Thursday, October 8, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 3: The Crater Lake Monster (1977)


You may or may not realize it, but most of the movies I reviewed for Friday Fakeosaurus February had something in common besides the fact they contain bogus species of dinosaurs. That something is a "movie" called Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies, a VHS tape that I wore out as a kid.

I say "movie" because, despite an opening that posits it as some sort of documentary on dinosaurs in film and then goes on to feature some cool behind the scenes footage of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, including a pin-up photoshoot with Caroline Munro, everything afterward is nothing more than a parade of trailers for movies about dinosaurs. Of course, the "movie" advises you early on that its definition of a "dinosaur" is so general as to include any large monster. Hence trailers for The Land That Time Forgot; The Valley of GwangiThe Giant Behemoth; and One Million Years B.C. play alongside Tarantula; The Giant Gila Monster; The Giant Claw; and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

I loved it, naturally. It was basically a list of movies that I needed to see. Of course, over twenty years since, I still haven't crossed Journey to the Beginning of Time and Valley of the Dragons off the list, and I only saw King Dinosaur via Mystery Science Theater 3000--and that's almost cheating.

Of course, obviously not every movie included in Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies was actually worth the effort--however minimal--I took to track it down. Some wore their poor quality on their sleeves. Even before I read reviews, there wasn't much chance of me going into The Loch Ness Horror expecting a good movie. Yet, some trailers definitely did their job--including the trailer for a film that promised a Jaws cash-in with a Plesiosaur-like creature taking the place of the shark.

There was no way I could have anticipated what the actual movie had to offer.

To begin with, the film opens with the mark of anti-quality: the logo for Crown International Pictures. Their logo looks a lot like that of Imperial Toys, and it's fitting because they seem to make the cinema equivalent of off-brand cheap plastic toys. If you see this logo before a film, you should gird your loins.

Dr. Richard Calkins (Bob Hyman) is enjoying a pipe outside of his mountain cabin, when his colleague Dan Turner (Richard Garrison) drives up an excitedly tells him to come quick: he and Susan Patterson (Kacey Cobb) have made a discovery that he has to see. Calkins begrudgingly agrees to come along but complains that Dan and Susan never make any discoveries in the middle of the day, which is about our only clue this is meant to be taking place at night. though it is pitch black when they get to the mine where Susan is waiting for them.

Dan is excited because they've broken into a new tunnel that he believes will prove all the legends of the area are true. In this tunnel is a cave painting that he and Susan believe to be several thousand years old. (And as movie cave paintings go, I've certainly seen less believable ones) The painting depicts what appears to be a shooting star flying over what is clearly a plesiosaur as several men on the shore await its approach with spears. Dan and Calkins agree that this is proof that dinosaurs survived all the way into the age of man, even though it's really only proof that aquatic reptiles did since there's not actually a dinosaur in the painting.

The painting proves prophetic, for just then a cartoon meteorite streaks over the mountains as Sheriff Steve Hansen (Richard Cardella) watches. It crashes into the lake and Steve radios it in. Meanwhile, Dan, Susan, and Calkins have to rush out of the mine as an earthquake strikes--apparently as a result of the meteorite strike. They make it out just in time as the mine collapses and the find of the century is lost.

Cut to the next morning as Steve pulls up to a local diner. Inside, the comic relief rednecks, Arnie Chabot (Glenn Roberts) and Mitch Kowalski (Mark Siegel), are ogling the waitress (Susy Claycomb) as she serves them coffee. And subtle they are not. Steve is there to get his thermos refilled with coffee, but Calkins calls him over. Apparently, Steve is going to be taking Dan and Susan out on the lake to dive for the meteorite. Calkins understands, saying that "for a paleontologist it's better than finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow." Uh, do you understand what a paleontologist does, doc?

