CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE (1966)
Synopsis: In the laboratory of a mansion hidden deep in the Louisiana swamps, Dr Simond Trent (Jeff Alexander) bends over a mist-filled glass tank and urges the result of his latest experiment to, “Breathe! Breathe!” But the creature dies, and soon Trent is carrying a sheet-swathed form to the alligator pool behind his house…. As he turns back, Trent is accosted by a local man demanding to know the fate of his brother. When Trent refuses to answer, the man attacks him, only to be fatally stabbed by Trent’s servant, Valjean (Bill McGhee). Trent tells Valjean angrily that no-one must be allowed near the house, that his work must be protected – and then orders him to take the dead man to “join his brother”…. At the Fly’N Fish hotel, Brenda Simmons (Shirley McLine) tries to keep Driscoll West (Bill Thurman) talking while her young lover, Ritchie (Cal Duggan), searches the oilman’s room. West grows suspicious, however, and hurries to his room, where he catches Ritchie in the act. The two men fight, and Ritchie pulls a knife…. Hotel owner Frenchie (Roger Ready) warns Brenda that West had planned to meet a geologist at the hotel. Brenda proposes that she pose as “Mrs West”, and let the geologist lead her to the oil that West believed was out in the swamp. She, Ritchie and Frenchie then dispose of West’s body with the help of another associate, Rabbit Simms (Charles McLine), and his “stump-cutter”…. Soon afterwards, geologist Barry Rogers (John Agar) flies in. He is taken aback when he meets “Mrs West”, but agrees to go ahead with the expedition. The next morning, as Ritchie and Rabbit are preparing the gear, Rabbit relates rumours that he has heard from the locals about mysterious happenings deep in the swamp…. The group sets out by boat, and native drums relay the news of their presence. As Trent feeds his alligators, he and his student, Tom (Tony Houston), fall out over Trent’s use of human guinea pigs. Meanwhile, the expedition has gone as far as it can by boat, and continues on foot. Valjean brings word of the strangers to Trent, whose lonely, frightened wife, Pat (Francine York), is thrilled to hear that they might have visitors. In the laboratory, Trent approves Tom’s work in transplanting gills onto a crocodile, and speaks passionately of his desire to “move life up and down the evolutionary ladder”. A hand, clawed, scaly and webbed, reaches out of the laboratory tank….but soon afterwards, to Trent’s despair, the creature dies. Out in the swamp, Brenda tries to flirt with an unresponsive Rogers. Unbeknownst to her, a jealous Ritchie looks on…. Trent disposes of his latest failure, swearing that it will be his last. He then decides who his next subject will be. Hypodermic in hand, Trent steals into Tom’s bedroom….
Synopsis: There is a certain strange quality, I think, inherent in the brain of the true B-Movie fan. Perhaps this is what makes a B-Movie fan in the first place. Within the convolutions, like the build-up of cholesterol in the arteries, but still more damaging, the incredible flotsam and jetsam of the B-Movie lodges and accumulates, forming an impenetrable barrier against the absorption of information that might actually be useful, but allowing the owner of that brain to recall scenes, lines of dialogue and details of shonky special effects years, even decades after the event. So it is, certainly, in my own case; and it is precisely this that led me to select Curse Of The Swamp Creature for the B-Masters’ brave foray into the realm of the pride of Texan film-making, Mr Larry Buchanan. It had been at least fifteen years since I had my first viewing of this Mad Science epic; upon reflection, it was probably closer to twenty; yet I could recall with frightening exactitude an exchange between two of the characters, one a Mad Scientist (whose comments, it occurred to me even back then, demonstrated that he hadn’t yet entirely lost touch with reality) and the other a geologist, and the film’s putative hero. Upon hearing that the small group of intrepid explorers who had invaded his swampy domain was looking for oil, the rightly puzzled Mad was moved to inquire how they expected to find it when they didn’t have any equipment with them? The geologist (who is played by John Agar, something that meant rather less to me back then than it does now), confronted by this home question, squirmed in his seat and in an embarrassed tone of voice, gave a reply that embedded Curse Of The Swamp Creature in both my heart and my mind for, it seems, all eternity:
“Well – it won’t be easy!”
