Monday, August 20, 2018

"There's No Law Against Shooting Around Here" - Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1975)

It is time to revisit the work of Wisconsin auteur Bill Rebane, the talented director of classics such as The Capture of Bigfoot (1979) and The Game (1984), as well as Blood Harvest (1987), perhaps his masterpiece. Now we will look at Mr. Rebane's Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1975), a film which truly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as these aforementioned classics.

Reviewer shark-43 writes, "The performances are terrible, the guy playing the crazy Ol' hermit gives a 110% and it is a horrible peice [sic] of mugging." Paul Andrews writes, "Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake is a real chore to sit through & is of very little, if any, entertainment value." And reviewer dharmabum writes, quite dismissively and inaccurately, "Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake is one of the most truly horrible visions ever put on film."

The inaccuracy of these reviews must be corrected. Please read on...

A man carrying a scuba tank enters a cabin while in the middle of explaining the history of the cabin and the island it sits on to a woman who is sitting by the fireplace. Then the man launches into the story about what happened to him on the island when he was 11 years old. “I guess it started when I found that bone fragment,” he says. “I thought I told you about that. Anyway, that’s what started it.” He continues in a stream-of-consciousness style: “First the loggers came, then a stranger, then the lady scientist with her niece. It was August. I remember because my birthday’s on the third. Anyway, Dad’s boat was being repaired on the mainland...”

The film flashes back to the occurrences of years ago. The narrator’s father, who appears to be played by the same actor as the narrator and wears the same khaki outfit, picks up a lady scientist and her niece from a boat and rows them to the island.

A stranger arrives in a canoe, rowing around a lake that is unnamed in the film but is most likely called Lake Let’s-Scare-Jessica-to-Death.

The stranger is spooked by bubbles in the water, accompanied by sound effects not dissimilar to those made by an office water cooler. Then the stranger is quickly killed by a harpoon and falls into the lake.

Meanwhile, the scientist, Dr. Ellie Hadley, and her niece, Susan, are following up on a bone that 11-year-old Kelly found on the island, a bone that his father immediately sent to the university. Kelly himself goes fishing (and chewing tobacco) while for some reason Kelly’s father, John Morgan, pitches a tent (not a euphemism) in the field outside his cabin. Frying fish over a campfire, Dr. Hadley explains that the fossil is “from some kind of aquatic reptile, like a frog but much larger and of course much older.” She says the fossil is at least 125 million years old (though perhaps her opinion should be taken with a grain of salt, as she believes frogs are reptiles rather than amphibians).

At night, Kelly (who, incidentally, keeps baby deer, lambs, and raccoons in cages) appears to walk into another movie, where he overhears some ne’er-do-well loggers talking over their own campfire about a treasure somewhere on the island.

The next day, an old hermit named Charlie starts shooting at the loggers, who are diving in a lagoon, presumably looking for treasure. Charlie’s attempt to murder the three loggers is unsuccessful. When a logger chases Charlie, the logger is bitten by something underwater.

While riding a horse through the woods, Dr. Hadley, the scientist, asks John about the lake. “You say it has no bottom?”

“Well, not in the middle,” replies John. “At least, we haven’t found it yet.” (Perhaps, the astute viewer thinks, in order to find the bottom of the lake they should look down.)

Back in the present day, the grown-up Kelly is making out with his girlfriend, who tells him, “I want to hear more.”

Kelly resumes the story as his 11-year-old self is swimming in the lake with Susan, the scientist’s niece. She says, “I have a strange feeling that something’s going to touch me when I’m in the water.”

“You too?” says Kelly.

At the tent, Kelly looks in one of Susan’s books and says he’s seen something like a picture from the book at Charlie’s shack.

“Charlie?” asks Susan.

“Trapper Charlie,” explains Kelly. (I believe that show ran for about seven years on CBS.) Kelly also explains that the island is called Rana because Rana was an Indian lake god.

That night, Trapper Charlie carries two live chickens through the woods by their feet (as one does) for about twenty minutes, finally feeding them to the monster in the lake. Later, he blames the disappearance of the chickens on the loggers, though he fails to explain what the loggers would do with chickens. Charlie also mentions to John that everyone’s going to be in a “heap of trouble” three times in one conversation, intensifying the point that, in fact, there will be a veritable heap of trouble.

In the morning, the guests (who are still sleeping in a tent while John and Kelly are sleeping in their house) are surprised by a surplus of frogs inside their tent.

“Look at the size of them,” says Susan, thought it must be admitted the frog on her cot appears to be a normal-sized frog.

Despite the fact that she feels something under the water is out to get her, Susan goes swimming in the lake again, this time alone. Bubbles emerge near her. She screams and swims for shore, but only makes it to a log. Then something comes out of the water—one of the loggers in scuba gear. Of course, she screams and faints.

He carries her to shore and slaps her to wake her up. He explains he was “just out for a little bass fishing,” which apparently requires a full wetsuit and scuba gear. Then he starts to strangle her and starts to rape her, though he gets away from him and runs away.

