NOVEMBER 1 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE
Creature from Black Lake is a decent production, albeit on a low budget, but once played out the story is actually pretty good. Dennis Fimple is cast perfectly for his roll, and creates a likeable character as Pahoo; comical, yet somehow vulnerable, and we find out how well this actually works at setting us up for a shock later in the film.
Two college students, Pahoo and Rives (John David Carson), head to the deep south to search for an elusive Bigfoot creature said to be stalking the lakes and swamps of Louisiana. We get a hint of their camaraderie and of Pahoo's love for burgers (how can he eat so much?) as they head south in a van, loaded with camping gear, and their equipment, a camera and a tape recorder, with which they record some pretty creepy Bigfoot sounds.
We follow their investigation as they interview local townsfolk about the creature. Not everyone is so eager to talk about it, and the sherif doesn't like them poking around, stirring up fear in a peaceful community. He wants them out of town. Of course they stick around, and to make matters worse, they hook up with a couple of local gals for an evening of beer drinking and campfire romance and one of the girls is the sherif's daughter. The boys end up in the slammer for the night.
The following day they are told to leave town, but they decide to stay another night to see if they can catch sight of the creature. They catch sight alright, and disaster strikes for the two would-be Bigfoot Hunters. The Creature from Black Lake features an unexpected, and dramatic twist ending. It's a fun film for anyone interested in low-budget 1970's creature features. If you're looking for a classic Bigfoot film, complete with eerie, dark, Louisiana bayou scenes, and a giant beast lurking in the shadows, buy The Creature from Black Lake on DVD. It's a fun film.
The scenes are shot well, and the acting is pretty good for the most part. It was originally shot in a widescreen format, cinemascope or something, but the version reproduced for the DVD features the infamous pan-and-scan trick to get characters into frame. Of course the title sequences are all squeezed in there in order to make all the words fit on a standard TV screen, so everything looks stretched and tall. Maybe someone will decide to release this again in a widescreen format on DVD.
Next to The Legend of Boggy Creek I'd have to say this is my favorite Bigfoot film of that era. In fact, aside from Harry and The Hendersons, which wasn't a thriller, any other Bigfoot movie I've seen was just okay. This movie has a certain quality about it which makes it fun to watch, entertaining and spooky at times.
Fimple kept pretty busy in the movie and TV business. You might recognize him most recently as Grandpa Hugo Firefly in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses (2003), but he played small rolls in many movies over the years, and appeared in many TV show episodes, including ER, Quantum Leap, The A-Team, The Fall Guy, The Dukes of Hazard, and many others, even Petticoat Junction and Green Acres back in the late 60's. Sadly Dennis Fiimple passed away in August of 2002, of natural causes, shortly after finishing his work on House of 1000 Corpses.
John David Carson is a familiar face of film and television as well, having appeared in episodes of Hawaii Five-0, CHiPs, Charlies Angels, The Fall Guy, Eight is Enough, Barnaby Jones, and many others, including a small roll in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.
Carson plays the cool, good looking half of the duo, but Fimple has some sort of appeal, even though many might consider him less than attractive. Heck, one of the young vixens in the film even shows interest in him.
Jack Elam portrayed town drunk Joe Canton. Elam's career spanned 6 decades, beginning way back in 1944 with Trailin' West. You may remember him as the cooky-eyed Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing in The Canonball Run (1981), or from a host of other films and TV shows throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Elam passed away in October, 2003.
Reviewed by Drew Vics
NOVEMBER 1 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE
We start off with some shots of some southern swampland. Into this wilderness comes a small boat outfitted with a small outboard motor, not much bigger than a canoe and with two men in it. This is Joe Canton and his pal Willie, who are out checking on their game traps. They find evidence that someone has been stealing from their traps.
We cut now to a classroom at the University of Chicago, where some professor is lecturing his students on BHM’s (Big Hairy Monsters) of all varieties: Sasquatch, Skunk Ape, Yeti, etc. As he babbles on about animals believed to be extinct that really are not, we return to Joe Canton and Willie in the swamp, who are finding that more of their traps have been tampered with. Willie doesn’t believe that an animal is responsible, believing another person is behind the thefts. As we see them cruising down the waterway, a large, hairy figure (for last time in this review, let me make it clear that this is NOT Ron Jeremy ) steps into frame, blocking our view. It seems the two men are being watched.
