“A faithful re-imagining of 1950s Cold War-era, B-grade, drive-in horror movies, The Monster Of Phantom Lake follows proud scientist Professor Jackson, his graduate student, and five swell teenagers as they discover the terrifying effects of Atomic Waste in the form of a horribly mutated shell-shocked World War II soldier/lake-algae monster!” (courtesy IMDB)
As you well know, I normally discuss old forgotten films ranging from B-grade all the way down to letters that haven’t even been invented yet. You either have a soft spot for them – even if you make fun of them – or you’re sane. If you fall into the latter category and wish to remain there, I’d advise you switch websites now, because the film I’m discussing this week is all about that soft spot, whether it be in your heart or in your head.
Nowadays it’s all too common for Hollywood to take an outdated movie and produce a modern remake, but rarely does someone come up with a new idea and make it as an outdated movie. This week’s presentation, The Monster Of Phantom Lake (2006), is one such film by Christopher Mihm, produced as a monochromatic tribute to the B-grade drive-in movies of the fifties. Starring Josh Craig, Justen Overlander, Michael Cook, M. Scott Taulman, Deanne McDonald, and my old girlfriend Rachel Grubb, The Monster Of Phantom Lake is a glorious black-and-white homage that immerses the viewer in a cacophony of clichĂ©s as rubber-suited monsters and terrified teenagers run around in front of the camera.
Get ready to discover the terrifying effects of atomic waste in the form of a horribly mutated war veteran. Can Professor Jackson (Josh Craig) and his sexy assistant (Leigha Horton) unlock the monster’s frightening secret? Will teenager Elizabeth (Deanne McDonald) finally confront her own fears? Will George (Brad Tracy) survive his encounter with the hideous beast (Michael Kaiser)? Will Jonathan (Justen Overlander) and Amy (Rachel Grubb) go ‘all the way’? These questions and others will be more than likely ignored as you sit back, relax, and absorb the irradiated swampy goodness that is The Monster Of Phantom Lake, which follows the noble Professor Jackson, a modern-thinking scientist who is rather fond of the rock and roll, and his sexy student Stephanie as they spend a weekend camping around Phantom Lake. Unfortunately, some careless gentlemen have been dumping toxic waste into the lake, which turns a homeless war veteran into a horrifying swamp monster!
Christopher Mihm makes nostalgic movies with friends and films them locally, harking back to the cinema of yesteryear, at the same time taking shots at the rubbish forced upon us by Hollywood today. The Monster Of Phantom Lake is the first in a series of feature-length tributes, including It Came From Another World! (2007), Cave Women On Mars (2008), Terror From Beneath The Earth (2009), Destination Outer Space (2010) and Attack Of the Moon Zombies (2011), all of which I will discuss in future articles. Mister Mihm tells me he’s departing briefly from his fifties monster movies this year to make the sixties shocker House Of Ghosts (2012), a tribute to the works of my old friend William Castle, which I also hope to screen for you soon.
With a budget of only ten thousand measly American dollars, you’d expect the acting talent in The Monster Of Phantom Lake to be straight out of high school, but no! Mister Mihm has managed to wrangle an experienced cast to support lead actor Josh Craig as rockin’ Professor Jackson: Scott Taulman, who plays Sven, starred in a few shorts and at least eleven feature films, including Out Go The Lights (2011), Further North (2008), Two Harbours (2005), and Stimulus (2007), in which he played the celebrated role of Truck Driver #1. Deanne McDonald, who plays Elizabeth, was also in Stimulus, as well as Memorising Dates (2007) and the romantic comedy Icebreaker (2009), in which she played Cute Bar Chick #1. Justen Overlander, who plays Jonathan, was also in Icebreaker, as well as Gehenna (2011), Doomed To Consume (2006), Horror House (2008), and Burial Ground (2013), in which he plays the less-than-pivotal role of Keith #1. Michael Cook, who plays Gustav, was also in Burial Ground, as well as real television shows like The District (2004) and Prison Break (2005), and in real films like Fred Claus (2007), Health Freaks (2009), The Telephone Game (2011), and Robert Altman‘s Prairie Home Companion (2006), as Audience Member #1.
But the winner and overall champion tonight with a total of fifty-three separate film and television roles is my old sweetheart and future Scream Queen Rachel Grubb, who started her extensive film career, not as an aspiring actress but as a writer. I met Rachel at the turn of the century when her first-ever script won Best Breakthrough Screenplay at the New York Independent Film Festival. She wanted to star in the film version and, not wanting to make a fool of herself, asked me for acting lessons. Under my unsettlingly intimate mentorship, she soon became heavily involved in the horror film community, but as an actress, not a writer. Like the plot of A Star Is Born (1937) or The Artist (2011), Rachel found fame and left me behind in a backwash of bargain-basement B-grade films. C’est la vie. Since then she’s appeared in many feature films including Doomed To Consume (2008), Group Home (2008), Horror House (2008), Health Freaks (2009), and Unholy Reunion (2009). She played a ghost in Thirteen Hours In A Warehouse (2008) and Huntress Hagra in Cave Women On Mars (2008). Rachel recently established Silent-But-Deadly Productions, and has just completed Why Am I In A Box? (2010) which she wrote, directed and starred in. Either I’m getting all choked-up with pride, or I ate one too many chest-bursters for dinner. Yes, that must be it. I asked for cheeseburgers.
Each actor is given specific character traits to convey and there’s obvious chemistry among them as they do so. I’m reminded a little of Friday The Thirteenth (1980) and The Evil Dead (1981). I know they’re not fifties films but, like those classics, The Monster Of Phantom Lake is set in the woods, the trees and underbrush are vital to the story and there’s an ominous feel to the urban legend approach to the plot – it really does feel like a campfire tale come to life.
Some of my regular readers might say I haven’t been critical enough with tonight’s presentation. Well, okay then, I always like a challenge: As faithful as The Monster Of Phantom Lake is, one aspect where it fails – and the movie suffers for it – is running time. The average fifties B-grader usually ran somewhere between sixty and eighty minutes, but The Monster Of Phantom Lake clocks in at almost a hundred minutes and could have used some tightening up. For example, there’s that lengthy scene where all four girls sit around chatting about their relationships – that can go. Professor Jackson’s song could lose a verse, and the main characters do a lot of walking around, which may be healthy but makes for poor entertainment.
But I don’t wish to diminish your enjoyment of an otherwise fantastic film that works as both a loving homage and a funny parody. If you have any affection for B-movies of the atomic age, then you should check out their website at www.sainteuphoria.com and track down the DVD, which is chock-a-block full of special features, commentaries, and some of the funniest subtitles I’ve ever laid my eye-sockets on! I’m well-pleased to have been able to discuss such an instant classic, I feel it has restored my artistic credibility – stop giggling – and I look forward to showcasing more films from the incredibly strange catalogue of Christopher Mihm that stopped living and became mixed-up movies for…Horror News! Toodles!