Thursday, May 23, 2013

Movies That Suck: The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

This is a very special installment of Movies That Suck in that this was one of the biggest disappointments of my life as far as films go. The Crater Lake Monster was a movie that I had wanted to see for many, many years, ever since I saw its trailer on, you guessed it, Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies. I remember that trailer vividly because it actually did scare me. Of course, I was very, very young at this time and I would end up being terrified by The Blob when I was eight but, nevertheless, that trailer had some particularly creepy music that really did give me cold chills. Even though the movie itself looked like a standard monster movie with stop-motion used to bring the monster to life (I recognized those effects as being the same type that was used in The Lost World and King Kong, even if I hadn't yet learned what the term for them was by then), that eerie music was what stuck out to me about it. Mom almost considered taking that VHS back to the store when I told her how scary that trailer was to me! In any case, after the impression its trailer made on me, The Crater Lake Monster became yet another one of the dozens and dozens of horror and sci-fi movies that I became aware of as a young child and wanted to see but wouldn't until many, many years later. As also happened with many of those movies, when I got old and mature enough to understand film criticism, I read up on the movie and learned that its reputation wasn't a good one at all. Every review I read just blasted the movie, calling it stupid, terrible, and one of the worst monster movies ever. Still going on nostalgia from that trailer, I thought to myself, "Did they see the right movie?" By this point, I was able to comprehend that a lot of the films that I had watched and thrilled to when I was young weren't exactly classics but, still, I was like, "It can't be that bad, can it?" Well, I found out when I finally saw the movie for myself when I was 21.

My God, was this a huge letdown! Throughout the years, I had heard people refer to this as one of the worst giant monster movies ever made and I do feel that it's deserving of that moniker. It fails on every single level that a film can. As a monster movie, there's not nearly enough of the monster (and if you've read some of my other reviews, you'd know that's a big sticking point for me when it comes to these kinds of films). The characters and acting range from just okay to bad and, "I don't give a flying crap about this person." When there's comic relief, it's stupid and groan-inducing,  accomplishing nothing except stopping the movie cold. And as far as the movie's entertainment value goes, there's none, not even on a cheesy B-movie level. Now, after reading up on it, I have learned that there were a bunch of problems concerning the production company behind the film and even the lead actor, who also helped write the movie, said they screwed it over. However, while that might be true, I still have to judge the movie on what it became, not what it could have been, and having done so, there's no getting around it: this movie is just awful!

One night, a meteorite crashes into a lake that sits near a sleepy little town, raising the temperature of the water up to 90 degrees. Little do the nearby residents know that the impact also unearthed a plesiosaur egg that was resting within the mud on the bottom of the lake and the already increased temperature of the water combined with the natural effect of the sunlight acts as a natural incubator for it. After it hatches and grows to full size, it's not long before the lake monster begins eating not only the fish but anything it can get, including people. As the number of people who have suddenly gone missing near the lake rises, the local sheriff investigates the odd happenings himself and eventually comes across the monster. While he would like nothing more than to kill the creature before it gobbles up every last person living near the lake, there are others who want to keep it alive due to its scientific significance and others still who want to use it as a tourist attraction. However, they'd better decide what they're going to do soon because the monster, having eaten all the fish in the lake, has now started to come ashore in order to find food.

This movie killed the careers of just about everybody who was involved with it, chief among them director William R. Stromberg. This is the only film the guy has ever been involved with in any capacity, co-writing the screenplay and producing as well as directing. This is where I would normally give you some background on the director but for William Stromberg, I have nothing. The only information on him that I can give is that his sons Robert and William T. have done much better in their respective careers than their father, particularly Robert. He's a very successful visual effects artist and production designer, having done work for all sorts of big movies like Avatar, Men in Black II, Pan's Labyrinth, 3:10 to Yuma, and many, many others. While William T. Stromberg, his composer brother, has worked mainly on little-known documentaries, shorts, TV movies, and direct-to-video films (one of them being Starship Troopers 2... yowza!), at least he has more than just one credit on his filmography, unlike his dad! I'm not trying to be mean to William R. Stromberg but it just astounds me how this movie really did tank his career and he never worked again. In any case, knowing how much interference this film had from its financier, which hired an editor who was either a complete idiot or just didn't give a shit at all, it's rather hard for me to say whether Stromberg was a really bad director or not. Maybe a better movie could have been made out of the material if they had gotten a better editor but still, given the material in the finished film, I have my doubts that the movie would have been improved that much. I could be wrong, though.

Like Stromberg, the career of Richard Cardella, who plays the lead role of Sheriff Steven Hanson as well as wrote the movie with Stromberg, was utterly destroyed by this movie. It's a shame too because for me, Cardella is the only person in this movie who's halfway decent. His acting isn't the best, mind you, but it still at least feels like he's trying to make his character likable and someone you'd want to root for. Hell, he's the most sensible person in the film, wanting nothing more to destroy the monster once he finds out about it. He does briefly go along with the others' insistence that the creature not be killed but when the monster crawls out of the lake and attacks a defenseless man, proving that it's just too dangerous to be left alone, he does the smart thing and decides to kill it himself. I also like his interactions with the other townspeople, especially these two idiotic hicks who annoy him to no end, and the way he sincerely tries to find out what's going on and keep everyone safe. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't smirk when he's talking to a couple of paleontologists after he sees the monster and when one of them asks him how big it was, he says, "I really didn't take time to measure it!" Cardella does manage to make Hanson the only character who actually has a personality that you want to follow. Unfortunately, he doesn't have nearly enough screentime or good material to work with in order to give a really great performance and save the film. In addition, the effort that he does put forth is ultimately wasted because of just how bad the movie is as a whole.

When I said earlier that the film's comic relief does nothing but bog the movie down and make you groan, I was referring to these two dumb redneck characters named Arnie (Glen Roberts) and Mitch (Mark Siegel, who has actually gone on to have a successful career in effects and art direction) who get a lot more screentime than they should. These guys own a boat-rental business at the lake and when business starts to get bad, they become desperate and do almost anything to get someone to take a boat out. One very unlucky person who rents a boat from them is one of the first to become food for the monster and the discovery of his severed head later on is what first tips off Hanson that something unusual is going on. They also rent out a boat to a couple who just narrowly manage to escape from the monster and have to blow up the boat in order to drive it away. When you first meet Arnie and Mitch early on in the movie, I don't mind them. It's when the movie starts to spend much more time on them than it should that I get tired of them rather quickly. They're so stereotypical in how redneck they are that it's just cringe-inducing. Arnie is a big blowhard with a  really thick beard who thinks he's a lot smarter than he is and tends to boss Mitch around. He's the one who is determined to get some money out of this rapidly disintegrating business, even if it means not telling someone that the fishing is no good anymore or that a boat's outboard motor doesn't work. Mitch has a little more of a conscience, not feeling right about doing that kind of stuff, but he's still just as dumb as Arnie is, not knowing how to fix a boat motor and thinking that Arnie spelt the word "bait" wrong when he actually spelt it right. The weirdest thing about this two guys for me is that they remind me of my good friends the Creepy Kentuckian and Uncle Bill from Deadpit.com, especially Arnie, whose large build and big beard makes him look an awful lot like CK. If they were in this movie instead of these guys, it would be a whole lot better, believe me!

Like I said, these two characters get way too much screentime and their shenanigans do nothing but stop the movie dead in the water. What's amazing to me is that I originally wrote that a couple of these scenes go one for like ten or fifteen minutes but, after going back and running through the film again on YouTube, I've found out that they're actually more like three to five minutes. That just baffles me because these scenes sure do feel a lot longer than that! Whether it's the scene where the two of them get into a fight by the lakeside, eventually leading to them discovering the head of one of their most recent customers, or an extremely drawn-out scene where the two of them first sit around outside their house (what a dump that place is, I might add) all crestfallen because of how their business is going down the tubes and then proceed to get drunk and wander around the woods, I could have sworn that those scenes went on for about ten minutes. Just goes to show how mind-numbing they are. The inevitable question is who do I find more annoying: Mitch and Arnie or those idiot cops in The Last House on the Left? I don't really know. They're both so intrusive that they make you groan whenever they appear onscreen. I guess since those cops interfere with that film's very brutal, exploitation tone (although, to be fair, they're not the only aspects of that film that do that) and feel completely out of place, whereas this film is nothing more than a typical monster movie and Arnie and Mitch do fit with the environment that's depicted here in that you could buy these two guys living here and running this tiny boat rental service, they're a lot worse. Still, Arnie and Mitch's schtick just gets really tiresome after a while and it makes you wish the movie would go back to, you know, the monster! This is The Crater Lake Monster, not the The Crater Lake Rednecks.

