The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

Crater Lake Monster

The gateway film into my obsession with B-movies was the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. My father bought it for me one Christmas and I just identified with it. (Around the same time, the copy of Black Flag’s Damaged brother bought me would have a similar effect.) It’s hard not to imagine a similar love driving the Crater Lake Monster. It looks its age; everyone is wearing ’70s clothes, sporting ’70s hair, using ’70s lingo. It’s a bizarre B-movie time capsule to an era usually dominated by big-name Hollywood auteurs.

If the above sounds like a blustering love letter, that’s because it is. The Crater Lake Monster has that look that I’ve mentioned loving before; a certain type of cheap film used in production that colors everything just a little bit off.

Crater Lake looks like a labor of love too. I can just imagine producer/director William R. Stromberg having a insatiable desire to make a lake flick. Couldn’t do sharks because of Jaws. Couldn’t use piranhas due to Piranhas. So Stromberg and co-writer Richard Cardella thought he’d steal the kaiju idea back from Japan by having a meteor crash into Crater Lake waking its titular monster.

the Crater Lake Monster - hiking

the Crater Lake Monster - Lens Flare

Apparently this film gets panned by the internet community; hipsters too busy “appreciating” the craptastic-ness of Troll 2 to see the beauty of the shot above. Most directors avoid lens flare, thus never taking an artistic chance by focusing in on the flare itself! Serving, as it does, as a suitably artistic counterpoint to the scientific discovery (Dinosaur bones found at Crater Lake!) being discussed by the characters.

Director William R. Stromberg even uses some Sam Raimi-esqe shaky cam to give us a Monster-eye view of the carnage when it’s chomping on its victims.

the Crater Lake Monster - Monster2

And what victims they are! Potential victims, Arnie (Glenn Roberts) and Mitch (Mark Siegel), run Crater Lake’s boat rental service, and supply the film’s comic relief. And they’re always on point. When a city slicker arrives, wanting to rent a boat for the day, Arnie informs him that it’s “$15 for the boat, and $5 for the motor.” When Mitch points out that all the engines are in the shop, Arnie’s price jumps up to $20!

Realistically, this movie should’ve been plotted around Arnie and Mitch’s bickering. Think R2 and C-3PO, or Bert and Ernie. It’s the sort of antagonistic friendship that I attempt to model all my relationships after.

the Crater Lake Monster - Monster vs boat

I don’t know if every small town sheriff drove repainted station wagons repurposed as cop cars in the ’70s, but I’d really like to believe they did.

The sentiment above is what makes the Crater Lake Monster so enjoyable. Every defect is rectified by a glorious, shining virtue.

the Crater Lake Monster - Horrible Composition

A horrible shot. In fact, nearly all the shots from the car chase scene where this originated are horrible. Here, you can’t even see Sheriff Steve’s (Richard Cardella) face. But he makes out better than the perp he’s chasing, who you can’t see in the car due to the reflection on the windshield.

the Crater Lake Monster - Great Composition

Such mistakes are immediately made up for with ingenious use of “the siren cam.” Somehow director William R. Stromberg couldn’t figure out how to take passable shots of his principals, but he still knew enough to use the siren cam.

Plus the chase ends with the stereotypical, but still not usually seen, sequence of the robber’s car flying off a cliff and exploding in a ravine. Crater Lake’s almost too everyman to even be a B-movie at this point!

the Crater Lake Monster - Showdown

This scene being doubly important as it sets up the grand finale. Sheriff Steve can’t accept that the man he shot didn’t die from the bullet wound, but instead from the Lake Monster’s massive maw. So he demands that the town doctor help him search the lake in the middle of the night!

In true B-movie fashion, the “night” scenes were shot in broad daylight. The only way to distinguish between them is by listening to the characters. Are they going to lunch? Daytime! Complaining that it’s too dark out? Probably night.

While this certainly isn’t the first film to milk its run-time and increase audience involvement by asking the “should we kill the monster or study it?”, it is the first to then pose that question to its townspeople. Who then argue, as townsfolk do. Ever have a friend who swears that direct democracy would work in the United States? Just show them this film.

the Crater Lake Monster - Monster vs bulldozer

It doesn’t take the good Sheriff three seconds after seeing the beast a second time to decide it needs to die. Even commandeering a low-rent bulldozer to help with the task!

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