Terror in the Skies is the latest documentary from Small Town Monsters. Directed by Seth Breedlove, the film chronicles centuries of reported sightings of large, winged creatures in the sky above the state of Illinois, leading all the way up to the recent “Mothman of Chicago”, which has been spotted as recently as 2018. Told in visually striking reenactments and beautifully drawn animated sequences, the film tells its story through interviews of various eyewitnesses and investigators, including narration by author/musician/cryptozoologist Lyle Blackburn (Momo: The Strange Case of the Missouri Monster and Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster).
What I liked best and found most interesting about the film was that it doesn’t spend the majority of its running time focusing on any single event, cryptid, or story angle. Instead, the filmmakers break Illinois into regions and talk about various incidents over a large span of time. From Native American beliefs to more recent, twentieth century sightings in the small towns of Alton and Lawndale, the documentary shows how people far apart in distance and time can share many of the same experiences. Even though eyewitness reports and detailed descriptions vary, one thing is common among the cases presented in the film–each person has reported seeing large, winged creatures.
As to what the creatures are, the filmmakers wisely leave the answer open ended. The investigators being interviewed on screen give a wide array of possible explanations. During the 1940s and 70s, as testimonials grew, the descriptions varied. Some reports involved more supernaturally inclined elements such as giant birds that were able to shoot lightning from their eyes and beaks. The film doesn’t discredit any of the ideas directly, but interviewees do make a point to suggest that initial sightings should be treated with more relevance than later ones, which are more likely to be fabricated due to public reaction. On the other hand, another interesting topic is brought up–out of fear of ridicule, are people afraid to come forward with what they’ve seen? In one of the segments, it is stated that after one incident, the young boy was bullied by people calling him “bird boy” and leaving dead birds at his house.
The themes of apprehension and skepticism carry on into the second half of the documentary where a pair of eyewitnesses are interviewed and the film takes a turn to focus on winged, humanoid cryptids as well as the possibility of “timeslips”, an idea that prehistoric, bird-like beings are traveling through dimensions into present day. Intelligently, all of this eventually brings the story full circle to where we started–“The Mothman of Chicago”, which the filmmakers parallel with the well-known 1966-67 Point Pleasant, West Virginia Mothman.
All in all, Terror in the Skies is a documentary on cryptozoology that is not to be missed. Clocking in at just over an hour, the film is packed with interesting material and never strays into needless, boring filler. While some of the reenactments have a creepy tone, a steady sense of wonder thrives through the entire running time. Visually, the production is outstanding. With a reported budget of only $15,000, the film looks more polished and striking than a lot of movies with much higher expense.
One of the final and most important takeaways is the emphasis that these types of stories are an important part of American culture, and I truly believe it. If you haven’t seen Terror in the Skies just yet, check it out. This is the first film of Seth Breedlove’s Small Town Monsters series I’ve seen, but I’ll make it a point to catch the others.