Color, 1976, 95 mins. 8 secs.
Directed by Joy Houck Jr.
Starring Jack Elam, Dub Taylor, Dennis Fimple, John David Carson, Bill Thurman
Synapse Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
/ WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
One of the many Bigfoot-adjacent monster movies that crowded drive-ins in the 1970s, Creature from Black Lake has a more unusual pedigree than most. Director and sometime actor Joy Houck Jr. (Night of Bloody Horror, The Night of the Strangler) was brought aboard by producer Jim McCullough (Mountaintop Motel Massacre, Video Murders) to make a 1950-style creature feature shot on location in Louisiana. Blessed with a PG rating that meant it could run on network TV without any issues, the film also played several double and triple bills over the years for the same audiences who lapped up the similar films by Charles B. Pierce like The Legend of Boggy Creek and The Town That Dreaded Sundown. In true B-movie fashion, it also features a few recognizable character actors -- most notably Jack Elam and Dub Taylor -- who get top billing despite being far from the actual main characters in the story.
While out boating in the swamp, trapper Joe Canton (Elam) is horrified to see his fishing buddy dragged into the water and presumably killed by a furry-handed beast. Meanwhile a college lecture on cryptids intrigues graduate students Pahoo (Fimple from The Evictors and House of 1,000 Corpses) and Rives (Carson from Pretty Maids All in a Row and Empire of the Ants, who weirdly also appeared with Fimple in the same year's Stay Hungry) so much they decide to investigate the Black Lake incidents. Their prying into various camper attacks and other sightings doesn't get them very far with the clearly intimidated locals, and the local sheriff (Thurman) tries to caution them about going into the wild. Nevertheless, they decide to press ahead and embark on a night of terror that they may not survive.
If you're a fan of '70s Bigfoot films, there's a lot to enjoy here including tons of chitchat about the existence of this mysterious monster, local color galore, and striking scope photography of the backwoods landscape by the great Dean Cundey, who shot this on the heels of The Witch Who Came from the Sea and would forever change the look of American horror films two years later with Halloween (not to mention a big studio career with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, and Apollo 13).
Unfortunately Cundey's contributions were difficult to really appreciate given this film's history on TV and home video including several dubious DVD and VHS releases, all cropped and in pretty ratty condition. The 2022 Blu-ray from Synapse Films will be an eye opener if you've seen this one before, featuring a pristine 4K restoration from the 35mm camera negative. For a very low budget film, this looks great with a colorful, sharp appearance and loads of atmospheric gliding camerawork. Previously tough to make out in other video transfers, the nocturnal climax is finally crystal clear here as well and much easier to enjoy. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is also excellent and features optional English subtitles. A new audio commentary with Michael Gingold and Chris Poggiali is as great as you'd expect given their breadth of knowledge about the genre; they both have a lot of affection for this film and have tons of info about the filmmakers, cast, location shooting, and cinema du Bigfoot. In "Swamp Stories" (19m5s), Cundey looks back at his early years working on a wild array of exploitation films, his memories of the colorful cast members here, and other anecdotes from the set including the unorthodox payroll process. The theatrical trailer and a radio spot are also included.
Reviewed on November 25, 2022