They also try to give Arnie and Mitch's friendship a tragic twist when Arnie gets himself killed by the monster at the end. Throughout the movie, Mitch keeps telling Arnie that the boats are "theirs," not just his and after Arnie is killed, one of the last shots is Mitch sitting there, quietly saying, "Our boats, Arnie. Our boats. Damn you, Arnie." Okay, here are three things wrong with that. First, I would have cared a lot more about this if they had emphasized their friendship more than just characterizing them as complete buffoons who fight more than anything else. Second is an extention of what I've been saying along: these two ate up so much of the movie with their schtick that it just made me sick of them. When Arnie died, I really didn't care. Going back to The Last House on the Left, it would be like if one of those cops killed when they burst in on the climactic revenge of the parents and the other mourns his loss. I wouldn't give a single flying crap about it because, after all the dumb, distracting scenes with those two, I don't want to see them ever again. And, finally, what does Mitch mean when he sits there and says, "Our boats, Arnie"? Is he upset because Arnie ended up getting killed because he was trying to protect his interests, as he himself said, and no one else's, including Mitch? Is it because Mitch felt that Arnie was trying to break away from their partnership to make his own money from the monster? That makes no sense seeing as how the entire town would benefit from having a living plesiosaur in their lake. Who knows what they were going for? I probably just thought much deeper into it than the filmmakers did! Bottom line, Arnie and Mitch are meant to be comic relief but come across as nothing more than a nuisance that you just can't get away from.

Hanson, Arnie, and Mitch are, for better or worse, the only characters in this film that actually have distinguishable personalities. The rest of them are as cardboad as you can get. Bob Hyman (whose only other acting credit is from an episode of Insight) as Dr. Richard Calkins, the local doctor, does nothing but go through the typical, overly dramatic paces, talking about how dedicated the local paleontologist is to his science, how important his discoveries are, and how he's baffled by the strange events happening around the lake, saying that, "they're up against something that defies every natural law." This kind of character and acting style was passable in the 1950's and 60's but this was 1977 so they should have been beyond by this point (plus, Hyman isn't a very good actor either). Also, why is he so quick to side with the paleontologist in wanting the plesiosaur to kept alive? Earlier, he seemed really concerned about what might be killing people around the lake but now that he knows that it's a prehistoric animal, he seems more worried about its importance to the scientific community. That, combined with what he was saying earlier about how important the paleontologist's discoveries are, makes me think that he chose the wrong profession! I'm not saying that medicine has to be a doctor's only interest and a living dinosaur would be cool, no doubt, but still, given that he is supposed to be a doctor, he should be more concerned about saving lives than the importance of science. He should be much more like Hanson, who puts his job first and proclaims, "I don't give a damn about the scientific community!" Dan Turner (Richard Garrison), the aforementioned paleontologist who wants the monster to be kept alive, has so little screentime that when I looked at the cast list on IMDB, which I always do just so I can keep everyone straight, and saw the name, I actually didn't know who he was for a minute! That's how little of an impression he makes. And other than how he's so enthusiastic about his work that he actually drags Calkins to the mine where he discovered an old cave painting at the beginning of the movie and that he's dumb enough to risk the lives of a bunch of people for science, there's nothing else to write home about when it comes to him. One thing I do have to say, though, is that he's supposed to be a paleontologist and yet, he's studying cave paintings and a meteorite. The filmmakers do know what a paleontologist is, don't they? I have even less to say about the character of Susan Patterson (Kacey Cobb) other than she's Turner's assistant and... girlfriend, I guess? What's worse is that she's the only female character to get any real screentime (which itself isn't much) and even then, there's nothing to her at all. And in case you're curious, Kobb's only other acting credit is an episode of some TV show called Misfits of Science, although she is listed as having been a technical advisor on a TV movie called A Bunny's Tale. Yeah...

The rest of the characters in the film are nothing more than cannon fodder for the monster. One of the first to fall victim to it, Jack Fuller (Marv Elliot), is later revealed to have been a U.S. senator and exactly what he was doing up at Crater Lake is unknown. This subplot is never brought up again or resolved so I guess Fuller was just up there to get away from it all and to fish (or, who knows, maybe he was there having an affair and was fishing to kill time). The most memorable ancillary characters who encounter the monster are Ross (Michael Hoover) and Paula Conway (Suzanne Lewis), a showbiz couple who are passing through on their way to Las Vegas and go out on the lake to kill time while their overheated car is fixed. (Hoover is another member of the cast who turned to effects work when his acting career went nowhere and has managed to be quite successful at it. Maybe everybody in this movie should have tried their hands at it!) You get a little bit of development with them, in particular the fact that Ross has had a drinking problem in the past which messed up the last show that they did and he's trying to quit. You also get the usual fish out of water feeling when the car carrying these two, who are no doubt used to bright lights and big cities, breaks down in the small town near the lake. It's never dwelt upon but you can, at the very least, sense it. They also manage to survive their encounter with the plesiosaur and are eventually rescued and taken to a hospital, which actually did surprise me the first time I saw this film. I was so sure that they were dead meat the minute they got onto the lake. I guess that counts for something. However, even though there is an attempt made to give these characters a little bit of depth, it's done in a bare bones way and, ultimately, they're still rather bland and don't leave much of an impression.

One guy who comes out of nowhere and whose motivations for doing what he does are very unclear is this criminal (Sonny Shepard) whose introduction is very abrupt and shortly after we do first meet him, he robs a liquor store and eventually ends up at Crater Lake. What I meant about his motivations being unclear is the fact that when he robs the liquor store, he doesn't immediately make his intentions clear. He doesn't go up to the clerk and hold him at gunpoint. Instead, he calmly walks into the middle of the store, gets a bottle of booze, brings it up to the counter like he's going to pay for it, and then holds the clerk up and proceeds to shoot him as well as some poor woman who walks in on the whole thing. And here's the kicker: he doesn't take the money from the register! It's not like he has no time to do it because the cops are on the way. Nope, he just shoots them and calmly walks back out the door. Why? What was the point of that? I have never heard of any criminal doing that. And don't tell me it's because he's probably just a psychopath because even most psychopaths aren't this reckless. That's not the end of it, either. When the guy stops at the small diner near Crater Lake, he takes one look at Hanson checking out his car (for that matter, it's not explained why Hanson did that) and, once Hanson walks to his patrol car, runs out of the diner, gets in his car, and drives off. He very stupidly shoots at Hanson while driving off and this leads to a chase. Is this guy just a complete moron? Why did he shoot at him? It's not like Hanson saw a weapon in his car or anything when he looked through the window. All he saw was the now empty liquor bottle. Again, I don't know exactly why Hanson was so interested in the guy's car but, still, that was no reason to shoot at him. You might think that Hanson recognized the car from a description he may have gotten from a witness to the liquor store robbery but later on, Hanson says that he doesn't know why the guy opened fire on him so that wasn't the reason. Maybe he was just checking it out because it was a car that he had never seen before and in that type of small town, you notice when a stranger shows up. In any case, did it occur to that guy that if he didn't shoot at Hanson and just played along when he calmly told him to stop when he was attemptiong to leave that he wouldn't have chased him? Dumbass. In any case, Hanson chases the criminal all the way to the lake, including on foot after he wrecks his car, and before Hanson can arrest him, the guy is killed by the monster. The whole thing just leaves you thinking to yourself, "Well, that was pointless."

The best thing about The Crater Lake Monster, by far, is the monster himself, especially when he's brought to through David Allen's stop-motion effects. Whenever the monster comes ashore and you see him in all his glory, he looks great. Allen was a really good stop-motion animator, having done work for stuff like Equinox, a famous Volkswagen commerical featuring King Kong, and he would go on to do effects for flicks like Planet of the Dinosaurs, Laserblast, and The Howling (although, unfortunately, all of his work for that film ended up being cut save for one brief shot in the middle of a dissolve). His animation on the monster is great and it looks as convincing as stop-motion can, in my opinion. The monster looks good, with a dark green and brown color scheme, and appears to have scales and small bumps on his back while his underside is completely smooth. He moves rather fluently and convincingly. The way he drags himself across the ground is, as Steve Hanson himself describes, like a seal and consistent with how you'd expect a big creature with flippers to move on land. When he turns his head and opens his mouth, he not only looks rather realistic but he's also kind of intimidating, with the angry expression on his face and the fairly creepy roar they give him. So, regardless of how bad the movie is as a whole, the Crater Lake Monster himself is great... when he's brought to life via stop-motion. Unfortunately, when the stop-motion isn't being used (and it's not used that much, in all honesty), the monster is conceived through some really bad full-size models. Oddly enough, though, I kind of like the first shot of this fake head just because of the way it looks, with this bird-watcher hearing the monster roar and then getting out his binoculars and seeing him swimming around in the lake. I don't know why but the shot of the binoculars of the monster's head as he swims through the lake looks really cool. I guess it makes me think of sightings of the Loch Ness Monster and what that would look like if someone just saw its head above the water as it was  swimming along and doing its thing, oblivious to the fact that someone was watching it. However, that notion is destroyed when it becomes clear that the head in this shot is all there is. With the way it bobs in the water as it moves, you can tell that there's nothing supporting the head from below. Now I know that stop-motion is impossible to do in water so they had no choice for these type of shots but these head shots tend to look very bad.