Gales of laughter greeted that line upon its first utterance; and many years later, gales of laughter greeted it again. Nothing, perhaps, could better sum up the threadbare world of this film, which is a practical demonstration of one of the fundamental laws of B-Moviedom: action – and equipment – costs money, but talk is awful cheap. This is, I suspect, one of the real reasons why the Mad Scientist has remained such an enduring figure in the world of low-to-non-existent-budget film-making: what pads out a film better (or, for that matter, more entertainingly) than a lunatic in a lab coat expounding his latest insane theory? What entertainment there is to be had in Curse Of The Swamp Creature lies almost entirely in the performance of Jeff Alexander. From his invariably immaculate (and rarely removed) white lab coat, to his three-sizes-too-large glasses, to his high bulging forehead, which is made still more prominent by one of the sorrier attempts at a comb-over I’ve ever seen, and which might as well have “Danger! Egghead At Work!” tattooed across it, Alexander’s Dr Simond Trent is a Mad Scientist par excellence. He rants. He sneers. He threatens. He twitches. He smirks. He speaks with heavy irony (never descending to mere sarcasm, of course). In short – he barely shuts up from the pre-credit sequence set in his laboratory to the closing scene of his comeuppance at the hands of his unnatural creation. (Oops! Hope I didn’t spoil anything for you there!) Ultimately, you get the feeling that the real reason Dr Trent is tampering in God’s domain is so that he’ll always have a captive audience for his logorrhea, and not because – because – Actually, come to think of it, for all his verbosity Trent never does get around to telling us why he’s doing any of this. Oh, well. Not to worry. Kudos of a sort has to go, I suppose, to Tony Houston. His screenplay may not exactly be great writing, but it is the one thing that makes this film endurable. In fact, with Curse Of The Swamp Creature a new site record has been set: I have taken more Immortal Dialogue from this film than any other I’ve ever reviewed. Now – I do love my readers; but this time, I really feel like I’ve done nothing less than take a bullet for them, because to make it possible for them to absorb The Good Bits of Curse Of The Swamp Creature – such as they are – without having to sit through the filler material that holds those bits together, which varies from the teeth-clenchingly awful to the mind-numbingly dull, I had to watch the film over….and over….and over….and over…. It was an experience that gave a whole new meaning to the expression “being stricken with the Curse”.
Curse Of The Swamp Creature opens exactly where it should, in the laboratory of Dr Simond Trent. The laboratory itself, we find, is in Dr Trent’s mansion deep in the Louisiana swamps: a building surprisingly poky on the inside, considering its noble proportions on the outside. Leaning over a glass tank, Trent speaks to something, which is hidden from the audience’s view by a thick mist. (Ah, dry ice! – where would we scientists be without it?) “Breathe!” Trent commands his creation. “Live!” But just to be contrary, the something does nothing of the kind; and the next thing we know, Trent is carrying a sheet-swathed form out to his swimming-pool, which is neatly contained within a kind of aviary. It’s also full of alligators. (Hmm…. When we get a glimpse of the surface of the water in the pool in long shot, it’s all sparkly chlorine clear; but when we see the ‘gators thrashing around, it’s murky. Funny, that.) Trent walks rii-ii-ight out onto the end of the diving-board (rather you than me, Simond!), and tosses in his experiment; and we get out first true intimation of the quality of the film before us: stock footage used as padding in the pre-credit sequence! But, hey! ‘Gators are cool. I like ‘gators! (Just as well, too, as it turns out.) And so we watch the ‘gators for a while. They sheet-wrestle a bit. One of them executes a barrel-roll. And then abruptly (lots of things happen “abruptly” in this film), Dr Trent is wandering around the grounds of his mansion. A local man suddenly springs out of the bushes, confronting Trent in a crouched pose that I think is supposed to be threatening, but which looks as if the poor guy can’t wait to beat feet. And who can blame him?
“I’m here to see my brother!” the local announces stiltedly. He and Trent kind of gawp at one another for a minute before we find that the local was, after all, wise to assume a stance of readiness: Trent tries to run away but is swiftly apprehended, and finds himself with his assailant’s hands around his neck. As Trent makes all sorts of amusing gasping and choking noises (which his assailant must have enjoyed as much as I did, since he refrained from actually squeezing Trent’s throat), his dog’s-body, Valjean, rushes up brandishing a knife, and disposes of the assailant with as much brutality as the assailant himself was using. Trent climbs unsteadily to his feet, brushes down his crumpled lab coat in an indignant sort of way, and utters the inevitable retort, “You’re looking for your brother? Then join your brother!” He then demonstrates his sadistic side, by waiting until the unfortunate Valjean has hoisted the corpse up onto his shoulders before making him listen to the first of many, many long-winded rants. This one is noteworthy for two things: the clumsy insertion of the phrase, “If they get past the quicksand!” (hmm – wonder if that will be important later on?); and the fact that throughout, the dialogue is completely out of synch with Jeff Alexander’s lip movements – an occurrence that proves to be only the first of numerous such problems scattered throughout the production.
Valjean then staggers off to the ‘gator pool, and Trent – for the first, but by no means the last – time, pulls off his glasses and smirks broadly into the camera. At this point, the onscreen credits finally inform us that Curse Of The Swamp Creature was “Produced and Directed by Larry Buchanan”. As if we hadn’t already had ample opportunity for figuring that out.