Steve ends up talking Calkins into coming along, and the film oddly focuses on the waitress for way too long after they leave. At the boat, Dan and Susan express concern that with the mine collapsed their funding might get pulled, but Dan feels sure if they can recover the meteorite they'll have "two rare finds in 24 hours" and the university will have to let them keep working. Well, yeah, except one of those finds is not that rare and the actually rare one is buried under tons of rock without so much as a photograph of it.

Steve and Calkins stay up top while the young pair dive to the bottom of the lake. Steve apparently doesn't understand what Susan sees in Dan, but Calkins doesn't comment on what an odd comment that is to make. At any rate, Calkins suggests that if Dan can recover those cave paintings a lot of theories will have to be rethought. Dan and Susan come up, reporting that the bottom of the lake was too hot, at least 90 degrees (Fahrenheit or Celsius?) all over, and the meteorite could take weeks to be cool enough to recover.

There's an odd shot of a prop egg at the bottom of what is unmistakably a fish tank, and then we see a backpacker walking through the woods around the lake. He sets his pack down and pulls a handgun out of it, briefly pausing when he hears a low growling somewhere behind him. We cut to a quick shot of a prop plesiosaur head under the surface of the lake, and then a POV shot emerges from the lake and rapidly advances on the man's position. He turns and, apparently forgetting he just loaded a gun, screams at the sight of--a stop-motion Plesiosaurus roaring at him! He stumbles back over his pack and we cut away, but it's safe to assume that he's been eaten.

Of course, we can infer that a huge amount of time must have passed between when we saw the egg and when this guy got nommed by what can only be interpreted as a full-grown Plesiosaurus. And the stop-motion effects are by Dave Allen, so at least they're good. So good that a significant portion of them were featured in the trailer I saw as a kid. Rightly so, I'd say.

"Ach, laddie! I could use a spot o' help. I cannae seem to find me way back to the Loch."
Obviously, a short time later a man out recording wildlife sounds hears a growling sound and turns to look at the lake via his binoculars. There he sees the prop head of the Plesiosaurus floating in the lake. It's...not nearly as convincing as the stop-motion. I'd even argue that the Plesiosaurus in Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds is more convincing.

The guy calls Steve to report the sighting, but Steve is more interested in counting how many flies he can swat and writes the guy off as a cook. Incidentally, he's checking off dead flies on a sheet of paper that has a section marked "Me" and one marked "Flies", so now I have to wonder by what criteria the flies win because there are check marks in that section! Meanwhile, the stoop-motion beastie menaces some cows. Steve takes a call about missing cattle at the Ferguson Ranch more seriously. It turns out to just be a missing bull, but Steve isn't sure if he believes Mr. Ferguson's hunch that it's cattle rustlers.

Meanwhile, a man we'll much later discover is senator Jack Fuller (Marv Eliot) arrives at the dock with his fishing gear. He rents a rowboat from Arnie and Mitch, who insist on him paying $20 which he objects to but doesn't have much choice. Arnie just warns Fuller to have the boat back by 6 as he rows out. Mitch asks Arnie why he didn't tell Fuller that there hasn't been any fish caught in the lake for 2 months and Arnie scoffs that he isn't about to go broke on principles.

A nicely atmospheric mist rolls in around the boat as Fuller fishes, but the attempt to replicate it in the following shots that were clearly filmed in a tank are not so successful. It's also pitch black all of a sudden, though the water where we see the Plesiosaur lurking is much lighter. The beast strikes by knocking Fuller out of the boat, which largely involves him helpfully standing up (!) so he can fall out more easily. Rather than try to climb back into the boat, Fuller looks around dumbly until he sees the Plesiosaurus directly in front of him--and he pulls a face that looks more like Don Knotts seeing a ghost than anything resembling fright.

"Chiiiick! Oh, Chick!"
In an actually decent close-up, the eye of the beast turns toward him. And then Fuller helpfully sticks his legs into its open mouth so it can drag him beneath the waves. The boat is left to float empty.