There's also a model of the monster's head that sometimes appears underwater, like in the scene where he kills Jack Fuller. That looks okay, though you don't see much of it save for very tight closeups of the eye, neck, and the mouth, which is probably all they could get away with seeing as how it clearly didn't have much articulation to it. That's another problem with these big models: there's no life to them. Going back to the death of Fuller, look at the couple of times where you do see the monster's full head underwater as Fuller tries to get back in the boat. The head barely moves and doesn't appear to be attacking Fuller at all. How Fuller got eaten by such a lethargic monster is beyond me! And ironically enough, when they do try to give these fake heads some life, they look even worse. In the scene where the monster kills the criminal that Hanson chases to the lakeside, all we see are some ridiculous shots of the monster's head up in the air, waving back and forth. It looks the monster's trying to work out some kinks in his neck rather than attack the guy. (By the way, how is it that there's absolutely no sound when the monster supposedly kills this man? We don't hear anything, not even a scream, and as a result, Hanson doesn't know what happened... and I'm pretty sure a few viewers wouldn't know either.) The same goes for the shots at the end when the monster attacks and kills Arnie, particularly the closeups of his head when he grabs Arnie by the legs and of his head and side when Hanson gores him with the bulldozer. God, that looks horrible! They really do put the camera too close to the models in those instances. But the worst effect in the movie by far is the severed head of Jack Fuller that Arnie and Mitch stumble upon while fighting each other in the shallows of the lake. Being a big horror movie fan, I've seen some pretty bad fake heads but this is quite pathetic and, again, they put the camera too close to it so you can see how fake it is. Oddly enough, though, the film still managed to get a PG-rating despite the presence of a severed head (although some sources, including the film's own DVD, say that it's rated R). I guess they figured that the movie was so stupid that not even a severed head warranted a stronger rating.

While we're on the subject of the monster himself, let's talk about the poster for the movie. Like The Giant Claw, this is another instance where the poster is not at all truthful to what the monster in the film actually is but it's even worse in this case. At least the poster artists for The Giant Claw, despite having not seen what the monster looked like, got the general idea and drew some sort of gigantic bird on the poster. The artists for The Crater Lake Monster, on the other hand, apparently didn't even bother to watch the movie because the theatrical poster shows a T-Rex. Yeah, a damn T-Rex! I don't think it's that elusive of a fact that a T-Rex and a plesiosaur are two completely different things. At least the DVD art shows a plesiosaur but, man, what a blunder. Maybe they heard that the company behind this movie didn't seem to care at all and screwed the movie over, so they figured, "If they don't give a shit, then why should we?" To that end, I'm surprised that the movie's trailer didn't use the meteorite as an excuse to say that the monster is an alien, a sort of inverse of the trailer for The Giant Claw, which seemed to think that the bird was a prehistoric relic and not from outer space, as the film itself made clear.

Although some of the effects used to bring the monster to life aren't very good, they're not the film's biggest problem. For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of it is that the monster is not in the movie nearly enough. For the most part, all we get are some very brief attack scenes and shots and while the stop-motion used in some of these instances is, again, very well done, they ultimately leave a lot to be desired for. Granted, at the very end of the movie when the monster ventures out of the lake and attacks a mechanic, we get a little more time with it but, yet again, it's not much to write home about. For those of you who don't know, this a big issue with me when it comes to monster movies. When I watch one of these flicks, you better give me my money's worth when it comes to the monster or you're not getting any mercy from me. That's one of the reasons why I don't like the movie Q: The Winged Serpent, even though a lot of other people do: it has so little monster action, even less than this does. Some may say that I'm being unreasonable about this but, honestly, I don't care. I'm paying to see the monster, not a bunch of yahoos sitting around talking or, in the case of this film, acting like idiots, and if I don't get my fill of it, I'm going to be pissed.

Just as bad or perhaps even worse than the severe lack of the monster is that even when the monster appears, the scenes have no energy to them whatsoever. This is seriously one of the most boring monster movies I have ever seen. Whether it's the use of the stiff models that can't do much, the actors' less than frantic reactions to the monster (I swear, that nobody here runs from him in absolute terror), the aforementioned briefness of the scenes involving him, the less than stirring music (I'll get to that later but trust me when I say that the music in this movie is awful), or just the simple fact that most of the scenes aren't directed in any way that would get you excited, there's no excitement to be had here at all. Not even the supposed climax is exciting in the slightest. The monster comes ashore, injures a mechanic off-screen, throws a bail of hay at Hanson's car as he drives up to him, Arnie gets himself killed by riding with Hanson on the bulldoze, and Hanson kills the monster with the bulldozer. Great. Seriously, for the entire movie, I'm just sitting there bored out of my mind, waiting and waiting for something entertaining to happen and it never does. It's not even entertaining in a cheesy, B-movie way because, one, some of the effects are actually pretty good; two, the ones that are bad aren't onscreen long enough or shot in an enertaining enough way for me to get some enjoyment out of them; and three, other than Arnie and Mitch, whose unfunny and intrusive antics I've already talked about, none of the characters are so badly acted or over the top that they're entertaining. They're either just okay, in the case of Richard Cardella, or they're so bland and unremarkable that you can forget that they're even in the film (again, the character of Dan Turner, whose name I didn't recognize in the cast list even after I had just watched the movie). Bottom line, I don't find this movie to be at all enjoyable or entertaining, even on a bad movie level. I just think it's boring as sin.

As if the film wasn't bad enough by being boring and not having many scenes involving the monster, you have to add really bad editing into the mix as well. According to Richard Cardella, after Crown International, the financing company, took complete control over the film, they turned it over to Steve Nielson, whom Cardella only referred to as, "some hack," to do the editing. Well, that is, if you can call what that guy did editing. This film is just an absolute mess in terms of simple structure. For one, you don't have any idea when any scene is taking place or even how much time has passed from one scene to the next. Let's take the very beginning of the movie: the meteorite crashes into Crater Lake one night and the next day, Hanson and Calkins take Dan Turner and Susan Patterson out onto the lake in order to look for it. Simple. When the two of them attempt to dive down to investigate it, they immediately come back up and say that it's still too hot and they'll have to wait until it cools off, which could be several weeks. Fair enough. And then, that's when things get confusing. We're treated to a montage of the sun shining down onto the lake, the plesiosaur egg on the bottom being incubated, and several cuts and push-ins on the shore and the lake itself. Right after that is when the monster claims his first victim and he's already a full-grown plesiosaur. Needless to say, a lot more time has passed that you may have initially thought but how much? Well, later on in the film, we find out that it's been six months since the meteorite crashed into lake. Six months?! A caption saying SIX MONTHS LATER or at least some dissolves signifying the passage of time would have really helped! Cardella mentioned how this editor didn't make a single fade or dissolve in the entire movie and he's right. Without those editing tricks that let you know that some time passed from one scene to the next, you have no idea where you are in regards to the film's narrative and you quickly become disoriented.

Now after that last paragraph, you may look at the film and say, "Well, at least you know at what time of day a scene is taking place." You want to bet? The scene where Ross and Paula Conway go onto the lake and end up getting stranded on the far end where they're attacked by the monster takes place on a nice sunny afternoon... right? Actually, it's supposed to take place at night, it's just that Crown International were too lazy to put in a filter to make it look like it was at night. Now, day-for-night shooting is very common in these types of low budget films and you can always tell when something was really shot during the day and later tweaked to make it look like it was taking place after dark. The thing is, though, you have to actually do the tweaking. You can't just shoot it during the day and say, "Ah, we'll just say it's at night. Nobody will notice," because someone will notice. You can't even rationalize it by saying that the full moon was out because it would never cross your mind that it was supposed to be at night until Ross mentions, "moonlight on a gorgeous lake," and Paula shortly afterward says, "Look at the stars. I've never seen so many." They could have easily just cut those lines out and it would have been fixed. What's worse is that it's so confusing when you try to think about where this scene is in relation to the ones preceeding it where Jack Fuller is killed by the monster and Arnie and Mitch report him missing. We later see Hanson on the telephone in his office, saying that they were up half the night looking for him. Naturally, you think that this is the next day but it's right after that when Ross and Paula arrive at Crater Lake and since their encounter with the monster is supposed to be at night, it's clear that this is all meant to be happening on one long day. But, again, you wouldn't know that until you realize from their dialogue that this is supposed to be at night and then, being a rational person, you would confused as all get-out. And just to add to the confusion, when Paula and Ross are driving in their car, it does look like it's at night and there's even one shot of the setting sun but, when they get out, it's back to broad daylight. In fact, you can't even trust the scenes that do look like they're at night. Going back to the scene where Fuller gets killed by the monster, that appears to be taking place at night but you later see that it's still the middle of the day and in this instance, I know it is so because Arnie says that Fuller is probably so stubborn that he'll stay out after dark. If Arnie hadn't said that, though, I wouldn't have been sure. (Now, some might argue that the reason that scene looks like that is because of all the steam coming off the lake but even when I was a kid and saw that part in the trailer, I was sure that was at night.) See what I mean? You can't even trust the movie to let you know at what time of day something is. You have to depend on the characters for that! It really does seem that Crown International and the editor just  didn't care at all. It's bad enough when you don't know how much time has passed throughout the film but when you can't even be sure what time of day a scene is taking place, you're fucked!

