Sunday, October 11, 2015

31 Days of Halloween: They’re Not Bad, They Were Just Filmed That Way- The Loch Ness Horror (1981)

The month of October is upon us. This means it’s that time of year again when every major magazine, television special, and entertainment news show rolls out their own list of the best horror movies (EVER!) that should be on your required viewing lists in the run up to Halloween. This series will not be looking at the films that would end up on those lists. No, we’ll be looking at the movies that, while still kind of good, didn’t quite live up to the expectations of the creators involved. These are the films that might be best served at your next Halloween get together by viewing them only after copious amounts of your favorite adult beverage has been consumed. Yes, these are the films that are so bad that they’re good(ish) and often only enjoyable for how spectacularly they failed to live up to their potential.

Today we’re looking at The Loch Ness Horror (1981)

Where do you even start with a film like this? I’ll start with the man who was the film’s director, co-writer, and co-producer. This was one of a long line of low budget films by infamous schlockmeister Larry Buchanan. Buchanan, perhaps best known for 1967’s Mars Needs Women, made films that transcended bad and entered into a realm almost all their own. This is actually a shame since some of his films would have been pretty damned good if they’d only had better actors, better budgets, better script doctors, better FX, and a better director at the helm. Basically, they would have all benefited greatly by not being Larry Buchanan films. The Loch Ness Horror is obviously one of those films.

The movie serves us up an amazing look at Loch Ness via Lake Tahoe. There are many problems with having Lake Tahoe stand in for Loch Ness, not the least of these is the loss of much of the atmosphere and mood one needs for such a tale told around the mist covered loch. The, in many scenes, crystal clear waters and obviously warmer temperatures do tend to throw off the whole mystic and mysterious vibe one gets with both the real Loch Ness and the locations chosen in the better films about the rather famous monster legend around it. You also tend to suddenly have a number of small islands in the loch in the background with this film, something the real Loch Ness is somewhat greatly lacking in. Not to mention the impressive forests of pine trees and fine California spruce trees.

The film stars a bunch of people you’ve likely never heard of and could care less about as they attempt to speak with Scottish accents that range from somewhat hilarious to your drunk buddy who also mumbles unintelligibly just before passing out in his drink. However, we don’t have this problem with Barry Buchanan’s performance as Spencer Dean. It’s not because Barry has an amazing gift for accents or anything, he just lucked out by playing the visiting American. But at least he can focus on his acting without having to try to focus on his accent and thus give us a decent performance. Well, maybe not. You may have noticed his last name and the director’s last name are the same. This would be because dad gave his pride and joy the lead role in the film. Still, he’s just as good an actor as anyone else in the film. Of course, the rest of the acting in the film ranges from almost kind of somewhat maybe serviceable to your drunk buddy who thinks he’s Sir Laurence Olivier just before passing out in his drink, so faint praise there.

But the real star of the film is, of course, the monster. Yeah, that monster… Scroll back up a second and look at the picture at the top of the post. I’ll wait. Back again? Good.

Okay, did you see that beautiful monster? That really does represent a scene that’s actually in the film. Granted, nothing in the film’s scene looks quite that good; least of all the monster. No, our monster for this film looked for all the world like a glorified, giant-sized inflatable bathtub dinosaur with a hinged jaw. I’m totally serious about this description.

Now that we’ve established the level of the film’s overall production quality, let’s dive into the story. It’s fairly basic, but it’s not that bad. They also tried to dress it up a bit with a few subplots don’t actually work anywhere near as well as Larry Buchanan had hoped they would.

The basic plot revolves around the Loch Ness Monster being provoked into going on a deadly rampage after some Nessie hunters find and steal her egg. As Nessie goes on a bloody killing spree, our intrepid American Nessie hunter gets sidetracked with a subplot about the discovery of a German bomber on the bottom of the loch. When not ignoring the monster while being sidetracked by a bomber, he’s occasionally ignoring the monster while being sidetracked by the granddaughter of his highland associate. It’s hard to tell which is the more paint by number aspect of the film here; the American comes to town and meets local girl relationship or her portrayal of a shy, small village Scottish lass as written by someone who had likely never met a shy, small village Scottish lass at the time they wrote the script.

The German bomber subplot gets needlessly confusing and convoluted as we discover that there are secrets buried with it at the bottom of the loch. The out of nowhere secrets make no sense and completely fail to do anything for the main story. They are however interesting while being completely irrelevant to the film. The Nessie killing spree remains mostly free of convoluted bits along the way, although there is a moment where Nessie apparently kills a guy out of a sense of revenge over the murder of an old, somewhat crazy Scottish dude who regularly serenaded the monster with a selection of traditional Scottish bagpipe favorites. The big beastie also shows the ability to recognize nice locals later in an attack scene. They play sweet music and everything.