The action then shifts to the Fly’N Fish, a less-than-prosperous-looking establishment where a woman, one Brenda Simmons, accosts the lone customer at the bar. An amusing conversation then ensues, starting with Brenda’s utterance of a lie of absolutely Gargantuan proportions: she introduces herself as – get this! – the hotel’s “bookkeeper”! Mr Driscoll West, on the receiving end of this patent untruth, informs Brenda acidly that she “looks like a bookkeeper” and then, when she offers to “cure his loneliness”, remarks that, “Sometimes the cure is worse than the illness!” Brenda, however, has a hide like a rhinoceros (among other things), and despite these insults, she continues trying to vamp West in her own inimitable manner – which consists primarily of attaching an unnatural emphasis to every third word she utters, making the most innocuous terms sound like a sexual innuendo. (“What makes you think there’s oil out in the swamp?”) But here Brenda (not the world’s most successful con-artist) overreaches herself: West never mentioned his profession. In fact, Brenda’s vamping was an attempt at distracting West while her staggeringly bone-headed young lover, Ritchie, searched his room. West immediately hurries off, while Brenda snatches up a phone to call through a warning. Ritchie, who has made the irrecoverable strategic error of unfolding one of West’s maps, suddenly demonstrates an amazing psychic ability, turning around and picking up the phone – which hasn’t actually rung! Brenda’s warning comes too late, however, as West bursts into the room. Map still in hand, Ritchie tries to explain that he was just “using the phone” (clearly, he’s been taking lying lessons from Brenda). An hilariously unconvincing fistfight follows, highlighted by West throwing an absolutely monumental round-arm. This is supposed to be the punch that lays out Ritchie and ends the fight, but alas! – someone forgot to dub in the sound of the blow actually landing; and so Driscoll West ends up sprawled on the floor of the hotel under, it seems, the sheer force of his own momentum, while Ritchie collapses under the pressure of the gale force wind generated. West is the first to his feet, dragging Ritchie up by the seat of his pants. “C’mon, boy!” But Ritchie pulls a knife, and the film’s second brutal stabbing occurs. “You – you shouldna trieda get rough with me, mister!” Ritchie informs the corpse, a line that might have been slightly more impressive had the crack in his voice not suggested that he was hitting puberty at the most inconvenient moment imaginable.
Brenda, meanwhile, has been listening to all this on the phone. Ritchie picks up the room’s receiver, informing her that “the slob tried to get rough!” Brenda conveys this information to the hotel’s owner, Frenchie, who unbeknownst to Ritchie is also her lover. “I knew he was stupid,” she fumes, “but not that stupid!” (Brenda must not have been paying attention.) “Dumb kid!” concurs Frenchie, with as much emotion in his voice as if Ritchie had just been caught parking his car illegally. The two of them proceed to West’s room, where Ritchie feels compelled to explain, by way of variation, that, “He tried to get tough!” Frenchie proposes that they make it look like West checked out, then dump the body in the swamp. Ritchie tries to lift West’s wallet, prompting Brenda to order him not to be any more stupid than he can help. “You’re gunna call me stupid one too many times!” Ritchie shrills at her, raising the horrid possibility that John Cleese stumbled across Curse Of The Swamp Creature during his formative years. Frenchie breaks the unwelcome news that West had arranged to meet a geologist at the Fly’N Fish. Brenda then has a Lightbulb Moment©, announcing that she will pose as “Mrs West”. Then all they will have to do is “play dumb” [*cough*], and let the geologist lead them to the oil. As for the body, well, there’s always ol’ Rabbit Simms and his stump-cutter….
Of all the blatant padding scenes employed in Curse, that which follows is the most enjoyable, if only for the – you should pardon the expression – overkill of the situation. In my ignorance, I would have thought that if you had a body to dispose of, and you lived near an isolated, ‘gator-infested swamp, the simplest thing to do would be just – dump it in. But that’s not good enough for Brenda and her co-conspirators, who instead employ the aforementioned piece of equipment. Serving its purpose of stretching out this film to feature length (not like that pathetic 59-minute effort Dr Freex got off so lightly with – shame, Freex, shame!), this sequence goes on for many minutes longer than it actually needs to, with the gruesome implications of the scene making the whole thing rather funny. By the time our conspirators get through with poor old Driscoll, those ‘gators are gunna need a straw….
Soon afterwards, geologist Barry Rogers flies in, and we discover that the Fly’N Fish is situated smack at the end of the airstrip. (Boy, the local pilots must love that! What convenience!) This, of course, marks the first appearance in the film of John Agar. By the time he made Zontar, The Thing From Venus for Larry Buchanan, Agar appears to have become Very, Very Angry over the direction that his career had taken. Here, however, he seems more in a state of near-catatonic shock. “Lifeless” barely expresses it. There are moments in this film where you would swear that Agar has actually stopped breathing. When he steps out onto the wing of his plane and stares around in unconcealed dismay, it feels distinctly as if we are looking, not at “Barry Rogers”, character, but at John Agar, actor; as if someone had been mean enough to film Agar’s initial arrival on the set of Curse Of The Swamp Creature.
Taking the bit between his teeth, Agar--- I mean, Barry books into the hotel, where the woman behind the counter assures him that, “We’ll take care of your luggage!” What a kidder! As if the budget of this film actually stretched to luggage! Frenchie comes out to greet the new arrival, remarking casually that, “Mrs West was worried.” Brenda then makes her appearance, assuring Barry that he’s still in charge, that she is just going along for the ride. Barry then warns her that the trip won’t be much fun – “For a woman” – (because, you know, there’s nothing men enjoy more than camping out in a swamp), then asks her if she has the right sort of clothes for such a venture, which Brenda insists she does. Barry reluctantly accepts the situation. When he heads for his room, Brenda begins gloating to Frenchie over their prospects. Frenchie has his doubts, however: “You sure Ritchie doesn’t know about us?” Brenda dismisses this fear with one of the most incontrovertible statements of all time: “Ritchie doesn’t know much of anything!” However, she concedes that in the future, it may be necessary to “take care of” Ritchie, a prospect that Frenchie accepts in his usual pragmatic way, with a nod and a shrug.