They stop to check another trap and Joe shushes Willie, thinking he heard something. They both listen carefully, the faint sound of heaving breathing and/or grunting fading away in the distance. Willie gets freaked out and insists that they skedaddle.
A quick jump back to that professor in Chicago, where he is saying that there has never been a report of a BHM attacking or harming a human being. Sure...
Returning to Joe and Willie, we see that their boat gets caught on something in the water, the small craft coming to a stop. Willie leans over the side of the boat to find the obstruction and a large hairy hand rises from the water to grab him. Willie vanishes into the murky water with a scream and a splash. The large hand returns, but Joe smacks it with an oar and then gets the motor running again.
It is at this point that I must point out that this film has provided invaluable information on the ecology of the BHM…or more to the point, the BHM native to the Southern United States. I never knew that such creatures were amphibious! How else to explain how the creature could stay underwater for so long? During this entire encounter with Joe and Willie, the monster never once surfaced, only sticking his hand up to grab at the men. This shows an ability to hold its breath and swim better than Michael Phelps!
Jumping back to the university of Chicago, we see Pahoo and Rives talking to that professor about an exploratory trip to the south in order to find an elusive BHM that reportedly haunts parts of Southern Arkansas and Northern Louisiana. All they need to make the trip are funds and a vehicle.
One last jump back to Joe Canton shows him hauling ass out of the swamp, Willie's body sinking out of sight beneath the dirty water. As Joe vanishes around a bend in the waterway, a hairy figure once again stands in front of the camera, at an angle that practically puts its hairy ass and nutsack right in our faces. I may require therapy after that visual.
Pahoo and Rives have found the money to fund their trip as well as a van to transport them. They drive all day towards their destination and spend the first night at a campground, which allows them to test out their gear. Here we learn that Pahoo grew up eating so much chicken, he has developed an obsession with hamburgers. Rives takes the opportunity to tell Pahoo a scary story about a man torn to pieces by some sort of BHM, “right around these parts someplace.” Pahoo walks off into the woods to take a leak, where a large, hairy figure (I wonder just how many times I am going to use those three words in this review) steps into frame. Alas, it’s just some guy with a bushy beard and big hair.
The next day the pair hits the road again and eventually arrive in the small town of Oil City, Louisiana. They then ask locals about Joe Canton and the creature, but no one seems to know a thing about them. Rives then enters the barbershop and asks about the creature, perhaps thinking that such a hairy individual frequents the place quite regularly for a trim. It just so happens that a much more frightening personage awaits: Sheriff Billy Carter, who is getting a shave. He informs Rives that he is welcome in town as long as he doesn’t get people riled up over some mysterious monster. In other words: don’t mention the creature again to anyone.
Pahoo makes his way to the local diner, where he orders his favorite meal: a hamburger, fries and a coke (oh…how I can relate). He meets Eve the waitress, whom he asks about the local “Bigfoot Creature.” She calls to a diner patron named “HB” who relates to Pahoo a story about his encounter with the creature. Alas, he is pulling Pahoo’s leg and when he reveals the hideous creature in his story to be his own wife, everyone in the diner laughs. Everyone except Joe Canton, that is.
Joe announces that he doesn’t think it was funny and “Willie don’t think it’s funny.” Well, of course not, Willie is dead! Joe storms out. When Pahoo realizes that the man who just left was the man he and Rives have been trying to find, he runs out (without his hamburger, fries and coke, no less). Alas, Joe has vanished. Pahoo sees Rives and tells him about his brief encounter with Joe while Rives relates to him the warning he received from the sheriff.
Long about now, a man calls to the pair and runs up to them. This is Orville and he was in the barbershop getting a haircut when Rives entered earlier. Having overheard his interest in the creature, Orville offers to tell them of his own brush with the monster, if they can give him a ride home. Pahoo and Rives agree, so the three pile into the van. Once underway, Orville has trouble “remembering” his story until the tape recorder is turned off. He does not want what he has to say to be repeated.
