AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
 
Home / Science Fiction / Horror / Fantasy / Nature Strikes Back / Cult / Psychos / Snap Judgements / Science In The Reel World / It's A Disaster! / Etc., Etc., Etc.... / Immortal Dialogue / Links

STING OF DEATH (1966)

“All the bright marine biologists said they couldn’t be grown! But I found the answer:
sea water – electricity – and human blood!”




  Director:
 
William Grefé

  Starring: 
Joe Morrison, Valerie Hawkins, John Vella, Jack Nagle, Deanna Lund, Sandy Lee Kane, Doug Hobart, Robert Stanton, Judy Lee

  Screenplay: 
Al Dempsey

Synopsis:  At the island home of Florida biologist Dr Richardson (Jack Nagle), the communications system is mysteriously sabotaged. Nearby, a young woman sunbathing on the dock hears a news report about missing fishermen, before being dragged into the water and to her death by a strange marine creature.... Karen Richardson (Valerie Hawkins) arrives at her father’s house by boat, in company with four of her college friends. As Valerie pours drinks for her friends, Dr Richardson explains that, as a marine biologist, his home is perfectly positioned to facilitate his research, being between the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades. Karen asks after Ruth (Judy Lee), her father’s ‘Girl Friday’, but Dr Richardson replies in a puzzled way that he has not seen her for some time. Dr John Hoyt (Joe Morrison), who works with Dr Richardson, tells the girls that a party has been arranged for them, and that a group of students from the university will be arriving any minute. One of the girls, Louise (Sandy Lee Kane), gasps in shock as a man with a badly scarred face looms up beside her. It is Egon (John Vella), Dr Richardson’s assistant, who greets Karen shyly. She assures him that she is glad to see him and, when Louise teases Egon over his appearance, reproves her sharply for her unkindness. The girls withdraw to get ready for the party. Hearing a boat, Richardson, John and Egon walk down to the dock, where they find the sheriff (Robert Stanton), who has a body in his boat. Explaining that it is one of the fishermen reported missing, the sheriff asks Richardson’s opinion of a possible cause of death. Richardson and John agree that the welts on the body look like they may have been caused by a Portuguese man o’ war, except that they are too big. Egon immediately contests this assertion, and John explains to the sheriff that Egon believes that it is possible to breed a man o’ war large enough to have caused the fatal injuries. John also suggests that the sheriff have toxicological tests performed on the body. Richardson asks the sheriff to keep an eye out for the missing Ruth, who he assumes must have taken a boat to the mainland. After Richardson sets out to dive on the reef, to check on his experimental hatcheries, and John returns to preparing for the party, Egon sidles up to Karen, who asks about the experiments that he carries out in his shack out in the Everglades. Eagerly, Egon invites her to come out and see his work some time. The party guests arrive by boat and, to Karen’s dismay, they immediately seize upon Egon as a target for laughter and taunting. He flees their ridicule and leaves the island by air-boat. Karen expresses her disgust with the guests’ behaviour, but they shrug off her criticisms and head for the house, where the party begins. Meanwhile, Egon stops his air-boat out in a deserted section of the Everglades, where he enters the water.... At the Richardson house, the guests dance and laugh, not noticing as a strange figure slips into the waters of the swimming-pool. Announcing that she needs to cool off, Louise dives into the pool and begins swimming laps. Suddenly, another of the guests shrieks and points: Louise is floating on the surface of the water, her face covered in bloody welts....

 

Comments:  Something close to the heart of every true B-movie fan is the unofficial tussle for the title of Goofiest Film Monster EVER. The Japanese have an unfair advantage in this battle to the death, inasmuch as there is evidently something built into the national mentality that makes these monsters seem not goofy at all, but merely the kind of thing we might realistically expect to encounter just any old day now. Giant rubber chicken from outer space? Sure, why not? One-eyed walking starfish-men? Naturally. A flying squirrel the size of a jumbo jet? What, you got a problem? But every now and then the other nations of the world strike back with something so bizarre in concept, and so inept in execution, that the true aficionado can only fall to their knees and thank the B-movie gods that at no point did anyone concerned with their creation or the production of the films that contain them have a moment of clarity and say, “You know, this is really stupid.”

 

And riding high on the list of films gloriously unencumbered by considerations of credibility or common sense is Sting Of Death, which makes a serious bid for podium placement in the Goofy Monster Stakes by giving to the world the one, the only, the incomparable – Were-Jellyfish.

.

 .

While independent American cinema had always existed in parallel with the professional confines of Hollywood, in the 1960s this sort of off-the-cuff film-making exploded, resulting in thriving regional communities turning out product intended primarily for the local cinema and drive-in market, although many of these films eventually gained release across the country. This was an era that saw some of the most notorious figures in the history of exploitation film plying their trade in Florida, David Friedman, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Doris Wishman, Barry Mahon, Brad Grinter and K. Gordon Murray among them; and while the majority of these were out-of-towners drawn to the area by its potential for fast, inexpensive film-making, the Sunshine State could also boast a true local born-and-bred exploitationer in the genial form of William Grefé.

