‘You have to believe in it to see it !’ is the truest word spoken in John MacLaverty’s monsterously quirky documentary for BBC Scotland. The existence of the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie to us locals who know her better, is very much a matter of belief, but there are plenty of souls willing to make a quasi-religious pilgrimage to Scotland and worship at the webbed feet of this secular, aquatic creature. MacLaverty’s focus here isn’t on the bonny monster herself, but on those who sought her company, the monster hunters. In the mid-70’s, a fake news boom purporting to have found clear visual evidence of the monster provoked a worldwide gold-rush of those keen to hunt, stalk, see, befriend, romance, capture or even kill the monster and present it as a wedding gift to honour Princess Anne, who would no doubt have been delighted to see it in such a context.
So They Created A Monster depicts a media-fuelled mania landing somewhere between St. Vitus Dance and Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds hoax, with various parties descending on ‘that beautiful Scotland lake’ as one US newscaster describes it, much in the manner of the 70’s scavenger hunt/cannonball run comedies. Amongst the motley crew of monster hunters unsuccessfully hunting MIA monsters are pseudo scientists, patient twitchers launching ten year vigils on the banks, randy caravan Casanovas, the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau (surely the Ghostbusters of their day), an airborne hunter flying the Little Nellie gyrocopter from You Only Live Twice, a team of Japanese television personalities; we’re told that even actual ‘women are interested in the Loch Ness Monster.’ With ‘reputable people’ talking in the plummiest of voices to camera about their close encounters with the monster, heroic figures like Adrian Shine and other monster hunters pop up to take up the mantle of the search for Nessie, and come up with nothing in particular but an agreeable trove of vintage memories.
This co-production between Indelible Telly and Hopscotch Films might be considered to be a study of multiple failures, yet plays out in a way that’s cheerfully upbeat as the jolly lassie tour announcer who narrates the story to us from the front seat of a packed tourist bus. There’s also skilful intercutting of a Nessie board game to underline some of the twists and turns undertaken by an expansive cast of characters which might have pleased Robert Altman, with those roped in ranging from celebrated Scottish minstrel Alastair McDonald to Leonard Nimoy. Nessie is, by her nature, an elusive creature, and maintaining that mystique is how she ended up on the cover of Time magazine yet still brings an estimated £50+ million a year in tourism to locals around the loch. A reference to the legend that Loch Ness never gives up her dead isn’t fully explored here, nor is much made of the portal that Aleister Crowley unwisely left open at Boleskine House to allow Nessie back into our dimension, but that large, flat, deep body of water certainly provided a lush and romantic background for many an intense wrestling match with reality, and MacLaverty’s documentry engagingly records a series of minor individual victories on their way to predictable Pyrrhic defeat.
With a title that evokes Seamus Heaney’s original praise for Eminem’s ‘verbal energy’, Loch Ness: They Created a Monster shines a sympathetic light on the various characters who have braved ridicule and made monster hunting their business. And as for the monster itself…when I was five, I saw the underwater snap of the monster featured in this film, on the front page of the Daily Record, and understood it to be a cold, hard fact. This fact could be verified by a history book in the school library depicting St Columba of Iona confronting the creature with a golden cross in the 6th century; a provenance impossible to fake. Although many rational souls have tried to persuade me since then that the monster doesn’t exist, I still feel inclined to believe that there just might be something out there. As a result of this affectation, I still sneak a glance or two in the monster’s direction as I drive home along the A82, and more often than not, I catch in the corner of my eye some brief, slight visual disturbance to suggest our beloved monster Nessie is still firmly there with me on my journey.
Loch Ness: They Created A Monster surfaces in UK cinemas from Nov 10th 2023.