Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966)

Starring John Agar, Jeff Alexander, Francine York

Directed by Larry Buchanan

“You’re ready to come off the preserver and make you debut in the world of humans… my beautiful… indestructible fishman.”

Whatever one may say about Curse of the Swamp Creature‘s overall quality (or lack thereof) the film does contain one of the most howlingly funny lines of b-movie dialogue ever delivered to seriously deadpan perfection. It ranks right up there with the infamous “line” from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon.

One must give Elite Entertainment credit for giving a film as dubious as Curse of the Swamp Creature a proper DVD release. I remember seeing the film as a wee lad back in the mid-80s when it was a regular early morning weekend creature feature before it faded into obscurity for at least 15 years. Elite’s box art boasts the film to be “As seen on AMC Monsterfest” and this looks to be the exact same print that ran on the channel a few Halloween’s back. The print is as pristine as a no budget 1960’s TV movie shot on cheap film stock can get. No extras on the DVD. No surprise there.

To understand the conception of this motion picture one must travel back in time to the mid-1960s when American International Pictures needed to add a few more films to round out their syndication deal with television stations around the country. They still needed a few more movies to round out their catalogue. Enter an enterprising independent filmmaker out of Texas named Larry Buchanan. He convinced them to let him make a series of ultra low budget remakes of some of their already ultra low budget monster movies. How low budget were these Buchanan remakes? One of his methods for saving money was to shoot without audio and dub all the dialogue back in during post-production. Now that’s budget filmmaking, folks. And so he began rapidly cranking out such films as In The Year 2889 (remake of The Day The World Ended), Creature of Destruction (remake of The She Creature), Attack of the Eye Creatures (remake of Invasion of the Saucer Men) and Zontar, the Thing From Venus (remake of It Conquered The World), as well as a handful of originals. Curse of the Swamp Creature is one of those films.

Depending on who you’re talking to Larry Buchanan’s movies were either misunderstood examples of minimal, surrealistic, psychoanalytical filmmaking or they’re badly directed, badly acted, incoherent borefests made by a hack director. I’d say that unless you’re with an audience of MST3K-minded folks watching the average Larry Buchanan monster movie can be as painful as getting a colonoscopy from Edward Scissorhands. Curse of the Swamp Creature is actually one of Z-grade schlockmeister Larry Buchanan’s better movies. That’s not to say that it’s any good, just a comment that you can probably sit all the way through it from beginning to end without falling asleep or wanting to gouge your eyes out with your own fingers.

Deep in the rural swamps of Texas the mad Dr. Simond Trent is conducting experiments on the local swamp people in an attempt to discover the secret of evolution. When a party of oil surveyors comes upon his isolated laboratory he decides to take the final step and turn one of them into a grotesque amphibious creature. Okay, I just copied the plot synopsis from the back of the box there. No big deal; it sums up what little plot there is in the least confusing manner possible by leaving out the encounters with poor black snake ritual-lovin’ swamp denizens angry at Dr. Trent for occasionally snatching one of them for his man-phibian experiments, or when one of Dr. Trent’s assistants spends an ungodly amount of time chasing an attractive voodoo lady through the swamps with lecherous intent, or the ungodly amount of time wasted showing whoever it is at the time hiking through the swamp. The late Mr. Buchanan was one of those no budget directors that loved to pad his already light on plot films with establishing shots that go on far too long or drawn out scenes of characters driving, walking, or running to wherever they were headed next.

While there are some references to voodoo, there is no actual curse. There is a swamp creature but it doesn’t take the screen until the last three minutes of the film. Curse of the Swamp Creature is mostly composed of endless scenes of people traversing the swamp, sitting around discussing whatever, and spastic snake dancing rituals that look like a voodoo version of an Ewok village celebration.

The late great John Agar is given top billing for reasons that clearly have more to do with selling the film on his name value and nothing whatsoever to do with his contributions to the plot. He’s the oil surveying geologist that rounds up a few people (almost all of whom factor into the plot more than he does) to get them into the swamp where they’ll come across the mad scientist’s home and engage the lunatic in a few conversations about his work. He spends a chunk of the film asleep in the guy’s living room until the end when its time for him to wake up and rescue the mad scientist’s wife from the locked closet.

Speaking of the wife, theirs is an unlikely coupling, what with her actually being rather attractive and him looking like Hunter S. Thompson after three months of chemotherapy. There’s also the whole matter of her being a completely sane and rational human being and him being a deranged scientist that makes her live out in the middle of the swamp while he attempts to turn people into fishmen in a bid for supremacy over mankind. That’s the sort of thing one can only overlook for so long before it becomes a relationship killer.

The only thing Curse of the Swamp Creature has going for it is Jeff Alexander’s performance as mad scientist Dr. Simond Trent. He has the perfect look for a low rent mad scientist conducting sinister experiments, and delivering laughable dialogue with a voice of the Orson Welles variety provides what little entertainment value the movie has. It’s hard not to want to hoot and holler when he stares down into the fog enshrouded casing/slab he keeps the latest victim he has transformed into a salamander-man – you occasionally see a reptile hand or an extreme close-up of its fanged face – and talks to it like a proud owner speaking lovingly to his pet dog about what a good boy it is or an unhinged school nerd talking about getting even with the cool kids that have bullied him. Either way, Dr. Trent’s divine madness is the only thing that keeps this film from falling into the realm of worthless muck.

Most of Dr. Trent’s experiments die before the process is complete. Whenever he disposes of their sheet-wrapped carcasses by tossing them into the alligator-filled swimming pool inside of a greenhouse just outside, we get treated to mismatched footage of gators rolling around in the water chewing on white blankets. His last victim, a woman that made the unfortunate mistake of joining Agar for his oil surveying excursion, proves to be the one that takes; not a moment too soon because Dr. Trent’s world is starting to crash in around him and he needs a bug-eyed reptilian superwoman in hospital garbs to crush his enemies.

One thing the late Larry Buchanan’s monster movies were never known for was having credible-looking monster costumes. Curse of the Swamp Creature continued this trend unless you consider something that looks like a cross between a goblin and Baron Von Raschke to be a credible looking monster costume. See for yourself by feasting your eyes on Dr. Simond Trent’s beautiful, indestructible fishman. Or would that be fishwoman in this case?

1 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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