Tag Aquatic Monsters

Screamers (1981)

They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean

They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean

The survivors of a prison ship, which has sunk at sea, find themselves stranded on a hostile island, where its only human inhabitants appear to be the sinister Edward Rackham and his female companion, Amanda. After some time on the island, it turns out that Amanda’s father, Ernest Marvin, is a brilliant professor whose genetic engineering work has led to the creation of a race of humanoid fishmen, who work for Rackham by diving down to the deep depths and retrieving valuable buried treasure from the remains of Atlantis.  Marvin believes his work is for the good of mankind but is unaware that Rackham plans to double cross him with all of the loot that has been discovered so far.

 

Screamers was originally released in 1979 as Island of the Fishmen but after being acquired by New World Pictures in the States and falling into the hands of legendary shock horror producer Roger Corman, over half an hour of footage was culled, a new opening sequence was added to spice things up with plenty of grisly gore to and the film renamed not once but twice. The version of the film I watched goes under the second moniker of Screamers, not to be confused with the 1995 Peter Weller sci-fi horror. This is definitely a ‘kitchen sink’ type of film with so many ideas and stories floating around in the vain hope that something sticks.

Screamers starts off promisingly enough, as a group of treasure hunters come croppers at the hands of the fishmen – throats ripped, heads torn off, the usual gory dispatches. It is ironic that the part of the film that most appealed to me was the totally unrelated introduction shot two years later! It promises a lot of old school cheese, some nice 80s gore effects and reasonably well-shot and atmospheric moments (ok, so they did go a little overboard with the dry ice machine). But, as this is totally unrelated to the rest of the film, none of these characters will be seen again and so their fate is obvious. For a gore junkie like me, the film is downhill from here on in regards to the violence.

From there on, Screamers turns into some weird Island of Dr Moreau-like fantasy adventure with the doctor and the prisoners arriving on the island, quickly succumbing to a number of pitfalls including toxic water and deadly traps straight out of a cannibal flick. The production values are decent and the film itself is well-shot, with the island looking a fairly inhospitable place to live. But the pacing is all over the place and after this frenetic opening salvo which kills off plenty of characters (both with the new footage and the original film), the film grinds to a complete halt once the survivors meet up with Rackham and Amanda. Things plod along with the secrets and mysteries of the fishmen slowly being revealed, gearing up for the inevitable final confrontation between the hero, villain and anyone and anything else involved in the story. The last fifteen minutes or so aren’t bad, with the action picking up a notch and director Sergio Martino works wonders with his small budget. The only thing vaguely disappointing is the tacky miniature sets doubling up for Atlantis.

Lead actor Claudio Cassinelli is one of the better leading men from this period of Italian filmmaking and he has a nice intensity – it also helps that he self-dubbed for the English language version so it’s his actual voice. Barbara Bach never really convinced me much as a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me – she was pretty enough but her delivery was always wooden. There’s no change here and Bach plays upon her strengths (her attractiveness) whilst her failings are all too apparent (she’s a terrible actress, truth be told). Richard Johnson twirls his moustache well as the slimy English villain, although the script gives up his real intentions too quickly for my liking and he comes on far too viciously and aggressively early on – a more restrained approach could have kept his secrets under wraps a little longer and draw out the mystery of the island. Martino would use most of the principal cast in his monster movie The Big Alligator River, with Cassinelli, Bach and Johnson all starring. I guess it was a two-for-one kind of contract!

I’m a sucker for some of the cheesy monster effects that they were using in the 70s and 80s, giving the creatures at least a sense of realism that CGI effects can’t, and an old school vibe where you know at least the effects team put some effort into creating something that didn’t look like a fancy dress costume, even if the end results didn’t quite match up with the vision. The fishmen don’t look that bad in all honesty and it helps that most of the time they are shown on camera, they are semi-submerged in the water. The only issue I have is the daft eyes which seem to goofily roll around their big bulging white sockets whenever they walk, making them look cross-eyed. Just like the underwater scenes from The Creature From the Black Lagoon, it’s to the credit of the performers inside the suits that they are able to swim so convincingly and majestically through the water. Screamers is surprisingly low on gore, save for that opening act, which makes it all the more disappointing given the potential for some serious carnage during the finale as the humans lose control of the fishmen and they run amok.

 

Screamers isn’t the type of genre film I was expecting and, though I was a little disappointed with the lack of gratuitous gore and violence that I was lured into wanting after the opening blood, the eventual fantasy-sci-fi-horror hybrid is a quirky little film that has a lot more going for it than you’d realise. Not great but definitely not the dud it sounds like – Island of the Fishmen is a ridiculous title!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Snakehead Swamp (2014)

Snakehead Swamp (2014)

When you’re in the bayou, you’re dead in the water

Whilst being transported, a bunch of mutant snakehead fish accidentally escape in the swamps around a small Louisiana town and proceed to start eating anyone who ventures too close to the water.

 

That’s about as good a synopsis as I’m going to squeeze out here as I wasn’t too sure on where the fish were going, why they’re so big, who was behind their creation, etc. The fact that they escape and kill people is all you really need to know. I think Frankenfish and Snakehead Terror did the killer fish thing about ten years ago too – I’m guessing Sy Fy assume that, by today’s reboot/remake logic, they only needed to wait a few years by making pretty much the same film over again.

