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Bogs, Beasts & Boggy Creek: Creature Feature Classics & Aquatic Monsters On the Cheap
Movies about monsters of various shapes and sizes residing below the murky depths of lakes and swamps were the go-to topic for a lot low budget horror filmmakers back in the day. Such a film seemed "easy" enough to put together and, in some cases, proved a lucrative venture especially on the Drive In circuit for undemanding audiences.
A few of the movies on this list--14 in total spanning 1954-1982--are more high profile than others, but this was a type of monster flick I gravitated to when I was a kid. These Creatures Walking Among Us seen on this list are relegated to smaller bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and swamps.
I never lived near the ocean (well, save for my first couple of years), but a lake was more easily accessible and I guess that's why the subject matter dredged up eerie thoughts of the possibility of something not human residing beneath the dark depths of those more compact bodies of water.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)
One of the best of the water-logged creature features, this is a classic B/W monster movie from Jack (TARANTULA) Arnold. CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON laid the template for many other similar movies that followed in the wake of the Gill Man emerging from the murky depths of an isolated Amazonian lagoon.
The discovery of a prehistoric fossil leads an expedition into the Amazon where a scaly fish-man is found living within the title BLACK LAGOON. The crew is pitted against the beast in an effort to both capture it, and escape with their lives. However, the monster has his fish-eyes set on the beautiful lady passenger played by Julie Adams.
Despite borrowing the classic 'Beauty & the Beast' conceit, Arnold's movie was the inspiration for later movies such as the Mexican horror/musical/cowboy picture SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER (1957), the US-Mexican production of OCTAMAN (1971) and the first blockbuster, JAWS (1975) being the most famous example to be inspired by BLACK LAGOON (JAWS 3 also borrows heavily from 1955s REVENGE OF THE CREATURE).
Arnold's movie also lays down hints of the creature possibly intending to mate with the human woman. This plot device was used over and over again in numerous other monster movies for decades.
It's easily the classiest movie on this list and one I remember fondly from childhood. It was and still is my favorite of the iconic Universal monsters. I saw the first film on the Late Movie and its first sequel, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) on prime time on a school night. One of the local stations showed a 3D double feature of GORILLA AT LARGE (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955). The second sequel, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956), I caught early one Saturday morning and I remember being really sad at the end. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.
VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1958/1962)
This barely talked about Japanese monster movie is basically a low rent GODZILLA but with a different monster. This time, Varan (or Baran in the original Japanese) lives in a lake and worshipped as a god to the people living in the surrounding villages. The beast is awakened through means as generic as the overall film which leads to lots of destruction.
I remember very little from VARAN, having not seen it since catching it on a Saturday morning back when monster and horror movies ruled weekend TV stations (and could be seen late at night during the rest of the week). The monster in the lake motif is eventually abandoned as Varan makes his way to the sea and a subsequent assault on Tokyo. The US version, as I remember it, was bereft of any Japanese footage outside of the monster sequences. Among the cut scenes include moments where Varan reveals he can fly!
Unlike other Toho monster epics in heavy rotation on TV in the late 70s/early 80s like GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, RODAN and MOTHRA, VARAN did nothing for me, making little to no impression on this then impressionable mind. Varan was subsequently brought out of retirement for a very brief cameo in Toho's overrated DESTROY ALL MONSTERS in 1968.
This lower than low budget throwback to 50s monster flicks was written and directed by Harry Essex, the screenwriter for CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Shot on what had to have been a few bucks and some pocket lint, OCTAMAN is essentially a color version of BLACK LAGOON with a bit of GORGO (1961) thrown into the mess. During the 70s there was a slew of cheaply made flicks that were a step up from home movies and OCTAMAN is one of them.
As bad as some of these movies are, there's an undeniable charm especially in that in those days, virtually anybody could make a movie and get it out into theaters and eventually on television. It's also intriguing to see the beginnings of artists careers (in this case it's ape and monster maker, Rick Baker) that would eventually go on to much bigger things. I never saw OCTAMAN on TV, but did catch shots of it on the immortal IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD (1982) and also behind the scenes images of it in Fangoria magazine such as the photo insert from Fangoria #35.