Now, the killing spree itself does manage to be a bit scary. Well, at least up until the monster strikes. The problems with the monster attack scenes are many. The main ones are as follows.

- When the monster first appears to start each monster attack scene, you often get a straight on shot of the thing. There’s nothing that kills effectively… er… moderately… uhm… almost reasonably well built tension more than looking at a monster that looks like the smiling, inflatable bath toy dinosaur you saw on the shelf at your local Dollar Tree.

- As our smiling rubber ducky dino pal looks into the camera at the start of every rampage scene, it roars. You might recognize the roar. The bad part is that you won’t recognize it as a recycled Kong or Godzilla roar as was used so often in low budget films elsewhere. It’s not even a lion or an ape. No, they went to the weird end of the sound FX pool for this one. You’ll hear the beast roar and wonder how in the hell it managed to get a Tie Fighter stuck in its throat. This was typically followed by the monster snorting way too much dry ice mists out its nose and mouth.  

- Being an inflatable bath toy, our monster’s neck doesn’t actually bend all that much. This means that in the various attack scenes whoever passed for prop guys on the set had to hold one end of the neck and swing the creature’s head downwards in a sort of clubbing motion. These guys would also work the jaws of the beast, making the lower jaw limply flap open and shut.

The general construction of the monster and the above issue also meant the serious ripping and rending of human flesh by the creature’s jaws wasn’t high on the list of filmable options. The jaw had extremely limited grip strength, so its biting scenes are limited to lifting items like an inflatable raft (clearly strapped to its jaw) and daintily clamping down on a guy’s sleeping bag. Oh, yeah, and, of course, being held against and on the shoulders and head of one of its victims by the victim himself.

Underwater attack scenes were typically shots of the monster’s head underwater with the camera being wildly tilted back and forth as the focus is zoomed in on its forehead. Oh, yeah, and they blew air through its nostrils because nothing strikes fear into a viewer more than a monster blowing bubbles through its nose.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, we get prolonged sections of characters teaching us the best of the 1970’s and 1980’s pseudoscience theories about what the monster in Loch Ness was supposed to be. The scariest part of these scenes is, as cornball as they come across, what’s presented in the film was being treated seriously by way too many people when this bombed its way through a limited theatrical release and straight into late night cable viewings.

The story not so much rushes as it sort of lazily jogs before slowly sauntering into its finale. All of the subplots and the main plot almost manage to resolve themselves in a somewhat coherent fashion involving the idea blowing everything up. During this period of the film, the actors apparently also started a competition to see who could roll the most R’s in any given line of dialogue.

On paper this is a horrible movie, and on film it’s even worse. But, weirdly, it’s a fun film if you go into it knowing that it’s going to be so bad it’s good rather than good.  Sure, insofar as watchable films go it’s maybe a rung or two under The Crater Lake Monster, but that still makes it way higher up the ladder of watchable films than 90% of the Syfy original Loch Ness films.

Plus, it’s goofy fun. It’s the perfect film for a DIY Halloween party version of MST3K improve or as a great drinking game movie. In a movie filled with characters such as two divers who see the monster, speed their boat to where it went under, dive into the loch’s amazingly clear, bright waters, and then are somehow alarmed to discover that there’s a monster in the water with them is sure to get you and your friends buzzed out of your minds about fifteen minutes in if you set the rule for taking a shot at character actions and reactions in a scene making zero sense. Avoid setting the game around the bad accents. You’ll all be dead before the halfway point of the film.

If you think you recognize a few actors in the film, you probably don’t. Pretty much no one who acted in this thing went on to have much of a career. Probably the most successful post Loch Ness Horror career by an onscreen character was had by the monster itself. Nessie would later go on to play Jack the Ripper.

Seriously, that’s not a joke. It was for the Bullshit or Not segment of Amazon Women on the Moon.

Interestingly, while the major players behind the camera and in front of the camera went on to have mostly limited to nonexistent careers, a number of the minor players behind the scenes (such as stunt diver Jarn Heil, pyrotechnician Wayne Beauchamp, and creature creator Peter Chesney) would go on to work in such films and TV shows as Re-Animator, Stargate, House II: The Second Story, Footloose, Smash Lab, Deadliest Warrior, and Freddy vs. Jason.

Give it a go for your next party, or even on your own if you’re brave enough. The only DVDs I’ve seen anywhere are bootlegs printed up from a bad VHS copy, so pass on those. You can usually find a copy of equally crappy quality for free on YouTube.

When you’re in the mood to risk exposure to additional so bad their good films, some better and some worse than the one covered here, feel free to check out these looks at The Keep and The Brainiac.

They’re Not Bad. They Were Just Filmed That Way: The Keep

Jerry Chandler is a serious horror geek with a lifelong love of trying to find books and movies that can scare the spit out of him. When not watching and reading horror, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror with his filmmaking family in NC, Adrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.

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