As I’ve said on reviews for other Sy Fy films, you can pretty much copy and paste and simply replace the monster-of-the-week with something else and the film are indistinguishable. There’s literally nothing that these snakehead fish couldn’t do that a giant crocodile couldn’t do in the same locations and with the same story. And if you’ve seen even half a dozen of these Sy Fy films, then you’ll know how Snakehead Swamp will run from the first minute until the last. Director Don E. Fauntleroy made the terrible straight-to-TV Anaconda sequels, so he’s got some experience of dealing in these creature feature films and makes this equally as forgettable and non-descript.

Snakehead Swamp splits down into the usual three act formula – introduction of the problem, recognition of the problem and then resolution. It’s a tried-and-tested approach that even the likes of Jaws managed to pull off well. Only there’s no real drama to proceedings here – we know what is killing people off quickly because, like most Sy Fy films, the monsters are shown in all of their glory early on. It’s sad to see that in the time since Frankenfish and Snakehead Terror, the computer-generated fish look even worse now than they did ten years ago – special effects are supposed to be getting better, not progressively worse. Snakehead Swamp tries to compensate by splashing plenty of fake CG blood across the land and a bit of red liquid into the water to make the attacks seem gory; it’s a pity you hardly get to see any actual ‘action’ involving the fish. Again, replace the snakeheads with a giant crocodile and tell me that you wouldn’t notice the difference to the story. These films need to play up the uniqueness of their creatures – have them do things that other creatures can’t do to make a little bit more interesting or exciting. Instead, there are plenty of “something under the water” moments (like any killer shark film) or “something in the bushes near the water” moments (like any crocodile/alligator flick) which have been done to death.

The story runs through a familiar cycle of tropes without even a passing hint that the makers of the film intend to do anything remotely different or original with the material. Characters are cookie cut-outs, from the Bayou yokels to the estranged couple of the teenage lead character brought back together through adversity and are largely unappealing and unengaging. Give us some characteristics that will make the main characters seem more realistic than just another screen victim. I found it hard-pressed to remember any of the characters’ names here – even the woman with the badge. Was she a sheriff? A game warden? A cosplayer?

There’s a voodoo sub-plot in here which adds precisely nothing to the narrative except give Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear from the Starsky and Hutch TV series) a stereotypical witch doctor stereotype to embarrass himself in and another potential slant to the creation of the fish. Are they a product of this guy’s voodoo meddling or not? Who knows? Who cares? The voodoo sub-plot is referred to in a number of throwaway scenes and then quickly forgotten about once Fargas departs from the story.

 

I’m really struggling for material on this one. Snakehead Swamp is utterly forgettable and makes me ponder the meaning of life. When the time comes, will I look back and regret how much time I have wasted watching such pointless ninety-minute exercises in absolutely nothing?

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Monster Squad, The (1987)

The Monster Squad (1987)

You know who to call when you have ghosts but who do you call when you have monsters?

A group of young children are members of the Monster Squad, a club who idolise anything monster-orientated in their treehouse hideaway. When they find out that real monsters including Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster have invaded their small town, they realise that it is up to them to save the day as the adults would never believe them.

 

‘The Goonies with monsters’ is how most people view The Monster Squad and whilst that comparison is largely accurate, it does do this fantastic film such a disservice as there’s far more going on here than being a horror-based version of Spielberg’s kids classic. Co-written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black (considered one of the pioneer screenwriters of the action genre with the Lethal Weapon films under his belt), the smart script both pays homage to the old films and brilliantly brings them up-to-date for the then-modern era of the 1980s. This is a film which plays upon the premise that monsters, and all things horror, are the coolest things to a bunch of twelve-year old boys. They are falling in love with the genre for the first time here in their little monster club, and the audience is reminded of their first forays into the genre.

There is something quaint and innocent about this whole film that has attracted such a cult audience over the years. It wasn’t very successful upon its initial release, but time has been extremely kind to The Monster Squad over the years. I’ve never been entirely sure who the film is targeted at – I think it is meant to be a children’s film, though there is far more bad language and serious action (quite a few people die in this one) than you’d probably want to subject your own kids to. Perhaps it’s this confusion which led to both adults and children thinking it was for the other age group and deciding not to watch it. Regardless of who the film was geared towards then, it’s clear that adults have taken this to their heart, particularly those in the thirty-forty demographic who will have been young when this was doing the rounds. There is a real love and affection for the genre shown across almost every aspect of the film and it’s this endearing concept which has kept it feeling fresh.

The Monster Squad is by far from perfect and this is largely down to the plot, which is fairly loose and coincidental and harks back to the monster mash team-ups from the 40s, where the narrative was just a sketchy mess of ideas designed to throw the big monsters together. The prologue is little more than a MacGuffin to give the monsters a reason to be in suburban America, but the film assumes you don’t really care about that and just proceeds to go with the flow. The Monster Squad borders on being funny and scary from herein out. It’s funny in places, though you wish it was funnier in others. Legions of fans across the world won’t help but raise a laugh whenever they hear the “Wolfman’s got nards!” line but the film really needed more silliness like that when it matters.

