Crater Lake Monster/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Crater Lake Monster

It's important to know The Crater Lake Monster was distributed by Crown International Pictures when it was released in 1977. Crown usually picked up genre movies no one else wanted and distributed them. They did this for nearly 30 years. Crater Lake Monster was written by and stars Richard Cardella. It was produced and directed by none other than William R. Stromberg. The names Richard Cardella and William R. Strombert don't ring a bell? Well the good news is, they apparently did not unleash any other films on the world before or after this turkey.

One of the recognizable names in the credits for this movie is David Allen (credited as stop motion supervisor), who tried to carry the torch for the classic Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen and George Pal style of stop motion, clay-mation type special effects in several films from the 1970's through the 1990's. Allen rarely worked with a budget large enough to do more than give us an idea that he was capable of truly creating something out of nothing. There are a few shots in Crater Lake Monster which show Allen's talent. Mostly however, too little money and bad editing leaves little of merit to all but the most insistent completists. Allen's work is inter-cut with additional shots of bad props and a Styrofoam looking close up of the monsters head. Ludicrous is a word that comes to mind easily. Allen honed his craft by crafting such icons of t.v. advertising as the Pillsbury doughboy !!! He worked with Larry Cohen on "Q: The Winged Serpent" and "The Stuff" and frequently worked for Charles Band. Allen unfortunately died of cancer at the too young age of 54 in 1999. If you read credits Jim Danforth's name is familiar because he's done special effects crew work on dozens of films dating back to 1962's "Jack the Giant Killer" (a personal fave of mine) and has worked on some Ted V. Mikels pictures as well.

Crater Lake Monster is to giant dinosaur movies what Robot Monster was to 3D science fiction movie. In other worlds it's place on the shelf is a few DVDs down from such entertainingly awful films as Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Mesa of Lost Woman. So if you're looking for a lesser known film with which to create your own Mystery Science Theater 3000 start calling up the old gang , pop the corn, and announce to all who care you have now found a genuine piece of amateurish drive-in trash called Crater Lake Monster.

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This one has pretty much everything you could possibly want from a turkey classic except naked women. Yep it has the unbelievably bad awful acting, and terrible dialogue you expect from the genre. It has some ridiculously under-developed sub-plots, and lots of gaffes.. the most ridiculous one being when a couple pretend to be romantic (poorly) while in a boat on a lake and pretending to look up and talk about the stars in the sky when it is obvious the scene was shot at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day. The film uses and borrows some of the most ridiculous musical cues you'll ever hear. You get a mixture of everything from bad cartoon music sound-alikes, to snippets of big band swing written for a Holiday Inn elevator near you. There's a couple of suspenseful 'sting' kind of musical cuts used which are the type of thing a Buchanan or Ormond or Tucker would have used in their films in the early 1960's.

Some spelunkers (cave explorers) discover some interesting ancient drawings depicting a battle between humans and dinosaurs. Why this would prove some dinosaurs survived longer than anyone ever thought before. The good doctor (a local) is brought in for another opinion. Why? Well, uh.. I'll have to get back to you on that. A meteor flies out of the sky and plunges into Crater Lake, which is not in Oregon, but actually Huntington Lake in the Palomar Mountains of California. There's a friendly sheriff (Richard Cardella) who looks like a cross between Dennis Weaver, Clint Walker and Harry Reams complete with some fabulous 70's Elvis styled side burns. Hey, he wrote the film, he can play the sheriff if he wants.

Way too much footage is devoted to the antics of Arnie Chabot (Glen Roberts) and Mitch Kowalski (Mark Siegel) who portray two local hicks who run a boat rental and tackle shop business on the lake. They play dumb and dumber spouting dialogue so bad, it would have been rejected as sub-par by the people who slapped together the final few 3 Stooges shorts with Joe Besser in the mid 1950's. The dialogue is as bad as any you're likely to encounter this side of a hillbilly, moonshine comedy directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis. The words painfully un-funny and amateurish spring to mind. It's so bad it takes an effort to laugh AT what you are watching. At one point these goons have a badly paced tit-for-tat fight where a poke leads to push, leads to some dirt kicked on some shoes (shoes which have magically improved from the last time we saw them!!!), to a punch, to a kick in the butt, to a dumping into the lake, to some dunking in the water, wrestling in the water and the discovery of a very rubbery decapitated head just as the Sheriff conveniently arrives shaking his head at the antics of these morons.

Get the idea? The local doctor Richard Calkins (Bob Hyman) character is the smartest guy in town because he smokes a pipe and sometimes looks off in the distance deep in thought. Unfortunately he's not smart enough to avoid wearing plaid pants that might have been okay to wear to the golf course in the 1970's but certainly don't seem appropriate in a small mountain community.