 

Although a glance at the director’s résumé would suggest that he was basically shameless, William Grefé has always been amusingly prompt in putting a certain distance between himself and Sting Of Death’s killer invertebrate, pointing out that in this case, he was only a director-for-hire and had to do as he was told. After cutting his teeth on two motor racing films, The Checkered Flag and Racing Fever, Grefé was tagged by Miami building contractor, drive-in owner and aspiring film mogul Richard S. Flink to direct a screenplay written by Al Dempsey, yet another Floridian. Dempsey had worked as editor on Flink’s first foray into exploitation cinema, the tragically MIA Love Goddesses Of Blood Island, a gore film made in the wake of Blood Feast that upped the ante even more by breaking up its scenes of violence with plenty of softcore sex.

 

(Love Goddesses.... was written by William Kerwin, the star of Blood Feast, whose brother Harry provided the makeup effects for Sting Of Death. Funny how these names keep cropping up, isn’t it?)

 

Agreeing to Richard Flink’s terms, William Grefé then found himself confronted by the necessity of visualising something described in Al Dempsey’s screenplay only as “half-man, half-jellyfish”. In collaboration with makeup man and perpetual movie corpse Doug Hobart, Grefé rose to the challenge by whipping together a monster so hilariously, so mind-bogglingly inept, it almost circles right back around and becomes a work of sheer genius.

 

But more of that anon....

.

.

Unlike his director, the Were-Jellyfish was a leg man.

 

Although it is not without its amusing and entertaining aspects, even aside from its Were-Jellyfish, Sting Of Death is a film I find most interesting from an historical perspective. We’re used to thinking of the eighties as the decade of the dead teenager, but that genre, if I can call it a genre, had roots stretching back a good two decades. Almost as soon as “the teenager” had emerged as a social entity in his or her own right, there were astute movie moguls on the spot ready to cater to and cash in on this new phenomenon. Throughout the fifties, these movies served a dual purpose. On one hand, they massaged teenaged egos by assuring the kids that they were smart, brave and hep, while occasionally – particularly in the films of Herman Cohen – showing them as the helpless victims of evil adults in authority, just as they so often felt themselves to be. At the same time, there was a message for the adults, too, one of reassurance: your kids are good kids; just a little crazy; just a little misunderstood. With the coming of the sixties, however, the gulf between the generations grew ever broader, until the Beach Party movies from AIP could not only depict a youth-centric culture where adults weren’t wanted or needed, but comically posit it as being so far from adult understanding as to be worthy of anthropological study.

 

And perhaps it was that gulf, and adult resentment of it, that spawned the Beach Party movies’ evil, deformed twin: the Dead Teenager Flick. Although Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies dabbled with the concept, it was The Horror Of Party Beach that set it in stone, serving up all the ingredients of a Beach Party movie – the sun, the surf, the rock ‘n’ roll, the scantily clad, eternally dancing teens – and then taking a turn to the dark side by slaughtering those teens in graphic and gruesome detail.

 

And then, two years after the release of Del Tenney’s magnum opus, Sting Of Death took the concept to a whole new level by giving us the most cheerful-looking Dead Teenager Flick ever, with its scantily-clad, eternally dancing teens being slaughtered in broad daylight under bright blue Florida skies – and in glorious Technicolor.

 

One other thing that these films have in common with their slasher movie descendents: by the time the slaughter starts, you are more than ready to see those teenagers go.

.

.

BAM! KAPOW! FLRBBBBB!

 .

Sting Of Death wastes no time getting down to the business of slaughter, either – nor in dishing up a cherished horror movie cliché. As generic dance music plays from somewhere nearby, a grotesque and slime-trail-leaving hand is seen to grasp a screwdriver, using it to sabotage the only working radio-set on the island occupied by marine biologist Dr Richardson and his household. The sabotage itself is rather charmingly conveyed by the screwdriver touching nothing in particular, followed by a cartoon “explosion” straight out of the contemporary Batman TV series. While this is going on, we are also given an appreciative look at a bikini-clad girl who is sunbathing – in the shade – out on the dock, a news broadcast on her transistor radio (kids, ask your parents!) reporting that a number of fishermen have mysteriously disappeared in the vicinity of Everglades National Park. We then see moving towards the girl what is, unmistakably, a pair of human feet in rubber swim-fins....serving to highlight, only moments into the film, a major problem with it.

 

Building suspense by giving the audience only glimpses of your monster is a long-standing and usually effective horror movie tactic – and particularly in those films where, as here,  the director has good reason to be reticent about showing the monster clearly. However, the fact that Sting Of Death was set and shot entirely during daylight hours makes it impossible for William Grefé to disguise any aspect of his monster; so not only is the fact that the creature is made out of a converted wetsuit glaringly apparent even in these first few seconds, but it will be well towards the end of the film before the question of whether that wetsuit is just a wetsuit, or whether it is supposed to be the monster’s skin, is finally settled.

