The Crater Lake Monster

Director: William R. Stromberg                  
Richard Cardella, Glenn Roberts, Mark Siegel

United Home Video strikes again! Their video for this Crown-International movie is one of the worst video treatments I've ever seen. All throughout the movie, a black bar about one inch thick stayed at the top of the screen, and I don't think they were trying for a kind of letterbox video. The picture quality is equally as abysmal, with the movie looking like a seventh-generation bootleg. Both of those things manage to do something quite amazing for The Crater Lake Monster - they make the movie more awful than it could have been otherwise. This movie is so bad, it makes the worst of those 1950s giant-monster-on-a-rampage movies look slick and fast paced. It's also kind of sad to watch, realizing that with two decades passing, it stands to reason even a low budget movie of this genre could improve upon its forefathers.

Strange sights have been seen lately at Palomar Mountain's Huntington Lake, not just that the lake looks way too long and narrow to be a crater. A meteor fell into the lake one night, heating the water considerably. Not long afterwards, the fish in the lake disappear, and people in and around the lake start to disappear. If you guessed an aquatic dinosaur was awakened, you're right - the heated water hatched an egg at the bottom of the lake. The monster itself provides the little merit that can be found in the movie. Most of the limited footage we see of the monster is accomplished by stop-motion animation that was supervised by famed stop-motion animator Dave Allen (Laserblast, Dolls, Freaked) Though Allen's work here is not up to Harryhausen at his prime, it is above average for this period, and it's interesting to look at. The non-Allen effects of the monster, however, are quite laughable. Scenes of the monster sticking its head just above the surface of the water look like a modified beach toy being pulled down and across the water by someone under the surface. Underwater shots of the monster are accomplished by sticking a stiff, rubbery monster head into the frame, which looks even more silly when the head starts chewing on one of its victims.

It's strange how the water, looking mighty murky from the surface, becomes crystal clear when an underwater camera is used. Though this may be explained by one shot exposing what seemed to be one of the walls in a swimming pool. The movie's limited budget is evident throughout the movie, especially in the movies when the monster attacks a new victim. At least, we have to assume that's what happens, because almost all of these scenes play out in the same way: A close-up shot of the face of the victim screaming "AAAHHHH!", with their hands usually near their face. Then suddenly, the scene abruptly ends, not giving us the opportunity to see if the approaching monster took a bite or not. In other scenes, in what might have been a tribute to Ed Wood, some scenes alternate between day and night. The score seems to have been taken from a stock library, unless the director really intended to alternately switch between the generic nature music found in educational films and pseudo-Glenn Miller instrumentals. I can't recall one time when the music played matched what was happening on the screen.

The Crater Lake Monster also has some of the worst scripting you'll see on this side of the Continental Divide. For a long time, it seems that the events are happening over a course of a few days, but then suddenly someone mentions that the disappearances started when the meteor fell six months earlier. In one scene, the sheriff, knowing there's a monster on the loose, expresses to his fellow officers that he wants to keep the situation under wraps. What does he do next? He holds a town meeting and tells the citizens of the danger! (Strangely, the town meeting takes place at a restaurant.) There's also a dumb subplot about one of the victims. We first see him in another city, where he goes to a corner store and gets a $4.75 bottle of wine. At the checkout, he starts shooting his gun, killing the clerk and another customer, and walks out, not even bothering to empty the cash register. There's no point to this scene, nor when he subsequently is chased by the cops in the lake area in one of the most boring and slowest chases ever put on celluloid. To try to put some variety, the robber is eventually seen running in the woods, instead of driving through them. When he reaches the lake, he is killed by the monster. End of subplot, and no mention is made of it again.

If you've gotten the idea that this movie is hopelessly padded just from reading that above description, you are correct. There are a lot of long sequences when the monster - or any reference to him - is not there. In fact, the movie should have been retitled The Crater Lake Morons, because more footage is devoted to two particular numbskulls instead of anything else, including the  monster. These nitwits, who run the lake's charter boat business, are intended to be comic relief as well as padding material, but nothing they say or do is the least bit amusing, even if their scenes are accented with a special musical score of trumpets and a tuba. For example, take this exchange early on in the movie:

Moron 1: Did you fix the [boat] engine?
Moron 2: Yeah....but I couldn't figure out where this part goes. (Tosses part away)
Moron 1: Does it still run?
Moron 2: Yeah....
Moron 1: Then don't worry about it.

Later, the movie tries to get laughs from their advertising sign, which has the word "tackle" misspelled. In another pointless interlude, they get into a fight, and since they fight by the lake, it's inevitable that they'll both get dunked. Before that moment, they wrestle on the ground, helping each other up before they start swinging again, and then one kicks the other in the ass, which cues the soundtrack to utter "BOOOIINNGGG!" loudly. But they soon make up, and we eventually see them at home drinking.....walking around drunk....stumbling....laughing out loud.....bickering again.....anything they can think of to stretch out this movie to a feature-length running time.

I doubt that the late Dave Allen put this movie on his resume. Though his work is clearly the best thing about the movie (make that the only thing), and it's good alone by itself, the rest of the movie is a huge embarrassment, both for the audience and the people who were associated with the movie's  creation. "Monster" is the right word for this terrible movie. "Crater" and "lake" are also two appropriate words - both of these locations are handy receptacles to dispose of this monster of a movie should you see it in your video store, saving potential future renters from one bad night.

Also reviewed by: Jabootu

UPDATE: Got this information from Richard Cardella, who scripted and played the role of the sheriff:

"Hey Wiz!, Just thought I'd write a few lines to say that I enjoyed your bashing of old CLM. More than not, you were right on the money, but money was why it (the film) ended up as it did. Crown International was part of the financing and they just screwed up everything. They pulled their support for some key scenes (that would have explained a lot and plugged some of the obvious holes), added a canned score that really sucked, and turned it over to some hack to edit. The asshole didn't even use a fade or dissolve in the whole freakin' picture! Even though the film has so many faults, it still was burned to DVD this year, which points out to me that there is still an audience for a 25 year old Dino-flick. Works for me. Thanks again, because I'm one of those people that feel ANY publicity is good. Hey, someone might want to see the film just to see if it is as bad as you say it is!"

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for availability on Amazon (Blu-Ray)
Check for availability on Amazon (Amazon Prime Video)

See also: A*P*E, Godzilla VS King Ghidora, King Cobra