Going back to that criminal, not only are his motivations unclear but his introduction into the film is so abrupt that it could give your brain whiplash. It happens right after Ross and Paula are attacked on the shore by the monster and Ross sets their beached boat on fire in order to drive him away. The monster leaves, Ross holds Paula in his arms as they try to calm down, and then, BOOM! You're looking at the inside of some rundown apartment and some guy whom you've never seen before is shown loading a gun, leaving the apartment, and driving through this town before he enters the liquor store and robs it (or rather, just randomly kills some people and only takes a bottle with him). Incidentally, this was very clearly shot at night, I might add, but knowing how ass-backwards this movie is, it wouldn't surprise me if this is supposed to be during the day and forget to make it look like it was. In any case, after he's robbed the store, we go back to the actual plot but you're left wondering if you sat on the remote and ended up at another movie. Now, of course, that guy does come back into the movie and is killed by the monster but until he does, you're no doubt very confused as to what that had to do with anything. And what's more, where is this guy? This town he's in is an actual bustling place, with a theater and everything, unlike the town around Crater Lake which barely even counts as a town. Why did he even wind up at Crater Lake? It's not like he's on the run for killing those two people in the liquor store. There were no witnesses. He could have easily gone back to his apartment and back to what he normally does but nope. He just randomly goes to Crater Lake, shoots at the local sheriff, gets chased down to the lakeshore, and gets himself eaten. I'm telling you, nothing about this criminal makes any sense. It's just stupid.

As bad as the editing is, I can't blame the movie's sloppiness all on it, though. There are also instances that I think are examples of just plain bad filmmaking. In the scene where Arnie and Mitch get into a fight by the shore of the lake, we suddenly cut to  Hanson pulling up into what appears to be a field. The first time I saw this movie, I thought we had gone to another scene but then, it becomes clear that Hanson's actually watching them fight. I would have never, ever thought that because the perspective of where they're fighting and where he's watching it from is so messed up and doesn't match at all. I still don't know exactly where he parked in relation to where they are, especially given where he comes into the shot with them after they come across Fuller's severed head. If I'm not making sense, just watch the movie and this scene in particular and you'll see what I mean. A little bit before that, when Arnie and Mitch first start to argue, we're suddenly treated to a wide-angle lens shot that has Arnie's face right up to the camera. First time I saw this movie, I was like, "Whoa, way too close!" It's just so unexpected and awkward that it's doubtful you wouldn't have the same reaction that I did. And there are several more shots like that as their arguement continues, with Arnie just staring right into the camera. It made think, "Are you two going to fight or just inspect each other? I don't care which but take the camera off of Arnie's face, please!" (Plus, there's a fly on his forehead in one shot. That's lovely.) And finally, when Fuller's empty boat is found, there's blood in it even though Fuller fell out of the boat and was dragged under the water before any sort of bloody wound was inflicted upon him. Before you accuse me of just being nitpicky, I want to say that I'm usually not even aware of a lot of errors or plotholes until I hear someone else point them out because I'm often so engrossed in the movie. However, I noticed this hiccup the first time I watched the movie and, trust me, if that's the case, then you're really not doing your job well. Now, to be fair, there are some good examples of technical filmmaking in this movie, in particular the POV shots of the monster when he comes out of the lake. Those are very well done. But still, I don't think that the bad editing is completely to blame for why this movie is so bad. I feel that some of it is simply because William Stromberg isn't that good of a director.

I'm not exactly sure what state this movie takes place in. Naturally, you'd assume that this is meant to be the real Crater Lake in Oregon but, if you know anything about that place, it quickly becomes obvious that this can't possibly be it. I know that this lake is actually Huntington Lake in California and therefore, even though it's never made clear, I would assume that this fictitious Crater Lake is somewhere in California as well, which would explain Ross Conway's statement of being three or so hours away from Las Vegas. (If this is meant to be the real Crater Lake, then Mr. Conway is more of a drunkard than I originally thought.) Wherever it's supposed to be and despite how bad this movie is, I will say that it's a great location. The lake is quite beautiful, with its blue water that glistens in the sunlight and the small islands that you see here and there. The long shots of it tucked in the middle of the pine-covered mountains are also very picturesque and any self-respecting postcard would be proud to have those images on them. In fact, the lake looks a lot like Loch Ness, with its long and narrow shape and, ironically, looks more like it than the lake that's actually supposed to be it in the film The Loch Ness Horror. So, above anything else, the location is very nice to look at and does make a great setting for this type of movie... if only the movie itself was any count.

Back at the beginning of this review, I mentioned that eerie bit of music that was in the trailer that actually scared me when I was a kid. That piece of music is in the movie at the very beginning but once it and the fair enough opening credits music is over, the score goes completely downhill (although, I will say that there's some rather odd music that plays in a scene where Calkins is examining Fuller's severed head that I do kind of like). A man named Will Zens did the music but I could swear that it was actually some really crappy public domain music that they added to the movie. Even Richard Cardella called it a, "canned score." Maybe he was fooled by its generic, archival sound like I was. Whether it was actually written for this movie or taken from something else is irrelevant, though, because it sucks either way. If you've been reading my reviews for a while now, you would know that I've said before that a music score can sometimes make or break a movie for me. Well, even though many other things broke this movie for me, the music was the final nail in the coffin. There is nothing memorable or inspired about this music whatsoever. It's just generic tripe that doesn't add anything to the movie at all. The worst bits are the silly music that they add to the scenes involving Arnie and Mitch, especially the one in the scene where they're sitting in their cluttered yard outside their house. It's just so bad and generic that, when you hear it, it could possibly make you think that the movie itself is public domain. The same goes for the piece of music at the end of the movie that's meant to be sad because Arnie's just been killed. (They actually put that music on the DVD menu, so you know from the get-go that this movie's music is going to suck.) I just can't stand that type of music simply because of how uninspired it is. Bottom line, like just about everything else that has to do with this movie, the music is just terrible and adds just a little bit more to how much this movie blows.

The Crater Lake Monster is a film that deserves all of the crap that it gets and deserves to be called one of the worst monster movies ever in my opinion. It's boring, sloppily edited, the filmmaking itself leaves a lot to be desired for in some cases, the characters are mostly just cardboard cut-outs, there's way too much stupid comic relief involving Arnie and Mitch, and the music is a horrible, generic, public-domain quality score. Whether or not production problems are to blame for why it is this way, the bottom line is that the movie is still really bad and is a chore to get through. And yet, despite all of this, the film was able to take in $3 million, which isn't bad considering that its budget was under $100,000. I also know that there are people out there who do like it in a bad movie way, that it is a fairly popular example of B-movie cheese (it's even on Blu-Ray, for God's sake), and to all its fans, I simply say great. Continue to enjoy it. Me, though, I hate this damn movie. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life when it comes to movies and I now that this review is done, I will never watch it again.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dino Flicks: The Giant Behemoth (Behemoth, the Sea Monster) (1959)

Here's yet another film that I was first introduced to via Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies, but unlike a good number of the other movies whose trailers were part of that compilation (like The Giant Claw, Tarantula, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Jason and the Argonauts, and many others), this is one that I feel was actually appropriate given the subject matter. What it did have in common with a lot of those films is that the trailer would stay in my memory throughout my childhood and I would read more about it in some library books on old sci-fi flicks that I found both at school and at a library twenty minutes away from where I lived, but I wouldn't see the actual film until many, many years later. The first time I actually did see it was when my parents and I were on vacation in Florida. I'm not exactly sure when that was but, if I were to guess, I would say that it was anywhere from 1998 to 2000, placing me within eleven to thirteen years old at the time. Mom and I had just gotten back from the nearby zoo and when we got up to the room in the condo we were staying at, Dad was watching it, either on Turner Classic Movies or AMC (I miss what AMC used to be, don't you?) I got to see the last half of it, particularly the Behemoth coming ashore and marching through London, as well as his destruction at the end, and naturally, being a fan of monster movies, I had fun with it and wished that I could have seen the whole thing. Funnily enough, the next year, when we went back to the same place in Florida, Destin (it was a tradition for us back then), Mom and I went to a video store one day and I ended up finding and buying the VHS of The Giant Behemoth. Talk about serendipity! In any case, after we had gotten back home and I watched the movie, I was a bit disappointed because I quickly realized that I had pretty much seen all of the scenes involving the Behemoth himself the previous year. I had thought that there was more stuff involving him that I'd missed but, as it turned out, the first half of the film is build-up, which, for an energetic, monster-loving pre-teen, was more than a little disappointing.

Naturally, though, as I got older, I began to really appreciate the build-up to the Behemoth and now, after watching the film again for this review, as I hadn't seen it in a long time, I feel that it's actually the film's best asset. Don't get me wrong, the monster himself is still quite nice, as I'll get into shortly, but now that I'm an adult, it's my opinion that The Giant Behemoth is one of those films whose build-up is a bit more satisfying than the payoff. Also, I was originally going to make this another installment of B to Z Movies but, after watching it again, I think that it's actually very competently made, save for some technical hiccups here and there, so I couldn't in good conscience make it part of that series. And by extension, I don't think the DVD deserves to be in a 3-pack with Attack of the 50-Foot Woman and Queen of Outer Space, as it's much better than either of those movies.

In London, American scientist Steve Karnes gives a lecture to other scientists about the number of nuclear tests that have been conducted over the years and his concerns about the effects these tests are having on the ocean, particularly the increasing amount of radiation that has made its way into the food chains in the areas near the test sites. He concludes his lecture with his fear of something rising up from the sea and striking back at humanity if the radioactive pollution continues. His feelings are soon given validity when a fisherman in the seaside village of Cornwall dies as a result of strange, hideous burns that he received from something that he only managed to describe as "Behemoth" before expiring. In addition, tons of dead fish are found to be washing up onto the beach soon afterward, threatening the livelihood of the village. Hearing about this on the news in London, as well reports of a sea monster from another village, Karnes, along with British scientist Prof. Bickford, travel to the area to conduct some tests. While none of the fish left and no traces of residual radiation are found at the spot where the fish and the man were discovered, Karnes still believes that there's something very bizarre and alarming going on. After examining specimens of fish taken from along the coast, it's eventually discovered that something is indeed contaminating the fish in certain areas with deadly radiation. Karnes becomes determined to find out what this thing is and, after he gets a small glimpse of it while searching the coast in a small boat, the creature eventually reveals itself to be an enormous, undersea dinosaur called a Paleosaurus, now intensely radioactive and able to physically project the radiation from its body via its natural electric currents. Now, they must come up with a way to destroy it quickly because, according to an expert on the subject, the creature's instincts are leading it to the Thames and, by extentson, London.

