Where do you even start with a film like this? I’ll start with the man who was the film’s director, co-writer, and co-producer. This was one of a long line of low budget films by infamous schlockmeister Larry Buchanan. Buchanan, perhaps best known for 1967’s Mars Needs Women, made films that transcended bad and entered into a realm almost all their own. This is actually a shame as some of his films would have been pretty damned good if they’d only had better actors, better budgets, better script doctors, better FX, and a better director at the helm. Basically, they would have all benefited greatly by not being Larry Buchanan films. The Loch Ness Horror is a prime example of one of these films.
The movie serves us up an amazing look at Loch Ness via Lake Tahoe. There are many problems with having Lake Tahoe stand in for Loch Ness. High on that list of problems is the loss of much of the atmosphere and mood one needs for such a tale told around the legendary, mist-covered loch. The, in many scenes, crystal clear waters and obviously warmer temperatures do tend to throw off the whole mystic lands vibe one gets with both the real Loch Ness and the locations chosen in the better films about the famous monster legend around it. You also tend to suddenly have a number of small islands in the loch in background shots with this film- something the real Loch Ness is greatly lacking in. Not to mention the impressive but wildly out of place for Scotland forests of pine trees and fine California spruce filling every shot that has a bit of dry land in it.
The film stars a bunch of people you’ve likely never heard of and could care less about as they attempt to speak with Scottish accents that range from somewhat hilarious to your drunk buddy who mumbles unintelligibly just before passing out in his drink. However, we don’t have this problem with Barry Buchanan’s performance as Spencer Dean. It’s not because Barry has an amazing gift for accents or anything, he just lucked out by playing the visiting American. But at least he can focus on his acting without having to try to focus on his accent and thus give us a decent performance. Well, maybe not. You may have noticed his last name and the director’s last name are the same. This would be because dad gave his pride and joy the lead role in the film. Still, he’s just as good an actor as anyone else in the film. Of course, the rest of the acting in the film ranges from almost kind of somewhat maybe serviceable to your drunk buddy who thinks he’s Sir Laurence Olivier just before passing out in his drink, so faint praise there.
But the real star of the film is, of course, the monster. Yeah, that monster… Scroll back up a second and look at the picture at the top of the post. I’ll wait. Back again? Good.
Okay, did you see the beautiful monster front and center on the poster? That really does represent a scene actually found in the film. The problem being nothing in the film’s scene looks anywhere close to that good; least of all the monster. No, our monster for this film looked for all the world like a glorified, giant-sized inflatable bathtub dinosaur with a hinged jaw. I’m totally serious about this description.
Now that we’ve established the level of the film’s overall production quality, let’s dive into the story. It’s fairly basic, but it’s honestly not that bad. They also tried to dress it up a bit with a few interesting subplots. Well, maybe they’re not actually all that interesting and they don’t really work anywhere near as well as Larry Buchanan had hoped they would.
The basic plot revolves around the Loch Ness Monster being provoked into going on a deadly rampage after some Nessie hunters find and steal her egg. As Nessie goes on a bloody killing spree, our intrepid American Nessie hunter gets sidetracked with a subplot about the discovery of a German bomber on the bottom of the loch. When not ignoring the monster while being sidetracked by the bomber, he’s occasionally ignoring the monster while being sidetracked by the granddaughter of his highland associate. It’s hard to tell which is the more paint by number aspect of the film here; the American comes to town and meets local girl relationship or her portrayal of a shy, small village Scottish lass as written by someone who had likely never met a Scottish lass- shy, small village type or not -at any point in their life before writing the script.
The German bomber subplot gets needlessly confusing and convoluted as we discover that there are secrets buried with it at the bottom of the loch. The out of nowhere secrets make no sense and completely fail to do anything for the main story. They do however have a few interesting moments despite being completely irrelevant to the film. Or they might not be all that interesting, but by the time they’re revealed you’ve been watching The Loch Ness Horror long enough to make anything outside of the main plot seem interesting.
The Nessie killing spree remains mostly free of convoluted bits along the way, although there is a moment where Nessie apparently kills a guy out of a sense of revenge over the murder of an old, somewhat crazy Scottish dude who regularly serenaded the monster with a selection of traditional Scottish bagpipe favorites. The big beastie also shows the ability to recognize nice locals in a later attack scene. They play sweet music and everything as she does this.
Now, the killing spree itself does manage to be a bit scary. Well, at least up until the monster strikes. The problems with the monster attack scenes are many. The main ones are as follows.
