Written, directed, and edited by James Felix McKenney
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
If Bill Rebane were to make a 21st century monster movie for the Sundance Film Festival crowd while using a monster costume he had left over from one of his mid-1970’s regional drive-in creature features, I imagine the end result would be something akin to Hypothermia, aka Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake – The Winter Years.
Bill Rebane didn’t make Hypothermia. Neither did Larry Buchanan, another b-movie auteur whose films Hypothermia could serve as a spiritual successor to. If only the anorexic gillman costume here had ping pong ball googily eyes, it could have passed for a slightly upgraded version of the dime store monster suit Buchanan used in his 1967 made-for-television She-Creature remake Creature of Destruction and again two years later for It’s Alive! (not the killer mutant flick).
Much like a Larry Buchanan flick, Hypothermia gets off to a bit of a slow start, doesn’t offer much by way of plot or character development, boasts some hard to follow editing when the monster attacks, and clocks in at very short running time: 72 minutes to be exact. Actually, if you deduct time for both the opening and closing credits, it’s barely 68 minutes. Being barely longer than an episode of “The Outer Limits” certainly helped.
Given that Hypothermia comes to us from James Felix McKenney, director of the 2006 low-tech retro robot flick Automatons, one has to wonder how much the use of such a shoddily designed old school gillman costume was meant as homage and how much was simply out of low budget necessity. Maybe McKenney’s idea all along was to experiment with the genre by making a low-key, almost art house in nature, mood piece monster movie, yet without a trace of humor or irony in its use of a guy in a ridiculously z-grade fish-masked green wetsuit sporting underarm fins that look to be made from umbrella material. Even as someone who has frequently championed the use of suitmation over computer effects, this monster suit just doesn’t cut it and would have been considered woefully unbelievable even by 1950’s standards.
That said, there’s still enjoyment to be derived from both the competently made and laughably bad sides of Hypothermia. An ungainly mix, to be certain, but one I can semi-recommend to fans of old fashioned monster movies. Horror fans with modern sensibilities will be appalled the first glimpse they get of the monster.
The great Michael Rooker is a guy named Ray who every year visits with his strong-willed wife, Helen (Baker), a cabin next to a lake that freezes over in the winter. Their son, David (Forster), and his girlfriend, Gina (Chang), are med students planning to join the Peace Corps so they can help save Ugandans. They all enjoy a nice day on the lake ice fishing.
The only other people on the ice are a loudmouth father (Wood) and his far less braggadocios son (Finley), Steve Cote and Stevie Jr., who attempt to befriend Ray and his family. Soon they all realize there’s something quite large for a fish swimming very fast under the ice that the Cotes are determined to catch.
That “something” turns out to be a Creature from the Black Lagoon of unknown origin that views the world in what I can only describe as “lava vision,” and you will, too, if it bites or scratches you. Not content to just stay below the ice or drag victims down into the icy waters to their doom, the monster comes up through ice holes frequently to haul ass, charging at its victims in confusingly edited action beats.
Except for an opening scene in Ray and Helen’s cabin, the entire movie takes place over the course of a day either on the ice or in a trailer parked on the ice. There are firearms in this trailer that nobody seems to think might come in handy until the final ten minutes.
Not that the firearms make much of a difference given how the film concludes, bewilderingly so. Without getting too spoilery, let’s just say if you’re ever hunted by a subzero gillman, you should probably take the Dr. Phil approach to confronting it. Fishmen have feelings, too, you know?
And yet, for all the film’s faults, as laughably cheap as the monster costume is, I can safely say I still enjoyed Hypothermia much more than last year’s Creature.
Dark Sky has given Hypothermia a decent set of extras that, much like the film itself, turned out to be just about average.
2 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5