Friday, November 18, 2022

CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) (Synapse Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Synapse Films 
Region: Region-Free
Rating: PG
Duration: 95 Minutes 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA English 2.0 Original Mono with Option English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Director: Joy N. Houck Jr. 
Cast: Jack Elam, Dennis Fimple, John David Carson, Bill Thurman, Dub Taylor
The Creature from Black Lake (1976) is a scrappy, low-budget, regional bigfoot flick with some notable names attached to it - the drive-in programmer was shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween) and features the talents of veteran character actors Jack Elam (Hannie Caulder) and Dub Taylor (Poor Pretty Eddie). It opens in the boggy swamps of Louisiana where local fur-trapper Joe Canton (Elam) and his buddy are on a boat checking their trap lines. They get spooked when it seems that something has been eating their trapped animals, and just when they're about to get the heck outta there a furry-arm emerges from the water pulling Canton's pal beneath the surface, never to be seen again, with Canton fleeing. We then zero in on Chicago-based anthropology students Pahoo (Dennis Fimple, The Apple Dumpling Gang) and Rives (John David Carson, Empire of the Ants) arriving in the small town of Oil City, Louisiana to investigate reports of the local sasquatch-like creature that is said to haunt the nearby swamps. At first they get nowhere with the locals who are tight-lipped about what they might know, seemingly fearing ridicule from the outsiders. The local sheriff Billy Carter (Bill Thurman, The Evictors) doesn't want them poking around either, and he attempts to run them out of town. They end up encountering Canton who is willing to share his story about his encounter of the creature, as is a local yokel played by Dub Taylor (Burnt Offerings), who after accepting a small bribe recounts how he and his family has been terrorized by the fearsome swamp creature through the years, including inciting a car accident that claimed the lives of his daughter and her husband.

As 70's bigfoot flicks go this one has all the now familiar tropes, we get plenty of swamp/nature footage, a guy in a hair-suit, local yokels and true-believers - but it's got a bit more dramatic meat and a touch more humor to it than most of this ilk. Pahoo and Rives are an interesting pair of interlopers, they stick out like a sore thumb in Oil City, coming off as likable enough but a bit cocky about as low-key as a bull in a china shop when it comes to ingratiating themselves with the locals - though they do manage to make quite an impression on several of the young women, including a giggly local waitress (Cathryn Hartt, Futureworld) and the sheriff's comely daughter. The chemistry between the guys is quite enjoyable as well, even when it goes unnecessarily dark for the sake of dramatic effect later on. The oddly named Pahoo is a 'Nam vet on the G.I. bill whose defining characteristic seems to be an insatiable craving for hamburgers. They even go so far as to explain this is an over-reaction to having been raised on a chicken farm. His pal Rives doesn't get so much oddball backstory but he does have a easy going David Cassidy charm about him that I liked quite a bit.    

The creature, which is played by Roy Tatum (The Cannonball Run), is little seen early on but come the finale there's plenty of tent-shredding and van overturning mayhem with the creature, but the way that it detours away from creature storyline at the very end befuddled me a bit. Let's just say that the film keeps the mystery around the creature and goes another direction, feeling more akin to something like Macon County Line than a the bigfoot flick it's been setting up, which is dramatically effective but as a bigfoot cinema fan left me a little cold.    

Audio/Video: Creature from Black Lake (1976) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Synapse Films in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen, marking the first time the film has been releases in the original theatrical aspect ratio on home video, which is super-cool. More good news, this is a brand-new 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative and it looks fantastic, the source has been restored quite nicely with only some white speckling as far as blemishes go and a layer of fine film grain left intact and organic looking. We also get strong color-saturation with pleasing textures and fine detail throughout, and solid depth and clarity. Black levels are also quite strong, allowing for viewers to actually see the creature for a change. I've seen this previously on a cruddy cropped and quite murky DVD which made it difficult to make out what was happening during the low-lit action-sequences during the finale. Having been lensed by cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween), a guy who knows a thing or two filming a dark scene, this new transfer finally does his cinematography justice. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 original mono audio, it's a clean and well-balanced track, there's no issues with noise or hiss, dialogue is always discernible and the score from Jaime Mendoza-Nava (The Town That Dreaded Sundown) sounds terrific. 

Extras on this one include a brand new Audio commentary with author/filmmaker Michael Gingold and film historian Chris Poggiali, it's a great track as they tackle this 70's bigfoot flick, noting the tropes and getting into the histories of the cast and crew, it's quite well-researched and they have good chemistry with one another. We also get a new featurette produced by Red Shirt Pictures, the 19-min 
Swamp Stories – All-new featurette with Director of Photography Dean Cundey. Cundey talks about taking any gig he could get out of film school, his start in low-budget film programmers, shooting Creature from Black Lake in the swamps of Louisiana and a small town, how excited the locals were to have (even a small) Hollywood production in town, how this was all mood and style, the interesting cast and working with director Joy Houck Jr., and the decision to keep the creature obscured for much of the film to build suspense, and how he himself did much of the make-up FX for the creature, and the artwork created by ILM's Ralph McQuarrie. The single-disc release arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie poster illustration Ralph McQuarrie, which looks fantastic, and the Blu-ray disc inside features the same key artwork. 

Special Features: 
- Brand-new 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
- Audio commentary with author/filmmaker Michael Gingold and film historian Chris Poggiali
- Swamp Stories – All-new featurette with Director of Photography Dean Cundey (19 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer 
- Radio spot

Creature from Black Lake (1976) is a solid, well-made and slightly meandering sasquatch flick from the 70's; one that mashes-up a small-town interloper flick with a bigfoot mystery makes for an engaging watch. The new Blu-ray from Synapse is quite wonderful, whether you saw this on the small screen during a late-night airing in the 70's/80's or later on some murky DVD, or were lucky enough to see it first-run at the drive-in you've never seen it look this good, it's like seeing it, REALLY seeing it, for the first time. 

Screenshots from the Synapse Films Blu-ray: