Crater Lake Plesiosaur

This underrated low-budget gem from 1977 features stop-motion animation by the talented David Allen, with support from Phil Tippett, Randy Cook and Jim Danforth.  I never saw it in the theaters, but it played quite a bit in the early 1980’s on television. I recall horror host Son of Sven out of Chicago used to show it.  The film is a homage to giant monster films of the 50’s —a meteor crashes into a northern lake, warms up the water enough to hatch a dormant plesiosaur and all hell breaks loose.  The plesiosaur looks terrific and was based off a single 15-inch model designed by Allen and Tippett (Pettigrew, 1999).  I like the plesiosaur.  He looks a bit like the actual fossil Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus, first described in 1821.

The animation work is decent and the plesiosaur is of course the star.  However, the film bogs down with ridiculous characters and stupid bumbling redneck comedy from characters Arnie and Mitch (I generally dislike redneck humor).  Few directors understand how to combine horror or sci-fi and comedy (John Landis, Joe Dante and Sam Raimi certainly do). The film obviously remembers the success of Jaws (1975), and we see yet another disembodied head—

—and a small-town Sheriff (love the shades and lamb-chops) who takes on the plesiosaur with a snow plow!  This is probably the best animation work in the film (allegedly Jim Danforth helped during these sequences).

The film was produced and directed by William R. Stromberg at a cost under $200,000.  The goal was to make a nostalgic 50’s type monster film, and through combined efforts of David Allen and other animators and crew accomplished that goal.  The Crater Lake Monster is fun afternoon family fodder.  It would be a fun film to show at camp.  Do kids go to camp these days?  

Of course, a quick burn $200,000 film is not without technical flaws.  In some scenes you can notice the static matte lines.  The giant plesiosaur mock-up head is ok I guess.  It’s keeping in tone with films like King Kong, The Black Scorpion, and The Giant Behemoth, which all used ridiculous prop heads for close-ups.  

Great fun.  The Crater Lake Monster is available on the Cult Terror Cinema 12 Movie DVD Collection for about $12.

R. Ellis, 2003. Sea Dragons: Predators of the Prehistoric Oceans. Univ. Press of Kansas. pp. 117-164.

N. Pettigrew, 1999.  The Stop-Motion Filmography, Vol. 1. McFarland. pp. 156-160.

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