Bog (1978) -***
Ladies and gentlemen, an important discovery: Bill Rebane was not alone! At the same time that he was running around Wisconsin making movies like The Alpha Incident and Invasion from Inner Earth, the same territory was also home to Don Keeslar. Now Keeslar may not have a big, long resumé of the half-baked and the misbegotten like Rebane’s, but he does have Bog, and that by itself is reason enough to take notice of him when we contemplate the admittedly esoteric subject of cheaply made independent exploitation movies from the Midwest. Bog is a remarkable example of the 1970’s rubber-suit monster revival, not so much due to its merits or lack thereof, but for its demonstration of how far the democratization of the movie industry had progressed 30 years after the demise of vertical integration first put bookings at regular theaters within the reach of small-scale, regional producers. It even has a couple of washed-up ex-Hollywood character actors to provide name recognition!
At the aptly named Bog Lake, somewhere in rural Wisconsin, some fool (Dino Stroppa) paddles his little aluminum boat out from the somewhat ill-defined shore, and tosses a quarter-stick of dynamite into the water. Before this ass-jerk has much chance to reap the benefits of his malfeasance, however, something big rushes his boat from below, half-pulls, half-knocks him overboard, and drags him down to a nastier doom than mere drowning at the muddy bottom. A matted-haired old lady (Gloria De Haven) looks on in apparent approval from the underbrush while the poacher meets his end.
A short while later, Bog Lake receives more visitors in the form of Chuck Pierce (Rohay North), Alan Tanner (Glen Voros), and their wives, Kim (Lou Hunt) and May (Carol Terry, of The Lucifer Complex and The Doll Squad). Chuck and Alan have come to fish; the women have come to make certain their husbands are totally unable to enjoy the trip on any level. At a guess, I’d say that’s probably approximately the dynamic that obtains in all of the couples’ activities, too— May especially strikes me as the sort of person who one day decided to avenge her chronic unhappiness upon the world by seeing to it that no one around her would ever be happy, either. May and Kim manage to murder about eighteen hours’ worth of potential good times before the thing that killed the poacher earlier seizes the two hateful bitches, and extracts every last drop of blood from their bodies.
Apparently unable to recognize when the gods have done them a favor, Chuck and Alan race off at once to report the attacks on their wives to Sheriff Neal Rydholm (Aldo Ray, from Mongrel and The Power). The sheriff deputizes everybody in sight to scour the territory around the lake, and eventually both women’s corpses are recovered. County pathologist Dr. Ginny Glen (also Gloria De Haven), with a little help from local physician Brad Wednesday (Marshall Thompson, of It!: The Terror from Beyond Space and First Man Into Space), examines the bodies, and determines that they were exsanguinated by means of a siphon-like instrument forced down their throats and into their dorsal aortas. Now that’s just about the weirdest way to draw somebody’s blood that either doctor ever heard of, and it gets weirder still when Glen finds a piece of the weapon chipped off on one of the women’s hyoid bones— the fragment is made of chitinous material, as if it came from the body of some titanic insect. Neither doc is happy about it, but both quietly abandon the idea that May and Kim were killed by a human, and begin thinking in terms of some big, bizarre animal instead. Chuck and Alan, for their parts, have favored some manner of monster hypothesis from the very beginning, even though neither ever actually saw what killed their wives. While stocking up on firepower at the neighborhood gun shop, the out-of-towners meet up with Wallace Fry (Robert Fry), the village loony. Fry offers to introduce them to someone who knows what’s really what out in the swamps, by which he means Adriana, a second loony so disfavored that she can’t even live in the village proper. And yes, Fry is indeed talking about the old lady whom we saw spying on the poacher’s death before the credits. Adriana confirms that there’s a monster in Bog Lake, and avers that it was already ancient when the first Indians arrived. It can and usually does sleep for centuries at a stretch, she says, but lately the human presence out at the lake has been too obtrusive and continuous for that. The monster can’t get any shut-eye, and it’s starting to get pissed off about it.