 

(The fact that the wearer of the wetsuit sometimes has socks underneath it, and sometimes shows healthy pink human skin between the suit and the swim-fins, doesn’t exactly help, either.)

 

When the news broadcast turns to local politics, the bikini-babe switches it off and sits up to reapply what, in 1966, was probably suntan oil rather than sunscreen. Somewhere nearby, our wetsuit-wearing terror slips into the water; and the next instant the girl is being dragged off the dock by her ankle. She manages to break away the first time, but as she scrambles up out of the water she is pulled down again, and for the last time. Sting Of Death’s opening credits then play over scenes of her dead body being towed through the water by the monster; an artistic choice made all the more amusingly grotesque by the inappropriately lyrical music that accompanies it....and by the appearance of one particular credit that warns us of horrors unimaginable yet to come....

.

.

Of course, Neil Sedaka has that effect on a lot of people....

 .

Sometime afterwards, a boat pulls up at the dock, disgorging a middle-aged man in work clothes, a young man who will give the first glaring evidence of the costume designer’s obsession with stripes, and five young women dressed in their best post-Jackie Kennedy travelling suits. The middle-aged man turns out to be Dr Richardson, whose opening line makes it sound as if he will turn out to play a far more active role in the horror aspects of Sting Of Death than is in fact the case. “This island offers the seclusion I find necessary for my work,” he says. Now, I ask you: doesn’t that sound like the cue for a Mwoo-ha-ha? But alas, Dr Richardson’s only contribution to subsequent events will turn out to be his choice of assistants.

 

The girls and Dr Richardson sit around a table in the shade while Karen Richardson pours them cool drinks, and we are confronted by one of the film’s inadvertent bits of entertainment: the whopping great blood blister on actor Jack Nagle’s forehead. The first scenes filmed for Sting Of Death had the cast using an airboat amongst the Everglades, and Nagle managed to hit his head while moving about it. So huge, and so distracting, was the resultant lump that Grefé had to write it into the screenplay, having “Richardson” rub his forehead ruefully while referring to the disappearance of some equipment and an accident suffered while looking for it. It is entirely possible to tell exactly in which order the various scenes in Sting Of Death were shot just by watching that lump, which increases and decreases in size, and even comes and goes, at different points in the film.

 

The conversation then turns to the non-appearance of Ruth, Richardson’s “faithful, loyal Girl Friday”. “Oh, she’s more than that,” says Richardson; although unfortunately he is interrupted before he can elaborate on Ruth’s, nudge-nudge, services. John Hoyt, Richardson’s research assistant, returns from carrying the visitors’ luggage to their rooms to announce that he has arranged a party for them, and invited some people from the university. This induces a flurry of female panic, and exclamations about not having time to dress and hair being a mess, even though each and every one of the girls is immaculate down to the tips of her white gloves.

.

.

Jack Nagle: Florida's answer to Cindy Crawford.

 .

Suddenly, there is a gasp from one of the girls, Louise, as someone in another striped shirt looms into shot. This is Egon, Dr Richardson’s dogsbody. John apologises, explaining that Egon has a habit of “appearing suddenly”; and then reproves Egon for startling the guests. Egon takes no notice, instead sidling up to Karen, and in the process giving us evidence of his immaculate qualifications for the position of “scientist’s assistant”: (i) his face is scarred; (ii) his posture suggests he’s wondering where his hunch went; and (iii) he is silently devoted to the scientist’s pretty daughter, who not only doesn’t realise, but has her eyes turned in a different direction.

 

In justice, the makeup job on John Vella’s face, which suggests burns from an accident, is really quite convincing; enough so to (I hope) make any viewer with an ounce of sensitivity flinch when Louise immediately starts teasing Egon over his appearance. Karen and Dr Richardson both rightfully rebuke her, eliciting an unconvincing, “I didn’t mean any harm.” Sadly, this is only the beginning of what Egon will be made to suffer at the hands of this film’s “nice young people”.

 

Once the girls have gone to their rooms, John again criticises Egon for “sneaking up”. Egon’s focus is where it should be, however, on Louise. “That girl had no right to laugh at me. She’s just like all the others.”

 

At this point, the sheriff arrives down at the dock. Richardson asks him the purpose of his visit – “Business or pleasure?” – as apparently he can’t tell from the dead body lying on the floor of the boat. The sheriff explains that it is one of the missing fishermen, and that he is seeking Richardson’s opinion. Drawing back some canvas sheeting, the sheriff reveals the face of the dead man (who is played by Doug Hobart), which is covered with welts. Richardson and John are puzzled by these, as they look like the work of a Portuguese man o’ war, except that they are far too big.

..

..

Oblivion, thy name is Karen.

. .