Stan Winston provides the updated make-up jobs on the monsters and they all look fantastic. Frankenstein’s monster is probably the easiest one of the group to get ‘right’ and Winston opts for the classic look here. It’s the revamped versions of the Wolfman, the Creature and the Mummy which look great, particularly a brief werewolf transformation sequence that deserves more appreciation. It’s a pity that the latter two don’t get much to do in the film at all. The bulk of the monster action involves Dracula, portrayed by Duncan Regehr, and the Monster, played by Tom Noonan. Regehr’s Dracula isn’t the best incarnation of the bloodthirsty count you’re ever going to see but he manages to switch between the elegance and menace of the role well. However, it’s Noonan’s Monster who steals the show, as the lumbering brute develops a sweet relationship with a little girl. Throwbacks to the infamous scene in which the Monster stumbles across a little girl next to a lake in the original 1931 version, The Monster Squad develops the innocent bond even further here, leading to a heart-warming moment during the finale which will have even the most hardened souls reaching for the tissues.

At under eighty minutes long, The Monster Squad is one film where you actually want the production team to have rolled with it a little longer, even for another ten minutes. The film is pacey and light-hearted for the most, so you’ll be able to sit back and breeze through it. Surprisingly, the youngsters cast in the lead roles are all excellent – Andre Gower, Michael Faustino, Bobby Kiger and Brent Chalem (as ‘Fat Kid’) will not get on your nerves like the know-it-all kids from other horror films, and work together well. However, it’s little Ashley Bank who steals the show as the sweet, good-natured Phoebe who steals the Monster’s heart with their touching, though short-lived, friendship.

 

The Monster Squad is not perfect but it’s close. It’s rare example of a film which will have you reverting to your twelve-year old childlike state once again no matter how many times you’ve seen it. It brings back your own memories of watching horror films for the first time, whilst delivering a solid slice of 80s horror-comedy action at the same time.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Beneath (2013)

Beneath (2013)

They’re only friends on the surface

Six high school friends celebrating graduation with trip to a remote lake find themselves stranded in a rowboat after being attacked by a man-eating fish. With their options for reaching land beginning to dwindle, they start to consider more extreme measures of survival, they must decide who must be sacrificed as they fight their way back to shore.

 

One quick glance and you’d mistake Beneath for yet another Jaws-style clone featuring an aquatic monster. That’s how it looks like it is being sold with the front cover of the blu-ray showcasing the monster in its toothy glory. For a little part of Beneath, that’s the type of film you’ll get. In fact, Beneath reminded me a lot of one of the segments from Creepshow II entitled ‘The Raft’ where a group of college friends are stuck on a platform in the middle of a lake with a dangerous monster preventing their escape. But, pardon the expression, beneath the surface there is something else at work here. The monster is only half of the problem. Hence why Beneath……

The killer fish is simply a catalyst for events. Like many a horror film, the monster is there simply to turn up the pressure on the humans and get them to start making decisions that sees us revert back to type: primitive, savage and generally bloodthirsty creatures. Strip back away all of the domesticated and moralised gloss and we’re animals, capable of amazing acts of barbarism and cruelty (one only needs to watch one or two daily news reports to see the sort of things we, as a race, are capable of). Thrown into some life-or-death scenario like this and we would forget the ‘rules’ that keep us in check. Survival of the fittest comes back into play. Romero’s zombie films were perfect examples of this: look at Day of the Dead for instance and see how little zombie interaction there is for the middle third of the film. Beneath follows the same idea.

The fish does do a fair bit of damage throughout the film and it’s always lurking around for its next meal. But as the situation worsens, the characters begin to turn on each other, realising that the only way to survive is to sacrifice someone to keep the fish ‘occupied’ whilst they continue to paddle to shore. The fish becomes second nature to the evils of humanity. However, there is a problem I have with Beneath and the direction it suddenly takes here: it doesn’t take long for the characters to turn on each other. Like literally within the space of a few hours. And not even just arguing or bickering like you’d see elsewhere. This is full on murder – throwing people overboard to an inevitable and gory death. I know their situation is perilous but seriously, how could they call these people friends if they could stab you in the back at the first chance they got?

The fish looks as good/bad as it needs to be. It’s got massive bug-eyes, long razor-sharp teeth and isn’t the biggest fish to grace the Earth. The film never explains the fish or why no one is really trying to decipher where something that looks like it came from the time of dinosaurs is living and swimming and eating in this lake. It’s just taken for matter of fact. It’s brought to life with an animatronic model so there’s a nice sense of realism to the effects. You never get a look at it for more than a few seconds at a time but it swims around realistically, surfaces when you least expect it and has plenty of jaw movement so kudos to the prop makers for having the guts to make something practical rather than CGI it. But as I’ve said, the fish isn’t the real focus and it works much the better for it.

The cast of characters are well-rounded and though they do fall into teenage stereotypes, the film isn’t one to play upon genre tropes for too long. In fact there are a few scenes in which these stereotypes are played to, particularly some of the tense decision moments where the survivors are making cases for who should stay on the boat and who should go for help (i.e. try and swim and be eaten), and the strengths and weaknesses of each token role are laid bare. The characters also have a fair bit of back story to them and a lot of this dirty linen is dragged up as they plead and beg for their lives. The dialogue can seem a little clunky at times but the performances on the whole are very good. Mark Margolis, famous for his portrayal of mute drug lord Tito Salamanca (the ‘ding ding ding ding’ guy) from TV’s Breaking Bad, pops up in a brief role as the ‘Crazy Ralph’ character who warns the kids not to go out onto the lake and whom no one listens to.