We now flash back to when Orville was just a toddler. One day he, his parents and two of his Grandparents head out for a drive and a picnic. When the car gets a flat tire, Orville, mom and grandma get out and sit in the shade while pops and gramps fix the flat. Kids being kids, little Orville soon wanders off from where his mother and grandmother are sitting and into the surrounding trees. Mom walks into the woods to collect him, but just as she catches up to him, a large hairy figure (sigh) steps out of the brush and regards them.
Naturally, mom screams up a storm. This brings pops and gramps. Before you know it, pops has scooped up little Orville (damn near giving the tyke whiplash in the process) and everyone is piling back into the car. The monster screams in anger or fear or just plain annoyance as the car takes off, the flat tire forgotten. However, without that tire, steering the car at such a high rate of speed proves to be too much for pops and the car collides with a tree. Since little Orville was sitting on Grandpaw’s lap in the back, I wonder what kept the kid from getting squished between Gramps and the front seat when the car came to a sudden halt.
Returning to the present, Orville tells Pahoo and Rives that his parents were killed in the crash and that he has lived with his Grandparents ever since. What is strange is that within just a few minutes, we will learn from Grandpaw Bridges himself that his daughter was Orville’s mother. If that is the case, why does Orville have the same last name? If his mother was a Bridges and then married and had a child, wouldn’t Orville’s last name be different? Was it changed after his parents died, to reflect the status of his Grandparents as his legal guardians? Or is the truth just plain icky to contemplate? This is the south after all. Orville’s mother could have easily married a man with the exact same last name..because he was just a branch or two over on the family tree.
They arrive at Orville’s home, where he warns the pair to not say anything to his Grandparents about the creature. No sooner have they exited the van and greet Grandpaw Bridges than Rives mentions their work investigating the creature. What part of “don’t say anything” was that? Grandpaw gets mad and tells them to get lost, not wanting to be ridiculed.
Rives tries to explain that they are not there to ridicule them, but Grandpaw doesn’t seem swayed. It’s not until Pahoo invents a twenty-five dollar cash reward for the person who cooperates with them that Grandpaw changes his mind. I know twenty-five bucks doesn't seem like a lot to you and me, but in 1976, it was the equivalent of about ninety-three bucks today. Now Grandpaw’s eyes light up like Kirstie Alley at an all you can eat buffet. He tells Orville to go inside and make sure there are a couple more place settings at dinner. Suddenly he is very friendly towards Pahoo and Rives, especially once they have forked over the twenty-five bucks. Eventually, Grandpaw tells them of the first time he saw the creature, when he awoke one night.
We now flash back to that night and see the frightening sight of a shirtless Grandpaw emerging from his house onto the front porch. The creature can barely be seen in the distance, fighting with Grandpaw’s two hound dogs. And when I say that he can barely be seen, it’s because the film print is so dark, it’s hard to make out what is transpiring. A vague shape moves around and dog cries denote the demise of two poor canines. Grandpaw gets off a shot with his shotgun, though it doesn’t seem to do any good.
Back in the present, Grandma Bridges appears and announces than supper is almost ready. Before they head inside, Grandpaw warns them to say nothing about the creature in front of his wife, as it would only scare her. Considering their actions after Orville told them to do the same thing, and I’m thinking Pahoo and Rives won’t be able to keep their big mouths shut.
They sit down to eat, Pahoo’s face dropping when he realizes that the main course is fried chicken. After a quick prayer from Grandpaw, they all dig in. Later, as the meal is winding down and everyone is in good spirits, an awful howl can be heard outside. Instantly Pahoo shouts, “Is that it? Is that it? Is that the creature?” Um…no. That would be Grandpaw’s mule. Alas, the damage has been done. With a frightened expression, Grandma gets up and leaves the table. Needless to say, Grandpaw is livid. He promptly tells both Pahoo and Rives to get out.
Outside, Pahoo apologizes to Orville. The pair ask him if there is any place nearby where they can spend the night. Orville tells them to just stay in the barn. Later, the pair are stretched out in the hay, Pahoo is regretting having eaten chicken while Rives dictates a progress report into a tape recorder.
