defend themselves against it, all by their family and ancestors from centuries ago. That is where we begin, with the Atakapa Tribe.
The Atakapa belief that men who had been eaten by other men were denied life after death, an ideology that may have contributed to settlers’ notion that they practiced the ritual cannibalism of their enemies, begins our look into the legend of the skinwalker and the monstrous transformation of this tribe into the Rougarou itself.
It’s important to note that while the introduction to this story is vivid; the sensitivity of its nature i.e.: to the Tribes mentioned could have used more bracing, but as the documentary continues the lions share of the tales come from the voices of local indigenous tribes which is incredibly refreshing.
Amongst the stories that follow is a steady air of verboten nature, don’t speak of what you’ve seen.
In global cultures, there’s a few characteristics of man-beast that tie together. More hair than usual, longer fingernails, eyebrows too close together, a “night-owl” nature, aggressive at certain moon phases. The Rougarou however, could be anything or anyone, at any given time. They could be living amongst us. Our neighbors, our friends.
This collection of tales is a disquieting one. One of real-life transformation before a resident’s very eyes, of a centuries’ long vendetta against it, and of the curses that follow if you cross it.
There’s never a bad time to focus on folklore overall, particularly when it’s the base of creation for the Universal Monsters of horror we’ve grown to love. Man-beasts, werewolves and all avenues of lycanthropy will never tire us because there is something so spectacular about firsthand accounts and the legend living on. Of the possibility that it could happen to us and the reality of the monster among us.
What Breedlove’s Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou does well, largely in part to the incredible research by Heather Moser, is explore the cultural impact and environmental changes that not only affect the residents but also affect the legend itself. It shows us that no matter how much the world changes around us, there are still fables we cling to. Fables we use to navigate our lives, to keep us on the straight and narrow. Fables we honor no matter how fearful they make us. Lovers of werewolf mythology and Louisiana historical mythos will enjoy this in-depth examination of fear, fable, and man’s never-ending quest to keep terror at bay and to keep believing in the myth.
Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou, produced by Adrienne & Seth Breedlove, is releasing 9/14/21 on available streaming services.
Apple Preorder here.
Blu/DVD Preorder here.
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