After Susan leaves, the diver goes back into the water, where the audience is pleased to see that he is attacked and, like the stranger before, killed with a speargun.

As we know, all movies about underwater monsters require lengthy sequences where people investigate the central mystery, so we find out that the stranger killed earlier was a paleontologist, and we watch Dr. Hadley interview Charlie the hermit, where she finds out the paleontologist is dead.

Later, Kelly asks Charlie about the legend of the lake, and Charlie explains that an Indian threw a yellow pebble into the lake and that created a half-man, half-frog creature. The creature brought game and fish to the island, so the Indians worshipped it and called it Rana.

The twist is that the yellow pebbles are actually gold!

Later, in a scene played mostly for comedy, Charlie takes potshots at the loggers, but one of the loggers grabs a rifle, chases Charlie through the woods, and shoots him.

“Well, there’s no law against shooting around here,” John explains before he and Dr. Hadley find Charlie, who is still alive. Dr. Hadley, who is a paleontologist, is left to attend to the injured Charlie, either because her title is doctor or because she is a woman. A slightly delirious Charlie tells her about the gold. “The frog people always protect it,” he says. “They’ve always protected it, them frogs.”

“Charlie! Charlie! What more can you tell me?” she asks.

He coughs and falls asleep, only to die a few scenes later.

As the third act of the film begins, John investigates the loggers’ camp, only to be attacked by the loggers, who are familiar with a style of fighting practiced primarily by actors in 1970s science fiction programs.

John is knocked unconscious and one of the loggers steals his horse.

The logger who did not have the foresight to steal a horse is stalked through the forest by Rana, whose green hand pushes the logger’s face against a tree, killing him due to the fact that either Rana or the tree excretes some kind of acid.

In a confusing sequence, the final remaining logger faces off with John, both of them carrying rifles, but they decide to fight by swinging the rifles at each other. The logger than attempts to escape the island on a raft made of three planks tied together, though he does not make it, as John shoots him and he dies dramatically in slow motion.

For some reason, Rana attacks the heroes in John’s cabin, but the creature is chased off by John’s gun. They respond by putting together an explosive to kill the beast, then wait until the next morning to leave the island. Dr. Hadley is a straggler, however, as she finds a sack of gold and is chased by Rana, whom we now see clearly in the forest. He does not appear to be half-man, half-frog but rather eighty-percent-man, twenty-percent-frog.

Rana drags Dr. Hadley into the lake, killing her while the others watch. They have no choice but to take a rubber raft downriver to escape the prehistoric Rana, in an explicit reversal of the television series Land of the Lost.

In the thrilling climax, Rana bursts through the bottom of the raft.

After the attack, Kelly and Susan walk back to the cabin—John apparently having been killed by Rana.

Rana attacks them in the cabin. In an homage to a different movie, Rana picks up Susan and throws her over his shoulder, somewhat less romantically than the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s abduction of Julia Adams.

Inadvisedly, Kelly grabs every gun he can find and shoots at the creature (and Susan as well).

In the climax, a frog jumps out of Rana’s mouth for no apparent reason, and Kelly shoots the monster, causing it to explode.

The film returns to the present day, as the adult Kelly is telling the story. It turns out he and his girlfriend believe there is still gold in the lake, so, being greedy, they scuba dive to the bottom. They surface in a mysterious cave. After exploring the cave for over five minutes, they find a skeleton as well as a small chunk of gold. “Kelly, look,” his girlfriend says. “It must be worth millions.”

In the twist ending, they also find a pulsing green egg that prefigures Alien (1979), complete with a surprise appendage bursting from the egg (said appendage belonging to the director’s daughter, Angel Rebane).

Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake has many high points in addition to the final shot, which must have been viewed by Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and/or Ridley Scott before they collaborated on Alien (1979), which might even be considered an outer-space sequel to Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake. Beyond that final shot, the film is notable for being a kid-friendly adventure film that features multiple graphic speargun murders as well as the attempted rape of a teenage girl. (Of course, such inter-genre mashups were common in the 1970s, and Mr. Rebane's filmography contains several examples of family adventure films with exploitation elements to keep the adults interested.)

Like Saving Private Ryan (1998), For Love or Murder (1970), and Night of the Demon (1980), Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake is structured as a flashback narrated by a character who was not present for many of the events to which the film flashes back. It is therefore in fine cinematic company, if one ignores the worthless Spielberg film.

In the end, Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake is another worthy entry in Bill Rebane's filmography. In addition to directing and editing the film, Mr. Rebane reportedly shot the film under the director of photography pseudonym as "Ito." (There is a different cinematographer credit for Bela St. John, who also photographed Mr. Rebane's The Alpha Incident from 1978.) Fortunately, at Senseless Cinema we have barely scratched the surface of Mr. Rebane's oeuvre, so we look forward to appreciating his many other masterworks in the days to come. Stay tuned!