Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing Christopher R. Mihm’s, The Monster of Phantom Lake, which was an absolutely brilliant homage to those old 50’s radiation / toxic waste monster movies. Now it’s 2007 and Christopher has presented me with a sequel of sorts to his first film It takes place in the same time and with several returning characters, but it’s a totally different story this time.
This time around, Professor Daniel Jackson’s friend and fellow teacher Frank Farnsworth Frasier is up in the mountains on a research outing when suddenly a meteorite falls to Earth about a hundred feet from his camp site. When he goes to investigate, his mind is invaded by an alien force that eventually takes over and tries to find a suitable female to serve as a host body for his queen. When Frank doesn’t return on time from his trip, Professor Jackson is sent by the school along with the two canoe cops, Gustav and Sven, to look for him. They eventualy find him and bring him home, but eventually the alien takes full control, and it’s up to Professor Jackson to stop him before it’s too late.
So how does it measure up to the original? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t. Where I found the first film to be incredibly entertaining, I found this one to be very slow paced and at times rather boring. I was also extremely disappointed by the fact that there wasn’t a monster to be found anywhere. The closest this film comes to having a monster is when an alien takes over the body of Frank Frasier, and even then it’s nothing more than simply sticking a pair of big buldgy eyes on him. There’s no transformation at all aside from that. The monster in the first film was just brilliant, and I think that’s why I was especially disappointed in the fact that this film didn’t really have one. In fact, nothing of real consequence happened with the alien other than him invading the guy’s body until after about an hour into the movie. The monsters are what made these movies fun, and when we’re deprived of them, it takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Another thing that led to the plodding pace of the film was the dialogue. While much of the dialogue was great, the way Professor Jackson stretched out his sentences, much like a stoned Captain Kirk, really drug out things needlessly. It was kind of amusing at first, but when he kept doing it all through the movie, I just got to a point where I wanted to reach through the screen and smack him. The other thing that led to the slow pace were long stretches of laughter or other reactions. One in particular was a part where the two canoe cops mentioned that they had discovered and foiled a communist plot to overthrow the US government. Professor Jackson asks them about it and they tell him they’ve said too much already. Then the staring contest begins. They sit there and stare at each other in an awkward moment that was funny up until about half way through it, but then it just started dragging big time. I’ve said many times how important pacing is in a film, and this is a good example of that. An awkward pause can be great, but when it drags on too long, it loses it’s desired effect. The same thing goes for awkward laughing scenes, etc… One fun thing with the dialogue though is picking out quotes and references to various other films. There are nods to Star Trek, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and probably some others I missed. It’s kind of fun picking those out of the dialogue. Some are more overt than others, but they’re all fun.
Now mind you, I don’t want to make it sound like they didn’t get anything right in this film, because they absolutely did. Like the first film, the look was incredible. Everything from the hair styles to the wardrobe to the props were all incredibly well done and totally looked like they came straight out of the 50’s. The music and stock footage were straight out of the 50’s as well, and putting all of them together created a really brilliant looking film. The only bad thing I could say about the look of the film is that one of the effects used while Frank, the guy who was possessed by the alien, was dreaming, looked too modern and not like something you’d have seen in a 50’s b-movie. As far as everything else though, it was all just wonderful.
The performances in the film were generally quite good, but the line delivery by Professor Jackson and his friend Frank was a little too thick for me. They’re both teachers and both speak very properly, but after listening to dialogue like that for over 90 minutes, especially with the Captain Kirk pacing, it just got tiresome after awhile. The dialogue itself wasn’t bad, a lot of it was just the way it was delivered. Shannon McDonough plays Professor Jackson’s love interest in this film, as the girl he was in love with in the previous film died somewhere in between. She did a great job with the whole look, dialogue delivery and physical movements that mimicked the kind of acting you’d have seen back in the 50’s. The two canoe cops, Gustav (Mike Cook) and Sven (M. Scott Taulman), both did great jobs with their characters as well. They were in the first movie, but disappeared at some point leaving us to believe that the monster ate them. Apparently it didn’t, and their roles in this movie were beefed up a lot, which was nice to see because they’re fun characters. Another character that returned from the first movie, albeit in only a small part was the incredibly sexy geeky girl Elizabeth (Deanne McDonald). I wish she had had a bigger part in the film, because she’s nice to look at and I really like the character and how she plays it.
Like the first film, this one has English subtitles. Unfortunately, whereas the first film had a lot of fun stuff and oddball side comments in the subtitles that made them absolutely hilarious, this film didn’t really have that. There was something small here and there but nowhere near like it was in the first film.
I know I sound like I’m comparing it to the first film a lot, and I know that’s not fair and I should take this film on its own merits, but even if I did the critiques would be the same. This is a really, really well made film that’s missing a good monster and has some pacing and dialogue problems. I will admit that I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t seen the first film, but if you have seen the first film, the comparisons are there to be made and it’s pretty unavoidable.
So should you see it? If you like classic b-movies, then you’ll definitely want to see it, because there really isn’t anyone out there who’s managed to capture the look and feel of the old classics like Christopher R. Mihm, and this is a pretty entertaining movie in it’s own right. I just wish it had had a good monster in it. A good monster, well utilized, would have gone a long way towards making up for whatever other problems this film might have had.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, or The Monster of Phantom Lake, you can visit the Saint Euphoria Pictures website at http://www.monsterofphantomlake.com.