From Here to Obscurity: Sting of Death

PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.

If not for Something Weird Video this 1966 monster movie from Florida indie filmmaker William Grefe would probably have been lost to the ages. Unlike so many older monster movies, this film was never released to television for airing in syndication. Prints of the film were very scarce and usually of very low quality. When Something Weird tracked down a copy of the film’s negative, it was ravaged with mold. Several film processing labs told them it could not be salvaged. Fortunately for us all, they did eventually find a film lab that was able to salvage and restore the film to its original glory. And thank goodness because I’d hate to live in a world without Sting of Death, the world’s only Jellyfish Man movie!

The most striking thing about Sting of Death is just how vibrant the colors are. Movies set in swamps usually go out of their way to look dark and murky. Not Sting of Death; this movie is practically director William Grefe’s personal love letter to the natural beauty of the Florida Everglades. You always hear about the Everglades being this forbidding swamp where people could easily get lost and never found. Grefe makes the Everglades look like a sort of boggy paradise, almost tropical in nature. The swamp has never looked so good on film. The only negative aspect to this is that it’s hard to create an atmosphere of suspense when someone is being stalked in broad daylight by a supposedly horrifying monster in a colorful landscape that appears idyllic for a picture postcard. Still, this is one of the prettiest looking low budget monster movies I have seen.

A scientist has a nice house out in the Everglades where he studies the deadly Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish, one of the most poisonous creatures in all of nature. Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish are not native to the Florida Everglades, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. The scientist has a pretty daughter and a hunky assistant, and I’m sure you can guess where this is going. He also has his own personal Igor, a facially deformed mook in a Where’s Waldo? shirt named Egon. He might have also been a hunchback or perhaps he just slouched a lot. I forget. The daughter has always been kind to Egon, whereas most everyone else treats him like a freak due to his facial deformity, which looks like one of his eyebrows got stung by a bee about a thousand times, and so of course he is madly in love with her. Of course, this romance will never be because she’s a young hottie and he’s facially deformed goon running around in a candy cane striped shirt. She’d much rather hang out with her friends and flirt with the boyishly handsome assistant, which doesn’t sit well with Igor ’65.

Of course what nobody is aware of is that this malformed fashion victim is also a self-taught mad scientist. Egon has been conducting his own experiments involving deadly Portuguese Man-o-War jellyfish in a secret underwater cave filled with water tanks and computers, which make it look more like something out of a 1960’s spy film than a 1960’s swamp monster movie. Egon has somehow developed a scientific process that transforms him into a Jellyfish Man, but he doesn’t turn himself into this monster and then spend the rest of the movie running amok as happens in so many other monster movies of this type. Nope, Egon is not just a Jellyfish Man. He’s a werejellyfish! By turning on some electrodes, whispering some sweet nothings to this huge jellyfish at the bottom of a fish tank, and then dunking his head into the tank as fog emanates from it, he magically transforms himself into a half-man/half-jellyfish being. In fact, he does this several times throughout the film. Just how this scientific process works is a secret Egon will take to his grave because at no point is there ever any attempting whatsoever to explain it, and that’s probably for the best.

Back at the Everglades compound, the daughter has invited some of her college pals to come out into the middle of the swamp for some swanky sixties partying that actually looks a lot more like your typical fifties partying (i.e., non-stop dancing and drug-free, possibly non-alcoholic, frivolity). Unfortunately, they’re all a bunch of jerks for whom sighting a man with a facial deformity is a sign to instantly converge on him and start acting like a bunch of dumb jocks assailing an innocent nerd they love to hate. This is the last straw for Egon, who retreats back to his cave vowing revenge against the beautiful people. The movie attempts to portray him as a sympathetic maniac along the lines of the Phantom of the Opera, but the fact that he’s shown in Jellyfish Man form killing some random bathing beauty before the opening credits of the film kind of negates the sympathy factor.

It seems taunting someone with a physical deformity puts these kids in a partying mood as they jump right into a swinging poolside party where they dance to the sound of Neil Sedaka, who provides the movie with the kind of catchy but ultimately really stupid tune “Do The Jellyfish”. I can only guess that the song is supposed to be a reference to some special dance craze called “The Jellyfish,” but the filmmakers failed to come up with one as nobody seems to be doing any specific stylized dance moves. They just boogie down to this dopey song and do so for a very long time. Hey, they spent money getting Neil Sedaka to do a song specifically for the film, and dammit, you are going to listen to it in its entirety!

Just check out some of the actual lyrics.

Monkey. Don’t be a donkey.

It’s nothing like the Monkey.

It isn’t funky or anything that’s junky.

It’s something swella!

The jilla-jalla-jellyfish!

Hmm…I can’t imagine why that song failed to become a classic. Seriously though, the song is disturbingly catchy. Don’t be surprised if you start humming it or can’t get it out of your head after watching the movie.

Nobody notices that a humanoid jellyfish has slipped into the swimming pool awaiting someone to make the mistake of diving in. Someone does and the killing spree, which mostly consists of him just grabbing people and getting them all covered with slime, I mean jellyfish toxin, officially begins. You can pretty much guess how the other two-thirds of the movie plays out from there up until the final showdown where father and stud have to rescue the daughter from Egon’s underwater lair.

The only noteworthy deviation from the formula is a scene where several of the annoying friends try to get away on a boat unaware that Egon has sabotaged it. It starts to sink out in the swamp; and as they fall into the water, they find themselves being swarmed by some deadly Portuguese Man-O-War that Egon has sent after him. Whether or not this means that Egon also has mind control powers over the floating medusas is never discussed. All that really matters here is that the scene is an absolute hoot. It’s more overwrought than an Irwin Allen disaster movie scene, goes on for seemingly forever, and the deadly Portuguese Man-O-War are actually not-so-cleverly disguised plastic bags — and I do mean plastic bags, literally. What’s supposed to pass for the most lethal breed of jellyfish looks like tentacled plastic bags filled with blue and pink cotton candy. Watching these people thrashing about in the water and scream in mortal terror as these colorful plastic bags just bob up and down in the water next to them is priceless.

Sting of Death is not scary, the acting is merely adequate, the special effects are anything but, and the story is rather mundane. In other words, it’s totally in-line with typical monster movies of the era with no shortage of cheese.

There’s only one reason why you should go out of your way to see Sting of Death. The sight of a man in a poorly disguised wetsuit covered with jellyfish-like tentacles, so poorly disguised in fact that his skin can sometimes be seen popping out through it. Over his head is a large inflatable plastic bag through which you can see the shadowy form of the actor’s head. It’s just priceless. For one thing, it’s obvious that the man in the Jellyfish Man costume can barely see. During the film’s climactic showdown the Jellyfish Man is held at bay by a guy waving a lit flare at it. Part of me suspects this was done because the burning flare was the only thing the monster performer could make out through the thick plastic garbage bag over his head. You can barely pay attention to the action on-screen during the finale because you’re transfixed watching the plastic bag on this guy’s head inflate and deflate from moment to moment, most likely due to the poor bastard beginning to run out of air and suffocate while filming the scene. This stuff alone makes the movie a must see. And let’s be honest, isn’t watching a man with an inflatable garbage bag over his head putting people in the Iron Claw the reason why we all waste our time watching movies in the first place?

1 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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