The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

JULY 21, 2012


Little bit of trivia: The Crater Lake Monster was in fact the first horror movie I ever owned. An aunt bought it for me for Christmas (or a birthday) when I was 6 or 7; being that I was already a budding horror fan and it was rated PG she probably figured it was a swell gift that wouldn't offend anyone. And while I'm sure I got through the entire thing once (possibly with the fast forward button), my memory was simply "boring, cheesy monster", and never even attempted to watch it again.

That is, until 1998, when a buddy and I thought we were so funny and clever that we could do an MST3k ripoff of the movie to show our friends. After 15 minutes, we realized this was not the cast and gave up (last year, the ACTUAL MST3k crew did a "Rifftrax" for the film - I watched the sample clips on the site and can guarantee they did a much better job). Of course, if we were doing it RIGHT we would have watched the movie a couple of times and prepared, but alas. At any rate, this is the first time since 1987 (if ever) that I've ever watched the entire movie.

Well 6 and 17 year old me were right, this thing is painful. It's got some decent "so bad it's good" type entertainment value at times, like when the heroes investigate a boat filled with fresh blood despite the fact that the monster knocked the guy out of said boat and killed him underwater, but it's mostly just a padded, dull, monster-free affair. Puppet Master stop-motion guru David Allen handled the FX for the monster, and while they're terrifically animated, there aren't enough of them - I'd say the monster is in the movie for a total of 5 minutes, and that's probably exaggerating. And it's not like some Jaws type thing where they're just hiding him during effective scare scenes - if he's around we see him every step of the way.

Speaking of Jaws, while the DNA is clearly there, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this is the rare Jaws ripoff that didn't have a "close the beaches" type plot. In fact, it seems few people live in the town at all; we meet a half dozen or so, and see about twice that in a "town meeting" near the film's end, but otherwise it seems that Crater Lake Monster's presence wouldn't really affect much of anything as long as folks stayed clear of the not particularly scenic/large lake. In fact, the only direct lift seems to be, of all things, a "funny" little bit involving a grown man's inability to paint a beach sign ("Let Polly do the printing!").

The guy in question is Arnie, of "Arnie and Mitch" fame. These guys are introduced as side characters, but somehow end up taking over the movie as they rent boats out to most of Crater Lake Monster's few victims, fight over petty nonsense, and discover the first corpse. Arnie looks like Buck Flower, and Mitch looks like Kevin Pollak with a balding mullet, so if that sounds visually appealing to you then you'll be excited to see that they have more screentime than the seeming heroes: the sheriff and/or the scientists who uncovered the first evidence of Crater Lake Monster. Those folks disappear for at least 30 minutes of the movie, but the sheriff gets a nice, worthless subplot about tracking down the world's worst liquor store robber (he doesn't take the money, just his rather cheap bottle of booze that he murders two people for).

In other words, the script seems designed to do anything BUT deal with Crater Lake Monster. It's fine at first; there's a great bit where someone calls to report seeing it and the disbelieving sheriff is far more interested in killing a fly (he then puts another notch in the "Flies vs Me" board he has on his wall), but as the movie drags on it gets more and more obnoxious. Christ, the sheriff only first encounters the damn thing (and thus believes it exists) with only 20 minutes left in the movie! Can you imagine a version of Jaws where Brody is just wandering around like an asshole until there was only a single reel left to go? Well don't, because such a movie would be awful.

But don't take that to mean that the final 20 minutes are a rousing adventure that makes up for the previous 65 minutes of tedium - that aforementioned town meeting has yet to occur! With nine (NINE!) minutes left in the film including the end credits, our heroes are all in a diner, yammering about what to do. You know, like the scene in Jaws where we meet Quint, except on the other end of the movie's structure. As you might expect if you understand how time works, this means that the climax is far too brief, with everyone arriving to see Crater Lake Monster tossing bales of hay around (huh?). CLM kills Arnie (in surprisingly gory fashion) and is instantly killed when he is rammed and grazed by a bulldozer. If I had to guess, the climax was designed around the limitations of stop motion, hence why it inexplicably takes place on land instead of in the damn lake, but it doesn't make it any more satisfying. The least this movie could do after boring us to tears for the past 75 minutes is have a great ending, but alas, it's just as dull and cheap as everything else.

That cheapness extends to the score, by the way, which sounds a lot like library music, since it rarely fits what's on screen (though the comic bits do have a bit of John Williams-ian whimsy, which fits the ripoff motif). IMDb lists an uncredited composer, but I'm going to go with my gut (ear?) instinct and say "they found music and tossed it over the movie at random". And by "they" I mean director William R. Stromberg, who is also known for producing The Crater Lake Monster and writing The Crater Lake Monster (with Richard Cardella, who plays the sheriff). I can't imagine why these guys would never get another movie off the ground, but the optimist in me would like to think that they realized they were pretty lousy at it and found success in other areas.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I finally saw this a few years ago. I was aware of it forever. When I was a kid I got a VHS at Toys R Us called Fantastic Dinosaurs. An hour and a half of monster movie trailers. The trailer stuck with me. As is so often the case, the movie could never live up to what I had developed in my head for all those years.

    Now if I could only see The Loch Ness Horror...


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