Ok, for those of you who have read my other site, B-Movie Central, you know that I absolutely love classic b-movies. There have been several attempts in the past to re-create the feel of those great old classics, but more often than not they fall short…or just fall flat, coming off as stupid knock-offs or just plain old stupid. The Monster of Phantom Lake is the newest film I’ve come across that has tried to re-create that great old feel of the 50’s b-movies. But did it succeed where so many others have failed? Let me tell you what it’s about and then I’ll give you the answer.
A group of five annoying teenagers are on a camping trip to celebrate their high school graduation, while at a campsite near by, a professor and his graduate student are on their own camping trip to study the local indigenous amphibian population. In yet another part of the woods, a shell-shocked ex-world war two veteran who wasn’t able to re-assimilate back into society and thinks everyone around him are Germans and spies sits at his campsite mumbling to himself about Germans. Oh, and by the way, I should mention that his wife left him because he was convinced that she was a German spy who was sent in to impersonate his wife. He subsequently tracked her down and killed her, but was let off because he wasn’t right in the head. That brings us to the final piece in our little puzzle. That piece being the two schmucks from a local company who are dumping atomic waste into Phantom Lake. Well one of them dropped his hat in the lake while he was dumping the atomic waste and ended up leaving it in the water for obvious reasons. Well our shell shocked hermit was spying on them, and after they left, he went in the water after the hat, and after falling completely in, the Monster of Phantom Lake was born.
I’ve seen these retro movies have modern vehicles in them. I’ve seen them have dialogue that didn’t fit the era. I’ve seem them have boring scripts that make me want to fall asleep or pull my hair out in frustration. Basically, I’ve seen them fail in so many levels I can’t even tell you…but this one…oh my god! With this movie, after all these years and after so many failed attempts, we finally have a film that truly succeeded on every level and truly re-created the style and feel of those classic old 50’s b-movies. There’s no way to even describe how happy I am that someone has FINALLY succeeded where so many others have failed.
The film’s creator, Christopher R. Mihm, was introduced to classic b-movies by his late father, who as a child used to see those films in the theaters. The excited his imagination, and he shared that joy with his son. Christopher didn’t really understand why his father loved these movies so much when he was a kid, but as he got older, he really started to understand the appeal of those old classics and decided, along with his friend and fellow producer Josh Craig, to create a film in the classic 50’s b-movie style. One that his father would have aproved of. So he sat down and started writing, and created what has turned out to be one of the best homage films ever created.
Why is it so great? Well, for one, everything in it is appropriate for the period. The transistor radio, the vehicles, the flashlights, the clothing, the dialogue and most especially the music are all very well done and very appropriate for the time in which this film takes place. So many other films have failed on one or more of these points, but not this one. Then we have the running jokes, the quirky characters, the great dialogue, the brilliant performances, and you name it. Every little piece came together perfectly to create an ultimately enjoyable experience.
The monster itself was the epitome of b-move cheese. The costume was this big algae / seaweed looking thing with big, buldgy eyes. It was very reminiscent of (what I call) the turd monster from Roger Corman’s, Creature From the Haunted Sea.
Another thing that had me laughing in this film were some of the names. Christopher Mihm is obviously a Stargate fan, because the professor’s name was Daniel Jackson (Josh Craig) and one of the teenagers was named Elizabeth Weir (Deanne McDonald). There may have been some character names from other things as well, but if there were I didn’t pick up on them simply out of my own lack of knowledge of the references. I did pick up on those two though and it was quite funny. There was another funny reference to modern sci-fi as well. The test equipment used by the professor and his student / love interest Stephanie Yates (Leigha Horton), made the same sound that the tri-corders made in Star Trek The Next Generation. Oh, one other funny little name thing I wanted to mention that was funny is that they named the shell shocked veteran Michael Kaiser, which is the real name of the guy in the monster suit.
The performances in this film were just incredible from everyone involved. Usually in a film there are some stand-outs and some people that didn’t do so well. In this film however, while the very beautiful Deanne McDonald who played the geeky Elizabeth was probably the most stand out performance for me, there were no bad performances at all. It’s like, the base quality level of the acting was high, and a few people like Deanne McDonald, Leigha Horton and Josh Craig took it just a bit higher. All the performers really understood what the film was supposed to be and played their roles brilliantly, which is something you basically never see in these homage type films.
Something else that’s great about this film is that it’s probably the only indie film I’ve ever seen that actually included subtitles. I wish more indie films would take the time to do this, because it really is helpful in catching dialogue that you would otherwise miss because it was inaudible or whatever. It’s also helpful for people like my wife who are a bit hard of hearing. I mean really, how much time would it really take in post to add subtitles? Maybe one or two extra days. After all the time it takes to put a movie together, you’d think more film makers would take the time to add in the subs. I guess most of them think it’s not important, but it really is in so many ways.
The great thing about the subtitles in this movie though is that they aren’t just straight subtitles. They really add a whole new level of enjoyment to the film, because occassionally the subs included goofy comments or sound effects that had my wife and I really laughing where otherwise we probably wouldn’t have been. I’ve never seen anyone do this with the subs before and it was refreshing, brilliant and fun to see it in this film. The film also has a commentary track, which I will be watching it with soon. Unfortunately, I received the film the day before I had to put the next issue of Rogue Cinema together, so I didn’t have time to check it out with the commentary before I wrote this review. I’m sure the commentary will be as entertaining as the film and the subs were though, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Classic b-movies have a style and a sense of cheesy fun that is pretty much impossible to re-create. In this film however, Christopher Mihm has done the impossible, and I thank him SO much for that. He’s restored my faith that somewhere out there existed someone with the talent and the love of the genre to actually create a proper homage to those great old films. What’s even better is that he’s working on a sequel called It Came From Another World! How cool is that?!?!
If you love classic b-movies, then you’ve got to go to the film’s website at http://www.monsterofphantomlake.com and pick yourself up a copy immediately. There’s other great related merchandise for sale there as well that you can pick up to help support the creation of more of these films. You can also check out the trailer for this film and it’s sequel and find out more about the cast, crew and the film in general. It’s been a long time since a film left me feeling so good after I watched it. Thanks Chris for allowing me to feel that way again.