This observation prompts an argument from Egon, in a scene that focuses far too much attention on the details of this movie’s science, or rather the lack thereof. We are never given any idea of what, exactly, Richardson and John are researching, beyond the fact that it deals with “sea life and evolution”, which is about as broad a manifesto as you can conceive. There are the usual throwaway references to “experiments” and “tests” and “specimens”, but nothing more concrete. What we do learn, however, is that Egon himself is an amateur scientist, and one obsessed with the idea of larger-than-normal Portuguese man o’ wars....although the screenplay never deigns to provide us with a reason for his fixation. Thus, when the others assert that no man o’ war could get big enough to inflict the fatal injuries, Egon contradicts them, prompting a Could not-Could too spat between himself and John that is frankly rather embarrassing.

 

As it happens, the screenplay’s assertions about the size of man o’ wars are wrong: they do indeed get as big as Egon dreams, and without any need for scientific intervention or artificial breeding. That said, their venom is very rarely fatal to humans without other complications, such as an allergic reaction.

 

And speaking of science, here Dr Richardson proves his credentials by doing that perpetual scientist thing of always talking in taxonomic terms, unthinkingly referring to the man o’ war as Physalia and mightily confusing the sheriff thereby....except that Jack Nable can’t pronounce the word properly. Won’t stop him trying on about half a dozen other occasions, though.

 

Anyway, sanity briefly prevails as John suggests toxicological testing of the wounds. The sheriff departs, and the others go their separate ways, Richardson to dive on the reef, and John and Egon to prepare for the party. Speaking of which, we then cut inside, and discover that this house on an island in the middle of the Everglades has a ladies’ powder room roughly the size of Grand Central Station. The girls are busy dressing down for the occasion, and one of them, Jessica, opines that, “This is as bad as Rush Week!’ – which rather makes me wonder what kind of dinky-ass college these girls attend. As was generally the case, the majority of the cast of Sting Of Death were locals who rarely worked outside other William Grefé productions – if indeed they ever worked again – but there is one familiar face amongst them: Jessica is played by Deanna Lund, who among other assignments would go on to the series Land Of The Giants.

.

.

Do you know how long it takes to dress like that!?

 

Karen encounters John, who avoids her questions about who their visitors were; and we get yet another round of complaints about John’s grossly unfair behaviour in “springing” this party on the girls and how outrageous it is to expect them to get ready in such limited time; as if this story were set in the era of corsets, panniers and sixteen separate petticoats, instead of fer-crissake-bikinis. (I’m sure this is all meant to be very cute and girly, but to me it’s just fingernails down the blackboard.) Richardson wanders in and deflects Karen’s pleadings that he attend the party with head-shaking references to, “These new dances”....a remark which will prove to be Foreshadowing of the most Ominous kind.

 

John departs, and Egon arrives, again doing his sidling-up routine and giving Karen a shock. Karen, of course, is supposed to be oblivious to the fact that Egon wants to be more than “just friends”; but in her struggle to convey this, Valerie Hawkins crosses the line from “naive and uncomprehending” into the realm of “rather thick”, as Karen reacts to Egon’s stumbling attempt at a declaration by doing everything short of sticking her fingers in her ears and chanting, “La, la, la, la!” Hearing the others coming, Egon slides away, muttering yet again about people laughing at him.

.

It would be nice to be able say that this reaction is merely evidence of an oversensitivity of Egon’s part, but unfortunately we will soon learn that he has, if anything, understated the case; because it is now that the other party guests arrive, and----

 

Oh, holy hell.

.

.

He's fab! He's funky! He's forty-five years old!

 

Well, in fairness, they are described as a mixture of “seniors and grad students”, which I suppose with a liberal re-enrolment policy would allow for these “kids” to be led by someone with wrinkles, a receding hairline and a paunch that he hides under a red satin shirt that just screams “Mid-Life Crisis”. In any case, no sooner has their boat disgorged them on the dock than, thanks to the wonders of non-diegetic music, they begin wriggling and shaking and generally being wild and crazy; while William Grefé, in turn, begins to indulge his obsession with the female derrière in a way that makes Jerry Warren’s similar efforts in The Wild World Of Batwoman look like the work of an amateur.

 

(And a shout-out to the poster at the IMDb who fingered his mother-in-law as one of the participants in this scene: the one in the black-and-green jumpsuit, with the beehive. [For what it’s worth, she’s one of the better dancers.])

 

As the kids get down, get up and get funky, the unfortunate Egon makes the mistake of hovering in their vicinity, making awkward almost-dancing movements that, well, for some of us probably bring back memories of things we’d rather forget. His doing so brings a peculiar reaction from “the kids” – it must have been Talk Like A Pirate Day in Florida – and they swoop en masse upon him. Egon tries to run but trips (rather unconvincingly) over the corner of the swimming-pool, giving his tormentors the chance to close in upon him, which they do, circling and pointing and poking in a way that justifies every one of Egon’s worst fears. Because, you know, if someone has a scar on his face, he obviously deserves to be taunted and ridiculed and humiliated, right? Right? RIGHT??

 

Karen tries to stop the ordeal, as does John (belatedly, and obviously out of concern for Karen, not Egon), but those crazy kids just keep up the craziness, until Egon manages to escape from them, making a run for it on an air-boat. The kids stand on the dock, sending verbal abuse and, yah, getouttahere gestures after him, and completely ignoring the indignant protests of the young woman who is, after all, their hostess. And then, that piece of jolly genetic cleansing taken care of, they conga-line up to the house.

