Director: Po-Chih Leong
USA - 2000
The Cabin by the Lake tagline reads:
Most writers bring their characters to life.
He brings his...TO DEATH!
In the middle of a bath, Stanley Caldwell (Judd Nelson) is interrupted by a call from
his agent, Regan Kendrick. She is upset because after asking him for a copy of the script
Stan has been working on, Garden of Flesh, the only thing he sent were blank pages.
Turn them in anyway, Stan says, the director doesn't even read them. Regan asks what could
possibly be taking him so long to finish the story? Stan
explains that he has kidnapped a girl, and is studying her for character and motivation.
Regan treats this as a joke, and tells Stan to hurry up. "Fine!" Stan replies.
"I'll drown the girl!" The agent laughs, and they both hang up. Now, wouldn't it
be ironic if he wasn't joking? I mean, what if he actually had kidnapped a girl -
and was now going to drown her?! Wouldn't that just be the most? I have an idea:
Why don't you just beat me mercilessly with a foreshadowing hammer?!
So, Stan then goes into a secret room, where a young girl lies chained to the floor.
"I'm really sorry about this," Stan says. "But my agent says I have to get
to work.." Stanley then proceeds to take his captive out to the middle of the lake
and, of course, drown her. This all occurs in the first ten minutes of Cabin, and
is a perfect example of the inept writing that runs rampant throughout the film's
entirety. It was merely the first of many instances during my screening when I muttered,
"Who writes this crap?"
We then learn that Stanley has been drowning locals for quite some time now. First, he kidnaps them, locks them up, and studies them for a
few days. After he soaks up all the inspiration the victim offers, he then drags the
victim out onto the lake, ties a weight to their ankle and - bombs away. Not only is this
an effort to finish his script, but also to maintain his own underwater human botany
experiment. Everyday, Stanley dons a wetsuit, and tends to his personal human garden -
making sure they are in the right position, putting flowers in their hair, sunglasses on
their face, etc.
When he's not writing, or drowning girls, Stan likes to hang out with his friends at
the local special effects workshop, The Creature Barn, and watch B-movies with both the
crew and the Deputy Sheriff, Boone Preston. One night, after a drowning, Stanley shows up
to the party a little late. When asked to explain his tardiness, Stanley says, "I had
to drop somebody off on the way over," Which is funny, because, he did literally
"drop somebody off" -- into the lake, that is! Wait a minute, could that have
possibly been a joke?! Later that same night, someone inquires about the story behind
Stanley's latest piece, of which he summarizes as a tale concerning man's inhumanity
towards man - and woman. Boone comments, "Well, that's pretty deep," And Stanley
"You know, it actually is. Deep, I mean." Because, as you and I know, he's
been drowning people! And the lake is deep! Comedy!
The next day, while tending his human garden, Stanley inadvertently cuts loose one of
the anchored corpses, and it floats toward the surface - straight towards a fisherman
directly above. Can you see what's coming? The fisherman notices bubbles coming from below
-but wouldn't you know it?- he's looking on the wrong side of the boat when the
body pops up! Stanley pulls the girl back under just in the nick of time, as the fisherman
turns around to check the other side. Then, to top it all off, as Stanley brings his boat
back to dock, someone asks if the fish are biting, to which Stanley (slyly) replies,
"No, it's dead down there." Oh, my sides.
The next day, Stanley is once again hassled by his agent, this time in conjunction with
the prospective director of his impending script, Logan. After a bitter argument over
changes to the story, Stanley drives out into the woods, where he has hidden a van. He
switches automobiles then heads towards town, presumably in search of mischief. Stanley
decides to see a movie, and while patronizing the concessions bar, he meets Mallory, a
beautiful concessionist. Stanley is immediately taken by her.
That evening, after clocking out, Mallory hops in her car and starts driving home.
Stanley passes her in his van, and after assuming the lead, slams on his brakes, causing
an intentional fender bender. They both get out of their respective cars, and Stanley
explains that a cat jumped out in front of his vehicle, and being an animal lover, he
couldn't bear to harm it. Suddenly, he notices barking from the back of his van, and voices concern for his "dogs."
Stanley opens the back door, and as soon as Mallory sticks her head in to check on his
canine cargo, he pushes her in, slamming the door and locking it. The inside of the van is
empty, except for some speakers playing a soundtrack of dog's barking, and a sticker which
reads: I'M THE GUY YOU'RE MOTHER WARNED YOU ABOUT. Of which, after reading, Mallory
screams, "Noooo!" So I guess it's safe to assume that Mallory's mother has, in
fact, warned her about Judd Nelson.
After Mallory's capture, the film then focuses on establishing how strong and defiant
her character is - thus separating Mallory from the rest of Stanley's victims; indicating
that she is the heroine, and not going to die (which, in turn, relieves the film of any
semblance of suspense - which, in turn, relieves myself of any interest in watching the
rest of it). Anyway, for the sake of character development, Mallory ceaselessly attempts
to free herself of the chain that anchors her to the floor - because, in case you forgot,
she's defiant. Finally, after all her efforts have proven to be in vain, Mallory writes on
the wall (which is covered in incoherent ramblings): I'M NOT AFRAID OF YOU. Then Stanley
arrives, placing clean clothes for her on the bathroom sink, and informing her that it's
time for a bath - but he promises not to look. "I don't care what you do!"
