The Crater Lake Monster
A beast more frightening than your most terrifying nightmare!
Year of Release: 1977
Running Time: 85 minutes (1:25)
Director: William R. Stromberg
Richard Cardella ... Steve Hanson
Glen Roberts ... Arnie Chabot
Mark Siegel ... Mitch Kowalski
Bob Hyman ... Richard 'Doc' Calkins
Richard Garrison ... Dan Turner
Kacey Cobb ... Susan Patterson
Michael F. Hoover ... Ross Conway
Suzanne Lewis ... Paula Conway
The peace and tranquility of an idyllic mountain lake resort is shattered as an ominous meteor falls to the icy bottom surface of the lake. This occurrence causes the water to warm, incubating the dormant egg of a prehistoric creature.
Reports of missing livestock, sightings of a "strange" creature, and the mutilated body of a senator found floating in the lake, begin a puzzling investigation for the town sheriff and two local scientists.
When it's discovered that this creature is from prehistoric times, a dispute erupts between the scientists and the sheriff. Will they preserve this "scientific find?" The safety of the community is at stake as the aggressive predator is forced to seek food on land.
The Crater Lake Monster, remindin' us that the United States Cattlemen's Association may talk a big game, but when an 80-ton Jurassic predator starts munchin' your herd nobody wants to take your call.
And speakin' of unexpected water hazards, I'ma try to stay focused on this review, but if I sound distracted it's 'cause I'm writin' it between bites from the seat of Skunky Hernandez' '74 Starcraft while Billy Hilliard and I restock the whole of Lake Skunky one livewell at a time. Normally we can go months without havin' to replace the stock, but we had an impromptu fish fry last night that got a little outta hand and caused a temporary power outage durin' the second feature.
I'm not sayin' she's a jinx or anything, but somethin' like this happens every time Sadie Bonebreak succumbs to the whining of 'er bummer half and promises to include 'er in the recreational activities of regular human beins, and this week's experiment in suburban rehabilitation therapy was catfishin' 101.
She tried duckin' Billy and me at the concession stand but got stuck at the counter while Juanita was tryna crowbar the lid off a fresh drum of nacho cheese sauce.
"Mutt. Jeff," she mumbled, inspectin' 'er watch.
"Goin' fiffin'?" Billy asked, noting the tackle box not quite concealed behind 'er work boots.
"Yeah, I... the missus, ya know... she wanted to..." Sadie muttered lookin' skyward, seemingly hoping a 747'd crash into the concession stand and end her suffering.
"Seriously?" I replied, failing to stifle a chuckle.
"She--" I started sayin' as Sadie grabbed my collarbone and brought 'er nose to within half an inch of my own.
"Stow it. I'm gonna talk and you're gonna listen - it's been a bad day, understand? The Ramcharger broke an axle this morning, the crew boss bawled me out for yardin' a log onto some pissant rookie who stole my coffee thermos, and I can feel my uterus bein' twisted into a multi-segmented balloon animal as we speak. So if you don't want your face to match the Louisiana murder rap takin' place in my underpants right now, I'd suggest you plan your next statement carefully," she warned.
"Tell 'er to catch a big one for me... I'll be up at the projection booth... in a defensible position... if either of ya need anything," I wheezed, backin' away slowly through the crowd.
"First time somebody spits chew juice on 'er foot she's gonna scream loud enough to bust the windows outta every rig in the back row," I told Billy once we were safely outta earshot.
"Prowy weowin' fwip fwopf," Billy grimaced.
"That's true. Maybe the back THREE rows, then," I recalculated.
In hindsight, that outcome mighta been preferable to the one we got, 'cause about fifteen minutes into The Crater Lake Monster life started imitatin' art in a real inconvenient way.
'Course I'd decided to keep my distance from Mrs. Sadie's fishin' lesson for fear of havin' unwanted right angles installed in my skeletal structure, so at the time I was unaware that the ladies Sadie had brought the little pocket mongrel they adopted down to the pond with 'em or maybe I coulda warned 'em. It's not anybody's fault really, but because of our catch-and-release policy, some of those catfish'd gotten pretty big. Too big, evidently.
You can't hear much up on the deck of the projection booth ever since Skunky got Dick Buford to install speakers up there so you could tell when the dialogue'd gotten desynchronized from the movie, so Billy and I had no idea anything was amiss till people started bailin' outta their cars and runnin' over to the pond.