 

Beneath was a pleasant surprise. I went in expecting a low budget Jaws clone and was met with something more thought-provoking which didn’t pander to the genre norms and actually had an interesting take on the usual creature feature film. It does have its flaws and it’s by far from being completely watchable but Beneath is worth a look if there’s nothing else that takes your interest.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

DeepStar Six (1989)

DeepStar Six (1989)

Not All Aliens Come From Space. Save Your Last Breath… To Scream.

A US naval engineering team is completing work on an underwater nuclear missile base when they accidentally split open the ocean floor during an excavation mission, revealing a huge cave underneath. Contact with the excavation team is lost and after a rescue mission goes wrong, the crew are given the go-ahead for extraction from above. Before they can leave, they must secure the missiles but a mishap with the process cripples the base, trapping everyone at the bottom of the sea. To add to their problems, something deadly has been let loose from the previously-hidden cave and it makes its way into the base, killing the crew off one-by-one.

 

Whilst James Cameron’s The Abyss was in production, other studios assumed that it was going to be some ‘monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space’ flick like Aliens but only underwater instead of space. Cameron was a rising star after Aliens and The Terminator and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Being ones to try and jump on the bandwagon, a handful of similar-themed films each featuring aquatic monsters were rushed into production in order to capitalise on the inevitable popularity, the most notable of which being Leviathan featuring Peter Weller. However, The Abyss was nothing like people expected it to be and so these films floundered a little bit, trying to out-jump the other into the pool only to find the pool had moved.

DeepStar Six finds itself with one of the most recognisable horror directors of the 80s, Sean S. Cunningham (the man behind Friday the 13th), at the helm and along with him Harry Manfredini, the composer from the earlier Friday the 13th films. You’d very much expect better from Mr Cunningham – sort of like an underwater Friday the 13th – but the film never really threatens to turn into anything more than throwaway sci-fi horror.

DeepStar Six should have worked a lot better and could have done had it stuck to the monster movie formula. However it’s far, far too long before the monster shows up for the first time (about an hour) and before then, the film runs like an underwater disaster film with all manner of mishaps and deadly accidents happening to the crew that they need to overcome. Depressurisation, flooding compartments, doors that won’t open, doors that won’t seal, power shortages, etc. I came to see an underwater Alien knock-off, not another The Poseidon Adventure! You get the sense that they wanted to play down the horror elements and keep the adventure and suspense elements high but they’re preaching to the wrong genre crowd if that was the case. The rather convoluted plot has a script that is peppered with coincidences and bad luck in order to further the story and it seems as though the characters go from one catastrophe to the next – and that’s before the monster even turns up.

To his credit, Cunningham does use the first hour to good effect in building the characters and, when they are allowed to breathe life into their stereotypical characters, they do a decent job of making us care about them. Black guys, Russian, South African, annoying moaner character, the hero and heroine, etc. They’re all the usual stock characters but the majority of them (i.e. the ones who make it past the twenty minute mark) are well-rounded and will elicit empathy of some kind, from the guy who has a mental breakdown to the loved-up couple who want to survive for the sake of her unborn baby (that’s almost the complete opposite of being a black character in a film like this!). They’re a step up from the normal one-dimensional planks of wood that these films usually throw out way.

The cast is made up of former TV stars and minor actors who have cropped up in an odd horror or sci-fi film since then (Matt McCoy in the enjoyable Abominable being the one I remembered straight away). Arguably the big recognisable star on show is Miguel Ferrer, he of Robocop fame who made the mistake of crossing Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones character. Ferrer plays a miserable character who must go down as the ‘World’s Worst Crewmate to Have During a Disaster’ – not only does he cause the station to suffer catastrophe but he’s also responsible for a number of other horrendous mishaps during the running time which inflict more suffering upon not only himself but the rest of the crew. Ferrer’s departure is probably the highlight of the film as his character suffers from a really fatal case of depressurisation.

With so much time spent on the characters and the disaster film-style elements of the film, you’ll wonder whether they’ve got enough time to squeeze some monster action in and they almost don’t bother. It’s no surprise to see that the film picks up once the crew become aware of the existence of the monster (and very unfortunate for a chap in a diving suit, a fact spoiled by the poster rather my spoiler) though it hardly does anything and is responsible for directly killing three characters which is a tragedy considering how many characters started the film. When the creature does show up, it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as you’d expect but someone had little confidence in how it appeared because you’ll hardly get a good look at it. It’s like some giant crab, only described as a prehistoric arthropod in the film and never really given any sort of scientific explanation. It’s blatantly a puppet with limited movement and just threshes backwards and forwards in the water. But in an old school way, it’s effective enough in what it does – you’d just wish it would have done a lot more of it.

 

Whenever DeepStar Six threatens to get good, it halts dead in its tracks again. Whether this is down to the script, the direction or another matter remains to be seen but there was a decent underwater Alien film waiting to come out here. Unfortunately we don’t get it in the final version. It’s too patchy and sporadic to make any long-lasting impression.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Loch Ness Horror, The (1981)

The Loch Ness Horror (1981)

It IS alive!

Two rival expeditions head to Loch Ness in Scotland to use sonar in order to prove that the mythical Nessie is real. When one of the expeditions finds a giant egg at the bottom of the loch, things look promising. But it isn’t long before people begin to disappear around the loch as the real monster comes hunting for its stolen egg.