Mallory replies as she defiantly shucks her bathrobe to the floor, and stands before him
naked (and defiant). Again, who writes this crap?
Meanwhile, at The Creature Barn, the loveable and wacky staff learn, much to their
excitement, that they have procured the rights to do both the make-up and the 2nd unit camera work for the upcoming Garden of Flesh.
They decide to test their underwater equipment that very night, with the aid of their law
enforcement pal, Boone. Coincidentally, Stanley decides that this will be the night he
completes his underwater garden with the addition of Mallory. So, The Creature Barn staff
and the Deputy gear up, and just as they are about to dive in, Boone states, "I don't
think it gets any deeper than this." I honestly believe he has no idea just how right
Meanwhile, in another part of the lake, Stanley and Mallory (who, as it turns out, is
afraid of water) say good-bye, and he pushes her in. Wouldn't you know it? She lands right
on top of the special effects gang trying out their cameras. They quickly cut her loose,
and get her to safety. Unfortunately, Stanley has long since left.
So, our heroes come up with a brilliant plan: They'll leave the bodies in the lake, the
effects crew will create a replica of Mallory with a hidden camera in the eye, they'll
chain the Mallory dummy alongside the other bodies, and when the killer comes to tend the garden tomorrow - they'll nab him.
Well, there are just a couple problems with this:
1) The dummy looks fake. I mean, really fake. You couldn't fool Zatoichi with
this mannequin. But on the other hand, we are talking Judd Nelson...
2) If you're going to nab somebody once they fall into your trap, shouldn't you stay
within the proximity of the target? These morons plant the dummy, then drive half an hour
away to monitor the progress from the Sheriff's office. Though it does take Stanley about
ten minutes to figure out that he's been had - it still leaves him plenty of time to swim
back to shore, drive home, take a shower and catch half of Matlock before the
police even arrive to the crime scene. Not only that, but:
3) Come to find out, the hidden camera doesn't take clear pictures. Though, admittedly,
I have no background in law enforcement/investigation, I do believe that logic dictates
that in order to photograph a suspect, you should at least have a camera capable of taking
clear pictures. I know, sometimes I just get carried away with this whole
So Stanley escapes, thus realizing that Mallory is still alive - which is a bad thing,
for she is the only eye-witness who could provide possible identification. But lucky for him, the local law enforcement are doofs, and
approximately ten minutes after being put under police protection, Stanley once again
apprehends Mallory - this time the bumper sticker in the van reads: I'M -STILL- THE GUY
YOU'RE MOTHER WARNED YOU ABOUT. Ha. But just as it seems that Stanley has the situation
well in hand, Regan and Logan make a surprise visit to the cabin - which is sure to bring
about comic consequences, at least according to the wild 'n goofy soundtrack that cues
upon their entrance. Almost immediately, Stanley and Logan butt heads over the future of
the film, while Regan talks business down the hall on her cell phone. When she comes back
to kitchen, she finds Logan on the floor, Stanley's butcher knife protruding from his
chest. "Creative differences," Stanley says, and Regan takes it as a big joke
(wacky music still in full force). The scene finally reaches a comic crescendo when she
actually touches the blood on Logan's shirt and the music blurts forth a Bugs Bunny-like -
BOOOING! Stanley then takes his agent to the cell, and tosses her in with Mallory.
After realizing the situation, Regan looks apologetically at Mallory and says, "Geez
Louise! I'm just his agent!"
And it's all downhill from there. Through some unbelievable coincidences, the Deputy
discovers that Stanley is the murderer, and makes a mad dash for the cabin. At the same
time, Stanley takes Mallory and Regan out onto the lake - and to a possible watery grave.
Will the heroes arrive on time? Will Stanley finally complete his garden? Will Mallory
overcome her fear of water? Is there love in the air for Mallory and Boone? And perhaps
the most important question, I wonder if Taco Bell is still open? I sure am hungry.
I honestly can't decide what bogged down Cabin by the Lake more - the atrocious
writing, or the horrendous performances. Susan Gibney's over-the-top portrayal of
Stanley's obnoxious agent, Regan, had me climbing the walls; and Judd Nelson appears to be
sleepwalking in his role as Stanley. He seemed to be just as bored with the film as I was.
Though it seems redundant, allow me to reiterate, Cabin by the Lake was a waste
of time. To add insult to injury, being a collaboration between Judd Nelson and the USA
Network, I, naturally, felt that I was in for a true cinematic treat. But alas, I was
severely disappointed by the both of them. Oh, USA - What happened to quality programming
like Silk Stalkings and Pacific Blue? And Judd - what happened to quality
cinema like Relentless, Steel, and Far Out Man? I'm willing to bet
Shaq wouldn't disappoint me like this.