"The hell's goin' on down there?" I hollered to Val Winthrop.
"It was HUGE! Sombitch swam clean up onto the bank and swallowed some gal's dog!" Val yelled back without stoppin'.
"You fpove..." Billy thought aloud.
"Yes, I spoze," I affirmed.
By the time we made it to the pond it was complete chaos. Periodically you'd see the fish that slurped the dog surface and thrash erratically - its meal plainly disagreeing with it - and every able-bodied man was either up to his ass in the pond with whatever he was able to dig out of his trunk that might help capture, bludgeon, or slow the fish long enough to get a handle on it; but it was just too big and too far out to corral.
"What goeen on?" Skunky demanded, having waddled outta the concession stand after detecting the significant drop off in deep-fried food sales.
"I TOLD you not to let people use hot dogs for bait! Now one of your junk food lunkers' gone and ate Mrs. Sadie's little purse pooch!" I yelled over the commotion.
"Thees problem?" Skunky asked, genuinely confused.
"Priscilla!" Mrs. Sadie wailed from the far shore, tryin' to break free from Sadie's grasp and dive in after the dog.
"Skunky, if we don't rescue that rodent you're lookin' at one of two things - 1) Mrs. Sadie sues you back to Guadalajara," I explained.
"What second thing?" Skunky winced.
"Sadie marches you into the pond at gunpoint wearin' nothin' but a life preserver," I said.
"I save you, perra rata!" Skunky squealed en route to join the human chain that'd begun forming.
Time was runnin' out faster'n a redneck on his child support payments. All the remaining options sucked sump pump sludge, so I settled on the one least likely to cause irreparable damage to the local service economy.
"Skunky! Get everybody outta the water! I got an idea!" I barked.
"Okay, but you all ees weetness - I reesk life and leemb for mutt!" Skunky acknowledged before herding the patronage back to the shore.
"Billy, you're with me - quick, up on the roof!" I said, pointin' toward the near side of the concession stand.
"Vif beh'ow be good," Billy grumbled, takin' the stairs three at a time.
Once we'd secured the high ground I reached down over the edge and carefully unhooked the bug zapper that hangs opposite the pest strips, ensured the extension cord was securely plugged in, and teed it up on the edge of the building.
"I haven't got the leg for this, but if I know my 5th Grade kickball history this oughta be a cinch for you," I told 'im, pointin' out toward the pond.
"'You'w kidding, righ'?," he balked.
"It's only 30 yards to the center - I saw ya kick Scooter Schatz' whole body a third of that in a soccer game once - just trust me, it'll work!" I pleaded.
Billy shook his head, planted his feet, lined up his approach, and booted that zapper what we later measured to be 37 yards, and dropped it just a smidge past dead center.
Electricity coursed from one end of the pond to the other for a good six seconds before blowin' every fuse in Skunky's house, but it was enough to fry all the fish in the pond and bring 'em floatin' to the surface. I was reasonably sure the fish's hide'd protect the dog from the shock, but after two minutes in its gutbucket air musta been in pretty short supply, and when none of the carcasses showed any signs of movement we feared the worst.
Everyone piled in and carefully sliced open the bodies till Rocky Pogue found Priscilla clingin' to life inside the gizzards of a 33" muck monster and freed 'er from 'er piscean prison. Mrs. Sadie pushed 'er way through the crowd and performed mouth-to-snout resuscitation on the little booger until, finally, she spat up a half-pint of water and what appeared to be a coupla partially digested cat turds.
"Don't you EVER scare mama that way again!" she blubbered, pressin' the miserable, waterlogged creature to 'er chest before handin' it off to Sadie and climbin' up Billy's torso.
"You saved her!" she swooned, coverin' Billy with hysterical kisses.
"I don't know what I'd have done if..." she trailed off in quiet contemplation before goin' to tend to Priscilla.
"Fee kiffed me," Billy gloated.
"Yeah, right after she slipped that skanky little dog the tongue," I reminded him.
"Ugggggggg fuuuuuuuuuuu..." he recoiled, compulsively wipin' his face with his sleeve.
Took 45 minutes to get the power back on, but we restarted the flick and got 'er done around 1am. I guess it all worked out, but I don't think I'll ever forget the smell - an ominous combination of ozone, undercooked fish, Skunky's terror sweat, the toasted worms that got fried when the pond started arcin' onto nearby fishin' poles, and nachos. Think maybe I'll bring my own snacks to the flicks for a while.