 

The Loch Ness Horror is about obscure as it gets here on Popcorn Pictures. After first hearing the plot synopsis many years ago, I’ve been trying to track down this elusive lake monster movie for nearly a decade. It’s never shown on TV, never been released on DVD and with VHS dead it was impossible for me to even watch a dodgy taped copy. Thankfully Youtube has been a goldmine of long-forgotten films of late and, copyright violations aside on behalf of the uploader, The Loch Ness Horror was there in all of its glory.

Sometimes the chase is more exciting than the eventual catch and that’s the case with The Loch Ness Horror. There’s most likely a good reason why it’s been so hard to find over the years – it’s atrocious. It would be no surprise to find out that the director had every single copy of the film rounded up and dumped at the bottom of the loch itself. However that would involve actually travelling to Loch Ness, something that director Larry Buchanan didn’t do when he filmed this. Shot on a lake in California, the film paints an uneducated, Americanised view of the Scots. With a cast filled with actors trying their best to sound incomprehensible with pathetic Scottish accents (rrrrrrrolling theirrrrrrr rrrrrs a lot!), dialogue that might as well have just said “See you Jimmy” (look it up if you don’t get the reference) and with whisky and kilts in good supply, The Loch Ness Horror could have worked better as a stereotypical tourist guide to Scotland rather than a monster flick.

The Loch Ness Horror tries desperately to craft itself into the standard monster movie where a monster runs amok in a small town, only without the money or the talent to become so…and the story as well. In fact at some point during the film, the monster and the egg are forgotten about and the film shifts into some thriller-style story about an old German spy plane that is lying at the bottom of the loch. By this point, you won’t care what happens in the story. The promise of some good old fashioned Nessie rampaging has long faded into memory. It shouldn’t be too hard to stick to the story of a lake monster hunting down people that stole its egg – it’s a common staple in monster films and works, for the most.

Maybe I just don’t get it but when I settle down to watch a film called The Loch Ness Horror, it should be pretty evident what I am expecting to see. It’s pretty funny realising that within the film’s reality, this Nessie has never killed anyone before yet that the film has begun, it decides that it likes the taste of humans. How very convenient for plot’s sake. The painstaking scenes of the human characters trying to pad out as much time as possible in between the riveting monster moments are pathetic too. There’s no atmosphere, suspense or tension. You don’t even look forward to Nessie’s next appearance. You’ll be clock-watching from the opening scene and hoping that things get better but they don’t. I can’t even say that the scenery looks nice because the copy I was watching was pretty fuzzy.

There’s precious little monster action during the film as the fabled monster only makes sporadic appearances and you can count the kills on one hand. But as phony as the monster looks, it’s the best thing on display which is a sad indictment of the rest of the film. Clearly hampered by budgetary constraints, only the monster’s head and neck are shown. That’s enough to go on (as many of the infamous ‘sightings’ of Nessie have only consisted of the head and neck). But then you realise that the monster looks to be made of the same material as a giant inflatable pool toy and any sort of illusion is crushed. For a film in which the monster is supposed to be a scary man-eater, the eventual prop looks rather cute and cuddly and more likely to give you a little loving nudge with its head rather than a chomp down with its teeth.

 

Is The Loch Ness Horror fun to watch? No. Is it even Mystery Science Theater 3000 levels of awful? I think you’d be pushing it there. The Loch Ness Horror would make for an awful double bill with The Crater Lake Monster and will serve as long-term proof that lake monsters don’t make for the greatest horror films. The longer it remains as obscure as possible, the better the human race will be. It’s films like this that are the reason why aliens won’t reveals themselves to us! A travesty.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crater Lake Monster, The (1977)

The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

A beast more frightening than your most terrifying nightmare!

The heat of a meteor crashing into Crater Lake causes a dormant dinosaur egg at the bottom of the lake to hatch, unleashing a giant aquatic dinosaur which soon develops a taste for human flesh.

 

Cited as one of the worst monster movies ever made, The Crater Lake Monster comes with a hefty reputation to maintain. It does sound like one of those old school sci-fi ‘atomic monster’ flicks that were all the rage in the 1950s but this one was made in 1977, no doubt as some kind of throwback during a time when interest in the Loch Ness Monster had been revived thanks to the exploits of Robert H. Rines’s expeditions. If only The Crater Lake Monster had proven as captivating an attraction as the myth of Nessie.

Make no mistake about it – The Crater Lake Monster lives up to its reputation. With a shoestring budget and unpolished production values, it’s the sort of 70s film that would have played well in drive-ins. Utter tripe from beginning to end, the film does at least have one redeeming factor in the form of the monster. But in order to get to the sporadic and brief highlights, you’ve got to slug it out with one of the genre’s most awful creature feature films.

A lot of the flak comes from the film’s unnecessary focus on Arnie and Mitch, a couple of country bumpkins who live near the lake and provide the film’s copious amount of comic relief. Glenn Roberts and Mark Siegel seem friendly and innocent enough but their characters should have had background roles. I’m not sure whether director William R. Stromberg was the only one who found their antics hilarious but no one else will. It’s padding and blatant padding at that. The two men live up to numerous backwoods stereotypes as the dim-witted handymen who work for beer and each other’s monotonous company. Desperate to stretch out it’s running time to be classed as a full feature film, The Crater Lake Monster also features lots of random zooms and close-ups of the nice scenery. It sure looks like a nice place to visit but this is meant to be a film not a promotional video.