The film's director, Eugene Lourie, was certainly no stranger to giant monster pictures, as he'd directed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms back in 1953. In fact, many have seen The Giant Behemoth as the first of two instances where Lourie would redo that film, with the other one being Gorgo a couple of years later. In any case, since The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Lourie had mainly directed television but, the year before The Giant Behemoth, he made The Colossus of New York, a pretty good flick that, sadly, has been virtually forgotten by the mainstream. What's interesting is that, while this film may have ended up being a virtual remake of Lourie's well-known directorial debut, by all accounts, it didn't start out that way, and it's quite possible that Lourie may have been disappointed with how it all worked out, which I'll expound upon later. In fact, according to the opening credits of the UK version, Lourie wasn't the only director; Douglas Hickox, whose son Anthony would direct the Waxwork movies and Hellraiser III decades later, was a second unit and assistant director who supposedly got his first shot at being an actual one by sharing the reigns of this film with Lourie. That said, the details of this affair are quite sketchy, as I can't find any info on exactly who directed what and I've even heard some dispute the idea that Hickox did any work on the film at all. I originally thought that, since Lourie's main profession was art direction and effects, and given the fact that he actually did some effects work himself on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, he handled the filming of the stop-motion effects with the Behemoth whilst Hickox directed the live action stuff but, again, due to conflicting reports and opinions, I'm not so sure if that was the case. In any case, to keep things simple, I'll treat Lourie as if he were the sole director, since he's the one who gets the lion's share of the credit and he did help write the screenplay as well.

Let's address the film's title for a little bit. Normally, I don't put movies' alternate titles into the headings of these reviews but I felt that it was appropriate to do so here, simply because I've heard people call it by that title just as much as its American one (the film's own Wikipedia page used to refer to it as such). The original UK title was Behemoth, the Sea Monster but, for some reason, the American distributor decided that The Giant Behemoth would be better. Um, why?  Personally, not only do I think Behemoth, the Sea Monster sounded just fine, I actually like that title more. Not only does it have a much more dramatic and cool ring to it but The Giant Behemoth is an extremely redundant title since "behemoth" is simply another word for "giant." The film's Goofs section on IMDB does try to throw it a bit of a bone, given that behemoth also comes from the Hebrew word for "beast," but when most people use it, it is as another term for giant, so you really might as well just call this film The Giant Giant, as that's what many are going to see it as. In general, I've never understood this trend of re-titling movies from other countries when their original titles were just fine. I understand giving the original Hammer Frankenstein and Dracula films the titles of The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula when they were brought over here so as not to cause confusion with the Universal films (although they had no problem with the Hammer version of The Mummy having the same title), and I can even buy them changing Radon to Rodan so as the monster wouldn't have a name similar to a brand of soap, but, again, what was wrong with keeping the title Behemoth, the Sea Monster? It's kind of silly, don't you think? However, even though I like that title more, since The Giant Behemoth is its American title and what most people over here know it as, I will continue to refer to it as such for the rest of the review (that will also be the case for future reviews of movies that have different titles depending on the country).




While it does follow the giant monster movie formula for the most part, there are some aspects of The Giant Behemoth that I feel distinguish it from the norm for these types of films. One is the tone. While most of the giant monster flicks from this time period have quite a bit of humor interspersed within the story and the rampages of the monster(s), this one has very little. There are tiny bits here and there but, for the most part, this is a very serious film and does not play its subject matter for laughs whatsoever. I think that could be the British influence. While stuff like the Hammer films and such did have humor here and there, it usually just came and went and wasn't dwelt upon for very long. I think the fact that the film is set in the British Isles adds to its overall atmosphere. With the skies almost always being gray and overcast and the waters of the rolling, choppy ocean having a virtually black look to them, enhanced even more so by the black and white photography, it gives off a rather gloomy and foreboding feeling. To see for yourself, look at the quiet, partially foggy shots of London right before the Behemoth comes ashore and attacks the city. From that image alone, you can feel the eerie, foreboding feeling that's in the air, as they keep an eye on the harbor, waiting for the monster to appear again. Finally, the film does not have a hopeful conclusion. With most of these types of movies, once the monster is killed, the crisis is over and everyone can go on with their lives. However in this film, after the Behemoth has been destroyed, the two main characters get into a car and hear on the radio that dead fish are washing ashore in America, suggesting that another Behemoth or a similar radioactive monster has just reared its ugly head. After hearing that, our main character, Steve Karnes, makes a very frustrated face and briefly shakes his head, knowing that not only is it not over but it probably hasn't even begun. You can almost see it as an answer to the ending of Them!, where the main characters become concerned about the effects of all the other nuclear tests that have happened since the original one in 1945 that created the film's giant ants. The Giant Behemoth ends by telling us point blank that whatever test created the Behemoth was only the beginning and validates Karens' statement about, "a biological chain-reaction, a geometrical progression of deadly menace" in the film's opening lecture.





An extension of the film's tone is how, unlike most movies that have dealt with monsters created by radiation, this one not only discusses the effects of excessive radioactivity but actually shows it. The film begins, as I've said, with Karnes giving a lecture about the dangerous implications of ongoing nuclear tests and all of the radioactive material that's ending up in the ocean. What really surprised me was that, during this lecture, Prof. Bickford mentions how in Japan, boatloads of fish had to be destroyed even though they were very far from any nuclear test sites. That sounds remarkably similar to a real-life incident that inspired the opening of the original Godzilla, where a fishing vessel was exposed to radioactive fallout from a nuclear test and, not only did the men aboard the ship all die, but, according to one report, some of the contaminated fish actually made it to the market! I can't help but wonder if Lourie and the other screenwriter heard of that incident, which occurred much earlier in the decade, and decided to subtly incorporate it into this film. In any case, this lecture is just the start of this film's surprisingly overt depiction of radiation. We see the effects of the Behemoth's radioactivity long before we see the monster himself, in the form of the tons of dead fish washing ashore at Cornwall, the contaminated fish that Karnes discovers in the laboratory, and, most graphically of all, we see the effects the creature's radiation has on people who come into contact with it. We see the burns on the old fisherman who's the first one to die at the beginning of the film, the end result of one guy touching a bizarre, gooey material that the Behemoth left behind, and several demonstrations of what happens when the Behemoth directs his radiation straight at someone. Moreover, when the Behemoth attacks London near the end of the film, he leaves many people either dead or dying from his radiation and we see this stuff up close and it's not pretty. Finally, they mention the fact that if they hit the Behemoth with explosives, they would blow him to pieces and London would be covered in his radioactive remains, which prompts them to try to find a way to destroy him with his body intact. In short, the fact that this film doesn't shy away from the real-world effects of something huge and radioactive running around makes it stand out from other such films that simply use the radiation as an explanation for the monster's origin and nothing more.



Finally, one last bit of straying from the norm, and one that I, frankly, am happy about, is the absence of a love interest for the lead male character. As much as I love this genre, the idea of there always being a romance between the lead guy and the lead female becomes very tired and cliched after a while and just feels tacked on; The Giant Behemoth doesn't fall into that trap at all. That said, though, the minute you're introduced to the one female character who gets a significant amount of screentime, you're probably thinking, "Okay, she's going to be the love interest," especially when Steve Karnes and Prof. Bickford travel to the village to investigate the reports of the dead fish and the girl's deceased father. But, nope. Karnes and the girl just have one brief exchange whilst he and Bickford are conducting their tests and that's it. On that note, earlier in the film when the girl goes looking for her missing father, she heads into the local pub and meets up with a young man who, even though it's never explicitly stated that they're lovers, you take one look at this fairly handsome guy and say, "Okay, he's going to be the real lead, not Karnes, and she's going to be the leading lady." But, again, no. After Karnes and Bickford finish their testing in this village, these two characters are never mentioned again. In fact, there are no other noteworthy female characters, with the others simply being extras, and if you look at Eugene Lourie's three giant monster movies, it's almost as if he was slowly removing female characters from them completely as he went on. You start with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which did have the typical romance between the lead man and woman; then you have this film, which has only one notable female character and even then, she's only in one small section of it; and finally, you have Gorgo, which has no lead female characters at all and the only women in the movie are buried in the huge crowds of extras. It could all just be coincidence but still, it's a really odd trend that's difficult not to notice. In any case, I'm really glad that this film doesn't have that all-too prevalent trope. Not that I'm against romance but it's just a nice change of pace for the movie to not have that cliched bit of business.

