Terror in the Skies is a Cryptid (an animal that may or may not exist, like Big foot, Chupacabra, etc) documentary that revolves around accounts of gigantic flying creatures in Illinois. The documentary is laid out in three parts, covering the Piasa bird in southern Illinois, possible prehistoric terrors in central Illinois, and The Mothman in the northern part of the state. The film is excellently shot, well narrated, and is not the coast-to-coast insanity that these type of documentaries usually are.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in love with ufology documents, Big Foot audio, and sightings of creatures that shouldn’t exist. I am obsessed with paranormal ghost investigations, I have stayed overnight in one of the most haunted places in the U.S., and I love all of the tours, cheesy TV spots, and highly questionable accounts in-between. However, Terror in the Skies was more geared towards the casual viewer and that was refreshing compared to the fare that I often consume. There was no outlandish personality spewing insane rhetoric, no over the top animations of clearly impossible occurrences, and thankfully, dramatic cuts and edgy music were also absent from Terror in the Skies.
Terror in the Skies is crafted with care, so it made the problem I had with it stick out even more. Many of the Cryptids that are featured in the film are from Indigenous origin, but specific tribes are hardly mentioned and Indigenous people are referred to as Native Americans in a flippant way. In Terror in the Skies, they use Native American, as a broad brush term that is supposed to encompass a vastly diverse population with differing creation stories, rituals, and social structures. Then, the first time Indigenous people are discussed, a series of artwork is presented with the last being an Indigenous man gripping the collar of a European settler. This might be a depiction about the brutality of that time, but it honestly makes the Indigenous man look like a savage in a stereotype with which we are all familiar.
Furthermore, there are no Indigenous voices throughout the film, there is mention of one witness whom had Indigenous heritage, but overall there is no representation here. I realize the oxymoron of having a random Indigenous person as the token minority to explain certain lore, but I argue that this is better than the lack of representation Terror in the Skies has to offer.
What made things more frustrating is that I couldn’t conduct research on my own because the film mentioned none of the tribes from which the stories originated. For the fun of it, I decided to see if I could find paranormal investigators that happened to be from Indigenous backgrounds and I did. I found one group called the N.A.P.P (Native American Paranormal Project and they can be found here). They are investigators and are probably aware of some of the myths as they apply to their background. As such, even a five minute blurb of one of their crew or any Indigenous person describing thunder birds or telling the story of the Piasa bird would have been inherently valuable to the film.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not accusing Terror in the Skies of malicious discrimination, I just think it’s irresponsible for such a well-crafted film to make such an obvious misstep. The documentary does not push an overtly racist narrative. But what I bring to the table is a critique that we should stop talking about groups of folks as if they were extinct and instead bring them into projects where they can provide insight in a way that may not be achieved otherwise.
Overall, Small Town Monsters, the production company behind Terror in the Skies, put together an enjoyable film that covers part of the ooky spooky world of Cryptids without being riddled with jargon or other barriers to entry and is genuinely interesting. I am more than curious to see what they do next, but for now, I cannot acknowledge the many merits of Terror in the Skies, without seeing it as yet another example of how we in media discuss, present, and erase Indigenous folks by overlooking them.
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): Seth Breedlove
Writer(s): Seth Breedlove, Mark Matzke
Stars: Lyle Blackburn, Loren Coleman, Ken Gerhard
Release: Now available on Digital HD
Studio/ Production Co: Small Town Monsters
Length: 106 minutes
Sub-Genre: Cryptids, Documentary