Outside, some Monster-Cam shows us that the creature is approaching the Bridges property, no doubt having heard his name mentioned so many times. The beast lets out a deafening roar, which is heard inside the barn as well as the house, waking all who were asleep and startling those who were still awake. Pahoo and Rives run like mad for the house, where Grandpaw lets them inside.
In the morning, Pahoo is ready to pack up their stuff and skedaddle back to Chicago, he is so scared. The pair heads into town where they call their professor, Dr. Burch and relay to him the latest news in their search. Then they head to the diner, where once again Eve is working. Pahoo is quite hungry, as he orders two hamburgers, two orders of fries and a single Coke. Rives decides to have the same thing.
As the two sit there, waiting for their food, they notice two local gals checking them out. Lots of looks are exchanged, but no one makes any sort of move to initiate a conversation. Rives plays the tape recording from the night before, trying to determine if the horrendous cry they heard was in fact from some monstrous creature. When the roar sounds throughout the diner, Eve the waitress jumps and screams. Unfortunately, she was carrying a tray loaded with food, which has now landed all over the place…mostly on her. She throws food at Pahoo and Rives before chasing them out of the diner.
The two young women from inside now approach Pahoo and Rives and introduce themselves as Becky and Michelle. The guys ask them what they do around this town at night, to which Becky answers, “What comes natural.” Is she trying to make a subtle reference to sex, or is she referring to sleep? Both seem pretty natural to me…along with eating and crapping when you think about it. Rives invites them to stop by their campsite later that night at the state park just outside town, which the two gals accept.
Sheriff Carter can be seen walking up and Rives’ eyes nearly pop out of his skull when Becky greets him with a “Hi, dad.” He tells her to not stay out late and to get moving before continuing on himself.
POW. We instantly jump to that night. We see Pahoo and Rives at their campsite when Becky and Michelle pull up in a Volkswagen beetle (aka bug). Beers are handed out but before any drinking can get done, it starts to rain, forcing all four of them into the nearby tent. Rives secretly plays the tape with the creature’s roar, scaring Pahoo just as he is about to lay a kiss on Michelle. Everyone laughs.
Becky notices that the rain has stopped, so she and Rives step outside, unaware of the Monster Cam approaching through the woods. They discuss the creature and whether it is real or not. The two then move close and kiss. As they stand there, snuggling, Becky looks over Rives’ shoulder and sees just a few yards away…the creature, watching them. Do you believe he’s real now, sweetheart? Not only is he real, but he’s a freakin' peepin’ Tom!
Becky screams and runs into the tent. Rives catches a brief glimpse of the creature as it runs off, then dives into the tent after Becky, grabbing his rifle in the process. The four listen as the creature stomps around, breathing and grunting loud. It seems to be getting closer to the tent, so Rives points his weapon in the direction of the opening.
A horrible figure bursts through the opening, a terrifying expression of anger etched into its features. Alas, it is not the creature, but Sheriff Carter. He makes the girls leave and then runs Pahoo and Rives into town and locks them up in the slammer. I wonder how poor Becky is ever going to get another date, if that’s what happens to every guy she goes out with.
We now turn our attention to the shack that Joe Canton calls home. Joe is currently passed out in his grimy, oily-looking bed. No doubt snoring off a liberal dose of moonshine. A shadow passes by his window, waking him. He turns on his light and sits up, taking another couple pulls from his jug. He walks to the window and looks out, but sees nothing, so he douses the lights and heads back to bed. This is when the creature tries to bust in through the window. Joe grabs his shotgun and fires off a couple shots. Re-loading, he heads outside to look around, but the hairy one has long since departed. Joe heads for his truck.
Joe heads to town where he bursts into the Sheriff’s office, screaming about the creature. The Sheriff doesn’t buy his story, choosing instead to believe that Joe has been drinking. He gives him a sobriety test, which the greasy old drunk fails spectacularly. Almost instantly, Joe passes out and collapses on the floor, so the Sheriff shoves him in the cell with Pahoo and Rives.
