Building off the frenzy that was 1975’s Jaws and its subsequent franchise, 1980s Monstroid: It Came from the Lake takes place in Chimayo, Columbia. However, people who live in New Mexico, particularly the northern part of the state, will recognize that the actual location is the village of Chimayo in Espanola, New Mexico. Thus, the film’s boast that it is based on a true story looses much of its credence.
The story begins with Maria Reyes dancing for her husband, Jose, who’s relaxing on a hammock. As Maria dances, she hears something in the nearby bushes and trees. To her horror, she glimpses a giant monster emerge, its amphibious leg crushing the poor man.
The story then moves forward a few years, and Maria is now considered a witch because of what she claims to have seen come out of the nearby lake. Activist Victor Sanchez is using the monster as a way to agitate the people who work at the American cement plant. Sanchez claims that the pollution from the plant has created the monster. Making matters worse is a television reporter, Patty Clark, who has been exposing the pollution being drained into the lake.
To set matters right and stop the harassment, Durado (as in “hard,” get it?) Cement executives send troubleshooter Bill Travis (James Mitchum, son of Robert) to get the plant moving again. At first, Travis does not believe in the existence of a creature, finding the people there to be a superstitious lot. Compounding this angle is the village priest (John Carradine), who has much sway with the villagers.
Eventually, the monster does rear its ugly head, and it is up to Travis and curvaceous helicopter pilot Juanita to take down the creature. Taking inspiration from Jaws 2, Juanita uses the chopper to get Travis close to the animal so that he can blow it up with some old dynamite. The movie’s coda has the dog of a couple of teenagers finding dozens of eggs supposedly laid by the monster—and the eggs are starting to hatch.
An example of ecohorror or environmental horror, Monstroid: It Came from the Lake takes its time developing the storyline. The plot elements are pretty good, but it’s the pacing doled out by Kenneth Hartford that makes the movie a marathon event. The overt sexism on display will baffle some viewers (the executive grabbing the secretary’s butt to change slides, for example) and the extended pieces of melodrama squash any tension or even a slight sensation of horror.
The movie’s final reel, with the humans battling the monster, is absolutely laughable. The rubber sea monster is a marvel to behold. It’s not that the special effects are horrible—they are—it’s more that the time taken to unfold the monster makes the roll out a complete failure.
The acting is pretty good throughout, but the dialogue is abysmal, with four screenwriters (Kenneth Hartford, Walter Roeber Schmidt, Garland Scott, and Herbert L. Strock) unable to create tension or establish a good, scary scene. The editing is also weak, with too many elements of the story told too quickly but the overall pace bogging the principal plot down. Elements such as the “witch” angle do not pay off. Moreover, Carradine’s character is a complete letdown, as the priest really does not play a role in the proceedings and is just there for color.
Monstroid: It Came from the Lake is perhaps only of interest to residents of Northern New Mexico or anyone interested in the Santuario de Chimayo. There are actual filmed scenes of the interior of the Santuario with John Carradine, which is worth gold to some viewers. Otherwise, don’t bother with this movie. It is in all ways a disappointment.