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“LAKE NOWHERE” (Movie Review)

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A number of movies lately have aped not only the shooting style of ’80s horror films but the visual degradation of VHS tapes from the period, but not many have turned out as well as the short feature LAKE NOWHERE, a little slice of heaven for fans of vintage bloodfests.

LAKE NOWHERE runs 51 minutes, but not all of them are devoted to LAKE NOWHERE itself. First, we get a trailer for a faux giallo called QUANDO IL FIUME SCORRE ROSSO (WHEN THE RIVER RUNS RED), a beer commercial and a longer preview for the fictitious eco-horror opus HARVEST MAN (which I really, really want to see a full-length expansion of). During these and into the subsequent “feature presentation,” the picture is occasionally afflicted by tracking glitches, dropouts and even quick bursts of what look like home movies, to suggest that what we’re watching is a bootleg cassette. That last gambit is maybe one tic too many, but fortunately the “tape quality” improves after LAKE NOWHERE’s story starts kicking in.

LAKENOWHEREREVThat plot will be familiar to anyone who’s gorged themselves on flicks from that influential decade, focusing on a carload of vacationing college-aged friends who, like the youths in those bygone screamers, look like real kids as opposed to the telegenic clean teens of many more recent horror films. They arrive at a cabin by a lake (lensed on attractive upstate New York locations) and proceed to drink beer, get stoned and have sex, i.e. the things that we all know mark them for death in movies like this.

Nonetheless, directors Christopher Phelps (who also scripted with producer R.S. Fitzgerald and edited) and Maxim Van Scoy—remember those names—have a few surprises up their sleeves. Some but not all of the menace is provided by the Masked Maniac (Matthew Howk), a towering fellow who skulks around in the darkness, wearing a facial disguise that suggests a rustic cousin of the villain from Michele Soavi’s STAGEFRIGHT. The carnage he wreaks approaches the levels of that Italian gorefest too, as the red stuff spurts everywhere thanks to good old-fashioned practical gags by makeup artist (and Fango contributor) Madeleine Koestner and on-set FX creator Jonathan Phelps. It’s not all about slicing and dicing, though; there’s a supernatural side to the scenario as well that keeps both the characters and the viewer on their toes.

The whole thing is presented with the tone, texture and camerawork, including quite a bit of unshowy handheld shots, of the low-budget shriekers from three decades past, which dovetails nicely with the homagistic content. The important thing, though, is that the filmmakers aren’t arch or self-conscious about it, and don’t nudge you about how referential they’re being or play it up for satirical humor. There are certainly laughs as certain necessary clichés play out, but also quite a few moments that are genuinely creepy, enhanced by the gritty, real-darkness-shrouded cinematography by Jenny Leavitt. The music by Ian Nichols and Stephen Clark Phelps is in the great tradition of eerie ’80s synthesized scores, while maintaining its own sonic identity instead of straining for referential effect.

The presence of a few Phelpses in the credits suggests that LAKE NOWHERE was a family-and-friends affair, and its rough-and-ready qualities are part of its charm. Its creators haven’t taken the easy way out, flouting the traditional advisory not to work with water or animals (SPOILER ALERT for the sensitive: Things do not end well for poor Fozzie the dog). And among the game cast, Nathan Andrew Wright deserves special mention for going above and beyond the call of duty by getting butt-naked for a lenghty portion of the movie under physically strenuous circumstances.

As editor, Phelps has whittled it all down to a tight under-an-hour package that, while it’s heading out on the festival circuit later this year, may face commercial-release hurdles due to its brevity. Yet LAKE NOWHERE’s length feels just right for its content, and could well feel padded if it was expanded to feature duration—and in its current state, you certainly feel like you’ve gotten a full movie’s worth of entertainment when it’s over.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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