When he eventually regains consciousness, they ask him about the creature. Joe tells them how his pal Old Willie was snatched out of the boat and had his neck snapped. As he’s describing what the monster looked like, Sheriff Carter enters and releases Joe, telling him to go home. Joe leaves, but tells Pahoo and Rives to come out to his place if they want to hear more. Once Joe has left, Carter releases Pahoo and Rives, telling them to get out of town ASAP. He also tells them to ignore Joe’s talk of a monster, which you and I know isn’t going to happen in a million years.
Outside, they see Joe and take him up on his offer, following him out to his place. Once there he talks about how he found tracks deep in the swamp, further than he had ever gone before. The tracks continued on even deeper into the wetlands and after following them a while, he noticed that aside from some birds, there was no larger game to be found. Eventually he found a dead boar, all clawed up and with big bites taken out of it. Further on there was another and then another and then another and so on. At this point he noticed the utter silence around him and felt like he was being watched.
Proving that he left his good sense back in Chicago, Rives asks Joe for directions to this area of the swamp. Pahoo isn’t thrilled with the idea of going further, but his companion talks him into it. They make their through the wilderness and eventually reach a point where the van can go no further, so they set up camp a couple hundred yards beyond the vehicle, among the trees at the base of a small hill.
Night comes and Rives warns Pahoo to not eat too many beans, so he won’t scare the creature away. HAHAHAHA. If that guy farts anything like my dad did while I was growing up, the creature as well as every deer, beaver, raccoon and boar in a hundred mile radius will be charging like mad for the state border. Pahoo gets upset and says that Rives is not aware of how dangerous it can be out there. He mentions his time in Vietnam and accuses Rives of hiding out in Canada during the war. Rives tells him to take the van and go. Pahoo agrees and packs up his stuff.
Before Pahoo can go, Rives offers him some beans. The two sit, eat and in the classic manner of males since the dawn of time, apologize to each other for their harsh words without actually saying sorry. Rives then drops the bomb that he thinks something has been circling the camp. GULP!
Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.
Beans forgotten (at least until their gastronomic legacy comes back later with a vengeance) Rives grabs his rifle while Pahoo grabs a flashlight. The two walk away from their fire and into the darkened woods. Wait a sec…a flashlight? All Pahoo has is flashlight? What’s he gonna do, momentarily blind the monster? Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t step foot out of camp without at least an Uzi or a shotgun.
They stumble around some and find some huge footprints in the soil on the hill overlooking their camp. They realize this is where the creature had been watching them. Pahoo then discovers that Rives failed to load the rifle. I don’t know about you, but in my book, failing to load the only weapon under such circumstances is justification for an instant ass beating.
Rives runs to the van in order to retrieve the ammunition while Pahoo stays put. Bad move, dudes, bad move. You should always stay together. Waiting alone in the darkened trees, Pahoo starts to freak himself out. Being the fool that he is, he calls out repeatedly to Rives. Sure, just go ahead and announce to the creature your exact location. Moron. He then hears heavy breathing approaching his location. He spins round and sure enough, it’s the monster! He screams, the creature screams and then the monster knocks him upside the head. POW, he hits the dirt, unconscious. The creature drags him off into the night.
At the van, Rives hears the scream. He also hears the creature going nuts at their campsite, throwing things around and tearing things up, having no doubt assumed a party was in progress. The rifle finally loaded, Rives hauls ass back to camp, finding nothing but a mess. He calls out to Pahoo, but receives no answer. He looks around and sees his companion’s discarded flashlight. I told you that damn thing would do no good!
Rives now runs back to the van and tries to use the CB radio to call for help, contacting Sheriff Carter. He tells him where they are at and requests help. Apparently the idea of the Fuzz stomping around his private swamp sends the creature into a fit of rage, as his fist comes flying through the window at this instant. Rives fights it off with a knife and during the scuffle the van’s parking break is released. The vehicle rolls down the hill and hits a tree.