The fact that the male lead, Steve Karnes, is played by Gene Evans is yet another way in which this film breaks with the traditions of the genre. If you've watched a lot of these 1950's sci-fi films, you will have noticed that a good chunk of the leading men in these movies are very good-looking guys who would caught the attention of the the ladies in the audience; actors like Richard Denning, John Agar, and even people like Jeff Morrow and Kenneth Tobey come to mind. However, Evans was just an ordinary-looking guy and yet, at the same time, was fairly well-known, as he was no stranger to fans of westerns and the TV show, My Friend Flicka. I think his casting made the male lead of Steve Karnes much more relatable than had one of those more typical leading men been cast in the role. It also didn't hurt that Evans was a great actor. As Prof. Bickford describes Karnes (saying this to the man himself), he's young and aggressive, and in the opening lecture, he shows us just how much he is so. He makes it clear that he's extremely concerned with the effects that all of the continued nuclear tests are having, particularly on the ocean in regards to the amount of radioactive waste that's being dumped there. Evans plays this scene very well, with so much energy and conviction in his face and voice as he describes the cumulative effects of the nuclear waste on the ocean's food chain that you totally believe him when it comes to the urgency of the situation. But, as often happens in these films, no one else believes him until it's too late. Despite the disbelief that he gets from his peers when he gives his lecture, particularly in regards to his warning that something may rise from the sea and strike back at mankind, he remains undeterred, particularly when he hears about the dead fish and fisherman at Cornwall.

In his determination, he goes down there along with Prof. Bickford, and even though he doesn't find any traces of residual radiation where the fish was, the burn on the hand of the young man, John, which reminds him of similar things that he's seen in relation to the nuclear tests in the Pacific, convinces him that there is something strange and deadly happening. Once he finds indisputable evidence of contaminated fish, he becomes determined to find whatever is causing this, and since there have been recent reports of a sea monster in the same general area, he's sure that must be some connection. Naturally, he turns out to be right again, when he gets a brief glimpse of the Behemoth while searching the area and it's not too long before everyone else believes him as well. He's the one who ultimately comes up with the plan that destroys the Behemoth and he also puts himself in harm's way to make sure it works by being part of the two-man sub that attacks the monster. Unfortunately, though, even after the Behemoth is destroyed, Karnes learns via a radio report that dead fish are washing up in America, proving that his warning at the beginning of the film was more true than he could have possibly imagined and that another Behemoth or a similar creature has made itself known. The look on Karnes' face after he hears this says that he really wishes that he was wrong in this instance.

Completely different from Karnes is Prof. Bickford (Andre Morell), the much older British scientist who eventually becomes Karnes' friend and partner. Bickford is the one attendant of Karnes' opening lecture that doesn't scoff at his warnings about the dangers of the cumulating amount of radioactive materials that's ending up in the ocean, reminding one disbeliever about the incident involving the contaminated fishing boats in Japan. That said, though, he's much less gun-ho than Karnes is, coming across as much more patient and thoughtful. There's a great moment between the two of them early on when Karnes tells Bickford that he's planning on going down to Cornwall to investigate the reports of the dead fish and the man. When Bickford advises him not to rush into things, Karnes comments, "Well, we just can't sit here on our tails and do nothing! In a thing like this, every hour counts!", Bickford reminds him that he's the chairman of a commission that deals with this type of situation and says, "You don't really imagine that we sit around on our tails, drinking tea, do you?" Karnes apologizes for what he said and comes along with Bickford on his investigation. In other words, Bickford wants to find out what happened as much Karnes does but he's not going to jump to any conclusions until he sees the evidence for himself, whereas Karnes has pretty much already made up his mind what's going on. The different ways these men go about their science does make for a rather interesting dichotomy between the two of them. Throughout their investigation in Cornwall, Bickford remains steadfast in his resolve to not be too hasty when it comes to what they find, which isn't much, and while he doesn't dismiss Karnes' feelings that something unusual did happen there, he gives many reasonable and possible alternatives to Karnes' more outlandish ones. What sums up their feelings on the matter and how they go about things in general is when the subject turns to the burns on John's hand. While Karnes says that he knows for sure that those are radiation burns, Bickford says that he'll know it once he hears the report from the London clinic that they sent John to. However, when the mounting evidence does corroborate Karnes' feelings, particularly when it comes to the supposed sea monster, he spends the rest of the movie doing nothing but supporting his friend as well as advising the defense ministry on the best ways to protect London and to destroy the monster. And at the end of the movie when they hear the report of dead fish washing up on American shores, he's now on the same level that Karnes was at the beginning. There's no doubt in his mind whatsoever as to what that report means.



Three characters who are nothing more than a brief subplot in the film are Tom Trevethan (Henri Vidon), the poor Cornwall fisherman who's the first one to die from his encounter with the Behemoth, his daughter Jean (Leigh Madison), and her possible boyfriend, John (John Turner) (again, I say possible because it's only hinted at but never dwelt upon). As you might expect, there's not much to say about these characters since they're only in a very brief part of the film. We do learn a little bit about Tom, in that he loves to boast at the local pub whenever he makes a substantial catch of fish, particularly to John and his friends, and also, according to something that Jean says, he likes to have a drink every now and then. Tom is also obviously quite well-informed about the Bible as well, since he's the one who calls the monster "Behemoth" right before he dies. In fact, during his funeral service, the priest says that Tom was a lot like Job in that he had his fair share of hard times and he even proceeds to read the story of the Behemoth from that chapter of the Bible, almost as if Tom was fated to see and be killed by the monster. In any case, while I can say some interesting things about Tom, I can't say much about Jean and John. Jean clearly loves her father and also likes to tease him about his constant boasting, which Tom playfully denies when she brings it up, but other than that, there's not much to her. John has even less of a character but, again, that's not the fault of the actor but simply because he's only in this small section of the film. John is gregarious enough at first but after Tom dies and he burns his hand on the odd blob thing that the Behemoth leaves behind (which was a very dumb thing to do, I might add), he becomes far less happy-go-lucky, particularly when it comes to the government's lack of reaction to what's happened in the village. However, what doesn't change is how he clearly cares for Jean very deeply. What's strange about John, though, is that, as I've mentioned, once Karnes and Bickford get a look at the burn on John's hand, they send him to a clinic in London where the burn can be more properly examined and Bickford even mentions how he's going to reserve judgment about what happened until he hears from the clinic. You know what the clinic's findings were? Beats me. John is never seen again and we never hear anymore about it, which says to me that either his burn wasn't that severe or he died. Whatever happened, it's amazing that this character was seen as so inconsequential to the film that his fate was never revealed!

One guy who is only in the film for a very brief amount of time but does leave an impression is Dr. Sampson (Jack MacGowran), the paleontologist who identifies the Behemoth as a Paleosaurus. While he's most definitely the typical eccentric scientist, I just love his childlike enthusiasm when he realizes there's a living Paleosaurus swimming around in the ocean, saying that ever since he was a child, he knew that they were actually still alive somewhere, the cause of all the reports of sea monsters, but if he had said anything about it, he would have been ridiculed by his peers. Besides identifying the monster, he also informs Karnes and Bickford that he's heading for the Thames since that's where he was born, that the species has an instinctual drive to die where they were born, and that the creature has a natural electric charge similar to an electric eel. I also love how forlorn he gets when Karnes informs him that the creature is intensely radioactive, meaning that it will have to be destroyed. After he comes to this realization, he just stares straight ahead in an almost catatonic state and answers a question that Bickford asks with him with a very sad and distracted, "Yes." But as they're leaving, he snaps out of it and energetically tells them to first make a thorough study of the creature, with photographs and the like. Sampson, however, knows that they probably won't bother with any research and decides to do it himself, going out over the ocean in a helicopter along with his assistant to search for the Behemoth. This is another similarity between this film and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, as in that film, Cecil Kellaway's character of Prof. Elson, also goes searching for the title monster and, sadly, another similarity is that Sampson, like Elson, finds what he's looking for but it ends up costing him his life; in this case, Sampson's helicopter is destroyed by the Behemoth's radioactive waves.

One last character I want to touch on briefly is this newscaster (Neal Arden) who gives the report of the dead fish in Cornwall that grabs Karnes' attention early on. I don't know why but I really like this guy, with his relaxed and chatty way of reporting the news rather than the uptight and dramatic way that American newscasters tended to do so in these types of movies made around this time. I particularly like what he says when he moves on to the report of a sea monster from a nearby village, describing it as being, "No doubt one of the Loch Ness variety, with fire-breathing and all that," and closes with this dry remark, "But it does prove one point, ladies and gentlemen. It proves all the Scotch whiskey has not been exported to America." Of course, he's proven to be very wrong later on but nevertheless, I just smile during this scene. I wish newscasters over here were like that instead of being so uptight and gloomy most of the time.



