One of those - How did they screw this up so badly? films. A doctor and his wife leave the big city and take refuge in the Maine wilderness, only to find just as much, if not more, conflict. The corporate lumbermen harass the local Indian tribe, who resent their treatment of the land. The local lumberyard is pumping toxic mercury into the environment leading to an outbreak of birth deformities, but are more interested in covering it up than cleaning it up. And somewhere in the woods is an enraged gigantic beast that is attacking campers and the local populace. There is a lot of juicy tidbits here, yet director John Frankenheimer (responsible for the amazing The Manchurian Candidate) somehow lets the film get completely away from him. The film is really just a straight horror thriller with topical political overtones, but it rarely engages on any level. The conflict between the corporate interests and the Indians remains static at best. The film's groundwork for the revelation of the giant monster consists of a giant trout that swims to the surface of a lake and gobbles a duck and a large piece of rubber that someone proclaims a "tadpole", all of which are borderline laughable. The subplot of the local deformities in human babies is underplayed. Yet for all of this the film should really work on a visceral level as a horror film. There is something inherently frightening about the dark forest at night, with strange sounds emanating from all around. This is something that the film never really takes advantage of. The latter third of the film is basically a lengthy pursuit of a diversity of eclectic characters trying to escape the onslaught of the rampaging monster, and this works much better than what has proceeded it, but it still does not work as potently as it should. Some of the earlier attack scenes are too few and far between - including a bungled opening sequence that is no where near as effective as the film seems to believe and a borderline laughable assault on a camping family memorable for the hilarious burst sleeping bag and feathers moment. The film pushes the then PG-rated boundaries with some surprising violence in the latter portion, but we are not especially invested in any of these characters at peril and when the creature finally emerges it looks nothing like that depicted on the poster. Rather it alternates between looking like a guy in a rubber suit, a slimy bear, a stuffed slimy bear and a huge knockwurst. In short, nothing to remotely frighten one despite the severity of the attacks. The fact that the film is able to generate some decent suspense in this third is largely because of some level of professionalism in Frankenheimer's direction and the promise still inherent in the material (which is largely undeveloped). The dreadful acting also does not help this film. Talia Shire spends much of the film looking bored and spends the final moments appearing as though on the verge of slipping into a Valium-induced coma. The film throws her character some drama with a plot revelation, but instead of emoting she restrains herself to the point of lifelessness. Armand Assante probably contributes the best performance as a local Native American activist whom the powers-that-be initially try to pin the attacks on. The worst performance comes courtesy of Robert Foxworth as Shire's husband, and he deserves his own paragraph. It is a straight-forward straight-arrow good guy role that just requires someone solid and appealing. Instead, Foxworth contributes a performance that would be too broad for a Greek amphitheater. In scenes where he is to appear sympathetic, he positively drips with self-righteousness. In scenes where he is disturbed about the trials around him, he sputters, blusters and waves his arms all over the place. When Shire tells him a late plot twist, he stares with such intensity at her that it is a wonder she is not burned to a cinder. He has absolutely no chemistry with Shire and every time a character asks for his opinion as a doctor, he strides as though heading center stage and begins to pontificate as though launching into a soliloquy from Shakespeare. His final confrontation with the creature should be played in acting classes as a perfect definition of how NOT to act on screen. It is a dreadfully laughable performance that degenerates into a mockery of hammy-ness that completely overwhelms the role, the people around him and the film itself. On an aside, this is definitely a story that would be ripe for a remake. With better special effects, a more polished screenplay, tighter direction and (arguably most important of all) a better leading man, this could transform itself into a amazingly scary thrill ride.
Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller
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A log company's waste mutates the environment, creating a giant killer bear-monster.
January 13, 2020