Cut to some unfunny arguments about oars and motors with Arnie and Mitch, the two talk about how if Fuller stays out in the boat after 6 they'll get more money from him. Arnie comments that he'll probably stay out until dark. Notice it is daytime when they are saying this, when we just saw Fuller get eaten in full dark. Then they see the empty boat floating towards them, and Arnie refers to having rented the boat out "this morning." So I'm left unsure if the time issue was bad editing or not adjusting dialogue for when they could shoot.

They row over to the boat and discover it's full of blood (!) and Arnie suggests they fetch Calkins. Of course, your guess is as good as mine as to where all that blood came from since Fuller got eaten in the water. Steve arrives shortly and he and Calkins conclude that the man must have wounded his head falling overboard and bled into the boat. it's unlikely they'll find him but they need to start up a search at once--and in one of the few bits of good editing, the film cuts from Calkins starting a sentence to Steve finishing it as he talks to someone on the phone about the missing fisherman, He's sure that the man is dead, but they'll keep trying.

Meanwhile, we cut to Ross (Michael Hoover) and Paula Conway (Suzanne Lewis) driving past the town of Crater Lake. They're apparently some kind of married performing duo on their way to Las Vegas to start a new gig. Ross is also "English" but the actor is not quite up to that challenge. As they talk about Ross finally sobering up, their car dies. After an Arnie & Mitch interlude that's too "komical" to get into, we see the couple at a mechanic. Their engine is so hot it's smoking so he can't get to fixing it for hours. He suggests they go down to the lake and rent a boat while they wait.

Arnie & Mitch, meanwhile, are talking about the hoedown they're about to go to, as well as the motor that Mitch just fixed in their boat. Of course, Mitch had an extra piece left after he fixed it, but since it runs without the piece Artie tells him not to worry and tosses the part in the lake. Of course, it doesn't run after all--but that doesn't stop Arnie from renting it out to Ross and Paula for $25. And, "hilariously" the motor works for the couple.

Arnie and Mitch argue on their way to the hoedown, which results in Mitch throwing Arnie's hat in the lake and Arnie scuffing Mitch's new shoes. Mitch pushes Arnie in the lake and that does it. The two come to blows. Steve pulls up and just watches the two wrestling with a smirk on his face. They both end up in the lake, still squabbling--until Arnie lands on the severed, chewed up head of Fuller. Steve recovers the head with a plastic bag and then tells them to get back to their cabin and stay off the lake. Unfortunately, they don't remember they rented a boat out to the couple until Steve's parting demand to them as he pulls off is to not rent any boats, either. Arnie decides they better disregard rhe warning to stay off the lake and go find the couple before Steve finds out.

Two increasingly hilarious things happen next. One, despite a shot indicating it should be darker out, we see the prop head under the lake in broad daylight as it bumps its snout up against a solid white object. I can only assume this is the bottom of the Conways' boat as we cut to them, also in broad daylight, embracing in the boat. "There's so many stars," Paula says in awe, "I've never seen so many!" So either she's going blind or the moonlight in Crater Lake is really bright.

"He touched the butt!"
Their kissing is interrupted when their boat shakes, which would seem to indicate the shot of the Plesiosaurus bumping it should have happened then. Ross decides to gun the motor in response and ends up running them aground on a beach. Ross is knocked out, but he soon comes to in Paula's arms. She tells him that she saw something on the water--and then the stop-motion Plesiosaurus roars at them and advances towards them. Note that it's suddenly a lot slower than it's been on land in previous scenes. Paula runs to some nearby rocks and screams in terro, while Ross decides to--douse the boat in gasoline and set it on fire. This gambit works and the Plesiosaurus flees back into the lake, giving them an offended look over its shoulder as it goes.

And now the film takes a complete detour, so we can watch a guy with a greasy mullet and handlebar mustache load a gun in his apartment, before driving through a city to a liquor store. He grabs a bottle of booze and, instead of paying for it, draws his gun on the cashier. The cashier complains that it's the third time this month, but a woman walks in carrying a bag of groceries (!) and distracts the robber. He shoots the cashier, who has just grabbed a gun, and then shoots the woman through her mystery bag. He then grabs his bottle and leaves, not even bothering to try and get the money from the register as he steps over the dead woman.