The painted box art on the Video Gems videocassette proved to be better than the movie itself after I rented it. Aside from it being a nicely constructed piece of early work for Rick Baker, the monster suit would have been better served in a Japanese Tokusatsu show.
THE BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z (1972) aka ZAAT
Here's another trashy, mostly forgettable, lake-laden creature feature. I saw it on the great and long gone WGGT-TV 48 on a Saturday afternoon. Just hearing that title, "The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, today at 12 on TV 48, The Great Entertainer!", was an attractive proposition to a little boy. I mean, could you imagine if the advertiser had used the films original title, "Zaat, today at 12 on TV 48, The Great Entertainer!" What the hell is Zaat?!
This is another one I remember very little from aside from the walking catfish monster menacing the local townsfolk. The movie was recently released on DVD and, shockingly, on Blu ray in a 2-fer special. Considering how horror was maturing with far more adult oriented material during the 70s, the Florida lensed DR. Z was a throwback to the more kid friendly monster flicks of previous decades.
The plot such as it is concerns a mad scientist who turns himself into a walking catfish monster and gets revenge on those who mocked his bizarre formula for turning people into a walking dinner delicacy. And that's pretty much it.
It's a (baby) step up from a Larry Buchanan movie (who has a flick on this list), although my opinion may change once I see it again. But I am finding more times than not, when a movie disappoints you as a child, it's unlikely to ingratiate itself upon you in adulthood.
THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972/1973)
Charles B. Pierce's runaway success is of the Bigfoot school of monster movie; that style of creature feature likewise being unmistakably popular in the 1970s.
Back then Everybody Was Bigfoot Sightin' left, right and center. This might have been one of the reasons behind this films wildly peculiar success. Not only that, but Pierce's modestly moody monster flick is anchored by being based on a true story; as can be attested by its promotional materials and assorted other ballyhoo.
Watching it now, it's perplexing how this thing raked in over 20 million dollars. I assume its 'True Story' status was responsible for much of this? BOGGY CREEK very well may be the earliest antecedent to the style of filmmaking that was popularized with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in 1999.
Something about it captivated audiences at the time as this blurb from a 1973 Box Office magazine ad writes, "THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK continues to break box office and concession records in 9 out of 10 engagements played. We'd say a lot more but frankly, success speaks for itself. All we want to tell you is THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK has captured the imagination of theater-goers everywhere and we've got the figures to prove it's a box office smash."
There's really no plot to speak of aside from a narrative that unfolds in a documentary style complimented by faux interviews with people who claim to have seen the Boggy Beast. The film is also peppered with simulated encounters between the monster and various locals.
Some scenes have a permeatingly creepy ambiance, and the thick, dank aura of the swamp settings does wonders for them. Aside from that, there's very little of substance here. Possibly the most fascinating thing about this movie is witnessing life within a smaller than small town as well as those living out in the boondocks.
The creature isn't very convincing, but a few shots manage to scrounge up genuine suspense (particularly a scene where a little boy encounters the creature in the woods). Definitely a product of its time, this sort of DIY moviemaking has died out and been supplanted by equally cheap modern pictures, but with little of the ingenuity that enabled this antiquated product survive for so long.
RANA, LEGEND OF SHADOW LAKE (1975? 1981)
This was one of several movies that took the concept of BOGGY CREEK and ran with it. The production was apparently modeled on Pierce's monster smash hit being told in flashback and with narration revolving around a story about a creature living in a bottomless lake. Here though, it's a young man spending a weekend with his girlfriend and relating the story of an ancient fossil he found, as well as encounters with an Indian worshiped god monster from when he was a little boy. Instead
of a guy wearing a shaggy, rug-like costume, we got a guy in a skin-tight, amphibious looking get-up. The photo to the right gives you a better look at Rana than the actual film does.
The first time I saw this was in the mid to late 80s on USA Network's Saturday Nightmares program that came on at 8pm. I also later bought the VHS tape that bore this title (see below). Troma acquired the film at some point and re-christened it CROAKED: FROG MONSTER FROM HELL; a stupid title for a film that looks nothing at all like Troma's own in-house productions.