As Rives is recovering from the impact, the creature returns and begins pounding the exterior of the van. Eventually the monster manages to turn the vehicle over and it tumbles down the hill, landing on its side. Rives crawls out, cradling his left arm. He grabs the rifle with his good limb and aims it at the creature, which is slowly descending the hill towards him. POW. He fires and hits it. The creature stumbles back and falls, but picks itself up rather quickly. Unable to get the rifle to fire again, Rives abandons his position and runs off into the trees. Good thing, too. At that moment a loose wire sparks and hits some gasoline, igniting the fuel. KABOOM! The van goes up in a ball of flame. Rives runs through the swamp, stumbling and falling more than once.
At Joe Canton’s place, we see Sheriff Carter arrive.
In the swamp, Rives has lost his way. He hears movement in the distance and is sure the creature is coming to finish him off. He grabs his knife and hides behind a tree. When the figure comes walking, past, he jumps out and plunges his blade into his pursuer's gut. Oops. Looks like it was Pahoo that was following him, having woken up from the ass beating visited upon him by the creature. The other man falls to the ground, a look of surprise on his face.
In an instant, the sun is high in the sky and we see a police car zooming down a road, the voices of Sheriff Carter and Joe Canton heard talking inside. They eventually find Rives and Pahoo by the roadside and help them back to town.
In the hospital, Sheriff Carter admits to Rives that he was wrong about the two young men. Joe Canton storms off, vowing to get his shotgun and make a rug out of the creature. Finally, Rives gets to see Pahoo, who is bandaged up almost as bad as the Aztec Mummy and is asleep. Rives talks out loud to his friend, imploring him to live. Getting all emotional, he wonders of there is something he can do for his friend or if there is something he can get for him.
Pahoo’s voice abruptly breaks the silence. “A hamburger, French fries and a coke.”
It seems Pahoo will okay. More than okay, in fact. Apparently he is upset that they have to start the project over from scratch, but is committed to doing so since they know for a fact the creature is out there somewhere.
Cue up the corny country song.
It’s no secret that the 1970’s was the Bigfoot decade. There was a cultural obsession with the legendary beast that seemed to permeate everything. Countless films and television shows exploited this interest, leading to some classic and none-too-classic moments in entertainment. Creature from Black Lake came at the height of this Bigfoot craze. One might be tempted to pass it over when considering the glut of such films, but this movie is much better than initial assumptions.
First off, the film benefits from some well written characters. Pahoo and Rives behave like real people and interact with each other as you’d expect friends to do. They laugh, tease each other and sometimes piss each other off, but in the end they apologize and move on. Each one has his own personality quirks that really helps bring them to life, such as Pahoo’s obsession with hamburgers, French fries and Coke. Each one is fallible, yet continue on their quest despite setbacks brought about by others as well as themselves. Their friendship helps drive the film, more so than their quest to find the Bigfoot monster.
For all the stereotypes they adhere to when first introduced, the supporting characters manage to rise above such initial limitations by film’s end. Sheriff Carter comes across as a real hard ass, but ends up being quite helpful and even apologetic. Grandpaw Bridges, despite his dislike of Yankees, still shows his positive side when push comes to shove. Joe Canton maintains his status as crazy, drunken trapper throughout the movie, but even still, he’s interesting to watch.
The film does a great job of establishing mood and atmosphere. The Louisiana swamps and woods look quite spooky, even in broad daylight. When night comes, the creepiness factor gets ramped up a couple of notches. An effective use of light and shadows, coupled with the eerie locations, makes for a near palpable sense of dread and foreboding. The monster’s chilling cry (which in reality sounds a lot like a hog or boar) adds to the scariness of it all.
As for the monster, it is wisely kept off screen for most of the film. The suit is rather cheap looking and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny very well. Thankfully, most of the time the creature is shown in shadow or is a vague shape against a brighter background. While necessitated by the low budget and corny monster costume, this method actually helps increase the creature’s mysterious nature. Like Pahoo and Rives, the viewer will be struggling to get a better glimpse of the monster, never knowing exactly what it may look like.
Overall this is a fun movie. Rather than overt monster action, it goes for a steady build up of tension and terror, using its monster sparsely until the final act. The characters never come across as forced or fake, which almost gives the film a documentary feel, a notion made even stronger by the grainy film quality. This will never be considered the best monster flick of the 70's, or even the best Bigfoot film from that decade, but it certainly is worth seeing and is not to be missed by B movie fans.