It’s not like anyone in the cast is any better though. Richard Cardella as Sheriff Hanson and Bob Hyman as Doc Calkins are both horrendous in their roles. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to believe that both men were the local sheriff and doctor respectively and got roped into shooting the film when the director turned up at the lake with a few crew members and asked them to star in a film. Cardella has no other screen credits to his name whilst Calkins only had a prior credit. Based on this evidence, cinema has not missed out on any tricks with either man.

With all of these ‘actors’ running around the lake and local town and doing anything and everything but encountering the monster, the film never gets going. I would say that the pace is off but there is no pace at all. Stromberg doesn’t have any grasp of narrative or structure and just lets things pan out as slowly and as dully as possible. Coincidentally he also co-wrote and produced the film and has never directed, produced or written a film since. I guess that’s all you need to know about the quality on display. Characters are introduced and then dropped. Minor characters become the main focus. There’s no sense of urgency with anyone despite there being a monster on the rampage.

So the film itself is total rubbish but the actual monster looks fantastic. Brought to life with glorious stop motion to give it a realistic feel, the monster is a class above others in its genre and something more akin to a lesser Harryhausen creation. The man responsible, David Allen, went on to have a fantastic career creating the visual effects for such films as Q, the Winged Serpent (also featuring a stop motion dinosaur-like monster), Batteries Not Included and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It just proves everyone has to start somewhere in the film business and it is clear from this film that Allen had talent.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly given the practicality of stop motion, the monster isn’t allotted anywhere near enough screen time and does little more than waddle about on its flippers and roar. The finale involving the monster battling the sheriff in a bulldozer is a big let down too. However in plenty of other scenes, the monster is simply represented with an oversized head floating around underwater. This looks nothing like the monster in stop motion form. But I suppose that is the least of the film’s problems.

 

The Crater Lake Monster is nearly as bad as its reputation claims but the brief stop motion special effects are worth one look and I’m sure you could find a highlight reel lurking on Youtube to save you the ordeal of sitting through the full film. It’s just a shame that these effects are wasted in this hokey micro budget film and are not displayed in something bigger budgeted and more professional.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Demon of Paradise (1987)

Demon of Paradise (1987)

It waits underwater…to skin you alive!

Illegal dynamite fishing off the coast of a Hawaiian holiday resort awakens an ancient underwater reptilian creature that then begins killing off the tourists.

 

Part Jaws, part The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Demon of Paradise desperately wishes it were a quarter as good as either of them. It is a rather obscure 80s film which has only recently seen the light of day on DVD, making an unfortunate double-header with fellow aquatic terror Up From the Depths. But after watching, you’ll realise why the film has remained obscure for so long.

That’s because, unsurprisingly, Demon of Paradise is a bit naff. There’s potential to be had in a jokey Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way but those looking for serious sea monster action best look elsewhere. The film runs more like Jaws than The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There’s the owner of the local holiday resort desperate to keep it open for business, the scientist who know one will believe and the sheriff tasked with destroying the creature. The presence of a Gill Man substituting for a shark is the only difference but this one seems less interested in carrying off nubile females than it does standing around in the sea growling at passers-by.

Though it’s supposed to be set on the sunny, tropical island of Hawaii, the muddy jungle rivers of the Philippines never allow for that illusion to take place and this ‘paradise’ turns out to be little more than a few shanty huts alongside some pretty sickly-looking water where there are more gangsters doing dodgy dealings in boats than there are water skiers or surfers. Ironically, the best scenes are the night time ones when the fog machine is worked into overdrive. Whilst they could have been filmed anywhere as location in the pitch black is irrelevant, they’re at least effective in trying to do something to generate a bit of atmosphere which is sorely lacking in the rest of the film.

Director Cirio H. Santiago handles proceedings with a general lack of interest in how the final product turns out. The pacing is dreadful, the dialogue is inept, the narrative wanders all over the place and the acting leaves a lot to be desired (they virtually shout at each other all of the time instead of showing any range). In between the infrequent and poorly-staged creature attacks, the film drifts all over the place with a variety of non-characters we have no interest in getting to know. You’ll be bored out of your skull and even the allure of some potential genre requisites (naked chicks and copious gore) will fail to stimulate the pulse.

The second half of the film is the best and I use that word generously. Once the film turns from the main characters trying to persuade the resort owner that there is a problem and shifts into man-against-beast mode as they hunt it down , the pace quickens a bit and there’s a few more action sequences. But these are amusingly silly in the trashy sense rather than memorable for the right reasons. A scene in which the creature leaps up out of the water and attacks a helicopter pretty much sums up the film – ropey and dopey.

The creature is some form of humanoid that looks every bit like the man-in-a-suit it is. It doesn’t do an awful lot either – the creature never seems to interact with its victims whenever it attacks, simply pawing at thin air on many occasions or popping its head in and out of the water, growling at its victim and then submerging itself. No doubt any physical contact with anything other than the water and the two-bit costume would have dropped to bits. The gorgon-like head of the creature gives it a unique appearance amongst it’s numerous mermen counterparts.