Pissed off enough, for example, to start eating Rydholm’s cops, to say nothing of any more campers, hikers, or other nature-lovers that come its way. It even eats Wallace Fry— and Chuck and Alan, too, when they go out gunning for it. Rydholm’s bid to kill the monster by setting off high explosives in the lake doesn’t accomplish shit (as the dynamite-fishing poacher could have warned the sheriff, had he been in a position to say anything), and the bangstick-armed divers he hires to hunt the creature in its own element do nothing but trade their lives for a clutch of their quarry’s eggs. Glen and Wednesday, meanwhile, study every piece of evidence they can get their hands on (and by the way, I believe that’s the very same junior college chemistry lab where the astronomers were working in The Giant Spider Invasion), and reach some really wacky conclusions. By now we’ve all been figuring that the Bog Lake Monster is some kind of living fossil, left behind after the retreat of the glaciers that carved out its habitat, but Ginny and Brad mean that phrase literally. The creature’s tissues are well along the way to being replaced by tungsten- and molybdenum-based mineral salts, and yet somehow it remains alive! And since it’s already shown itself to be essentially bomb- and bulletproof, everybody is rather at a loss for how to kill the thing, however urgent the public outcry to do so may become.
There’s no getting around the fact that Bog is a silly, ineptly made film, and at times it’s an awfully tedious one, too. But because it’s also one of those movies in which virtually everything seems subtly out of whack in ways that ordinary forms of badness can’t explain, I find myself positively disposed toward it nonetheless. The monster suit, of course, is terrible— really, abysmally fucking terrible— but Keeslar does seem to have at least some idea how to cover for such shortcomings. We never do get a long, close, unobstructed look at the Bog Lake Monster under decent lighting conditions, and a lot of movies have wrung substantial dividends from a similar coyness regarding their creatures. Keeslar gets the balance off, though. Instead of tantalizingly little, he shows us irritatingly little of the monster for the first half of the film, then goes too far in the opposite direction later on. Even through a scrim of tree branches, under heavy day-for-night filtering, it becomes clear that the thing sort of resembles Paul Blaisdel’s She-Creature, only designed and built to the even lower standard of Larry Buchanan’s Creature of Destruction (which we’ve seen in its encore performance in “It’s Alive!”). If it’s going to look that crappy under even those conditions, Keeslar might as well have said “to hell with it,” and just let us feast our eyes.
But at least with the monster-related screwiness, you can discern the thinking behind it. Most of the ways Bog gets things weird are another matter. The blue video-effect frame that encloses the picture while the credits roll? The tiny, split-second freeze-frames that litter the entire film? The crediting of someone or something called “Wings” as director of photography? I have no idea what any of that’s about. Also, I get a distinct sense that casting didn’t turn out quite the way screenwriter Carl Kitt envisioned. For one thing, there’s the romantic subplot between Ginny Glen and Brad Wednesday. Not that there’s anything wrong with making the love-interest of the film a couple who are starting to count the years until retirement (in fact, I think that’s kind of cool), but in context, it’s unexpected and strange. To the kids seeing Bog at the drive-in, these two were going to look like Mom and Dad. Similarly, the dialogue often makes passing reference to Kim and May in terms suggesting that they were written with actresses ten or fifteen years younger in mind. Finally, I’ve been doing quite a lot of head-scratching over the dual casting of Gloria De Haven as both Dr. Glen and Adriana the swamp hermit. It reminds me a lot of Donald Sutherland’s dual role (as a captain of gendarmes and— well, what do you know?— a crazy old hermit lady) in Castle of the Living Dead, in that it feels like a deliberate stylistic choice, but I’m at a loss to imagine what purpose it was supposed to serve. There is a connection between Ginny and Adriana, but only a very tenuous one; although the monster wants the same thing from each of them, De Haven’s double casting is absolutely the only indication that literally any woman wouldn’t have suited its requirements equally well. No one ever says anything about the two women being related, and De Haven’s old-age makeup as the swamp witch is so heavy that you might not notice it was her unless you paid attention to the credits. Is it possible that she’d been hired for one part, and got the second handed to her when the actress originally cast flaked out at the last minute? Honestly, I haven’t got a clue.
Who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned monster suit— or a shockingly God-awful one, either, for that matter? Certainly we B-Masters can hardly get enough of the things. Click the link below to join us in reveling over rubber-suit monsters fine and crappy, great and small: