By Jerry Chandler
Monster is one of those films you watch and then immediately try to forget you ever saw it. Of course, the danger in that is you might accidently watch it again one day, and repeated exposure to this film could cause lasting damage to the otherwise sane mind. The danger of doing so is increased when the film found itself receiving multiple new names in a fairly short amount of time. It’s also been known as It Came from the Lake, Monstroid, Monstroid: It Came from the Lake, The Toxic Horror, Toxic Monster, The Beast from Beyond, and Monster, the Legend That Became a Terror. I suspect there were a few other titles that have been missed as they likely renamed it as much as possible in the early cable era and the age of the Mom & Pop Video stores to get ahead of the bad word of mouth about the film. As a matter of fact, they probably worked harder at coming up with alternate names for the movie than they worked on the actual movie itself.
The first thing you should probably know about the movie is that it was directed by Kenneth Hartford working under the name Kenneth Herts. Why should you know this? Because it was a warning. It hurts to watch this thing. It probably hurt to act in it as well. Speaking of acting, when you start this thing you get to watch James Mitchum, John Carradine, Philip Carey, Anthony Eisley, and others sleepwalk their way through scene after scene. Of course, maybe they thought that they’d only put as much effort in the thing as everyone else involved. Even simple things weren’t given much thought by writers Kenneth Hartford, Walter Roeber Schmidt, Herbert L. Strock, and Garland Scott. When you look at that, it’s actually kind of amazing it took that many people to come up with so little in the way of a story or basic details for the story.
Most of the lead characters only seem to have a single name for their character, and some characters are never named at all. Hell, John Carradine, a genre legend well before taking this job, plays the town priest and has several key scenes where he’s featured prominently. At no time in the film is he ever named by a single other character. While his character is listed as ‘The Priest’ in most credits for the film when others are writing about it, the film’s actual credits make no mention of character names at all for any character. Amazingly, they still may have put more thought into character names than they did into the story itself.
At the start of the film, the story is billed as being based on the real story of an attack by a sea creature driven mad by pollution in 1971. Yeah… That might have been the most creative bit of writing in the entire film.
Our story finds a rural Colombian village being terrorized by a horrible sea serpent, driven mad by industrial pollution dumped into a local lake. A very tiny lake. Also, a very large lake. The lake itself seems to grow a bit by the end of the movie. In many early scenes, the lake looks like the local fishing hole, but for the film’s climax it seems to have grown to roughly the size of Loch Ness.
Anyhow, from out of this tiny to large to gigantic lake comes a rather large pollution crazed monster that looks like a reject from a 1950s atomic monster movie. It’s a rubber suit and puppet depending on the scene, and the work they put into both makes my son’s Dollar Tree monsters look like Stan Winston’s best work by comparison. Seriously, it’s a total goof of a prop. You see that terrifying creature adorning the VHS box at the top of the article? Yeah, well… This is what the monster looked like in the film, and these are some of the better shots of it making it look… well… good might be too strong a word.
So, our monster slowly starts making a nuisance of itself and getting noticed by the locals. Not really all that overly noticed, mind you. It seems as if people know about this thing but not really and it’s been around for a bit but not really… Basically, some of the conversations about the creature tend to fit the need of the conversation of the moment, but don’t always work together to established a coherent narrative for the film itself. Not helping matters any is the fact that most of these conversations are had by characters that are written blandly and acted even more blandly. The film is populated by characters that are a collection of the most stereotypical characters you could think of when one thinks about low budget monster films like this one, but with only about 1/30 of the personality written and acted into them. As you get into the film, you realize that it doesn’t matter that most of the characters have no full, proper name because after they’re done blanding their way through a scene you will have forgotten them almost instantly.
As our monster becomes more of a noticeable threat, we mostly get to see life in the tiny Columbian town as an anti-corporate activist makes noise against the evil big corporate boss, you get a mostly pointless side bit about guerrilla fighters, and a parade of locals spend way more time on screen than they need to while not actually entertaining the viewer all that much. I’d say that many of the actors were pretty much just phoning it in through the majority of these scenes, but that might be giving them too much credit for the work they did on the film.
Eventually, after… stuff… happens, our two heroes of the story decide to make an explosive fishing lure using plastic explosives taken from the anti-corporate guerrillas who try to blow up the plant outside of town. They hatch a plan involving a boat, a helicopter, and a remote controlled explosive. Their plan is needlessly complicated and somewhat silly, but it still gives us the most compelling and interesting part of the film as they get way too close to the monster than they need to.
Eventually, our heroes manage to get their plan to work after a few minor SNAFU moments that really show off the monster’s resemblance to a cheap plastic bath toy. Our creature destroyed, the people finally relax and get ready to begin normal lives again. But, wait! The camera slowly pans across the countryside and finds a nest of Monstroid eggs looking ready to hatch. Lots and lots of eggs. Lots and lots of eggs of a size that you wonder how the creature didn’t die laying this many eggs of that size. Hell, you kind of wonder when the creature found the time to make the nest, lay that many eggs of that size, organize and tidy up the nest, and get back to the water unseen to participate in most of the movie. You also kind of wonder where the hell the thing’s mate is, but the film’s writers didn’t seem to give that much thought.
Monster is on Amazon streaming looking like it was a transfer made from a worn VHS found in a box in somebody’s basement. Believe it or not, this probably helps make the monster in Monster look better than it otherwise might by hiding details that better video quality would let you see. For lovers of bad movies or for the curious masochists out there, Monster is totally worth a look as a free streaming movie on Prime. For those of you without Amazon Prime, there’s an even worse print on YouTube.
If you just want a good laugh, you want to do a DIY MST3K with friends on the weekend or at a convention, or you just need to boost your amateur filmmaking confidence and belief that you can make a better film than some of the stuff that’s out there right now; Monster is absolutely worth at least one viewing.
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly the Thursday column at Needless Things, but he has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network and on podcasts like Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror and the Nerdy Laser. He has also a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.