Researchers from the local university make an astounding discovery in an ancient cave near Crater Lake. Breaking into an unknown tunnel, they find prehistoric paintings on the walls that depict humans battling a gigantic dinosaur. But weren’t dinosaurs extinct by the time man arrived on the scene? The answer isn’t long in coming. A meteor has crashed into the lake, incubating an egg that lay dormant for ages. A monstrous aquatic dinosaur emerges from the depths, wreaking havoc on the once-peaceful town. The researchers, Dan, Susan, and Doc, come up with a daring plan to capture the beast alive, for the sake of science, but they’ll have to race against time and a dedicated sheriff, Steve Hanson, who’s ready to blow the creature back to kingdom come.
eyelights: the stop-motion animation.
eyesores: the outrageously inept script. the day-for-day sequences. the poor performances.
‘The Crater Lake Monster’ is a low budget 1977 creature feature that only made it onto my radar because it came with a RiffTrax commentary. I had made a purchase of two RiffTrax titles and, for a limited time only, they were tossing this baby in for free. I literally had no idea what it was, but had faith that, given the quality of their output, it would be worth it.
I mean, it was free.
Anyway, it so turns out that, unlike most RiffTrax (or MST3K) titles, the DVD contained both the commentary and the original film. Bonus, I guess (if you like midnight trash). What I’ve discovered with MST3K, is that it’s often better to have seen the movie first – otherwise your attention is divided between trying to make sense of the original film and hearing the banter overtop.
So, eager to get to the (hopefully hilarious) commentary, I took it upon myself to take on ‘The Crater Lake Monster’. However, I decided to spread this stink nugget over many non-consecutive days; it’s just not the kind of cheese that you make a full course out of.
The script is ridiculous. With no introduction, a doctor is dragged away from his cozy cabin in the woods out to a cave to look at some paintings that a few scientists he knows just discovered. They were too excited to wait, of course – and too excited to brief him on what to expect, as by the time they get to the caves, he’s still asking them what’s going on.
But what’s truly baffling is that the caves were dug out well past the point where these cave paintings were found. So… what? No one noticed them until that evening? They just happened to be moseying back and forth in the cave and someone suddenly saw them? Seriously, based on the electrical work in there, they must have been on site for days if not weeks already. What gives?
To make matters worse, these so-called “paintings” actually look like they were made with a felt pen, like someone took a black marker and drew on the rock (which, let’s face it, is probably exactly what happened!). So there’s no way that these scientists should have taken this find seriously. If anything, they should have supposed that it was graffiti, perhaps even a prank.
But, no! They look at these doodles of men fighting off what looks like a rubber Brontosaurus and conclude that this is evidence that dinosaurs and man once cohabited on this earth – unlike what had been established by science. Well, no guff! It’s an easy conclusion to make (sarcastic tone inferred). Anyway, they would be proven right, as a meteor would soon hit the nearby lake and wake a dormant monster!
It actually goes downhill from there.
After this riveting discovery, we spent most of the movie in the company of a hick sheriff and/or a couple of hillbilly nitwits who are constantly doing or saying dumb things – not the doctor or the scientists. And when we’re not, we’re introduced briefly to the monster’s next victim – usually a hapless guy who stumbles about the woods or onto the lake for no real reason but to be eaten.
Stupendously, the violence is off-screen and the results are silly. One man gets eaten while he’s in the water, but his boat is covered in blood, as though he were in it. Another gets eaten while the Sheriff is looking the other way, silently disappearing without a scream and leaving foaming pink stuff in the water. Even better is when the two nitwits find the head of one of the victims – an empty, plastic mask that looks nothing like him.
The actors weren’t very good, but what made it worse was the unbelievably lame bumbling comedy duo that they threw in there. These two became as important as the leads, if not more, even if they didn’t move the story along. I didn’t mind most of the other actors, actually (I’ve seen worse), but these guys really didn’t have any comedy chops – their timing was off, they couldn’t manage the physical stuff, nothing.
On a technical level, the thing that got to me the most were the day-for-night sequences: they were so inept that they were in reality day-for-day. I mean, you couldn’t tell the difference between night and day most of the time. So these guys would be outside with a flashlight and you’re wondering why the heck for. Or they would feign surprise when then found something in the “dark” – something that was mere feet away.
And, at one point, one woman comments on the beautiful starry night. In the middle of the day!!! Too much!!!
On the plus side, the stop-motion animation wasn’t all bad (some claim it as the film’s only redeeming value), but it was poorly integrated in the picture, much like early CGI was – and sometimes still is. To make matters worse, they would often cut to these fake looking props for close-ups of the monster, making the whole scene look like complete crap. Yeah… it’s not great, no matter what anyone says.
The merging of live and stop-motion got so ridiculous that, at the end (I’m not spoiling anything, really, even I’m giving spoilers), the Sheriff fights the creature with a small bulldozer and he actually never really hits it. And yet, the creature is wounded to the head – even though the bulldozer could at best reach one of its knees. The creature also threw a plasticine “victim” from its maw – leaving the real actor to feign being wounded.
‘The Crater Lake Monster’ is a real stinkfest, there’s no doubt about it. But it feels like a home movie in some ways, like a film that your kid made. You know the kind: the type of film earnest enough that, for all its unfathomable flaws, you can’t hate it entirely. You want to condescendingly pat the participants on the head, or affectionately tousle their hair, and tell them: “Hey, not bad. When you grow up, maybe you’ll actually make movies.”
Post scriptum: Thankfully, I can now “clean my palate” by watching the RiffTrax version. I’m sure they’ll make the most of this film’s ineptitude.
Dates of viewing: March, 2014