.

.

..

I believe this is what's known in the trade as "the Director's Prerogative".

.

I’ll say this for Sting Of Death: slasher films of the eighties usually spent thirty to forty minutes making sure we know how loathsome their potential victims are; here, it takes no more than two minutes before we’re praying for the gruesome, agonising death of 90% of the cast.

 

Aaaaaand then it’s time for the musical stylings of Mr Neil Sedaka. After an amusing interlude in which William Grefé tries to make the party look truly wild and crazy by cramming the guests – all twenty of them – into the kitchen, and having Hank, aka Red-Shirted Jerkwad #1, silence the “deafening noise” with a series of exaggerated whistles, the kids spill out onto the patio where they, well, Do The Jellyfish!

 

By 1966, Sedaka’s career had crossed a peak and was heading for one of its troughs. He was supporting himself with song-writing and cabaret appearances, including some in Florida, when William Grefé offered him $1000 perform a song for - not in - Sting Of Death (which, by the way, was about one hundred times what they budgeted for the monster costume). The resulting musical number is, surely, as bizarre as any that ever graced a soundtrack.

 

When they released Sting Of Death on DVD, the excellent people at Something Weird kindly provided a copy of the lyrics to this song, presumably on the understandable assumption that otherwise, we might not believe what we were hearing:

 

                        Wella

                        I’m saying fella

                        Forget your Cinderella

                        And do the jella

                        The jilla-jalla-jella

                        It’s really swella

                        To do the jalla-jellyfish!

 

                        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!

 

                        It isn’t hard to do

                        So you can learn it too

                        Hey now

                        Let’s do it now

                        If you don’t know the way

                        Then I’ll show you how!

 

                        Wella

                        You’ve gotta jella

                        Or you’re not any fella

                        Ring the bella

                        With every Cinderella

                        When you can jella

                        And do the jella-jellyfish!

 

(This performance preceded by two years Neil Sedaka’s contribution to Playgirl Killer – written by the Kerwin brothers and starring William; there are those names again! – in which Sedaka had a supporting role and sang yet another ode to an invertebrate, The Waterbug: “But the waterbug must have flipped his tug....”)

 

Astonishingly, this song and its accompanying dance failed to sweep the nation during 1966, even though, as is so graphically illustrated here, it seems specifically designed to facilitate White Person dancing of the most embarrassing kind. The Jellyfish, it appears, has no set pattern: instead, it consists of around sixteen individual spastic body movements, thrown together in no particular order, and without any obligation on the part of the dancer to try and connect them with the rhythm of the music. In short – I think even I could “Do The Jellyfish”.

.

At any rate, as Grefé’s camera wanders around leering at female tuchuses, and the occasional boobage, these wild and crazy kids throw themselves right into it. Everyone, surely, comes away from this sequence with a favourite dancer. Mine is the kid in the light blue and white striped shirt, who dances like he’s fighting an overwhelming urge to come out of the closet right then and there.

.

.

.

C'mon! - see if you can figure out how to Do The Jellyfish!

.

(I also like the fact that about halfway through this sequence, Joe Morrison and Valerie Hawkins drop out of the dance and just stand to one side, watching. Perhaps they felt that, as the films “stars”, this really wasnt what they were there for.)

 .

While all this frenzied activity has been going on, two other incidents of significance have taken place. First, staying behind when the others vacated the kitchen, John and Karen shared a first kiss; and second, the mysterious creature of the opening scene made a reappearance, walking across the lawn to the pool, sliding into the sparkly-clean waters and lurking there, somehow without anyone noticing. This scene emphasises the fact that, apart from having swim-fins for feet, the creature seems to be festooned with love-beads.

 

Well....it was the sixties, after all.

 

This second event achieves significance when Louise, that wild and crazy kid, rushes to meet her fate by going for a swim, demonstrating just how wild and crazy she is by not bothering to change, but diving in dressed as is. (Ouch! If the Were-Jellyfish doesn’t kill her, the belly-flop might.) Here we have to sit back and admire the authorial flourishes of Mr Al Dempsey, and the subtly ironic way in which he hints at the tragic fate in store for Louise and her friends:

 

Louise:  “Whoo! That killed me!....I’m on vacation! Let’s live!”

Karen:  “You nut! You’ll kill yourself!”

Dr Richardson:  “Let her be, Karen. I guess she’ll survive!”

 

Louise manages to swim laps of the pool without she or anyone else noticing that she has company; or seeing when she is attacked, which consists of the creature seizing her face in its hand, leaving behind bloody welts. It is not until Louise is floating unconscious at the surface of the pool that it dawns on one of her friends that something is wrong. There is then a general rush to the pool. John jumps in to pull Louise out; and it is at this moment that finally, finally, the others realise that They Are Not Alone....