It was agreed that the expedition would “start early”. And “early” it may be, for all we know. Curse Of The Swamp Creature here begins to display one of the definitive Buchanan trademarks: lighting effects that make it impossible to decide whether we’re looking at scenes set during the day or during the night, or even whether any given footage was intended to have been shot day-for-night. When Barry walks out to the car, Brenda introduces her companions. “This is Rabbit Simms, and that there’s Ritchie.” Who apparently doesn’t rate a surname. As Brenda is speaking, we are afforded an opportunity of seeing just what she considers to be “the right clothes” for a camping trip into a swamp – namely, all-white, from the soles of her cute little pointed boots to the top of a slouch hat of startling size. It is, frankly, an outfit that makes Jill St John’s wardrobe in The Lost World look sensible. (Although in fairness to Brenda, at least she didn’t bring along her Revolting Yappy Little Mutt. Possibly because the budget wouldn’t stretch to it.) As Brenda and Barry have breakfast, Rabbit and Ritchie prepare the gear, both grumbling about the trip in prospect. “I know too many people who went into that swamp and never came out!” comments Ritchie – which might be because, you know, he keeps putting them in there. Rabbit then repeats a few Ominous Rumours about Mysterious Goings-On deep in the swamp. The expedition sets out in a motor boat, and we pass some minutes looking at an unimpressive river, and some random wildlife (watch out for snakes!); and also (at least, if you’re anything like me) reflecting upon just how unlike a swamp this thirty-foot-wide river looks.
As the travellers proceed, we cut into the surrounding trees and watch a girl run from one shack into another, and a young man run from that shack to a “native drum”, which he pounds upon with great enthusiasm, if no particular skill. (Still more Fun With Sound Effects: this “wooden” instrument sounds distinctly like a metal drum.) And as the news of the strangers travels through the “jungle”, we finally – thankfully – cut back to Dr Trent, who is back on the ol’ diving-board, tossing fish to his pet ‘gators. (Hmm…. With this guy’s rate of failure, you wouldn’t think he’d have to supplement their diet, would you?) With Trent is his student (!?), Tom, who is played by screenwriter Tony Houston. Tom is in the midst of a Moral Crisis. Initially, Trent is sympathetic with his student’s mini-rebellion, commenting, “If I hadn’t questioned my teacher’s work, I wouldn’t be here today!” Namely, conducting unethical experiments in the middle of a swamp. Trent’s sympathy evaporates, however, when Tom, while agreeing with Trent that “Man has to find the answers!”, reveals that he is uncomfortable experimenting upon the local population. “You see,” Tom explains, “in med school, we used animals!” Uh, that’s vet school, Tom. Trent reacts to this pusillanimity as you might expect: with a sneer and a rant (“This isn’t an ivory tower!”) and a banishment of the disgraced Tom back to the laboratory. He then smirks down into the pool, and we pass a leisurely couple of minutes watching the ‘gators. Including ol’ Barrel-Roller. This interlude is interrupted by Valjean, who brings word of the strangers. “Your drum idea has proven itself again!” Trent is ambivalent about the possibility of visitors, but finally concludes with an eee-vil grin that if they do get that far, “I must play the good host – mustn’t I?” Mwoo-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Meanwhile, our expedition has decided that it has gone as far as it can by boat. They set out by foot through the, uh, impenetrable jungle, as the viewer strains mightily to avoid noticing that that thirty-foot-wide river just keeps rolling along in the background.
Back at the mansion, we are belatedly introduced to Mrs Trent, played by Francine York, a popular fixture in sixties low-budget film-making thanks to her moderate degree of talent, her pretty face, and her extremely ample bosom. Pat is thrilled by the prospect of visitors, but her enthusiasm is quelled somewhat when Trent warns her ominously not to let any strangers know that the two of them have – problems…. And then it’s off to the lab, where Tom announces exultantly, “I’ve mastered it!’ “It” turns out to be the transplantation of gills onto a crocodile, which frankly sounds about as useful as transplanting four asses onto a---
Wait a minute! A crocodile!? Where the heck did they get a crocodile in Louisiana? Hmm…. Maybe I misjudged the locale? Maybe they’re in Florida, after all? Or, more likely, maybe Trent surgically transformed an alligator into a crocodile? Nose job, tooth job…. Could be done….
Anyhoo--- Trent approves Tom’s work and he, encouraged, speaks enthusiastically of the prospect of transplanting gills onto all sorts of animals. He then wonders why his mentor refrains from announcing this triumph to the world. Why, just think of the acclaim he would garner! Trent is gratified but contemptuous, rejecting the notion that the aim of his work is mere “acclaim”. “That’s nothing!” he says dismissively. “To create life! To move it at will up and down the evolutionary path! That’s – something!”
At which point, something in my B-Movie Memory Bank began to ring a bell. The source: Son of Golden Turkey Awards. The quotes: “I’m somebody! All my life I’ve been nowhere! Now I’m going somewhere!” The source: Goodbye, Norma Jean – a low-budget, low-taste biopic of poor Marilyn Monroe, directed by – well, well, well! – Larry Buchanan! Having joined these mental dots, I rushed off to the IMDb to discover whether Tony Houston could possibly have been responsible for both these cinematic travesties; but it turned out that another screenwriter [sic.] was responsible for the later effort. So I guess we’ll have to class these swirling vortices of pronouns and adverbs as yet another Buchananism.