Like BOGGY CREEK, the acting is underwhelming, yet the settings are great; if only the onscreen action matched the surroundings. The SHAFT like music and stock Shaw Brothers kung fu movie library tracks are definitely unfitting and the special effects by 'Spectacular Effects of Atlanta, Georgia' are anything but spectacular. In its favor, there's some great shots of mist shrouded lakes, a bit of gore, some so-so suspense and a monster that, when he isn't puking up frogs, is looking for a human mate.
For a kid, this sort of monster flick will do the trick, although you'd likely fare better with Rebane's more well known GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975). Cheri Caffaro(!), the leggy star of the GINGER series and TOO HOT TO HANDLE (1977) is listed as an Associate Producer on the end credits for this Wisconsin lensed creature feature that looks like it was shot in the 70s, but bears a copyright date of 1981.
CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)
Now we're talkin' prime 'B' movie beef right here in what amounts to arguably the best of the Bigfeet flicks. Miles away better than BOGGY CREEK and better acted, this one is told straight. No docu-re-enactments here. Also, this hairy humanoid is one pissed off pseudo-primate. He's not quite as angry as the gut slinging, dick ripping yeti of NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980), but definitely not a graduate of the 'G' rated school Boggy Creek's beast hails from.
Director Joy N. Houck Jr. was behind such trash as NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR (1969) and the underrated NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (1972). CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is one of his best films (even though pickin's are slim) and the participation of Jack Elam and Dub Taylor help immensely. Also, Houck manages to create some reasonable suspense on occasion. The monster scenes are well shot and the sound effects of the creatures snarls and roars are choice. However, when we finally get a good look at the beast, and despite his deep voice and super strength, we're talkin' the Rick Astley of Bigfoot monsters. His size doesn't exactly equate to his bad temper and freakish strength.
The title recalls CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and of course the plot lifts wholesale from BOGGY CREEK, but with a lot more onscreen success. Even the BLACK LAKE's director's name closely resembles BOGGY's Arkansas 'Fouke' monster! Yet again, the local flavor adds a lot and some nice country tunes complete the package. The way the film ends, it leaves things open for a BLACK LAKE 2 which, sadly, never materialized.
It's not perfect by any means, and definitely drags in the middle, but within a sub genre not known for classy pictures, CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is at the top of the hairy man heap.
THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977)
One of the most widely seen 'C' pictures on this list, William R. Stromberg's monster movie is about a meteor crashing into a lake and unleashing a dormant plesiosaur to wreak havoc on swimmers and two hillbillies who spend a chunk of the films running time bickering with one another.
Dave Allen, Jim Danforth and Phil Tippett worked on the picture and the special effects consist of stop motion animation and a large sized mock up head that doesn't resemble the animated beast all that much.
I first saw this, or more accurately, I saw the ending of this on WNRW-TV 45 one Saturday afternoon. The sight of a gigantic aquatic dinosaur battling a snow plow about popped my eyes out of my head. The film continued to elude me and seeing a photo of the mock up of the creatures head in an early issue of Fangoria only piqued my interest more; especially in that it took a few years before my mom would even consider buying me an issue of Fangoria!
Around 1987, I got several VHS tapes for Christmas including THE CLOWN MURDERS (1976) (with John Candy), LONG WEEKEND (1978), MONSTER (1979) and THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER. I did like the film, but everything that led up to that finale didn't quite match up.
Like seemingly all these 'Monster In the Lake/Swamp' movies, CRATER LAKE MONSTER is something of a family affair. Bad movie buffs will find much to keep them preoccupied what with the plethora of pitiful performances and insomniacs will have a perfect cure for sleep deprivation. The film does have one helluva good poster though!
LEGEND OF DINOSAURS AND MONSTER BIRDS (1977)
When JAWS ate up hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales, the beaches and other bodies of water weren't safe from all the sharp toothed critters chomping and gnashing at the bit to munch on human flesh. From Japan came this monstrosity, a Toei studios abomination that was hyped as being this big budget production. You'd never know from all the marionette special effects and stiff monster mock ups present in this horrendous movie.