The film continues to be weird as we look at Calkins via what is clearly meant to be the POV from the severed head he is examining. (Maybe it's also inside an anaconda?) Outside, Steve is waiting anxiously. Calkins comes out and over coffee the two discuss the odd details of the severed head. For one thing, the wounds were made by some kind of teeth that Calkins can't recognize. For another, the saliva he found in the wounds was teeming with a bacteria he couldn't recognize. (Not that anything will come of this, like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms) Here, Calkins casually informs us that 6 months have passed since the meteorite hit and that seems to be related since the fishing went bad and animals started disappearing shortly afterwards. Calkins declares that they should keep it to themselves for now, but Steve will warn everyone away from the lake just the same.

Arnie and Mitch find the Conways, apparently in a state of shock from what they witnessed. I guess they had a crippling fear of plesiosaurs. Mitch plays the sensitive one while Arnie gripes about the destroyed boat. After they see the couple onto an ambulance, Steve chews them out for renting the boat in the first place--not giving them a chance to explain that they rented it before the order to close down.

The film then spends more time with Arnie and Mitch set to whimsical Komedy music as they get drunk and argue over their money woes. Wasn't there a monster in this film? Could we get back to it, please? Wait, this sequence is still going. I don't want to see them get drunk and wander in the woods. I don't want to see them get scared by an owl and a log. No. Stop this. No. Why? Why?! Make it stop, for the love of--



At the diner, Steve investigates the car of the robber. The robber sees this through the window and hurries to his car as Steve is radioing it in. The two exchange gunfire and then a high speed chase ensues. The chase quickly ends up on some dirt roads. Hilariously, the robber suddenly bails out of his car before it goes over a cliff into a quarry. Oddly, they could drop a car off a cliff but not blow it up, because we just hear the explosion before cutting back to the burning car. Steve pursues the suspect past a cabin that Jason Voorhees ought to be hiding in. He manages to shoot the suspect in the leg just before they get to the lake...

...and then, in a completely silent shot, we see the robber reacting in horror at the sight of the plesiosaur prop head being waved around in front of the camera. Horrifying? No. Hilarious as all Hell? Yes. There's nothing but a smear of blood on a rock when Steve catches up to where the guy should be. So he phones Calkins and declares that he wants to comb the lake because there might be a creature in it after all.

Now, Steve mentions it's almost dark here. But it's broad daylight when he hears a sound while driving past the lake and wonders through foggy woods to find a flipper print--and then the Plesiosaurus chases him back to his car, which is suddenly only a few yards away. Steve finds that bullets just annoy it, but he manages to escape in his car.

Pictured: The only way to get me to start watching The Dukes of Hazzard.
Steve fetches Calkins and they go to examine the flipper prints. Calkins decides they should bring in Dan and Susan. Hearing Steve's description, Dan declares it sounds like "an aquatic dinosaur." (No. No. Not a freaking dinosaur) Steve then identifies a picture of a Plesiosaurus and Dan and Susan agree it must have been a fertile egg, somehow hatched by the meteorite,

As expected, Steve wants to kill it but Dan wants to capture it. Oddly, it's here that we find out that Fuller was a senator, because apparently the fiasco of a dead senator in his town is one of Steve's arguments for why an incredibly rare creature should be killed. I'm on Dan's side, though I kind of have to side with Steve when Dan admits he has no idea how to contain the plesiosaur. But he does come up with the idea of containing it inside a bay that could be sealed off. Steve agrees to call a town meeting to discuss the issue.