I dunno if all that excitement was just a tough act to follow or whether there were a lotta short-sighted people in the audience P.O.'d about bein' stuck in their wet Wranglers the rest of the night, but I can't recall ever seein' the drive-in so quiet durin' the second feature in all my time as projectionist. It's possible, though, that everybody was just starin' in rapt attention tryna figure out what the hell kinda movie they were watchin' - 'cause I've sat through it three times now and I sure's heck don't know. Kind of a slapstick science fiction monster-on-the-loose police procedural I guess you'd call it, but before you go closin' the window thinkin' to yourself - "Oh, another one of THOSE, I'm outta here," I'd be derelict in my duties if I didn't mention the police chase involvin' a Buick Sportwagon, and a dinosaur vs. snowcat sequence that's almost as good as the dinosaur vs. excavator battle from Dinosaurus. Bet that gotcher attention, didn't it? I thought so. I'm sure you're probably champin' at the bit to get into this one now that you know what it's got to offer, so lemme just finish my pitch with a few of the flick's scholarly insights into constitutional counties and their practical approach to handling a crisis of Cretaceous proportions. First, never skip church to go on a fishin' trip - 'cause if you think kids throwin' rocks into the water's disruptive, you're not gonna like what happens when the Big Guy notices you're not in the pews. Second, you can autopsy a severed head if you want to, but some folks may find the body of evidence lacking. And third, Stand Your Ground guarantees your right to a private fishin' hole, but may prove insufficient as a defense against two-ton flippers.
The movie begins with a pair of excited archaeologists (Dan and Susan) beggin' this old masochist who keeps his thumb down in the bowl of his pipe all the time (Doc) to come see what they've discovered in the Lost Dutchoven Mine located on the shores of Crater Lake. Once inside, they show 'im some cave paintins of stick figures puttin' a dinosaur through obedience training and Doc's just about to tell 'em what fine young artists Mrs. Coogins' 2nd Grade Class're blossomin' into when a radioactive frisbee comes cruisin' down from outer space and hits the lake so hard that it triggers a cave-in, and by the time everyone makes it out they all hafta walk real gingerly 'cause their wedgies accidentally got compressed into diamonds from the strain of their clenched butt cheeks. The next mornin' Sheriff Steve takes Dan and Susan out on a boat so they can dive for the space rock to make sure there aren't any threatening Martian letters attached to it, only the rock's so hot that a guy could open up a catfish restaurant on the bottom of the lake and so they decide to abandon their quest to forge intergalactic samurai swords and go back to their Pleistocene art critiquin'. Unfortunately, the meteorite landed right next to a dinosaur egg leftover from Fred Flintstone's grand slam breakfast platter and incubated it like a set of surrogate saurian saddlebags, and six months after hatchin' and makin' like a bus fulla Sumo wrestlers at Moshi Moshi Sushi the Crock Ness Monster has no choice but to come ashore and start eatin' bored claims adjusters from Astoria to supplement its diet.
'Course it doesn't hafta be this way, but Sheriff Steve orders these two dock jockeys (Arnie and Mitch) to quit rentin' out boats to every alcoholic British magician who happens by, and in doin' so, accidentally cuts off the monster's Oardash delivery service. So now Arnie and Mitch hafta reevaluate the details of their business plan, only they can't agree on whether to invest their remainin' capital into a wood splittin' franchise or a case of Natty Light and they end up poundin' the chaw outta each other in the shallows until they roll onto a severed head and Steve hasta chew 'em out and explain that they only reason they didn't get eaten's 'cause the Ugopogo doesn't wanna get ringworm. Then Doc autopsies the head and after careful examination of the teeth marks in the brain, is able to rule out suicide as the cause of death. While that's goin' on, some 3%'er livin' on a workman's comp settlement goes into town to rob a liquor store and ends up killin' the cashier and a single mother pickin' up a fifth and a bottle of Carnation baby formula, only he makes the mistake of stoppin' for lunch in Crater Lake and winds up in a high-speed chase through the woods with Steve's 20-ton police-issue Buick Sportwagon barrelin' down on 'im until he hasta ditch his ride over a cliff and hunker down. Mercifully, the Cheesiosaurus gets to 'im before Steve does, but because of the size of Steve's enormous brass balls, he never catches sight of the monster and is forced to conclude that the pink chunks floatin' around in the water are the result of a colonic explosion that occurred when the perp realized who he was dealin' with.