Back in the lab, Trent has a sudden change of mood and banishes the bewildered Tom. He then leans over the glass tank, and through the endless dry ice fog, orders the creature within to “Get up! Get up! The world awaits you as my first citizen!” Even allowing for this piece of delusional thinking, given that Trent is speaking to a four-assed---I mean, a crocodile with gills, personally, I don’t think it’s going to be “getting up” any time soon. Actually, the critter goes one better than that: it dies on the spot. “Everything was functioning perfectly!” Trent declares in an agony of frustration. “What went wrong?”
Meanwhile, out in the “swamp” (and a remarkably firm-grounded one it is, too), the expedition has set up camp for the, uh, night. Yup, must be night. They’ve got a lamp lit. And Brenda is up to her usual tricks. She slinks out of her tent and wakes up Barry, who is sleeping-bagging it some yards away. (“Barry” jerks up so suddenly here that it’s tempting to speculate that John Agar may actually have dozed off – and perhaps, given his horrified expression when he looks around, had been dreaming, too: “Oh, rats! I thought I was in Monument Valley, being directed by John Ford….”) Grouchily, Barry demands to know what Brenda wants? In the face of this discouragement, Brenda improvises rapidly, “I’m frightened – I can’t sleep too good – and I think I hear snakes crawling!” “Told you it was going to be a rough trip,” says Barry, and turns his shoulder on her. The rebuffed Brenda retreats to her tent, unaware that Ritchie has witnessed this tender interlude. (Not that this particular subplot ever leads anywhere. Just thought you’d like to know.)
In the lab, Trent glances over a clipboard (?) and pronounces, “Acute congestion! Well, I can fix that! Next time – I will not fail!” (Oh, sure – that’s what they all say!) And then it’s time for yet another trip to the ‘gator pool, with yet another sheet-swathed form. Boy, lucky the Trents got a lot of Manchester for their wedding presents, hey? Trent then returns to the lab and collects a hypodermic from a cupboard (yet another scientist who keeps his biologicals at room temperature) before a visit to Tom’s room. Tom, we learn, is a very sound sleeper: he barely moves a muscle while Trent shoves a needle into his arm. Then it’s off to the lab, and into the eternal tank.
A brief cut to our intrepid travellers (who have the grace to wade through three inches of water, just to remind us this is a “swamp”), and then its back to the mansion, where a new day has dawned. I think. The natives are clearly getting restless. A middle-aged man approaches, and Valjean explains to Trent that he is “The father of the last boy”. Which would make him the father of both the experimental subject and the stabbing victim, wouldn’t it? But then, who’s keeping count? The man waves aside Trent and Valjean’s denials, commenting with no discernible emotion, “My son is gone. I just want to see the man who brought evil upon us.” “THE WORD IS OUT!” Valjean announces, possibly having accepted that the whole “denial” thing isn’t washing. The man wanders off again, and Trent starts twitching and ranting, warning Valjean, “I will not tolerate one more failure!” Meanwhile, the bereaved [sic.] father has slipped into some nearby bushes, where he drives into the ground – a forked stick!!
Yeah, I know – but there’s a music sting here that suggests this is supposed to be scary and impressive; so I thought I’d play along…
Ah! And then he does something else: he wraps around the fork – a snake!! (Yup, same music cue. And good to see, too, that although the budget wouldn’t stretch to a Revolting Yappy Little Mutt, it did cover rubber reptiles….)
Inside the mansion, we get some intimation that household arrangements aren’t Simond Trent’s strong suit: his laboratory, we learn, opens directly from the living-room. Personally, I wouldn’t have put my lab somewhere quite so accessible; but then, I also wouldn’t have built my walls and doors out of plywood; so what do I know? Pat Trent tip-toes up to the door of the lab, passing a local, “Tracker”, posted there as guard (and who is dozing peacefully upon his camp-stool), and lets herself in. We get our first good look at Trent’s lab here and, yup, he’s got all the mod cons: the glass tank, of course; bubbling beakers; one of those rabbit-ear doo-hickeys; something that looks like a very cheap TV antenna (one of those coil jobs); and – be still, my beating heart! – Conical Flasks Filled With Mysterious Coloured Fluids! Pat approaches the tank and waves away the dry ice fog. Inside is the unfortunate Tom, with what looks like pieces of electrical cord stuck to him with gaffer tape. Pat is, naturally, shocked and horrified; so shocked and horrified, indeed, that her hysterical scream escapes her before she slaps her hands to her cheeks and opens her mouth. This scream brings Trent and Valjean running in from beyond the ‘gator pool – although it doesn’t seem to disturb the snoozing Tracker. Trent grabs Pat and hauls her off to her room, while Valjean is left to punish Tracker, who stumbles belatedly onto the scene. Valjean was obviously taught a “we learn it so we need never use it” brand of karate, because he deals out a chop to the back of Tracker’s neck, then another to his gut, that wouldn’t bruise a marshmallow – and the latter of which, in fact, fails to provoke even a hint of a quiver from Tracker’s not-insubstantial belly.