 

Grefé continues to hide his monster here, largely using a subjective camera to show the panic of the party-goers, and the face-grabbing attack upon Ben, aka one of Egon’s main tormentors, aka Red-Shirted Jerkwad #2. The creature then makes its escape, jumping into the water near the dock. Dr Richardson, who retired a few minutes earlier to change clothes, now provides an unwelcome distraction by reappearing wearing a hideous pair of red-and-blue striped swimming-trunks, which he – and occasionally his double – will sport for the rest of the film. (Stripes. Again with the stripes.) Having earlier insisted that he was a biologist, not a pathologist, Richardson now announces, “It’ll be all right – I’m a doctor!”, and starts – hmm – giving the victims injections of some sort.

.

 .

It wasn't only Star Trek that understood the concept of 'the Red-Shirt'. I am happy to say.

.

John takes Richardson aside and tells him that the radio has been sabotaged. Richardson, declaring that Louise isn’t badly injured but Ben needs immediate medical help, orders Hank to take Ben and the other partiers to the mainland on their boat, and to contact the sheriff while he’s there. Hank asks whether he should take Karen and her houseguests, too, but Richardson decides they’ll be safe where they are (!).

 

So all the party-guests load themselves back onto their boat and set out. (There’s some wonderful use of “rhubarb, rhubarb” in this sequence, particularly the one girl who wails, “He’s hurt bad!” over and over.) What they don’t know, however, is that the mysterious creature has been busy again, this time using an axe (!) to remove part of the boat’s hull and create a leak. They are about midway along the canal that leads to open water and the mainland when the boat starts to sink, by which time not only has it managed to morph into a completely different boat, but they are also under attack by----

 

Well, maybe I’ll let “the kids” tell you themselves. After all, it’s about the last thing any of them will get to say.

 

Mwoo-ha-ha.

 

Look! Jellyfish! There’s more of them! They’re – they’re all over! They’re attacking! Water’s pouring into the bottom! The boat’s sinking! AAAAAAHHH!!!!

 

The boat---well, a boat---tilts and sinks, and the kids are tossed into the water, where massing in attack formation are jellyfish; a swarm of jellyfish; of....candy-coloured jellyfish; jellyfish that bear a distinct resemblance to, um....

 

Glad plastic sandwich baggies. Containing partially-inflated balloons. With shiny strings of beads attached.

 

Honest to God, I’ve seen some wonderful cost-saving monsters in my time, but these little guys may very well take the cake.

 

Still, you have to give props to the young actors in this scene. It can’t be easy to keep a straight face, let alone pretend to be terrified, when the menace confronting you is a collection of, um....

 

Glad plastic sandwich baggies. Containing partially-inflated balloons. With shiny strings of beads attached.

 

But so it is. As the boat sinks, the kids are hurled repeatedly back into the water, where they scream and thrash and splash and finally die under the deadly assault of, um, well, you know. The last we see of Egon’s tormentors, they’re collectively floating belly-up. And serve ’em right, too.

 

You know, I used to think that Freddy Vs Jason had the greatest Mass Slaughter Of Teenagers scene ever, but upon reflection, I might have to relegate that one to second place.

. 

 

.

"The jellyfish! They're attacking!"

 .

I should mention that during this scene of carnage, we caught another quick and incomplete glimpse of the creature, in a way that I must say doesn’t help much with the whole suspension-of-disbelief, not-really-a-guy-in-a-wetsuit thing, inasmuch as we can plainly see that it is wearing a belt. The reason for the creature’s appearance during the attack on the teenagers is not made clear, so we are left to decide for ourselves whether it is controlling the jellyfish, or whether they are perhaps – ulp! – its babies.

 

In either event, we follow the creature back to its lair, an underwater cave; and in this sequence, we almost, almost, almost get a glimpse of its head; or as I like to call it, its crowning glory. It crosses to some electrical equipment – including one of those flashing, rabbit-ear doo-hickeys – at the back of its cave and turns it on, then reaches into a tank and takes hold of what I assume to be a larger-than-normal Portuguese man o’ war. The doo-hickey flashes, the creature straightens – and we see that it is – gasp! – Egon! He is no longer draped in love-beads, and his hands are no longer mutant-y, slime-covered things capable of delivering a – a – a sting of death!

 

But he is still wearing a wetsuit, though, so I guess that isn’t really part of the whole Were-Jellyfish thing, after all.

 

(The film’s Big Revelation does raise a couple of questions. Although it is never confirmed for us, there isn’t much doubt that the victim of the opening scene is the missing Ruth. We’re left to suppose that she, too, made the mistake of laughing at Egon; but that hardly explains the fate of her predecessors, the fishermen. Maybe they were just a dry run?

 

There’s also the fact that every time Egon wants to transform, he has to travel miles and miles out into the middle of the Everglades; then travel back to take care of his victims; then travel out to his lab again to re-transform; then travel back to the island! I must say, this campaign of revenge strikes me as being somewhat lacking in the area of time-management.)

.