In fact the creature causes more explosions than anything else, as various characters suddenly make mistakes in the grip of fear from seeing it and accidentally blow up their boats or huts. When it leaves the water and stays on land for a prolonged period during the finale, the film seems to find its niche. Whilst the scenes of it trying to bash its way through a barricaded hut and chasing people through the jungle are goofy, they’re at least entertaining. Being inexplicably bullet proof adds further levels of absurdity to the film as a platoon of soldiers attempt to hold it at bay with round after round of machine gun fire.

 

Demon of Paradise is trashy 80s exploitation at its dullest and most lifeless. Santiago seems to be as bored making it as the audience will be watching it. Even die-hard lovers of low grade monster movies would be hard-pressed to find something worthwhile here, despite the odd promise of unintentional entertainment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deep Shock (2003)

Deep Shock (2003)

The end of the world is just an eel’s length away. Get ready to squirm.

A nuclear-powered attack submarine is attacked by a mysterious underwater object which disables it with a powerful electromagnetic pulse. The Hubris, an underwater Arctic research station, witnesses the attack and reports an alarming rise in the temperature of the ice cap in the process. Shortly afterwards, the station is also attacked and so an expedition is sent to find out what happened. Once there the expedition finds that though the station is still intact, the personal have been incinerated. It isn’t long before they find out what attacked the Hubris – giant electric eels – and why.

 

With the prospect of giant electric eels doing some underwater damage making for a slight change to the usual sharks-crocodiles-snakes-spiders routine, it comes as no surprise to know that Deep Shock plays out like the majority of the Sy Fy TV movies: stock actors picked from the usual Sy Fy roster; a script that fills itself with loads of techno, military and political jargon to sound credible; action scenes which are anything but rousing and exciting; and creatures that sound alright on paper but look like cartoon monsters when rendered in CGI.

Actually I’m being a bit harsh on Deep Shock. Whilst the film does look and feel like the usual cheap-and-nasty drivel from the Sy Fy Channel and every cliché in the book is played out to full effect, the script doesn’t go down the route I expected it to and instead tries to turn itself into a credible, thought-provoking story about humans encountering other intelligence on Earth. Far from being the deadly threats that you’ll expect them to be, electrifying stock characters in underwater facilities in some form of Leviathan / Deep Star Six style sci-fi horror, the eels are supposed to be preparing the planet for its original inhabitants to return (space eels then?) and can be communicated with and made to listen. Whilst the ending to the film hardly gives resolution to the eels’ overriding purposes (after all they still want to wipe humanity from the planet), it at least gives the creatures a bit more function than just generic monsters-on-the-loose.

It’s a shame then that the eels look so poor when they are shown on screen. Blasting bolts of electricity from their foreheads and having big bulging red eyes, the fish could have been so much more had a bit of effort gone into their creation. But this is a film where concern for detail is eschewed in favour of bluster and a desire to make itself exciting, on which it fails. Deep Shock enjoys flashing off its limited budget with lots of copious special effects scenes and overly ‘futuristic-looking’ sets. The underwater research centre, the Hubris, looks like a knock-off set from The Abyss, complete with a pool for the eels to appear from (well they can’t walk around the facility so they’re kind of restricted to the places they can make contact with the humans in). Lots of dimly-lit sets with flashing lights and shaky cameras attempt to make everything look so exciting and cutting edge when in reality it just shows up the film for lacking decent production values. The underwater action scenes involving mini-subs and exterior shots of the Hubris look like cut-scenes from a computer game and a bad one at that. It’s always hard to get into something when every two minutes you’re reminded of how inferior it is to similar big budgeted films.

The sense of international scope that the film tries to convey just don’t work either. According to Deep Shock, the United Nations consists of a bunch of Eastern Europeans sitting around a computer desk in what looks like a school gymnasium with a few flags draped in the background. You never get the sense that this is anything global, especially when the film continually deals with one Eastern European guy (Velizar Binev, who crops up in loads of these films) who apparently speaks on behalf of everyone. I guess with the small cast they were required to recycle.

Low budget schlock flick rent-a-bad-guy Mark Sheppard pops up as the usual dodgy-looking slime ball he plays in all of these TV movies (see New Alcatraz, Xtinction, plus a ton of TV shows like 24 and The X-Files). David Keith gets to act all hard and ‘edgy’ as the squared-jawed action hero whilst Simmone Jade Mackinnon does nothing but smile throughout the film, even though the world is supposed to be facing a crisis, and the two are given a token romantic sub-plot. With Sy Fy re-using these actors time and time again, it gets a little predictable knowing how each character arc is going to pan out. Why not give Sheppard the hero role for a change and turn Keith into the psycho? See that’s lazy writing – Sheppard being cast as the bad guy instantly plays on our preconceptions of the character he is going to play and does a lot of the hard work of building a solid character…….ah I’ll save that rant for another time.

 

I’m sure that this would have made for a riveting forty-five minute long episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea back in the 60s but as a full blown 2002 TV movie, Deep Shock strings along its limited idea as long as it can without any real pay-off. Apart from the ambitiously novel background to the electric eels, it’s business as usual as far as Sy Fy goes. And business is bad.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Double the action. Double the terror. Double the D’s.

