Poor old Nessie, star of so many films… and so many of them truly awful. In 1980 it was the turn of Larry Buchanan, fresh from his stint remaking terrible films in even worse versions for AIP, to have a bash at the legend and true to form he made just about the worst film to ever take the poor monster’s name in vain. Inane dialogue, awful accents, patronising attitudes, terrible performances and science that’s been made up out of thin air are a stupefying mix of misguided elements that make The Loch Ness Horror a painful experience even by Buchanan’s standards.
It begins with a burst of bagpipe music in case you’re not sure where Loch Ness is, though you’d be forgiven for being confused as this version of the Scottish Highlands seems to be full of Americans with accents that have never existed anywhere in the real world (the film was shot on the very un-Scotland like shores of Lake Tahoe in California). In 1940, an eccentric recluse, Jack Stuart (Doc Livingstone, clad in a kilt of course while hanging around his loch-side castle) watches a German aircraft crash into the water through his telescope, which manages to give him an overhead view of the aircraft flying over snowy mountain peaks before focusing on the monster emerging from the lake at ground level. The laws of physics and logic have never meant much to Buchanan. The story picks up four decades later in what a caption assures us is the “year of the Scot”, a fact immediately mentioned by one of a pair of monster hunters in a dinghy but which is never expanded upon. Why is it “the year of he Scot” and who decided it was? We’re never told.
The bulk of the film plods its weary way through several plot threads, none of which ever manage to pique your interest for a minute. American monster hunter Spencer Dean (Barry Buchanan, one of the many members of what the credits call “The Buchanan Clan” to be involved in making the film) is keen to test out his new sonar equipment on the lake. He finds some local support from Professor George Sanderson (Sandy Kenyon) hut isn’t quite as welcome by Stewart and his daughter Kate (Miki McKenzie). An unconvincing romance, the theft of one of Nessie’s eggs and the search for the wreck of that bomber we saw at the start of the film weave around each other until they all get tangled up, the monster kills a few people and then, mercifully, it sputters to an end.
Any self-respecting Scot would be forgiven for being utterly outraged by the accents, the attitudes and the representation of their culture as seen in The Loch Ness Horror. The “Scots” are all played by Americans who may have heard a Scotsman once in a 1930s British film and thought that’s how they all sound – you’ll never hear quite so many extravagantly rolled “r’s” as you’ll find here. At one point, the lead is admonished by Kate for nixing up Scottish and Irish idioms but you can hardly blame him when several accents quietly slip back and forth across the Irish Sea as actors patently unsuited to simply reading a line with conviction let alone perfecting an accent struggle to find one that they’re happy with from one scene to the next.
And as for poor Nessie… Here she’s reduced to a clunky and largely immobile puppet that looks terrible in long shot and simply laughable in close-up. The model is so awful that Buchanan wisely keeps it as far away from the camera as possible though it’s all in vain. For the most part she simply pops her head above the surface of the lake, roars and disappears again until she’s needed to clumsily kill off characters played by actors who may be terrible but who do at least look like they believe this terrible puppet was the real thing. It turned up again a few years later, dressed in Victorian gentleman’s garb, as Jack the Ripper in the Bullshit or Not? segment of the comedy anthology film Amazon Women on the Moon (1987).
Buchanan was always one of the most inept of American directors, creator of such deathless “gems” as Zontar: The Thing from Venus (1966), The Eye Creatures (1967), Curse of the Swamp Creature (1968) and Mars Needs Women (1968). His films are among the most boring in the genre, though as is so often the case he inexplicably has his fans. He followed The Loch Ness Horror with possibly his daftest and most outrageous film, Down on Us (1984), the story of how Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin were targeted for assassination by an elite CIA death squad, and a highly speculative drama about what might have happened the night Marilyn Monroe died, Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1989), a follow-up to his earlier Monroe biopic Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976). None of them were any good.