The plot is non-existent dealing with a young paleontologist returning to his childhood village to find a plesiosaur believed to be living beneath a lake. Somehow or other, the monster knew he was coming as mutilated and half eaten bodies of humans and horses begin turning up (nestled in trees in some instances!). A few scenes of JAWS are duplicated amidst a rather high quotient of gory violence. Speaking of the bloody effects work, more money seems to have been spent on that aspect of production than everything else.
In its favor, the fog encrusted lake sequences aid in scraping up a modicum of tension prior to the cast members being gobbled up and their viscera strewn here and there. The opening five minutes show a lot of promise, but the remaining 87 fail to keep that momentum going.
Towards the end, a near immobile Pteranadon shows up leading to a monumentally crappy battle of the dinosaurs that causes a volcanic eruption. I first saw a portion of this GOREgeous mess on USA Network and later on VHS under its US title of LEGEND OF THE DINOSAURS. I have no clue what movie the artist was watching when designing the Italian poster seen in the insert. For the curious, a review of the film is HERE. BOG (1978)
This is the sort of 'Do It Yourself' filmmaking you just don't find anymore. Another 'Lake Dwelling Monster' flick, this tacky obscurity has a little bit of everything. The acting is actually good, a punchy and moody soundtrack and a 50s throwback plot. On the negative side, the films editor seems to have been inebriated at the time; the script is jam-packed with nonsensical scientific gobbledy-gook and numerous lines of dialog appear to have been flubbed and no re-take was called for. Even worse, the monster is irrepressibly laughable in its design when we finally get a good look at it. Prior to this, some of its victims look up into the air as if it's Kong sized, while 7 feet or so is more like it.
Basically our Bog monster is awakened from his thousand months slumber by a guy fishing with dynamite. After killing two women at the beginning and dwindling even more cast members, veteran actors Gloria DeHaven and Marshall Thompson toss about random scientific terminologies to keep viewers confused in between monster attacks by our bloodsucking bog beast. Meanwhile, Aldo Ray flubs lines and drinks a lot as the sheriff. Screen tough guy Leo Gordon is also briefly in this mess, too.
If that weren't enough, we get moody scenes of a woods dwelling witch woman (also played by DeHaven!) and her retarded, redneck Yoda sounding sidekick with whom the former has a connection with the snarling, water-logged monster. All bets are off once the creature is seen in full view despite the cameraman having trouble holding it still. The cherry on top of this banana split of a rib-tickler is a love song entitled 'Walk With Me' that warbles on during the opening and ending of the movie, and wedged in during a kissy scene doubling as a "sex" scene between DeHaven and Thompson.
I first saw a preview for this on some VHS tapes like SHOCK WAVES (1976) from Prism Home Video back in the late 80s. The preview was rather exciting and succeeds in making the movie look good. I finally found it in a then newly opened video store in town and it was my first rental at that establishment. Fortunately for enthusiasts of terrible movies, BOG is anything but good. The requisite shock ending promised BOG 2 which apparently is still slumbering.
One of the best 'Creature In the Lake' movies. Instead of a single man in a suit, we get hundreds of piranhas ingeniously operated off camera with rods and brought to life via camera speed and memorable 'gobble, gobble' sound effects when folks are being fed upon.
And there's a plot! From John Sayles no less! Outside of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, this Roger Corman produced horror picture is easily the most well known, or widely seen movie on this list. Often lumped in as a JAWS rip-off, Joe Dante's career went through the roof after this mightily entertaining motion picture showed that man-eating fish weren't confined solely to the salt water dwellings of the ocean.
PIRANHA was so popular, it got a sequel, a proposed second sequel that never materialized, two remakes and a sequel to the remake. Also an Italian variant called KILLER FISH was produced in 1979 from Antonio Margheriti with a staggeringly high profile cast.
MONSTER aka MONSTROID (1977)
Remember Elvira's Movie Macabre? Of course you do. MONSTROID was one of many horror hemorrhoids showcased on the Mistress of the Dark's two hour time slot.
This is a bizarre US-Mexi-mess that corrals James Mitchum and John Carradine for a plot about another lake dwelling beast that infrequently pops its hand puppet head out of the water (complete with a fleshy Fu Manchu type 'stache) and munches on the locals. The filmmakers would have you believe this was a true story, too, even going so far as to provide dates and everything.