Cut to the prop plesiosaur head floating through the lake set to somebody pounding on piano keys to vaguely rip off the Jaws theme. The mechanic from earlier is working on some tractors and apparently missed the town meeting memo. Somehow he is ambushed by the Plesiosaurus that is slow-moving and roaring the whole way. At the town meeting, the only people agreeing with the capture plan are Arnie and Mitch--and then the wounded mechanic runs in, declaring there's a monster down at the ski lift.

For some reason, when Dan, Susan, and Steve get down there the beast is tossing bales of hay around. I don't really know why, since it's not like it thinks they're food.

"Look, I need some fiber to move all those humans through me, okay?"
Arnie and Mitch drive up, discussing what to do. Steve declares he's gonna kill it and runs over to a bulldozer. Arnie, intending to stop Steve runs over to point a shotgun in his face and order him not to kill the creature. Steve tells him there's no way they can save it now, so...Arnie climbs on the back on the bulldozer where he's totally exposed in order to tag along with Steve.

Upon actually rolling up to the beast, Arnie decides he doesn't want to get that close after all and hops off the bulldozer. Like many a squirrel crossing a street, his indecision was his doom. Arnie trips and the Plesiosaurus picks him up in its jaws. It then casually stands around with him in its mouth like a dog with a chew toy until Steve prods it a couple times and it tosses Arnie's dead body to the ground.

Now, you'd think a Plesiosaurus vs. bulldozer fight would be pretty entertaining. In fact, when I first read about the description of the climax, the person describing it claimed the Plesiosaurus got pushed off a cliff. That is false. Instead, via some awkward extreme close-ups, Steve pokes it in the back of the neck a few times as it bends down to pick up Arnie again. It then howls it pain, wanders off a little ways and then falls dead.

"Look, this is the best way to teach it how to balance a ball on its nose,, okay."
After a couple mournful glances at Arnie's corpse, everybody walks away and leaves Mitch sitting on the ground. He mumbles their old argument about "our boats." Roll credits.

Oof.

The Crater Lake Monster is truly a case of some great special effects (and some not so great ones) in service of a terrible film. It reminds me rather of Planet of Dinosaurs in that regard, but the main difference is that while the human scenes in that film were not well-written and added little to the proceedings, they weren't dull or actively painful. The Crater Lake Monster is rarely out and out painful, it's true, but it sure skirts the edge.

While the actors playing Arnie and Mitch are just charismatic enough to almost make the material work, it's still horrifically unfunny. And we spend a lot of time with them, for no real apparent reason. This isn't a movie that needed a lot of comedy to break up the tension because there was none to begin with. The biggest scaredy-cat you know could watch this film without being frightened a single time.

There's barely any plot, either. It's practically a thinly-connected series of scenes where stuff happens and occasionally a plesiosaur attacks. I mean, just try and figure out what the subplot of the liquor store killer had to do with anything. He just kills a few people, gets in a chase with the sheriff, and gets eaten. You could cut out his plot thread entirely and the film would not change in any significant way. In fact, I bet his plot was added in at the last minute as a misguided attempt to pump up the action.

As noted throughout this review, the film's post-production and editing are a joke. Scenes that were clearly meant to take place at night were never darkened so they just happen in broad daylight. Some scenes seem completely out of order--why did the monster's first victim have a gun, for instance? Why was he the first victim when, thematically, Fuller's death would have been a more appropriate first victim?

There's really nothing noteworthy about the film aside from its stop-motion beastie. The music is an oddly awful and utterly unnoticeable, The acting is an interesting mixture of pretty good, barely acceptable, and "Why are you trying to sound English?!"

Would I recommend The Crater Lake Monster? Hard to say. The stop-motion effects are certainly good if that's all you want out of the experience, but the film around them is no damn good. Worse, it manages to hover in the general region of "competent" too often to be enough fun as a bad movie. In the end, the film is just aggressively mediocre.

If you watch it, it won't hurt you, but it won't really entertain you, either.


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1 comment:

  1. I understand Crater Lake Monster is one of Ken Ham's favorite documentaries.

    ReplyDelete