Considering that the Loch Ness monster is one of the most recognized enigmas in the world, it is relatively unrepresented in the world of cult movies. Sure, Larry Buchanan made The Loch Ness Horror and there were a few others, but let's face it, we've been waiting years for a really good movie about Loch Ness and the prehistoric creature that may or may not lay beneath its surface. Thanks to Beneath Loch Ness, we're still waiting.
Most cinematic takes on the legend reveal the monster to be a hoax, probably because it has historically been cheaper to create stories and effects around something that is fake from the start. CGI effects have lowered the price for "believeable" creature effects, however, and so Beneath Loch Ness features the monster as a living creature. Moreover, there are actually two creatures in Loch Ness, so it almost makes up for some other, monster-less b-movie about Loch Ness.
"The 'HM' on the building back there
should be all the proof you need
that we're in Scotland."
Despite the title Beneath Loch Ness, however, there are two kinds of shots that are missing. Most notably, the film lacks footage of Loch Ness itself. The exteriors, with the exception of some establishing shots taken by a second unit crew in Scotland (we're unsure if they actually visited Loch Ness or some other, more convenient lake), were all shot at Lake Castaik, which is a stone's throw north of Los Angeles. At one point a character on the "loch" actually asks, "Does this feel like California?" in what we assume was a little bit of ad-libbed humor.
The addition of the actual pictures of Scotland only underscores how very unlike Scotland California is: the characteristics of the mountains are different, the surrounding vegetation is different, and even the sunlight is of a more yellowish cast and less diffuse than the foggy skies of Scotland. The only things in Beneath Loch Ness less Scottish than the locations are the accents of the "locals," who at times produce sounds somewhere between those of a drunken Irishman and a gargling whale.
Just once we'd like to see
"In Search Of" end with the crew
actually finding something.
The second kind of missing shot is the underwater shot. Most of the diving scenes -- and all the sequences that feature the monsters -- were shot on a sound stage, with smoke added to give the scenes a murky, underwater look. This technique is good for filling in between real underwater shots, but when it's used 100% of the time you can't help but notice the complete absence of rising bubbles. Little "gloop gloop" sounds looped over the action don't make a convincing substitute for real underwater photography.
Given that they contain some of the least convincing photography in the film, the movie naturally begins with some of these diving scenes. A group of scientists are on the bottom of the loch when a fissure opens and Professor Egan, the man leading the expedition, falls to his death. In Los Angeles, the TV producer who was financing the expedition in return for exclusive documentary rights decides to keep filming, but with a new leader for the expedition.
Too much CGI can kill plesiosaurs.
That producer, Elizabeth Borden, is played by Lysette "the princess from Krull" Anthony. These days, Ms. Anthony is the go-to girl for bad horror movies. Her credits include the TV version of Jack the Ripper and Tale of the Mummy, the film in which the mummy was actually some supernaturally animated bandages, which is apparently of great advantage when one wants to hide in a paper towel dispenser. (We mention this now because Beneath Loch Ness is devoid of such cleverness. It's good to remind yourself of better movies so you can more distinctly feel the pain of the one at hand.) Often we suspect she gets hired because she is an attractive woman who can provide an authentic British accent at budget prices. Her acting, however, is pure ham. Don't say that around her, though -- she'll give you 40 whacks.
Case Howell (Brian Wimmer, whom you may recognize from his other aquatic venture, the short-lived "New Adventures of Flipper" TV series) replaces Professor Egan. Case is the typical scruffy cowboy-scientist type who always ends up leading scientific expeditions in films. In movies, owning a bandana is much more important than a Ph.D. in terms of scientific credentials. In fact, anyone who hangs around real scientists for more than fifteen minutes will realize that the people in this research group are more suited to an episode of Temptation Island than a science expedition.
"Shhh! I know I don't look
like the plesiosaur in the picture above!"
Borden's opposition to Howell's assignment is vehement enough that you get no extra points for guessing their prior relationship, or that the friction between them will spur later plot developments. At one point Howell hangs up Borden's cell phone, making her so angry that she slaps him. His response, of course, is to lean in and kiss her in the most manly way he can. Clichés on this order have been outlawed in countries more civilized than our own, so you need look no further than this scene to understand the film's lack of distribution outside of North America.
