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The existence of the Loch Ness Monster is plausible, according to scientists who discovered fossils of an extinct, long-necked reptile in what used to be a freshwater river system in modern day Morocco. The news got me thinking about how, despite being the most well-known cryptid next to Bigfoot, Nessie is rarely depicted in horror cinema.
Once upon a time we came close to getting a really exciting Nessie movie, though.
Back in 1976, two of the most renowned international genre studios — Toho, the Japanese kaiju kings behind the Godzilla franchise, and Hammer, the British film company known for its Gothic monster movies in vivid color — began developing a co-production titled Nessie. Partially inspired by the success of Jaws, various scripts were drafted and a promotional poster was created, but the project never came to fruition.
The ambitious film would have opened with a truck containing a dangerous chemical crashing near Loch Ness, awakening the ancient, dormant monster from its murky depths. Thus begins a globe-trotting rampage from Scotland to the Canary Islands and Hong Kong harbor, tangling with tuna boats, a nuclear submarine, and an oil rig along the way.
Having struggled to secure financing and international distribution on several prior projects, Nessie seems to have been Hammer’s attempt to eschew Gothic horror’s dwindling popularity in favor of a larger spectacle with wider appeal. It began with a treatment by Clarke Reynolds, who previously penned 1967’s The Viking Queen for Hammer and was best known for 1968’s Shalako starring Sean Connery.
Knowing special effects would be vital to the project’s success, Hammer entered an agreement with Toho-Towa to contribute a portion of the budget to be dedicated to special effects in exchange for Far East distribution rights. Godzilla franchise veteran Teruyoshi Nakano would serve as special effects director on the production.
Upon learning that British media personality David Frost (of Frost/Nixon fame) was developing his own Loch Ness monster movie titled Carnivore, Hammer reached out and Frost suggested they join forces. He came on board as a producer, joining Hammer studio head Michael Carreras, Hammer board member Euan Lloyd, and Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka.
With Toho eager to see a screenplay — then only in the treatment phase — Hammer regular Christopher Wicking (To the Devil a Daughter, Scream and Scream Again) was tasked with delivering one on a fast turnaround. Actor-turned-filmmaker Bryan Forbes (The Stepford Wives) — who had appeared in two Hammer efforts: 1957’s Quatermass 2 and 1959’s Yesterday’s Enemy — later developed the script and was attached to direct. He eventually dropped out and was replaced by Michael Anderson, hot off the success of Logan’s Run.
Nessie was formally announced at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1976. Initially conceived with a $3 million budget, it was advertised as a $7 million production, matching the estimated budget of Jaws. The increased cost necessitated additional investors to come on board, with Hammer weaving a tangled web of negotiations with Columbia Pictures in the U.S. as well as producers in Germany and South Africa.
Having failed to secure the full budget and with concerns mounting over nearly every other aspect — script, direction, special effects, scheduling, rights — Nessie was dead in the water by early 1979. Hammer went into liquidation not long after. Construction on the Nessie prop was already well under way; it’s rumored that Nakano later utilized it as a dragon in 1987’s Princess from the Moon.
The list of unmade movies is so vast that there are numerous documentaries, podcasts, books, and articles (including Bloody Disgusting’s own Phantom Limbs) dedicated to the subject, but Nessie remains largely elusive. The “what if?” of two genre powerhouses working together to bring the legendary creature to the screen is undeniably fascinating, but the key players involved never spoke about it publicly and, since Nakano’s death this past June, have all passed away. Perhaps the recently renewed interest in the cryptid will allow Nessie to swim onto the big screen in their honor.