 

"Say, does a Portuguese man o' war usually have a seam?"

 ..

Back at Casa de Richardson, dinner is going about as well as you’d expect. Richardson tries to reassure the others by telling them he expects the sheriff in the morning. When he adds that he and John will be going out diving in the morning to check his hatcheries, Jessica asks if she can tag along, and so does another of Karen’s guests, Donna. They set out at dawn, first stopping off at Egon’s shack in the swamp to look for him. They find no sign of him, but they do find a tank filled with Portuguese man o’ wars. After a brief discussion of their venom, which is compared to that of a cobra, Richardson heads one way to look for Egon, while Donna discovers that she’s left her cigarettes on the air-boat. Alas for Donna, the Were-Jellyfish is lurking nearby – still hiding his head behind a tree – and as she sits down for a smoke, he looms up at her.

 

What follows is perhaps the longest, slowest foot-chase ever (or at least until Grefé outdid himself in that respect in Death Curse Of Tartu), as Donna splashes up an inlet in the swamp, staggering and tripping and falling and tripping again in a desperate effort to let the lumbering Jellyfish Man catch up with her. Unfortunately, unlike his slasher movie offspring, Egon has yet to master the art of Offscreen Teleportation©; and finally Donna is forced to bring about her own demise by plonking down on a log at the water’s edge and twiddling her thumbs until her pursuer lumbers belatedly into shot.

 

So I guess slasher movies didn’t invent scenes with girls who just sit around waiting to be killed, either.

 

Be that as it may, it is in this scene that, after several more tantalising glimpses, we are finally given a good clear look at the Were-Jellyfish’s head....right out in the open in broad daylight, too.

.

Glory Hallelujah.

  ..

Donna’s screams carry back to the cabin, where John and Jessica are flicking through magazines (Egon seems to favour LIFE), and they and the returning Richardson rush out to conduct a futile search. For some reason, Richardson then concludes that the missing girl is in “the lake area”, and they drive around on an air-boat until Jessica spots a few air bubbles, which Richardson declares to be definite evidence of Donna’s presence. And having concluded that Donna is under the water just near their boat, the three of them then spend about ten minutes putting on and adjusting their diving-gear!

..

 

..

Above the surface....................................................below the surface.

 ..

And yes, I’m afraid this does mean a scuba-diving scene; although at least you can pass the time by contemplating the visual discrepancy between the above and below shots; perhaps the greatest in film until Zombie Lake gave us six inches of murk sitting atop six feet of sparkly chlorination. And tile.

 

Anyway, Jessica drifts off by herself and ends up getting her mask, and then herself, snatched away, never to be seen again. The other two tootle around until their air runs out, at which point, John starts free-diving, and comes across something that we deduce from later events – rather than any visual evidence – to be the entrance to a cave.

 

Back at the house, the final one of Karen’s guests, Susan, earns her paycheque by taking what is, for 1966, a pretty saucy shower: she clearly is naked behind the frosty, wavy glass.

 

(What I found amusing here is that, in spite of the daring almost-nudity, there is a definite attempt to hide the toilet with a towel; the towel shifts between shots to make the disguise more complete.)

 

Guess what, folks? – slasher movies didn’t invent the gratuitous shower scene, either, or the gruesome demise of the nubile young woman taking it. In this case, though, Susan’s death requires the Were-Jellyfish not just to sneak into the house unseen, but walk up a flight of stairs. In his swim-fins.

 

Despite these impediments, the Jellyfish Man indeed manages to sneak into Susan’s bathroom, kill her, and sneak out again without being seen. It helps that in the ninety seconds that passed between Susan leaving the room and her death, Karen fell into such a sound sleep that Susan’s screams fail to rouse her. She finally wakes when her father and John return; they have to break the news about Jessica and Donna. Richardson tells Karen to hurry Susan up, while they check on Louise. Remember Louise? She is, at least, better off that Susan, inasmuch as she is still whimpering and writhing in pain on her bed. As for Susan herself----

..

 ..

The wages of showering.

..

Finding what's left of her friend, Karen screams and goes bolting downstairs and out of the house – straight into the arms of Egon, who makes the most of his opportunity. At the same time, he points out that “someone” has scuttled the motor-boat. John declares that they can’t use the air-boat, as it is out of fuel; while Egon hurriedly insists that his is, too.

 

You might want to remember that, people, a little later on.

 

Richardson tells the others that he almost managed to fix the radio the night before, and that now he’ll have to finish the job. John goes with him; and even at this stage the two of them are so completely clueless that Egon is not only given the task of looking after Karen, but they hand him a gun to do it with! The two of them are working on the radio (which has the name of the film’s producer, Richard Flink, written on it in a rather proprietary way), when Egon slinks up and softly shuts the door. Then he returns to Karen for the Inevitable Confession:

 

“I had to do it, Miss Karen....for us.”

