Monday, May 26, 2014

Another Horror From the Home State

As a native Michigander, I can affirm that my state is an excellent location for horror films.  There are ample dark forests with isolated cabins, haunted light houses, a post-apocalyptic urban setting in the D, and mysterious inland seas surrounding the state on three sides.  So it is hard to avoid watching a horror movie that is set somewhere in the home state.  The last one I saw, The Cabining (2013), was located in the Lake Charlevoix area near Boyne City, on the far northwestern shore of the Lower Peninsula.  This is a beautiful rustic area, with clear, cold lakes surrounded by pine forest.  The Cabining was an amusing parody of “cabin-in-the-woods” slasher films.  (See A Horror from the Home State).

Anna Rasmussen’s taut family drama, Blood Lake:  Attack of the Killer Lampreys (2014) is also set in Lake Charlevoix, a lovely but apparently very hazardous resort town in northern Michigan.   It showed on Animal Planet last night.  The film gleefully strives for over the top B movie exuberance and inanity.  The primal yuck factor or PYF, (see 1. Calculating the Primal Yuck Factor (PYF) in Ho... ) is frequently ratcheted up with scenes of physical mutilation and violation by primitive, verminous creatures.  It is fervently hoped that Christopher Lloyd—who plays the cantankerous mayor—lives and works long enough in film to prevent his horrid toilet seat episode from becoming his last movie appearance.     

Rasmussen also assisted in developing SyFy’s memorable Sharknado (2013), which depicts a hurricane swamped Los Angeles overrun by thousands of opportunistic sharks.  In Blood Lake, it is lampreys that have the numbers against the beleaguered human population.  Rasmussen also worked on the film Social Nightmare (2013), about a young woman whose hope of being admitted to a reputable college is ruined when pictures of her are posted on the web.

Fisheries and Wildlife Department expert Michael Parker has been spending too much time at work.  He has grown disconnected and uninvolved with his wife and two children.  What will it take to encourage him to get his priorities straight?  He is clueless about his teenage daughter’s desire to be more independent and engaged with her peers, and oblivious to his young son’s loneliness and poor self-esteem.  Parker routinely overrules his sensible wife Kate regarding household and family matters, ignoring her input and leaving her seething with frustration.   He even fails to check in with them when the town is overrun by ferocious swarms of blood sucking lampreys.

Ancient and hideous, a lamprey is an eel like fish with a sucker mouth.  It attaches to other fish to suck out their blood and bodily fluids—it is a disgusting parasite.  However, lampreys are edible, and were a favorite of the ancient Romans as well as the upper classes in Europe.  King Henry I of England reportedly died from eating too many lampreys, and Queen Elizabeth II was served a pie made of lampreys at her coronation. 

In Blood Lake, Mayor Ackerman, before having his alimentary canal rudely roto-rootered by one of the creatures, cracks that a solution to the problem would simply be to catch and eat them.  “I’m going to work on some lamprey recipes,” he says as he dismisses the heroic Fisheries and Wildlife agents.  In a subtly ironic moment, he is eviscerated moments later.

Most Michiganders avoid eating lampreys, unless very hungry.  But Michigan does have a serious lamprey problem.  Petromyzin marinus, the Sea Lamprey, arrived in Lake Michigan as early as 1936, by way of its connections with the other Great Lakes, from its origin in the Atlantic Ocean.  It has seriously reduced the populations of several economically important native fish, such as whitefish and trout.

Blood Lake is basically a series of cartoony set ups for lamprey driven carnage.  There is no attempt to explain the appearance of the ugly fish in such large numbers, how they are able to survive out of water for so long, or their recent change in dietary preferences—they have simply shifted en masse from dining on the internal bodily fluids of fish to that of humans.  (Mysteriously, the lampreys do not attack the one canine character while he is swimming, and leave ducks completely untouched.)

Throughout the movie, the lamprey’s biological capabilities are expanded:  they can leap ten feet, will attack when very hungry, and can individually lay hundreds of thousands of eggs a time.  They are definitely plague material.  When they begin emerging from toilets and the faucets of bathroom sinks, the film leaves all credibility behind and becomes a metaphor for contagion and infection.  Everything depends on keeping them from sneaking into Lake Charlevoix from a nearby river, entering Lake Michigan via channels between the lakes, finding their way to the Mississippi, and from there infesting “every waterway in America”. 

Blood Lake owes a lot to Alein (1979)—there is the obligatory emergence of one of the creatures from the abdomen of a victim—and memorable parasite movies like Night of the Creeps (1986) and Slither (2006).  The attacking lampreys behave much like the alien parasites in those two movies.   

There are some amusing scenes in Blood Lake when the marauding lampreys are defeated with a curling iron, a weedwacker, and barbecue lighter fluid.  The Parker family all take turns rescuing each other from the deadly leaping parasites. They even pick up an adorable, sad eyed Irish Setter at the endthe dog had saved the boy earlier in the film by nibbling off one of the attacking fish.  But at least one lamprey survives the final conflagration.  Remember that in Michigan, “You’re never more than 6 miles from a lake.”  

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