The next day, Steve returns to the lake to search for additional clues and narrowly escapes bein' chomped by Flipper Gore, but when he tries to secure a witness for his inevitable competency hearing the only thing he's got to show Doc're a buncha footprints the size of kiddie pools. Steve's in way over his copstache on this one, so he and Doc head over to Dan's place to see what kinda insight his Master's Degree in Smugonometry in can provide, and Dan suggests that they're either dealin' with a survivor from a prehistoric age, or a moonshine still with enough potency to fell Dean Martin. Naturally, Dan's more interested in what the discovery could mean for science than keepin' his head attached, so Steve decides to do the democratic thing and holds a forum in the pancake house to decide whether to attack the beast or begin construction on a 50' tall crate and a really big prop stick. Unfortunately, the lake snake has other plans, and when it finds out the town's conspirin' against it, it launches an all-out assault on a defenseless haystack and leaves Steve no choice but to fire up the town's Snowcat and kick some Jurassic ass. There ain't a helluva lotta movie left so I'm gonna go ahead and stop now to avoid spoilin' what remains, but if you wanna check it out for yourself it's in the public domain and you can watch it at the link below.
Alrighty, well, they promised a lake, they promised a monster, and based upon the production values they certainly delivered that crater as well - so whatever else anybody says about it, they got what was advertised. 'Course if you listen to Richard Cardella (the writer/lead actor), he'll tell ya Crown International Pictures butt-fumbled the post-production and refused to come up with the scratch for the pick-up shots that would've shored up the plot holes, and while that's impossible to argue when nobody bothered to run a scene filmed at noon through a blue filter so that the "look at all the stars, I've never seen so many" line ain't just referrin' to the sun, I think tryna dump this whole thing back in CIP's lap is just a teensy bit disingenuous. I mean, to pin all the flick's failings on CIP when you've written a script that pushes the saurian extinction event back to a mere 8000 years ago so it'll coincide with the volcanic creation of Crater Lake and then presenting supporting evidence for your premise in the form of cave paintins drawn on the inside of a man-made mineshaft so as to make plausible the hatching of an egg that remained viable underwater for thousands of years until a meteorite crash lands close enough to incubate it, but not so close that it gets poached in the process seems a little... dubious. Don't get me wrong, I'm not sayin' there couldn't have been some fairly heavy exposition scenes that addressed those concerns, but I will say that I agree with Cardella when he says that said scenes would have improved the movie, 'cause watchin' somebody try to fill in those particular holes woulda sent the movie's entertainment score through the roof.
Yes, Cardella is absolutely right when he points out that the botched day-for-night shots damage the continuity and credibility of the flick. He's also spot-on in hammering the astonishingly dated stock soundtrack that interjects an absurd, incongruent "Wonderful World of Disney" vibe that destroys any sense of menace that may have existed moments before when the monster was chewin' the heads off walleye fishermen. And I'll even grant that the lack of dissolves and fades in the editing room does suggest a certain level of inexperience on the part of the editor (or, alternatively, that they were under pressure to get the film in the can as quickly as possible). But for every technical blunder he cites, there's a "comic relief hicks get stinko on moonshine and wrestle" sequence or gratuitous armed robber introduced to pad the body count scene, and these weren't written into the movie as an oversight - *somebody* thought these added something positive, took the time to film them, and allowed them to be included in the final cut. Somewhere Roger Corman is shakin' his head in disappointment, 'cause not only did they add an additional film canister by runnin' over that 78-minute running time, but they did it to add sequences of zero value to the movie. To summarize - there's PLENTY of blame to go around - with second helpings available for a few of these folks.
In any event, what say we try scrapin' the yoke offa this skillet and see if an omelet can be salvaged from this busted-ass egg. The plot, as I alluded to earlier, is approaching Jaws: The Revenge levels of absurdity, and makes you long for the time-tested 1950s mantra of - "oh, yeah, probably atomic radiation what done that." You either accepted it or you didn't, and regardless, the exposition was complete - which's how it oughta be. The more movin' pieces you've got in your story, the more likely a mouse squeezes itself into your gearbox and causes it to seize, at which point people start scrutinizin' your work even closer and wonderin' why you chose a lake with such a short history, or whether that particular geographical area woulda been affected by the last Ice Age, and that's the last thing you want because once the nitpickery of the premise begins it also means nobody's paying attention to the story. In short, it wasn't the lack of post-production corrections that trashed this flick, it was the script - plain and simple.