– When the monster first appears to start each monster attack scene, you often get a straight-on shot of the thing. There’s nothing that kills effectively… er… moderately… uhm… almost but not quite well-built tension more than looking straight into the face of a monster that looks like the smiling, inflatable bath toy dinosaur you saw on the shelf at your local Dollar Tree.
– As our smiling rubber ducky dino pal looks into the camera at the start of every rampage scene, it roars. You might recognize the roar. The bad part is that you won’t recognize it as a recycled Kong or Godzilla roar as was used so often in low budget films elsewhere. It’s not even a lion or an ape. No, they went to the weird end of the sound FX pool for this one. You’ll hear the beast roar and wonder how in the hell it managed to get a Tie Fighter stuck in its throat. This was typically followed by the monster snorting way too much dry ice mists out its nose and mouth.
– Being an inflatable bath toy, our monster’s neck doesn’t actually bend all that much. This means that in the various attack scenes whoever passed for prop guys on the set had to hold one end of the neck and swing the creature’s head downwards in a sort of clubbing motion. These guys would also work the jaws of the beast, making the lower jaw limply flap open and shut.
The general construction of the monster and the above issue also meant serious ripping and rending of human flesh by the creature’s jaws wasn’t high on the list of filmable options. The jaw had extremely limited grip strength, so its biting scenes are limited to lifting items like an inflatable raft (clearly strapped to its jaw) and daintily clamping down on a guy’s sleeping bag. Oh, yeah, and, of course, being held against and on the shoulders and head of one of its victims by the victim himself.
Underwater attack scenes were typically shots of the monster’s head underwater with the camera being wildly tilted back and forth as the focus is zoomed in on its forehead. Oh, yeah… They also blew air through its nostrils because nothing strikes fear into a viewer more than a monster blowing bubbles through its nose.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, we get prolonged sections of characters teaching us the best of the 1970s and 1980s pseudoscience theories about what the monster in Loch Ness was supposed to be. The scariest part of these scenes is, as cornball as they come across, what’s presented in the film was being treated seriously by way too many people when this bombed its way through a limited theatrical release before heading straight into late-night cable viewings.
The story not so much rushes as it sort of lazily jogs before slowly sauntering into its finale. All of the subplots and the main plot almost manage to resolve themselves in a somewhat coherent fashion involving the idea of blowing everything up. During this period of the film, the actors doing bad Scottish accents apparently also started a competition to see who could roll the most R’s in any given line of dialogue.
On paper, this is a horrible movie. As actually put to film, it’s even worse. But, weirdly, it’s a fun film if you go into it knowing that it’s going to be so bad it’s good rather than good. Sure, insofar as watchable films go it’s maybe a rung or twelve under The Crater Lake Monster, but that still makes it way higher up the ladder of watchable films than 90% of the Syfy original Loch Ness films.
Plus, it’s goofy fun. It’s the perfect film for a DIY Halloween party version of MST3K improve or as a great drinking game movie. It’s a movie filled with characters such as two divers who see the monster, speed their boat to where it went under, dive into the loch’s amazingly clear, bright waters, and are then somehow alarmed to discover that there’s a monster in the water with them. This is sure to get you and your friends buzzed out of your minds about fifteen minutes in if you set the rule for taking a shot at character actions and reactions that make zero sense. Avoid setting any drinking game around the bad accents. You’ll all be dead before the halfway point of the film.
If you think you recognize a few actors in the film, you probably don’t. Pretty much no one who acted in this thing went on to have much of a career. Probably the most successful career post The Loch Ness Horror by an on-screen character was had by the monster itself. Nessie would later go on to play Jack the Ripper.
Seriously, that’s not a joke. It was for the Bullshit or Not segment of Amazon Women on the Moon.
Interestingly, while the major players behind the camera and in front of the camera went on to have mostly limited to nonexistent careers, a number of the minor players behind the scenes (such as stunt diver Jarn Heil, pyrotechnician Wayne Beauchamp, and creature creator Peter Chesney) would go on to work in such films and TV shows as Re-Animator, Stargate, House II: The Second Story, Footloose, Smash Lab, Deadliest Warrior, and Freddy vs. Jason.
Give it a go for your next party or even on your own if you’re brave enough. The only DVDs I’ve seen anywhere are bootlegs printed up from a bad VHS copy, so pass on those. You can usually find a copy of equally crappy quality for free on YouTube. Although, personally, my recommendation if you go the YouTube route is to watch the version uploaded from the old Commander USA show.
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. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless Things, Nerdy Minds Magazine, Gruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.