In her room, Pat Trent is throwing accusations at her husband: “You killed Tom!” “Tom is not dead!” Trent insists – truly, as it happens – but also insists that, “He volunteered for the final experiment!” Pat treats that with the scorn it deserves. “Who’d want to be turned into one of your pet monsters?” This crass dismissal of his life’s work cuts Trent to the quick, and he strikes his wife, knocking her onto the bed. “You’ve always been too young and to stupid to understand my work!” he throws at her – which I’m sure is a comforting theory; but on the other hand, I’m neither young nor stupid, and…. Anyway, Pat protests – defiantly, if a little confusingly – that she’s “Not stupid, just too wise!” Trent tells her ominously that she is putting him in “a very bad position”. “Then why don’t you just kill me right now?” Pat cries. Trent responds with one of his best smirks, informing her that he has no intention of – killing her…. Mwoo-ha-ha! Trent leaves his wife and she lies back on her bed, heaving a series of sighs that lifts her chest directly into the camera….
Trent confronts the unfortunate Tracker, who is hauled into his presence under the compulsion of a Valjean arm-grip just as brutal as the karate chops that preceded it. Trent approves of this warmly, and then delivers exactly the same threat to Tracker that he did to Valjean: one more slip-up, and--- (Which really does suggest that good help is hard to find: Trent puts up with so many slip-ups….) Tracker is left on guard again, this time with his camp-stool outside Pat’s room. We then get a puzzling scene of Valjean running through the surrounding area carrying a bundle of clothes, including a lab coat. He runs – and runs – and runs. Wouldn’t think it would be so hard to get your laundry done, would you? But perhaps not everyone is capable of giving lab coats that “whiter than white” look. Finally, Valjean stops at a shack and calls out to the girl we saw earlier – who turns out to be deaf (?). He tells “Mora” that it is “time for gathering”, and that she should tell the others, while he “readies himself”. Valjean goes into the shack, while – in a repeat of exactly the same footage we saw earlier – Mora sets off the drum chain-reaction.
We briefly visit the expedition, and then join Trent in the lab. In a scene that lends strong support to my “captive audience” theory, Trent starts off by informing Tom, with somewhat unnecessary rudeness, that he is “finally making a contribution to science!” He then goes into an extended monologue about Tom’s various qualities (including the fact that he can stay underwater indefinitely – a talent that, if listening to Trent crapping on was the alternative, I think we’d all be quick to develop.) He caps this by offering the former medical student a snack in the form of a small turtle, which he accompanies with a condescending, “Here, boy! Here!” (Granted, I’ve known several med students that--- Oh, never mind….)
Pat, meanwhile – in what, for a southern US-produced film of the mid-sixties is actually a pretty daring scene – is trying to convince Tracker that their lots in life are identical, and that they should both take the opportunity to escape together . Tracker lends a willing ear to this – but Trent suddenly appears, having decided that the safest way to proceed is to have “the strangers” brought to the house. Tracker trots away obediently. Trent leans against the door of his wife’s room, inquiring whether she still using “that vivid imagination of yours? Don’t worry,” he adds, somewhat non sequitur-ly, “everything will be much better, very soon!” To this Pat responds by plonking herself down on the bed, at an angle that best shows off her cleavage.
Trent then returns to the lab, and gives a display of rubber glove manipulation that would turn Frank N. Furter green with envy – and appropriately so, given the undertones of Trent’s next speech, in which he purrs at his “beautiful, indestructible fishman!” (He further goes on to inform Tom that he will “die when I say die!”; this must be some strange usage of the word “indestructible” that I wasn’t previously aware of.) Like Ritchie before him, Trent suddenly displays some psychic ability, abruptly demanding, “What is it?” for no apparent reason. Then – if you strain your ears very hard – you can just hear a previously unidentified person called “Marcie” announcing the arrival of Tracker and the others.
In the living-room, the expedition members are enjoying their visit to the lap of luxury. Rabbit, clearly a man of simple pleasures, advises the others to, “Look at that crazy fan!” Trent introduces himself, playing the good host with a vengeance, even laughing at Brenda’s “Dr Livingstone” crack. And it is now that we get the deathless exchange regarding the difficulties of finding oil sans equipment. Strangely undiscouraged, Trent tells Barry that the two of them “have a lot in common”, and that it is not often he gets to talk to someone of “a scientific bent”. (Well – he’s half-right.) Trent then falls back into “host” mode, inviting the travellers to stay the night. Of course, his two-story mansion only has one guestroom, which will be Brenda’s; but cots can be put up for the men. Right there in the living-room, in fact. Next to the laboratory….