The acting is undisciplined and amateurish, but despite a cast whose experience was likely limited to community theater (if that), you've probably seen worse. There's zero charisma, stage presence, or chemistry between most of the characters, but most of the poorly-written dialogue is delivered semi-naturally. The one very unfortunate exception is the work of Glen Roberts and Mark Siegel as the comic relief bumpkins, who have decent chemistry together and successfully add a little slapstick humor in the vein of Gilligan's Island. I say this is unfortunate because when the two guys givin' the best performances are the ones throwing the movie's tone into complete disarray, it greatly reinforces the hypothesis that nobody in charge knew what kinda movie they were supposed to be making. It's not as damaging as the Keystone Cops from The Last House on the Left, but a guy could get cinematic whiplash as the flick snaps back and forth between dinosaur chompage and the redneck musings of Arnie and Mitch as they ponder their next business venture between tick inspections. Essentially, we've got a whole buncha people whose one-time-use S.A.G. cards ended up in a photo album currently residing in their children's attics. It's pretty rough, but slightly north of horrendous.
Here's who matters and why: Glen Roberts (The Evictors), Richard Garrison (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, The Zodiac Killer 1971), Michael F. Hoover (Shakespeare's Plan 12 From Outer Space).
The special effects are interesting in the sense that the practical ones are some of the most pitiful constructions ever put to film, while the stop-motion dinosaur sequences are brilliantly brought to life by the late great David Allen, who, at the time, was probably the second-best stop-motion animator in the business behind Ray Harryhausen who retired four years later after completing Clash of the Titans. Rarely will you ever see two departments working on the same movie with such a craftsmanship disparity between them, so if you really want a reason to watch this flick, this is the best one I can offer. David Allen would go on to animate for Charlie Band and Empire Pictures on flicks like Puppet Master, Ghoulies II, Dolls, Subspecies, and Bride of Re-Animator, as well as Larry Cohen's The Stuff and Q, the Winged Serpent, and many other big budget productions like The Howling, Witches' Brew, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. For what it's worth, it's probably safe to assume that the stop-motion budget was way, way bigger than what was given to the guys building the severed head and the floating lump representing the dinosaur's head on the surface of the lake, but it's still a sight to behold.
The shooting locations are excellent if you can look past the fact that Crater Lake has a very distinctive appearance, attributable to the conditions under which it was formed, and that, consequently, Huntington Lake in California looks nothing like it. Nonetheless, the fog-shrouded forests surrounding the lake make for an idyllic setting, and the authentic mine shaft and log cabin restaurant help to present a rural community that goes beyond the usual wheat fields and sage deserts, creating something more akin to a mountain retreat. You actually spend so much time out in the sticks that the robbery of the liquor store feels jarring and inconsistent with the rest of the movie, and while it's understandable that the crew would be limited in terms of finding a store willing to shut down long enough to let them film, it would have been better if they were able to secure a compact little Mom & Pop operation that's been run by the same elderly couple for the last 50 years. The cinematography is also pretty good given the film's budget and the difficulties encountered while filming in a boat, and although the driving sequences filmed in a stationary vehicle being rocked back and forth enthusiastically by production assistants are hysterically goofy, generally speaking, their inexperienced DP did a nice job.
The soundtrack is a complete hodge-podge of internally inconsistent genres of music, including an opening sci-fi track, a Western-inspired tune during the mine collapse, a comedic Pink Panther-esque piece, a track that sounds like something you'd hear in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon playin' over the hillbilly drinking interlude, and every bit of it predates the film's production by 10 - 20 years. To be fair, it's not as damaging as it would be if the movie's plot were linear or had a focused theme (because at this point a musical score cobbled together from stock material is simply one more problem in a long series of them), but only a small portion bears any resemblance to a fright film, and ultimately you can't really destroy a film's atmosphere when its genre is never clearly defined in the first place.
Overall, half the flick's technical score comes from the shooting locations, and I was pretty lenient considering they were piggy-backin' on a well-known location they didn't actually film in. It's pretty surprising that the MST3K/Rifftrax guys didn't tackle this one until 2021 given its public domain status, although it does kinda make sense when you consider just how long the more gratuitous scenes drag on, as those sequences may have proven difficult to riff. There's really no reason to sit through this one unless you've just gotta see every stop-motion dinosaur movie ever made, so unless that's your jam I'd steer clear, 'cause the Surgeon General oughta slap a warning on this turd.