In stark contrast to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which gave you your first look at the title monster practically at the beginning of the movie, The Giant Behemoth keeps the monster off-camera for a good chunk of it. You don't get your first brief glimpse of him until quite a bit in and, by the time he appears in the River Thames and soon after comes ashore to attack London, there's only thirty or so minutes left in the film. I would like to think that Eugene Lourie went about it this way in order to build suspense (which, as I've said, the film does a pretty good job of) but, when you look at the film's production history, it's more likely that it was done out of necessity as originally, the monster in the film was supposed to be completely different from what we actually got. By all accounts, it was supposed to be a radioactive version of the Blob but the distributor decided they'd rather have the film be about a huge, radioactive dinosaur instead and so, the script was reworked to accommodate this concept. Despite this radically different story, though, they kept aspects of that original idea in the finished film in the form of the gooey, radioactive mass which John touches and burns his hand on. However, while we know what that thing was originally meant to be, they never explain what it is in the context of the story that they went with. They probably didn't have the time or the money to reshoot that scene in a way that would accommodate the new story and they had to keep it in since they needed something that would convince Karnes beyond a shadow of a doubt that there's something going on involving radiation, but still, as is, it feels out of place in regards to the rest of the movie. We assume that blob was something left behind by the Behemoth but what was it? Was it, as John himself suggests, a jellyfish or similar such animal mutated by the Behemoth's radioactivity? Was it a part of his skin or some other material from his body that somehow became detached from him? (That doesn't explain why it appeared to be breathing, though.) Was it some type of parasite that was attached to him and got mutated after feeding on his contaminated blood? These are all good questions but after the section of the movie at Cornwall, this thing is never brought up again and even Karnes and Bickford aren't able to explain what it was or why it was shining, which Karnes explains is a quality radiation doesn't have. It's like the giant sea louse in the American version of The Return of Godzilla, called Godzilla 1985, but at least in that case, you have an alternate version of the movie that explains it, whereas here, you don't get anything whatsoever.


After doing a little bit more research, I've found that it seems as if the blob-monster wasn't the only concept that was proposed for the film. Another was for a monster that was completely invisible, which could account for the scene where they discover that the Behemoth doesn't show up on radar (which is never explained in this context either but I think you could surmise that his radiation screws up the radar), and I've also heard one person say that Lourie himself told them that the threat was supposed to simply be radiation emanating from the Thames. These are all some extremely varied concepts we have here and I have to wonder how much truth there is in them, as well as if any of them actually made it to the first draft of a script before it was finalized with the Behemoth. Hopefully, someone else who reads this will know more about it than I do and will be able to provide an answer. In any case, one other thing that I have to wonder about is how Lourie himself may have felt about the concept's very drastic change. It's been said that, in spite of its big success, he was not too happy that The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms pigeonholed him as a monster movie director and, therefore, I'm sure he couldn't have been too thrilled that this film ended up getting reworked into a virtual retelling of that film. These circumstances probably encouraged his decision to retire from directing altogether after Gorgo, which it has been documented was motivated by his realizing that he wasn't going to be able to do anything else.




Regardless of what the monster was originally intended to be, the buildup to the one we got is very well done indeed. Long before we see the Behemoth, his presence is very much felt. We see Tom Trevethan succumb to the Behemoth's radioactive waves, while the monster himself is kept off-camera, and after Trevethan's badly burned body is found, he just manages to say that something came out of the sea and he names the creature as "Behemoth" before he dies from his injuries. Then, of course, after that we get all of the dead fish that were washed onto the beach and the mysterious radioactive blob that burns John's hand. When Karnes and Bickford arrive in Cornwall, they discover that whatever is going on has crippled the fishing that the village depends on, threatening the people that live there with starvation. One of my favorite moments in this section is when a few fishermen are asked if they saw anything unusual and one admits that he saw some strange lights beneath the water, saying it looked like a large cloud, like what you might see when you look at a city at night with a storm coming on. The music that plays in this section really adds to the mysterious, eerie quality of whatever it was he saw. Even though Karnes and Bickford don't find any residual radiation in the area, the reports of the dead fish, the lights the one fisherman saw, the burns on John's hand, and the deceased Trevethan's last words of "Behemoth" tell Karnes that there is something going on that requires more investigating. As they pack up to leave, Karnes says, as he looks out the window at the sea, "One thing's for sure: something has happened here that isn't in the book. Something came out of the ocean... and now has gone back into it." Gene Evans' delivery of that line, the shot of the ocean that accompanies his statement, and, again, the music, give you the sense that something is definitely out there.





When Karnes dissects many specimens of fish from up and down the coast, one of them is revealed to contain a strange substance that glows in the dark and, sure enough, the fish itself is revealed to be intensely radioactive. Karnes decides to go to the area where that fish was found and use a chartered boat to hunt down the cause of the contamination, going on the reports of a sea monster not far from there. While doing so, the skipper of his hired boat asks Karnes what he's looking for and Karnes responds, "Skipper, did you ever spend a night in the jungle... and you feel something out there, beyond the light of your fire, prowling around?" "Tiger?" "I don't know, any more than I know what we're looking for right now." Again, Evan's delivery of the line gives a feeling of eeriness to the proceedings, along with the idea that they're on a small boat in the middle of the dark, choppy ocean. Not too long afterward, the ship's radiation counter goes crazy and we then get our first brief glimpse of the Behemoth through a POV shot of Karnes' binoculars as he dives beneath the waves. This first shot of the monster is intensely creepy because of how dark it is and how he's almost completely in shadow. I personally always think of the Loch Ness Monster when I see that shot, with the Behemoth's long curved neck, the small triangular spikes on the back, and how he dives beneath some very dark-looking water. Plus, during this brief glimpse of the Behemoth, we can also see that, just like his namesake from the Bible, he's making the water around him sizzle and bubble. While he manages to evade Karnes and the skipper when they attempt to give chase, shortly afterward they're ordered back to shore, where Karnes is taken to the wreckage of a large steamship that was reported missing while they were on the ocean searching for the monster. The incredible damage of the vessel gives some ideas to just how large and powerful the monster is and, as you find out, the entire crew has died from being poisoned by his radioactivity. With all of this evidence attesting to his existence, and the discovery that the glowing substance that was removed from that fish contains cells from the stomach walls of an unknown creature, it's not too long before the Behemoth finally makes himself known in a way that's impossible for anyone to dismiss, coming ashore and destroying a small farm, leaving a huge footprint, and killing a farmer and his son with his radioactive waves. We also get our first glimpse of the stop-motion that will be the predominant way in which the monster is brought to life.


Normally, when a dinosaur is made into a villain in a movie like this, it's typically a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a similar such carnivore. Even if it's a made-up dinosaur, like the Rhedosaurus in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the title monsters in Gorgo, or Godzilla himself, they still bare something of a resemblance to the T-Rex because of its familiarity with the public and because, if you're going to do a monster movie involving a dinosaur, it's the natural way to go. So, with that in mind, it's interesting that the Behemoth is similar to a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur such as a Brachiosaurus or Apatosaurus. True, there have been villainous examples of this species of dinosaur before, like the Brontosaurus that rampaged through, ironically, London at the end of the original 1925 version of The Lost World and the one that chased and chomped on several members of Carl Denham's crew in King Kong but, in the years since then, I think paleontology had shown that those dinosaurs, in reality, wouldn't do that and so, they stopped depicting them that way in movies. Granted, the Behemoth technically isn't an example of any of those aforementioned species but he looks so much like them that it's still breaking with tradition. (Incidentally, I looked up Paleosaurus, the type of dinosaur that he's supposed to be, and information about it is so sketchy that I think it's safe to assume that the filmmakers simply took the name and made their own creature from it, which was hardly uncommon at the time.)





His major biological feature is his natural electricity, like that of an electric eel, which explains the lights the one fisherman saw and also creates a vague outline of the Behemoth's body beneath the surface of the water, which we see when Prof. Sampson is searching for the creature. Near the end of the movie when the Behemoth has fallen back into the Thames, we get underwater shots of him swimming while flashing his electricity, apparently as a means to navigate his way through the water. The Behemoth, for some unexplained reason, doesn't show up on radar, despite his size, but, again, I think it's safe to surmise that his radiation scrambles the radar signal. Speaking of which, as Karnes explains at one point, the Behemoth's electric current projects his radioactivity in the form of bright, whistling waves of energy that destroy whatever is threatening him and he seems to know how to aim it just as well as he knows how to use his electricity, seeing as how the waves zero in on their target. As I said earlier, we get some rather grisly closeups of the effects of the radiation, from the burns on various people's bodies (the textures of which are quite hideous, with their white outer layers and the dark inner layers where the skin appears to have been burnt through) to others whose bodies appear to be smoldering. Those latter effects are a bit hard to physically describe. Whenever they happen, it looks as if the contrast of the movie's picture is turned up and it's rather hard to make out the details of the images, as if the film itself becomes a painting (which is possibly the case). Either way, while they are hard to make out, you see enough of them to know that the aftermath isn't pretty. Prof. Sampson suggests that the Behemoth is heading for the Thames because of some natural instinct to die in the shallows where he was born. Not only does he prove to be quite right in regards to where the monster is heading but, as theorized by Karnes, the Behemoth has absorbed so much radiation that he's slowly dying from it and, therefore, the theory that he's heading there in order to die where he was born is also quite sound. But, even though he's slowly burning out from his radiation, that doesn't mean the Behemoth can't have a little fun before he goes.