While Trent is showing off the house and bragging about his indoor shower (“Just pull the chain!”), Barry notices a door bolted on the outside. Trent hastily explains that his wife – who he has already implied is suffering intermittent “fever” – walks in her sleep. He knocks, and Pat opens the door. Trent sticks his head inside and hisses at her to “dress for dinner!” – being clearly of the opinion (despite evidence to the contrary) that she is not showing enough cleavage. A little later, back in the living-room, Trent begins unprompted to expound on the astounding hypothesis that mired him in the swamp in the first place; and we hear with some astonishment that mankind was “descended from the snakes, not the apes”. Or at least, Trent adds conscientiously, that’s the basic theory. (Wow – I wonder if this guy ever ran into Strother Martin? They could have made beautiful music together…. [Now, there’s a film I need to see again!]) Tragically for the world of science, Pat interrupts at this critical juncture, entering the room for a moment, flashing her cleavage, behaving like a dithery idiot, and then going away again. (“Fever”, you know. Tragic.)
Out in the woods, “the gathering” has taken place. Now, tell me: as a general rule, is there anything more consistently embarrassing than attempts to render “native ceremonies” on film? This one’s a doozy. Before a [*cough*] totem, consisting of a plastic skull and a rubber snake (both, I am delighted to report, rendered in loving close-up), the girl Mora performs a singularly jerky dance (of course, she is deaf, which no doubt accounts for her inability to keep time with the music), while the other “natives” (all seven of them) stand around clapping their hands. This is truly a great gathering: one of the natives looks bored and another humiliated; two can barely keep from giggling, and one guy just can’t stop ogling Mora. Back at the docks, Ritchie and Rabbit are smoking when Tracker approaches them for no readily apparent reason. “Evening,” says Ritchie, helpfully clearing up that doubtful point. Tracker, a clear-headed fellow, mentions “snake magic” out of the blue, then insists he can’t talk about it; tells the others of the ceremonial dance that is being performed, adding that “it is not my place to tell you about it”; and then refuses to take the others to see the dance, before leading Ritchie to see it. And incredibly, this must have been the point in the film at which Larry Buchanan began to fear he might be losing his audience, as he chose to spice up Mora’s dance by having a young man join in by hoisting the girl up onto his hips. More importantly – or at least, more amusingly – we also see the target of this ceremony: a limp figure in a gleaming white lab coat, which has been hung in effigy….
At the mansion, the visitors begin to retire for the night. Finding herself alone with Barry, Pat makes a desperate plea for his help: “My husband’s insane!” Barry, not the man to take hasty action – or action of any kind, as far as we can tell – informs her that her story is “a little hard to believe”, and declines to even take a corroborating peek inside the laboratory. Left to fend for herself, Pat storms into the lab and starts turning dials and pulling tubes loose. Suddenly, Trent bursts in – wearing a sparkling white lab coat – and grabs his wife violently, yelling abuse at her as he drags her across the room to lock her in a handy closet, while she in turn shrieks, “SIMOND, LET ME OUT!!!!” All of which happens without attracting the attention of Our Hero, Barry Rogers, who to the best of our knowledge is all of five feet away behind a plywood door. Well, let’s be charitable. Perhaps he went upstairs to, uh, “pull the chain”.
We get a brief cutaway to “the ceremony”, which is now graced by the presence of a figure in a mysterious – and identity-concealing – headpiece. The newcomer, possibly confusing Simond Trent and Larry Buchanan, informs his people that in the effigy, “You see before you the evil one who has brought shame and suffering to us!”
Trent tries desperately to revive the de-tubed Tom, chiefly by ordering him to, “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! BREATHE!!” (I tell you, when this guy took up Mad Science, the world lost a great Lamaze coach!) Pat, in turn, continues to pound on her closet door and scream for release until Trent, finally accepting the inevitable, shouts at her, “He’s dead!” “IT’S DEAD!!” she shouts right back, pounding away. “SIMOND, LET ME OUT!!!!” Meanwhile, a quick cut next door shows us Barry slumbering peacefully through all this on a fold-out couch.
Well, now it’s time for Tom to make that final journey to the ‘gator pool. Of course, this requires Trent to carry his former student’s sheet-swathed form out through the living-room. But never fear: Barry continues to slumber peacefully, even when Trent passes him again on his way back to the lab. Pat shouting and pounding away in the closet the while, Trent collects his hypo and re-enters the living-room. There, he eyes the slumbering Barry for a thoughtful moment, but then gets a better idea: he passes on to – gasp! – Brenda’s room! Looming over the doomed woman (and in an effort to make Trent seem menacing here, cinematographer Ralph Johnson gives the audience more information than it ever wanted about the inside of Jeff Alexander’s nostrils), Trent plies his hypo, then sweeps Brenda up into his arms, making his fourth trip through the living-room and into the lab. There, he gloats over the supine woman, while Pat re-doubles her pounding and shrieks, “SIMOND, WHAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE!!?? WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? SIMOND, LET ME OUT!!!!”
Meanwhile, next door, Barry continues to slumber peacefully.
Back at the gathering, the man in the headdress – who could it be? – informs his people that they are now under the protection of the Plastic Skull and the Rubber Snake. “Go! Do what you will!” In the bushes, Tracker takes this as a cue to exit, generously warning Ritchie to stay away from the river – “And watch out for quicksand!” Ritchie however, inflamed by Mora’s jerky dance, has Other Things on his, uh, mind….
The mysterious man in the headdress leaves and--- My God! It’s Valjean! Who would ever have suspected it? It’s all so clear now! He wasn’t taking out Trent’s laundry after all! Now I understand! It was just his reckless slaughter of his fellow natives that had me fooled!