Suddenly characters are introduced without much rhyme or reason, except of course to be victims for the monster. There's the businessman who rents a boat and goes out on the lake to fish, and there's the alcoholic magician and his assistant/wife. Car trouble brings them to the little town and then they walk toward the lake, rent a boat from Arnie and Mitch and after looking at the stars and moonlight in the middle of the afternoon, they are Attacked by the Crater Lake Monster otherwise known as a carnivorous plesiosaurus, which is what someone decided the Loch-ness Monster might be (The Lochness Monster was still newsworthy in 1977).

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There is the crazed redneck bad guy who rather than pay for his little flask of cheap swill from the circle K, shoots the cashier and the woman who enters the store already carrying a bag of groceries (I kid you not !!!). Don't you enter Circle K's or 7-11's carrying large bags of groceries from supermarket that bad guys can shoot through and you drop them to the floor adding drama to your death scene? The bad guy doesn't even rob the cash register. Eventually he's chased by the sheriff, nearly drives off a cliff, runs into the woods after getting shot in the leg and finally is food for the monster.

There's also a visiting Senator in town. Does any of this have much to do with the plot or add to anything you might mistake for suspense? Of course not. The budget doesn't allow the filmmakers to show the monster attacks in any way you would remotely call effective. The little gore that's in the film consists of some blood splattered on some rocks, and a rubber head that is shown very shortly before being put into a large baggie.

In one scene there's some blood smeared inside of a small row boat. It doesn't make any sense since that particularly attack the blood is related to, took place with the victim already out of the boat and in the water. Oh but that's why we love films like this right? They make absolutely no sense.

It's also interesting that when various characters in the film begin describing the Monster, they don't immediately say.. well it's some kind of dinosaur. They go to great lengths to describe it as a giant lizard of some kind with flipper things instead of feet. You'd think no one ever say Beast from 20,000 Leagues or The Lost World or Godzilla or Jurassic Park !!!

This is one of those movies you have to see for yourself to believe how inane it truly is. The action seems to be taking place in a very short period of time, but some dialogue then suggests that the meteor crash occurred 6 months earlier and that means the strange shot of this giant egg in the bottom of a dressed up swimming pool (which is supposed to be the lake) makes sense because obviously it was supposed to have hatched when the water was heated up after the meteor crashed and then miraculously turned itself into this humongous creature over the course of a few short months. Well that would explain why Mitch and Arnie talk about fishing being really poor in the lake for the whole summer, I suppose.

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Then there's a scene where an endless discussion takes place about somehow taking the monster alive because it is important to the scientific community, (and because every creature feature about a dinosaur showing up in modern times has to have this scene). Then the brainiac locals decide they can't let anyone else know about it because it would set off a huge panic. Of course in the next scene there is town meeting to discuss how to get rid of the monster. A town meeting held in the local diner !!! During the town meeting, one of the locals stumbles in with some ketchup on him (blood I guess) and rants about being attacked by a monster.

This leads to the climax where the monster hurls giant bales of hay at the towns-folk until the sheriff decides he's had enough and wants to challenge the hunk of clay to a duel with the snow plow. Wait a minute didn't they have a T-Rex face off against a Steam Shovel way back in a low budget 1960 film called Dinosaurus (about a Neanderthal and a good and bad dinosaur waking up in modern times)? Yes they did. That film, in fact just about any film, would seem like Citizen Kane compared to this one.

If you have the impression Crater Lake Monster has an impressive climax, let me assure you that is not the case and I hope your ashamed of yourself for even thinking such a thing is possible. In fact you will be scratching your head going.. what? That's it? You're kidding!!!

Of course they aren't kidding, this is a serious genre film of special importance that once played the bargain kiddie matinee and Drive In Theaters across this great land of ours for at least a week in 1977. It premiered on January 1, 1977 and I remember seeing it on triple bills of drive in theaters at least two summers in a row for a week or two in 1977 and 1978. To put it into historical perspective the film was released shortly before Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, and a year before low budget films were altered forever with the release of Halloween in 1978.

Crater Lake Monster appears to be a mercifully short 85 minutes. It still contains at least 30 minutes of blatant padding and consequently feels like it's much longer than it really is. Actually perhaps that's 80 minutes of padding. Boredom sets in at times, but if you're able to watch it with some animated friends, you might find yourself having a wonderful time watching this so bad it's almost good film that helped make people not get too depressed over the fact that films like this would become rare because Drive in Movie Theaters were being replaced by tract homes and condo's in the late 70's and early 1980's.

Reviewed by Count Graf Orlock

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