Marine biology student Maddy returns home to find that her stepfather, Chet, has turned the friendly water park that they both inherited from their late mother into a seedy resort called Big Wet which features strippers as lifeguards, wet t-shirt contests and topless pools. In order to provide cheap water for the park, Chet illegally drilled into an underwater lake. Unfortunately for everyone, the underwater lake is home to the prehistoric piranha which attacked nearby Lake Victoria. On the opening day of Big Wet, the piranhas swim up the drilling pipes and into the pools.

 

Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3-D was one of the highlights of 2010: a delightfully gratuitous middle-fingered salute to the bastions of cinematic good taste with its unhealthy array of fishy violence, a year’s supply of fake blood in just one shoot, more boobs than a porn convention, not to mention a strong cast who weren’t afraid to send themselves up and a story which finely balanced itself between parody and serious. A definitive B-movie with a big budget and even bigger promotional juggernaut behind it, Piranha 3-D was the rare instance where everything seemed to align perfectly for the ultimate success story against all of the odds. With a strong box office performance, even better DVD/Blu-Ray sales and more importantly, pretty resounding critical acclaim, the film was a shoe-in to receive a sequel.

Only Alexandre Aja wouldn’t be back at the helm and, leaving with him that real sense of perverse violence. If you’ve seen any of his serious horror films, then you’ll know that he can deliver the grim and the intense in equal measure and for all of its cartoon comedy and overblown excess, Piranha 3-D still had a warped sense of the extreme flowing beneath where you knew that you shouldn’t laugh and smile at the violence and gore but it was a nervous laugh because of the underlying cruelty. And that was why Piranha 3-D worked better than it had any right to do.

John Gulager, fresh off the Feast trilogy, was handed the reins to direct this sequel and if you’re familiar with those films, specifically the two junky sequels, then you’ll know exactly the sort of direction that Piranha 3DD is heading. Going into overdrive with the absurdity and ridiculousness, Piranha 3DD is quite possibly one of the worst sequels of all time and easily one of the biggest disappointments of the year. How hard was it for Gulager to mess up the key ingredients that made the original work?

Virtually a lower budget, scaling down of the original, the film’s first mistake is confining the bulk of its action to a small, self-contained water park as opposed to the rivers and lakes of the original. Not only does this lead to incredulous plot devices of how the piranha manage to infiltrate the park in the first place, but it shortens the life span of any tension that may come from the attack scenes. Having piranha attack a flotilla of partying teenagers in a deep-water lake is one thing – having them swim around in small, man-made ankle-deep pools is just not scary in the slightest.

The film barely comes home with a time of eighty-three minutes as well, a disgrace when you consider that there are ten minutes of outtakes and bloopers tagged on to an overlong credits sequence. With such a short running time, you’d think that the rest of the film would go at it like a bull in a china shop to make sure not a second is wasted but there’s plenty of filler throughout. I think it’s simply a case that someone had a couple of clever ideas about the piranha in a water park and then built up an entire film around them.

The main problem with Piranha 3DD is that it tries way too hard to be hilarious and outrageous. In trying to out-do the original’s tongue-in-cheek approach, Gulager is guilty of making throwaway moments a major deal. Take for instance Jerry O’Connell’s severed penis from the original, a scene which provoked laughter (and a great deal of seat-shuffling and leg crossing from the male audience) and terror at the same time. That scene is rehashed here with more focus on the deadpan and comedy instead of the horror of male castration, with the resultant scene providing one of the  worst lines of all time. The majority of the film’s comedy just falls flat on its face because it is too stupid to laugh at – funny to drunken frat boys maybe, not to anyone else watching. Piranha 3DD almost turns into a parody, something that the original was always keen to keep away at arm’s length.

There is a well-cast line-up of characters to bring life to this story though. Christopher Lloyd and Vang Rhames add continuity by reprising their roles from the first one and it’s a shame that some of the others couldn’t return. Rhames’ role is somewhat pointless (didn’t he die in the original?) but at least Lloyd is able to get a few more minutes screen time than he did before. It’s still a criminal waste of his talent to be shoehorned into a five minute cameo but at least he’s back. As far as the newcomers go, David Koechner makes for a particularly unpleasant loudmouth and is perfectly cast in the role of the slimy Chet. He gets one of the film’s best and most distasteful scenes as he tries to make a getaway from the chaos at the park. The younger cast aren’t particularly impressive, with the majority of them filling the usual token teenager roles. Danielle Panabaker is likeable enough in the lead role but the gorgeous Katrina Bowden steals the show with a line of dialogue that would make John Barrowman’s infamous line from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon sound like Macbeth (Youtube it if you don’t know).

The main star of the film is the turn by David Hasselhoff. So often the butt of jokes about his acting ability, ‘The Hoff’ has now gone full circle and embraced his deficiencies, playing up on these jokes and becoming self-aware of his own limitations as an actor. His self-mocking performance is a riot, tearing apart his Baywatch role as a lifeguard completely out of his depth when the piranhas attack the water park. Worth sitting through the rest of the film for? Not quite, but those who have stuck through the rest of the film will at least find themselves finally being entertained.

 

Piranha 3DD is a catastrophic flop. The decision to debut it in less than 100 theatres in its opening weekend in the US (a travesty considering that the original made $83m in the box office) shows that little faith was instilled in it from the start by the suits in the boardroom and this is reflected in the final product – a shallow, shameless rehashing of the original. Good-natured gratuity has been replaced by ill-fated juvenility and no doubt sounding a death knell to a possible resurgence of big budget splatter comedies.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