Year: 1979
Studio: Paramount
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writer: David Seltzer
Cast: Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Richard Dysart, Armand Assante

I remember seeing the cover of the VHS of this movie in video stores plenty of times as a kid, but being a very timid viewer of horror I never rented it. Decades later, as a movie lover, I heard it mentioned in relation to movies with big name stars who had no idea they were appearing in shlock.

Maybe Talia Shire, with Rocky and The Godfather films just a few years behind her, shot all her scenes before the creature designers broke out their work, but surely a few reads of the script should have clued her and costars Armand Assante and Robert Foxworth into the kind of thing this would be.

Even without the laughably bad quality it's little more than a creature feature. Maybe a lot of people in Hollywood at the time were trying to recapture some of the Jaws magic?

Shire plays cellist Maggie who realises she's fallen pregnant to her environmental advocate husband, Robert (Robert Foxworth), a guy with such a cynical view of the world the last thing he wants is to bring kids into it.

Hiding her secret as long as she can, she accompanies him to his latest job, investigating a dispute between a logging company and the local Native American people deep in the forests of rural Maine.

We've already had a taste of the nasty beast lurking in the woods during the opening scene, a quite inventive sequence where three men looking for missing lumberjacks are stalked and attacked by something in the woods at night, their surroundings lit by nothing except crazily wheeling torchlights, adding to their (and your) sense of disorientation.

The manager in charge of the logging operations (Richard Dysart) seems level headed and friendly in his assurances the company is taking every possible environmental precaution in their operations, but the local Native American tribe, led by spokesperson John (Assante), is having none of it.

Wanting to hear John's side of the story, Robert and Maggie learn the local legend of a vengeful, violent animal spirit they believe the logging operations have awakened. They dismiss it as silly Indian legend, but Robert can't ignore the other signs of freakish environmental activity, including both a salmon and a tadpole grown to outlandish proportions and a vicious raccoon that comes into their cabin and attacks them both.

But, this being a Hollywood monster mash, of course the beast exists, and if you can hold onto your laughter when it first appears you might buy into the rest of the story.

Bodies pile up, the local law enforcement wants to blame the natives and it turns out the logging company actually is using illegal chemicals, activities that might spell doom for everyone – particularly Maggie's unborn baby when Robert discovers that local wildlife contains a dangerous mutagen and he and Maggie have already eaten fish they caught when they first arrived.

The creature attacks, pursuing the heroes in an extended chase sequence that only serves to showcase how cheap and tatty the creature design is.

There are a few moody shots like the monster waiting on the other side of a misty lake while the heroes think they're safe, but they're outweighed by others that are staggeringly pedestrian and sometimes outright hilarious.

Just watch for the teenage girl hopping away from the creature in her sleeping bag, for example. It smacks her with its clawed paw, her body flies through the air and for some reason, when it hits a nearby rock, she explodes completely into a cloud of eiderdown.

Director John Frankenheimer had already directed at least one classic film by then (The Manchurian Candidate), so he already had a unique talent, but it seems like everyone wanted a Jaws or Alien clone and he needed the money, taking a much larger slice for his salary than they spent on screen.

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