After more than two and a half centuries, the Jersey Devil is finally getting its due. True, the state's hockey team was named after it, a few South Jersey bars serve up a mean Jersey Devil drink, and an episode of The X-Files was based on the legend. It's even been venerated in a 26-year-old regional title, The Jersey Devil (Middle Atlantic Press), by James F. McCloy and Ray Miller Jr. And now, thanks to an independent film, 13th Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil, Volume I, which opened just before Halloween on 50 screens in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Garden State monster has gotten its biggest break yet. Academy Award— winning actor Cliff Robertson, who co-wrote the script with Michael Maryk, stars with Robert Guillaume (best known as television's Benson).
The book that inspired the film was written by two Jerseyites who recount the story of the devil's birth as the 13th child of Mother Leeds in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey in 1735. Despite exorcisms and shootings, stories of the Jersey Devil continue to abound, so much so that four years ago, McCloy and Miller wrote a sequel, Phantom of the Pines: More Tales of the Jersey Devil (Middle Atlantic Press).
Although neither The Jersey Devil nor its publisher, 30-year-old Middle Atlantic Press in Moorestown, N.J., are well known outside the region, there are nearly 59,000 copies in print, after a 15th printing of 5,000 copies with movie art on the cover. "It's our bestselling book," said Terrence Doherty, associate publisher of MAP, which was purchased in 1996 by Koen Book Distributors.
Even without the movie, The Jersey Devil has been the company's steadiest seller. At Atlantic Books in Cape May, N.J., manager Stephanie Spalding noted, "We sold 150 copies of The Jersey Devil this summer, and 100 copies of Phantom of the Pines." MAP's low-key movie promotion, which involved a mailing to East Coast bookstores and providing movie posters through Koen, are already paying off. "We shipped about 300% more books than we normally would," says Doherty, "Indications are good that they will sell through."
If Michael Murphy and Patricia M. Reider of Painted Zebra Productions are able to distribute the film nationally next year, the Jersey Devil may take its rightful place as America's oldest monster legend. "One of the choices we made was to make it a contemporary story," Murphy told PW. "We think there will be many sequels or prequels."