Valjean returns to his shack and tosses his headdress onto the bed. Suddenly, Tracker appears, draws a knife, and stabs him to death. Yes, our third stabbing – and this one, believe me, is just as convincing as the other two. Mora then enters---this shack, another shack, I don’t know – and Ritchie follows her. His fell purpose clear to her, she tugs lightly on one of his arms, which send him sprawling across a bed, while she runs away as women in fear for their lives and virtues always do: with a cutesy little tippy-tippy-tippy gait and her hands help up, palms out, at her sides. Incredibly, Ritchie is unable to catch up with her until they reach the banks of the--- I mean, the quicksand. There he traps her, ignoring her frantic gestures for mercy. So what’s a girl to do? She gives him a gentle push, and this sends him plunging into the r--- I mean, the quicksand. “It’s quicksand!” shrieks Ritchie. (We all clear on that point now?) “Help me! I won’t hurt you!” Hmm, I dunno. Why is it that line, coming from a potential rapist, doesn’t ring quite true? Mora, at any rate, is unconvinced; and Ritchie sinks below the w--- I mean, the quicksand, with a pathetic glub, glub, glub.
The natives, they of the Tribe of the Plastic Skull and Rubber Snake, converge on Trent’s manor, quickly declaring it to be Rabbit Season, and plugging the old geezer. (Hey! That’s not fair! He didn’t do--- Oh, yeah, that’s right: the “stump-cutter”….) And what do you know? Barry’s finally up from his refreshing nap! Despite the fact that he’s just seen, uh, several angry natives gun down Rabbit in cold blood, Barry wanders out of the house to inspect the corpse. The natives, recognising a Designated Hero© when they see one, leave him unmolested. Inside, Trent is beginning to sense danger (quick, ain’t he?), and responds the only way he knows how: by sicking Brenda onto the attacking locals! “Get up!” he commands her. “There are enemies to be destroyed!” And finally, we get a good look at one of Trent’s “creations”; and yes, yes, YES!! – it’s got ping-pong balls for eyes!! Now I truly know I’m watching a Larry Buchanan film!!
Brenda staggers outside (showing off her immaculate white jammies), and she and the locals give each other bemused looks. Barry, meanwhile, staggers inside, his powerful intellect having finally grasped the fact that Pat might have been onto something after all with that whole “My husband’s insane!” thing. (With apologies to the Medveds – besides being a geologist, Barry is an idiot.) At long last, Pat is released from the closet. Incredibly, instead of giving Barry the whomping he so richly deserves, she sinks into his arms. (“Fever”, you know.) “I don’t know what’s going on here!” Barry remarks, in what just might be the understatement of the century. Meanwhile, Brenda has wandered into the alligator enclosure – her semi-piscine nature calling her to the water, I guess. Trent, in a moment that effectively re-defines the term “foolhardy”, follows her in, ordering her to kill the locals. However, just then Barry and Pat show up, and Trent changes his tune. “Kill her!” he shouts instead.
Now – and I really cannot stress this enough – despite the sight of boggle-eyed Brenda, and the hilarious tug-of-death going on between Trent and his wife (“Kill her!” “No, kill him!” “No, kill her!”), neither of these things are where you should have your attention focussed in this sequence. Instead, keep your eyes on ol’ Barry. Did I say that John Agar’s performance in this film was lifeless? I was being generous. I swear, while all this drama is going on around him, Barry does not move a single muscle. He doesn’t even blink. He may not even breathe. He just stands there, utterly motionless, while the product of Mad Science wanders around grunting and groaning, and Mr and Mrs Trent settle their marital difficulties once and for all. Ladies and gentlemen – Our Hero.
And in the clash of the Trents, it’s Pat who gets the upper hand, urging Brenda to remember that she was once “a beautiful woman!” (I should probably mention, since the film is drawing to a close – thank God fasting – that I thoroughly pre-empted the screenplay. It is in this scene, the second last of all, that we in fact learn Mrs Trent’s first name.) Brenda stares down at her greenish clawed hands, then turns on Trent, sweeping the hysterically screaming scientist up into her arms and dumping him into the ‘gator pool. And so Simond Trent dies as he lived – with his dialogue badly out of synch with his lip movements.
But that’s not all. Having disposed of her creator, Brenda herself takes a poignant plunge into the pool. The ‘gators feast – while one of them celebrates the joyous occasion with two barrel-rolls.
Cut to the airstrip, where Barry and Pat are preparing to fly out. Barry stops for a brief chat with the local law officer who, just a tad unbelievably, has accepted Barry’s “statement” – despite the fact that (i) there’s no physical evidence left; and (ii) he slept through most of the action. (This cop, by the way, seems to have inherited Brenda’s king-sized slouch hat.) Barry then says something to Pat that the final dwindling pennies of the budget won’t allow us to hear, the two climb into Barry’s plane, and – it is finally over, folks. Unlike Ritchie, I ultimately escaped the wretched quicksand that is – Curse Of The Swamp Creature!!
Footnote: My – very – special thanks go to Ken Begg, for providing me with a copy of this film. Thank you, my friend. I hope that I get the chance to do as much for you some day!