Karl Roulston’s “Creature in the Mist” is nothing if not ambitious. It’s also a little all over the place. The film starts in pre-Manifest Destiny America, where an improbably hefty Native American enters the waters of Lake Panakee, seduced by the siren call of the decidedly Anglo “Woman of the Waters” (Danielle Ciardi of Tomcats fame). Right away, you know he’s a dead man.
Suddenly it’s 2041 AD. We follow a man wearing a gas mask and shop goggles (in The Future, none will be able to afford designer eyewear) into the residence of an old man named Brian Henderson. Henderson takes a break from his sexy mermaid paintings to tell his visitor – who’s reminiscent of Toei’s Captain Harlock – about the legend of Lake Panakee.
Now we flash back to 2001, where a young Brian (Joseph Travers) has come to the lake to get away from it all following the untimely death of his wife. He rents a house, makes a half-assed suicide attempt, and happens to see a huge tentacle snaking about in the water. Intrigued, Brian snorkels into the depths to investigate. While there, he spies a strange cyclopean lobster and experiences a couple hours of missing time.
Later, whilst reflecting upon this strange turn of events in a local restaurant, a vision appears to warn Brian that “She is coming.” Unimpressed by this vague threat (or the fact that the dude in the vision looks like the Langly from “The Lone Gunmen”), Brian returns to the lake – just in time to catch the seductive topless dance of the Woman of the Waters. However, this enticing vision is soon replaced by a horrible monster straight out of “Beetlejuice.” Its terrifying appearance drives Brian from the lake and to…a nearby strip club (personally, I would’ve put a few state lines between me and the lake beast), where he ends up having yet another vision of the woman. Really confused now, he leaves his car at the club and blunders through the forest, stumbling upon the Lake Museum and its curator, Merrill, who bears an uncanny resemblance to C. Everett Koop. Before you can say, “Help me Surgeon General, you’re my only hope,” Merrill fills in most of the rest of the blanks. But does the friendly old geezer have a sneaky hidden agenda of his own? And what about that missing Revolutionary War-era garrison?
And it goes on like this. Before the movie’s over we’ve combined Scottish folklore with horror from beyond the stars and allowed the whole thing to simmer in a pot of Native American legend. Raulston is obviously attempting to concoct a tale of horror spanning centuries, if not eons, but he kills any potential for Lovecraftian dread by explaining absolutely every nuance of the plot. “Show, don’t tell” is the cardinal rule of screenwriting, but Raulston uses any means necessary to clear up any possible ambiguity. The entire Indian legend of Lake Panakee is illustrated on a restaurant placemat, for crying out loud.
“Creature of the Mist” would probably work better as a short. Way too much time is spent following young Brian as he drives his car or runs through the same trees on three separate occasions. And while I enjoyed watching Ms. Ciardi undulate more than I care to admit, less of this would have been beneficial to the picture as a whole.
Still, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen stop-motion animation used in a horror movie, and the effects aren’t a complete loss. The lake monster is nicely done, and the mutant woodland creatures on display in the museum are enjoyably twisted. “Creature” is out there, and refreshingly so. Raulston deserves credit for the way he shoots his wad, creatively speaking, but he needs to leave a little to *our* imaginations next time.