There are two big monster attack scenes in the film, with the first one being when the Behemoth appears in the Thames and attacks a ferry boat. Oddly enough, the VHS of the movie that I had for many years didn't have this scene. In fact, after Prof. Sampson is killed, that copy would skip right to the big meeting that takes place between the military leaders, Karnes, and Bickford before the Behemoth comes ashore and attacks London outright, editing out not only the ferry attack but also a section where the citizens of London are told to keep clear of the Thames and, to that end, the military's evacuating the houses close to the river. More than like, this whole section of the film was cut from that VHS out of negligence but perhaps another reason is that they didn't want viewers to see the really bad modelwork featured in the ferry attack scene. Yeah, for a film that has pretty good special effects for the most part, in spite of the low budget, your first major look at the Behemoth in broad daylight is realized via a really bad model in the water. The thing is just really stiff, with the face absolutely lifeless and the neck barely having any articulation. Even worse, as often happens in these types of situations, the face of the model hardly resembles that of the stop-motion puppet used for the majority of the film. But the most damning part of the whole scene is that you can very plainly see the wooden or plastic base that the head and neck were built on top of in a few shots. I know it was 1959 and they didn't have much money, so I should go easy on it, but, again, the effects, what little there have been up to this point, were so well done, particularly that brief but creepy first glimpse of the head and neck through the binoculars, that this comes across shockingly inept. In any case, there really isn't much to this attack scene as a whole, as the Behemoth just approaches and bumps against the ferry a few times (you can hear Fay Wray's distinctive scream from King Kong at the beginning of this sequence), eventually using his head and neck to turn it over and send the passengers into the water. That said, the aftermath of the attack is something else, with one guy floating in the water with radiation burns on his face and a shot of a doll that we saw a little girl playing with earlier floating as well. We don't see the girl herself, though, which is quite a horrific implication.



Shortly afterward is when we get the scene where the Behemoth emerges from the Thames and rampages through London. While we do have to endure that awful model again when the monster first rises out of the water, we're quickly treated to the great stop-motion effects as the Behemoth comes ashore and destroys high-tension towers that are in his way. The filmmakers were able to get Willis O'Brien, the effects legend who had worked on The Lost World and King Kong, to supply the stop-motion effects, but from everything I've read, at this point in his life O'Brien rarely did the actual animation himself. Apparently, he often just consulted on the films or something to that effect (and sometimes, even that involvement was very limited), acquiring the credit of Technical Advisor, although he actually is credited as part of the effects team in this film (oddly enough, though, in only the American version). In any case, it appears that O'Brien's assistant, Pete Peterson, was the one who did the majority of the stop-motion here, which was quite a feat, considering the guy had MS at this point, and the animation on the Behemoth is very smooth and about as believable as stop-motion can possibly be. The puppet looks good for the most part, with a nice shape to the design, an undulating neck that snaps the head around in anger whenever the Behemoth sees something he doesn't like, and the face, particularly in a scene where the Behemoth stops at a corner and looks down at a group of people who are standing there, sometimes looks very ferocious.



I say "sometimes" because the face appears to be one of the more problematic parts of the puppet. There are many, many closeups of it in this sequence and it often has a kind of dopey expression on it, as you can see. Also, they seem to be having trouble keeping the two sides of the face consistent, since the left side often has that aforementioned vacant look, particularly in a scene later on at night when the Behemoth picks up a car in his mouth and flings it into the Themas, while the right side does look mean. However, they do manage to make both sides look very ferocious at the end of the attack when the Behemoth roars up into the sky. Speaking of which, I really like the hissing roar of the Behemoth. Just the sound of it, with the initial hissing part going into a full-on, angry scream, is quite threatening. And while we're on the subject of sounds, if you listen closely to the screams of the terrified people in these scenes, you will hear some more sounds culled from King Kong, specifically the screams of the doomed sailors. Going back to the closeups of the Behemoth's face, said face is clearly different from the one used in the long-shots. You can tell because the snout is rounder, whereas in the long-shots, the Behemoth has a longer and more narrow snout, akin to that of a crocodile, and also seems to have a bit more of a point at the end. Such a discrepancy is not uncommon, though. In King Kong, for instance, they had two faces for Kong, a round one and a long one, used for various camera angles on him, but it's much more noticeable here.





The film's low budget is quite noticeable in this attack scene, unfortunately. You don't need a sharp eye to notice that many shots are replayed throughout it, in particular the ones where the Behemoth starts walking down the street and when he steps on a car. They used different angles to try to make it look as if it wasn't the same shot but it becomes obvious what's going on very quickly. You will probably think to yourself, "Man, it sure is taking the Behemoth a long time to walk down that one street," and, "That one car is getting pummeled!" And while it's certainly not bad, the matting of the Behemoth in with the live-action elements isn't quite as well-done as other movies made around the same time. Oddly enough, though, despite the budgetary limitations, I actually like this scene more than the attack on New York in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, even though I do think that's a better film overall. Don't get me wrong, that is a good scene, as the Rhedosaurs does a lot more damage by smashing some cars, crashing through a building (the only damage the Behemoth does to the buildings is when he swipes the top of one and causes it fall but it barely does anything to the people beneath it), and actually eating someone, and there's no repeat photography, even though that movie was very low budget too. And yet, this sequence seems to have more urgency to it. I think it's a combination of the gray, overcast sky, the Behemoth's very threatening roar, the score that accompanies the scene, and, most importantly, what happens to the fleeing people. You see some of them suffer from the effects of the Behemoth's radiation, with one poor guy falling down after attempting to continue running and getting trampled by the frightened crowd when they push their way through a narrow alleyway. In addition, there's also that scene where the Behemoth kills several attacking soldiers with his radiation and for me, the image of their charred remains afterward is much more impactful than a policeman getting gobbled up (although that was still a great moment in that film, nevertheless). But, what really puts it over the top for me is just how terrified the people seem to be, as they run through the streets. In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, I always felt that most of the people seemed to be running rather nonchalantly and didn't seem to be all that scared. Here, though, particularly in a closeup of the fleeing crowd near the end of the attack, the people really look like they're scared out of their wits and are doing everything they can to get out of the Behemoth's way. I know some will disagree but, for my money, this scene is just much more thrilling.




I also like the sequence after the attack here more than what follows the one in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. I enjoy seeing the Behemoth rampage a little more through the countryside outside of London more than the Rhedosaurus in the streets hiding in the streets of New York, getting shot at by the military. As you can probably guess, my favorite part about these monster movies is seeing the monster destroy things and here, you get more of that after the initial rampage, with the Behemoth crushing some electrical towers, causing a substation to explode and create a fire, before walking back into the city, where he grabs a car driven by some morons who should have just continued hiding in the parking lot and throws it into the Thames. The nighttime shots of the Behemoth standing in front of the buildings, illuminated only by the military spotlights, are also a joy to look at because they're so well done and atmospheric. Unfortunately, the climax where the Behemoth is destroyed in the Thames by a torpedo that has a tip made of radium is a bit lacking to me. Seeing the Rhedosaurus tear apart the Coney Island amusement park and then having the place catch on fire while the monster dies from the effects of the radioactive isotope fired into him (sounds a lot like the same ending as this movie, doesn't it?) was awesome; here, though, we just have the Behemoth swimming around in the Thames (good animation on that, by the way) are falling into it in a shot of the model simply being dropped into a tank, slightly damaging the sub when he finds it, and eventually dying from being hit by the radium-tipped torpedo that accelerates the natural process of the Behemoth's radioactivity eventually killing him. While the last shot of the Behemoth is fairly dramatic, with his head and neck above the now boiling water of the river before the radium takes its toll and he sinks back down, it still could have been a much more memorable finale.

Unlike a good chunk of the giant monster movies being produced in America at the time, The Giant Behemoth has an all original score, composed by Edwin Astley. While there are bits of the score here and there that don't sound quite right, like a few moments during the music over the opening credits and the rampage, it's a really good score for the most part. The main theme for the Behemoth is a very loud and threatening, "Dun, dun!" with each note extended for a little bit to sound all the more intimidating. That theme is also played in different ways throughout the movie, be it in a soft, eerie way in that scene where Karnes and Bickford talk to the fishermen in Cornwall and when Karnes is looking out the window at the sea right before they return to London; a fast, urgent way, as it does during several sections of the Behemoth's attack on London; or in a slow manner that's meant to lament the events of an attack, such as the one involving the ferry. Speaking of which, aside from those moments I mentioned, the music that plays during the rampage scene I think does a good job in conveying the panic and fear that the people fleeing from the Behemoth are experiencing. There's also a bit of music that's all over the theatrical trailer but in the movie, you only hear it during the attack on the ferry: an urgent sounding, "Dun dun dun! Dun dun dun!", that loops several times. I remembered hearing that in the trailer when I was a kid but, during the long time that I had the VHS that didn't have this scene, I thought that music was made just for the trailer. Finally, there's a piece of music that plays during the scene where the fish are tested for radioactivity that is quite memorable and has a sound to it that feels appropriate for an important discovery. The rest of the music is pretty good as well but those are the sections of the score that will probably stick in your head after hearing them, as they do in mine.

Despite what most critics may think, I feel that The Giant Behemoth, or Behemoth, the Sea Monster, depending on what side of the Atlantic you live on, is a much better movie than its reputation would have you believe. Despite a limited budget that does become painfully apparent in some spots, some bad modelwork, and a less than stellar climax, it has a really good cast, a great build-up to a pretty memorable monster, good stop-motion effects, nice monster rampage and attack scenes, an above average music score, and while the idea of a giant monster movie may not have been original by this point, this film manages to do some things better than many of its peers in regards to the subject matter of radiation and also doesn't fall into some of the cliched tropes of the genre. If you haven't seen it and have been discouraged from doing so due to negative reviews, I would suggest giving it a watch if you're a fan of these types of movies because it is way above average for its genre.