Bill Morem

New 'Monster of Piedras Blancas' movie emerges at San Luis Obispo film festival

With Cayucos as backdrop, this film is a winner

bmorem@thetribunenews.comMarch 6, 2013 

Cayucos is in a class by itself. It thrives in a condition of understated cool by keeping a healthy respect for its ranching roots while hanging onto its beach scene, qualities that similarly defined Avila Beach before the town was rebuilt in faux funk with oil-spill dollars.

And where else but Cayucos can you find a place that a couple of movies dealing with a monster have been made? I make reference to the 1959 camp-classic “The Monster of Piedras Blancas” and its offspring “The Redemption of the Monster of Piedras Blancas,” which was shot early last summer and is in the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival’s lineup this Sunday at the Downtown Cinemas.

Both films were shot — by today’s movie-making standards — at ridiculously low budgets. The 1959 movie was produced for $50,000; its sequel, “Redemption,” was created for the princely sum of $3,000.

OK, the most recent version — which loosely pays homage to the plot of 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” — was done on a shoestring budget as a “community project,” according to its director, Kerrigan Mahan, and used just a few film industry professionals while relying mostly on local talent. And, it should be noted that most of that $3,000 in production costs went to feeding the 50-plus individuals who labored as long as 14 hours a day to produce the roughly half-hour movie within 30 days.

That tempo demanded sunrise to late-night shoots, some of those taking multiple shots for a scene that may have taken two to four hours to capture. Mahan can’t say enough good things about the actors and behind-the-scene folks who carried out the grueling schedule.

So, what can you expect to see at this Sunday’s 4 p.m. screening? In a nutshell, lots of Cayucos as the film’s main character, Bella (played by Tess Endersby, the then-12-year-old daughter of Morro Bay Harbor director Eric Endersby), goes searching around town for surf mate Cass (played by Casimir Pulaski) who can’t be found. So Bella goes surfing by herself, which leads to the monster and the movie’s message of “love, acceptance, family and all things green.”

(It should be noted right about now that I have a favorable bias with this film. The Lovely Sharita and I lived in Cayucos for a couple of years in the mid-70s, and became friends with Casimir at that time.)

All positive prejudices aside, the film is remarkable for its professional veneer. OK, so the Cave Room at the Madonna Inn was used as the monster’s lair — complete with a rap number — and the monster’s get-up looks a little rubbery; those are nits. By and large, the number of scenes that required set-ups from different angles, and the work done by area residents on a killer schedule is, well, delightful.

A lion’s share of that delight has to be laid at director Mahan’s feet, which have trod the entertainment boards since the 58-year-old was a kid.

Now a Morro Bay resident, Mahan’s father was a film editor, which meant exposure to a Movieola editing machine in his home. From there, he enjoyed a 30-year career in voiceovers in Hollywood, using his various dulcet and menacing tones in hundreds of commercials and films. Perhaps the pinnacle of his calling came when he was the voice of the evil villain Goldar in the “Power Rangers” series and movie.

Google up his name and you’ll find that he’s been “strangled, chased, run over, slugged, stabbed, shot, and set on fire.” Or that he’s voiced a “Mafioso, the hardened cop, the heavy breather, the talking dog.” The guy’s simply a pip behind the camera and in person.

And, if you wonder who the comely miss portraying the mermaid in “Redemption of the Monster of Piedras Blancas” is, look no further than Mahan’s wife Melanie. She’s a twofer for the film festival; she not only opens and closes the monster film, she can also be found in another festival offering, “Playing with Magic.”

It’s slated to run tonight at 7 at the Park Cinema in Paso Robles and at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Palm Theatre in San Luis.

The film deals with Partners in Equestrian Therapy, a county-based outfit that focuses on “the horse-human connection, the emotional and spiritual benefit of playing with horses.”

Redemption of monsters? The healing benefits of horseplay? They’re in a class by themselves; check ’em out.

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