Way back during the Giant Monstershow in 2018, I wrote of Bill Rebane’s Giant Spider Invasion, “Great films have been made with bad film stock, cheap lenses, and muddled sound. This ain’t one of them.” Not too long afterwards, I saw a restored print of the movie, and was reminded that often there is a big difference between a VHS transfer formatted for CRT televisions, and what was new when it actually hit theaters. The difference between the restored print and what Mike and the bots screened on MST3K is night and day. Still, restoring it was only polishing a turd.
I bring this up because this evening’s film is Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake, also from Wisconsin-based auteur Bill Rebane. Like The Giant Spider Invasion print that I watched in 2018, this print looks and sounds like garbage. The picture is mud and the sound is AM radio-quality. Specs for the film are sparse on the internet, but I suspect this film has been treated with the same lack of archival care as Rebane’s earlier film. At some point, someone is going to make the bad decision to restore this film, as well. Until then, the poor quality print only adds to this film’s shitty bona fides. That, and because it was distributed by Troma.
From 1980, Rana tells, in flashback, of the most interesting summer of Kelly Morgan’s life (Kelly is played by Glenn Scherer as an adult, and Brad Ellingson as a child).
Kelly lives on an island in an isolated lake in rural Wisconsin with his father, John (Alan Ross), a park ranger. They live in a cabin with no power and no telephone — the only way to communicate with the outside world being by a battery-powered radio. John does ranger stuff while Kelly spends his days fishing and imprisoning the local wildlife. The only other resident of the island is an old coot named Charlie (Jerry Gregoris, who also produced). But, the island is about to get a lot more crowded.
Kelly found an old bone that John sent along to a university to be studied, and it turns out to be an important fossil. That leads paleontologist Elli (Karen McDiarmid) and her niece/assistant, Susan (Julie Wheaton) to travel to the island in hopes of discovering more fossils.
There is also a legend of gold treasure surrounding the island, leading a group of three ruffians posing as loggers to camp on the island. While cutting down some trees here and there as cover, they take turns diving off the island searching for an underwater cave where the treasure supposedly lies.
That’s how the movie gathers a cast in an isolated location for some fun house chicanery. This is a monster flick, and that monster is a man in a green rubber suit, reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon (played by Paul Callaway or Richard Lange depending on the scene). A little more doodads on the head and some webbed fingers, and Rebane could have been sued by Universal Pictures for ripping off one of their properties.
We all know where the plot involving the monster is going. It’s going to make appearances at regular intervals to kill one of the cast. More power to it. Most of the film is spent on the character drama, though.
Charlie hates that all these strangers have shown up on the island. He considers himself something of a protector of the island, and he does have inside info about the creature. Charlie really despises the treasure hunters, taking potshots at them with his rifle whenever he gets the chance. Gregoris plays Charlie like a hermit or old prospector from Western films. It tips over into unintentional satire at many points in the film.
His is the only performance of note. It didn’t look as if Rebane had two nickels to rub together for a budget, so this is a talky film, which was unfortunate. Every other member of the cast was dull and uninteresting.
And that’s the film as a whole. The monster doesn’t appear much. When it does, the deaths have some blood and gore, but not an offensive amount. More than anything, this film resembles a cheap b-monster flick from the 1950s. The way it was shot, acted, and scored (by Bruce Malm) is very much a callback to the works of Bert I. Gordon or Ray Kellogg, with all of their flaws just as apparent. It only happened to be filmed in color.
Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake is one dirty dog of a movie. It’s a film unlikely to be enjoyed by anyone who isn’t into bad movies. It falls into the nether reaches of the Watchability Index, which seems to be the fate of all Rebane flicks featured on the site. It takes over the #433 spot from Night Ripper!