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Creature From Black Lake (Synapse Films) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Creature From Black Lake (Synapse Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: December 13th, 2022.
    Joy N. Houck Jr.
    Cast: Jack Elam, Dennis Fimple, John David Carson, Dub Taylor
    Year: 1976
    Purchase From Amazon

    Creature From Black Lake – Movie Review:

    From director Joy N. Houck Jr., the same man who gave us Night Of Bloody Horror and Night Of The Strangler, comes 1976's Creature From Black Lake which, like a lot of seventies Bigfoot movies, starts off with some calm footage of the great outdoors. In this case, we can assume it's the titular lake, though most of the movie takes place in and around a swamp, rather than a lake proper.

    At any rate, a trapper named Joe Canton (Jack Elam) and his partner hop in a boat and head out into the swamp to check their traps. Shortly after bumping into something with the boat, a hairy hand emerges from the murky depths and pulls Joe's partner underwater, never to be seen alive again.

    From here, we meet Pahoo (Dennis Fimple) and Rives (John David Carson), two anthropology students who talk Professor Burch (played by Houck himself) into giving them enough grant money to head to Oil City, Louisiana. There they plan to investigate rumors of a giant bipedal creature that's been wreaking havoc in the area for years. A short drive in their trusty van later and our heroes arrive and start digging around for clues. No one is talking and the town Sheriff, Billy Carter (Bill Thurman), makes it clear that he doesn't want the two new arrivals stirring up any trouble in his town. Eventually a local named Orville Bridges (Jim McCullough Jr., who wrote the screenplay and also provided some of the music - and son of producer Jim McCullough Sr.), whose parents were killed by the beast when he was a toddler, agrees to talk. They head back to his place where his grandmother (Evelyn Hindricks) makes them a nice home cooked meal and his grandfather (Dub Taylor) tells them about his history with the creature. Later that night, Pahoo and Rives get close enough to the creature to record it.

    As the story progresses, our heroes wind up in the slammer for a night when the Sheriff catches his daughter, Beckey (Becky Smiser) and her friend Michelle (played by someone named... Michelle), having some beers in their tent. It's in jail that they meet Joe Canton, who invites them over to his place upon their release to learn the truth about the monster that haunts the swampland.

    Tonally all even but seriously entertaining, Creature From Black Lake at times feels more like a buddy comedy than a creature feature but somehow it all works in spite of itself. Featuring genuinely strong cinematographer from none other than Dean Cundey, it’s a very good looking film that makes the most of its swampy locations and small town settings. This winds up giving the film quite a bit of legitimate atmosphere which helps to build tension during the scenes where the creature is running about doing its thing (which mostly seems to involve yelling a lot, thrashing some poor dogs around and throwing things).

    Performances are goofy but likeable, charming even. Dennis Fimple, who played Grandpa Hugo in House Of 1,000 Corpses, is quite entertaining as the strangely named Pahoo, a Vietnam Vet turned grad student who can’t keep his eyes off of the ladies. He and John David Carson, who did a load of TV work including an episode of The Littlest Hobo, are pretty believable as friends, you could definitely see these two hanging out and having a good time. They do a solid job of establishing their friendship so that when things get darker and more dramatic in the film’s final act it has proper impact. Supporting work from Dub Taylor, of The Wild Bunch and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and Bill Thurman, who also played a Sheriff in Gator Bait, is solid while top-billed Jack Elam, recognizable from crazy-eyed performances in films like Once Upon A Time In The West and The Cannonball Run, steals pretty much every scene that he appears in.

    Creature From Black Lake – Blu-ray Review:

    Creature From Black Lake arrives on Blu-ray taken from a new 4K high-definition remaster of the film’s original 35mm negative in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Picture quality is impressive, and the image is damn near spotless. There’s really nice depth and detail evident throughout the movie, along with nice color reproduction and solid black levels. Color reproduction looks really strong across the board and there aren’t problems with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression issues. Overall, it’s a pretty impressive looking transfer.

    The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles, sounds quite good. The quirky country music used on the score sounds pretty good and has decent depth and the dialogue is always easily discernable. Levels are balanced and there are no issues to note with any hiss, distortion or sibilance.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary with author/filmmaker Michael Gingold and film historian Chris Poggiali. They talk about how they first came to see the movie and how it never really received a proper home video release until this disc, the Bigfoot movie craze that swept the seventies, Jaime Mendoza-Nava's career and score, some of the stereotypes that the movie deals with, Joy N. Houck Jr.'s cameo in the movie, what Jim McCullough Sr. and Jr. did behind the camera, the film's production history, how the movie works as a "drive-in chill film," locations that were used for the film, details on the different cast members that pop up in the picture, details on Jack Elam's career and work in the movie, where the movie goes intentionally over the top, how the movie compares to other Bigfoot movies, the movie's distribution history, thoughts on the creature in the movie and lots more. It’s an informed and interesting discussion.

    The disc also includes a twenty minute featurette titled Swamp Stories that is a new interview with Director of Photography Dean Cundey. He talks about the challenges of shooting in a swamp and the reality of what was in front of the cameras versus behind it. He also talks about why he got into the business, the scale of the production, working with the crew, recognizing talent and picking up crew people as he worked his way through low budget productions early in his career, the financing and distribution of the film, memories of Jim McCullough Sr. and Jr., the decision not to show too much of the creature in the movie, the makeup and costume used to bring the creature to life, the marketing of the movie and quite a bit more.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc are an original theatrical trailer and radio spot, menus and chapter selection options.

    Creature From Black Lake - The Final Word:

    Synapse has done an excellent job with their Blu-ray release of Creature From Black Lake. The movie looks and sounds fantastic and both the interview and the commentary track do a nice job of analyzing the movie and exploring its history. The film itself is a lot of fun, an entertaining drive-in styled monster movie with loads of seventies style.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Creature From Black Lake Blu-ray screen caps!

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