I'm not sure how Mitchum and Carradine were convinced to be in this, but the latter gets off light considering his screen time as a superstitious priest is limited. Philip Carey, Capt. Parmalee from the classic western series LAREDO, was also duped into appearing in this crusty crab of a movie. Italian western star, Aldo Sambrell is supposed to be in this thing, but I don't remember seeing him.
The stuff between the monster attacks threaten to put you to sleep, and if you're knocked out, you'll miss out on the exciting conclusion wherein we get a long look at a large monster float bobbing in and out of the water during a duel with a helicopter and James Mitchum with a handful of dynamite.
Reportedly, the film took nearly a decade to see the light of a movie screen brought on by a flurry of behind the scenes problems. The picture is forgettable, with nothing to recommend it. I would like to know just who came up with the wonky MONSTROID title. The film does have one saving grace, though.
The poster designs are incredible. One such design (see photo to the right) even seems to try and cash in on the wild success of LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. A shame this film, and others like it, couldn't come close to duplicating the thrills designed by their talented promotional artists. THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1983)
To cult film lovers the name Larry Buchanan has the uncanny ability to send shivers down ones spine as well as send skin to crawling for his regurgitating many of the world's most atrocious horror-monster movies ever made. If you've seen high camp crap like ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS (1966), MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), HELL RAIDERS (1968), IT'S ALIVE! (1969), or MISTRESS OF THE APES (1979), you have some idea of what you're in for with the $40,000 crapfest THE LOCH NESS HORRIBLE. And like other monster flicks on this list, this here is yet another family affair.
It's about the search for Nessie, Scotland's legend of the Loch; only here, it's a US locale poorly standing in for the fabled Scottish body of water. The creature (in regards to actually seeing it) is almost a guest star in its own movie as there are other subplots sloppily tossed into the narrative. There's a search for a sunken WW2 German plane, a crazed Scotsman skulking around believing WW2 is still going on, and a dinosaur egg taken from the bottom(?) of the lake that pops in and out of the narrative.
Nessie is something of a hero here, "fighting back" as the trailer puts it, against those who would harm the lake or her egg. The special effects aren't so special, with Nessie looking anything but menacing with her cute facial features and blow up beach toy design. The STAR WARS Tie Fighter sound effects subbing for Nessie's roar do nothing but make things even more hilarious.
Furthermore, we only ever see the neck and head being raised up and down pretending to bite into people or drag idiots "trapped" in their sleeping bags off into the lake.
Amazingly, this micro-budgeted wonder got regular airings on both USA Network's Commander USA's Groovie Movies and Saturday Nightmares. It's in the running to be the worst movie on this list, but it's met with stiff (haha) competition from some of the other pictures. It's easily one of the funniest movies celebrated(?) here, if not the worst. The poster design is another example of more attention paid the promotional materials than the actual movie.
SWAMP THING (1982)
Wes Craven, then best known for violently savage horror pictures like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) (and also brooding semi-slashers like DEADLY BLESSING ) toned things down a bit for this live action version of the popular Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson DC comic book.
This movie is different from the others on this list in that the title creature is the hero. The human characters are the real monsters which include the likes of Louis Jourdan, LAST HOUSE's David Hess and Nicholas Worth. Harry Manfredini delivers yet another FRIDAY THE 13TH sounding score to hone in on the horror aspect and there's some violence that is a bit strong for a 'PG'. The movie seems to divide fans of the genre with many preferring the livelier, but far stupider sequel RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1988). I didn't get to see SWAMP THING in the theater, but did catch it on HBO and enjoyed it quite a lot.
The kitschy effects work do make this an enjoyable little movie even if the violence kind of designs this as a movie for big kids instead of little ones (the international version approves of that assertion!). Adrienne Barbeau, armed with her raised eyebrow and two big "guns" will no doubt stir feelings within adolescents as she often did to me when I was 7 to 8 years of age. If you can find it, the international version gives you more Barbeau boobage and additional nudity during a birthday sequence.
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.