One of the things that make this movie so confusing is that it's never clear what the characters are looking for in Loch Ness. None of them seem to believe in the Loch Ness monster as a current phenomenon, and that doesn't seem to be what the expedition is looking for. Instead the professor was looking for an underground passage to the sea to prove the accounts of the "mythological" monster, but this concept of a mythological monster is curiously divorced from the modern reports of the creature.
Case sends his crew back into the lake to look for the passage to the sea. They find it, just in time for a huge creature to swim by and maim a local college student who is dragging around a fake monster to impress tourists. The movie then launches into full Jaws mode. The local authorities, as personified by Constable Conaughey (who, as played by Vernon Wells, is Scottish as often as every other line of dialogue), refuse to close the lake because tourists are coming in, blah blah blah. Apparently the occasional maiming is good for business. Well, the attraction is supposed to be a monster who lives in the lake, so maybe it isn't that much of a stretch.
"I'm going to kill my orthodontist!"
To keep the plot moving, two horrible creatures come ashore. One is Lizzie, who arrives from America to get on Case's case. (Howell constantly refers to her as "Lizzie," as if the audience is too stupid to get the joke.) When we first see her in Scotland she is unconvincingly composited into what is presumably footage of a real Scottish train station. Elizabeth travels to Scotland to make sure that there is enough compelling footage to put together a show to recoup her company's investment in the expedition. The first thing she should probably do is hire a couple of camera men. Despite the fact that this whole expedition is supposed to be producing footage for a documentary, they don't seem to have a single camera.
More significantly, however, the body of an enormous aquatic animal washes ashore. The authorities take custody of the carcass and Constable Conaughey announces to the press that have been called together "on short notice" the following:
"We have a creature it may very well be Nessie in our possession."
After giving everyone a fleeting look of the plesiosaur-like animal, the constable announces that the conference is over and the gathered press members leave.
"I'm sorry Mr. Bergin,
the auditions for that movie were
over eight years ago."
This scene may be one of the most ridiculous we've seen in recent cinema. For one thing, the creature has been moved to the local mortuary, and we're supposed to believe that somehow the elephant-sized body was moved into a room with only a small door. Then there's the fact that anyone, even someone with the capacity for denial that Constable Conaughey exhibits, could look at a plesiosaur carcass and say it "may well be" The Loch Ness Monster. It's a monster! It was in Loch Ness! That makes it the Loch Ness Monster! Finally, we can't believe that journalists, let alone British journalists, would just disperse if they honestly thought the Loch Ness monster was a few feet away. They would be committing acts of journalism all over Conaughey in the form of bribes and/or beatings to get into the mortuary.
Our heroes take it upon themselves to sneak into the mortuary (bumping into no journalists along the way) and examine the creature, which turns out to have been killed by an even larger creature. So the killings on the Loch continue and our heroes take it upon themselves, along with a local man (Patrick Bergin) who lost his son and boat to the monster years before, to kill the non-Loch Ness Monster that is swimming around Loch Ness taking bites out of the real Loch Ness Monster.
Beneath Loch Ness is an unfortunate misstep for Chuck Comisky, the special-effects supervisor-turned-director who helmed it. Comisky, who has certainly worked on his share of quality pictures (L.A. Story, Blade, Rush Hour), no doubt leaped at the chance to direct a creature feature of his own. Sadly, he failed to recognize that the budget allotted to this film was insufficient to pull it off. Shooting a Loch Ness movie without the ability to put your actors on location is folly. Much of the world's fascination with the Monster is wrapped up in the mystique of the Loch itself -- the craggy terrain, the foggy, romantic atmosphere. No matter how many establishing shots of "the real Scotland" one uses, California will always be a poor substitute for the Highlands.
The script could have used another re-write to excise the platitudes and simply laughable dialogue, but anyone who can't clearly see the unlikelihood that California could pass for Scotland can hardly be expected to tell a good script from a bad one. Or to realize that the supporting cast of actors belong in a skin cream commercial instead of a monster movie. Or that Wimmer and Anthony have all the chemistry of a documentary about mating dung beetles. Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending features a director who feels the pressure to succeed so strongly that he goes psychosomatically blind. Comisky's blindness is of a different type, and it likely stems from the excitement at being given a chance to sit in the director's chair, but you know -- we couldn't help but notice the similarities.