 

Karen, as we know, isn’t the brightest bulb in the box, and it actually takes some effort on Egon’s part to get his meaning across to her. Once he has, though, Karen promptly – and very gracefully, it must be said – goes into one of those conveniently lengthy horror movie faints, which in this case lasts all the way through what I am pretty certain is the longest air-boat chase ever captured on film – despite the declared lack of fuel on the part of at least one of the participants – after Richardson and John emerge from the Communications room just in time to see Egon driving off with the unconscious girl.

.

 

 ..

At first, there were only tantalising glimpses....

.. 

Anyway, the pursuing air-boat does eventually run out of fuel. Or maybe there’s something wrong with the motor, since John starts fiddling with it. Egon, meanwhile, presses on to “the lake area”, where he carries Karen underwater with him to his cave/laboratory. (Egon’s cave, by the way, besides being really rather pretty, is decorated with a flip-top plastic skull identical to the one in Curse Of The Swamp Creature.) Egon wrestles the struggling Karen to the ground, apparently about to do something Nefarious to her, but he gives it up when Karen breaks down in sobs.

 

Unable to impress the girl one way, Egon decides to impress her in another, confessing that it was he who stole that equipment from Dr Richardson, and that he routed power from his cabin down into the cave (which, considering that based upon what we just saw, his shack is miles away, is a pretty good trick). Egon then gives a real Mad Scientist laugh and reveals the secret of his success: “Sea water – electricity – and human blood! – mixed with chemicals that I stole from your father’s lab.”

 

And the outcome of all of Egon’s efforts? A Portuguese man o’ war, “More than twenty inches across! Living in captivity!”

 

Um. Yes. There’s probably a point to all this that I’m not quite seeing.

.

 

 ..

....but slowly, they grew clearer....

.

Oh, well. I guess it’s just that Egon’s a scientist. After all, this is what they do, right?..

.

But the oversized invertebrate is, of course, just one of Egon’s accomplishments. He proceeds to demonstrate the other....

 

Egon flicks on his electrical whatsit, lighting up his rabbit-ear doo-hickey. “You don’t want me,” he snarls at Karen, pointing at the man o’ war, “but he does!”

 

Uh, sure, Egon. Whatever floats your boat.

 

“Look, Karen, at what your father laughed at! At what John called a stupid theory!”

 

With that, Egon leans into the tank, his hands and face pressed against the man o’ war. The tank begins to give off a mist – dry ice: what would we do without it? – and suddenly Egon’s face is covered with white goop. (Which, in the wake of Egon’s declaration of jellyfish-love....)

 

And the next thing we know – it’s the Jellyfish Man!!

.

....UNTIL----

 ..

 

 ..

Step aside, Guilala!

.

(Which finally answers the wetsuit question: monster skin!)

 

The fully transformed Egon then stalks menacingly [sic.] towards Karen; but so slow about it is he that she literally runs out of screaming breath before he gets there, and can only lie there panting. As it turns out, she needn’t have worried: Were-Egon suddenly gives up his menacing stalking, turning back to his electrical whatsit and fiddling with the knobs. And then he dips his hands in the tank again.

 

Meanwhile, Richardson and John have fixed their air-boat and found their way to “the lake area”; and John dives down to the cave opening he located earlier. He pops up in the underwater entrance, carrying a flare, and tries to slip Karen out of the cave before they are noticed; but before he can do so, the Were-Jellyfish turns around and, uh, sees him.

 

I hesitate over the word “sees”, because it is hilariously evident during the fight scene that follows that the poor brave fellow inside the plastic bag (Doug Hobart again, not John Vella) could barely see anything at all once in costume; and that John’s flare is less a weapon than it is a guiding-light. The other thing that becomes increasingly obvious is that there was a very limited supply of air in that plastic bag....which starts to wilt and deflate as the scene goes on, finally wobbling around rather pitifully on Doug Hobart’s shoulders.

 

Greatest - fight scene - EVER. 

 

John and the Were-Jellyfish circle one another, stepping very slowly and carefully around the confines of the cave, with the latter making the occasional feint at the former’s flare. Suddenly, the Were-Jellyfish grabs John by both wrists; having, it seems, lost its sting of death sometime between now and when it last touched a victim. How convenient for John.

 

John manages to knock the Were-Jellyfish down and hurries over Karen, who’s kind of just lying there. Heaven forbid she should lift a finger to rescue herself. (Mark of authenticity: there is sand plastered all over John’s butt.) Before the two can do anything much, the Were-Jellyfish staggers up, looking more than a little saggy. John picks up his flare, and the two go at it again, continuing to rock around the tiny cave until John’s flare-carrying hand is over the man o’ war tank. He drops the flare in.

 

This is obviously highly significant, although I’m sure I couldn’t tell you how. The Were-Jellyfish knocks John down, but then staggers back itself, finally collapsing (again, slowly and carefully) to lie against the rock wall. The electrical whatsit then starts to smoke. John grabs Karen, declaring, “There’s not a moment to waste!” Karen’s thoughts, however, are with Egon. “My God, Egon,” she cries, not without justification, “what’s happening to you?”

 

For Egon, alas, now looks less like a Jellyfish Man, and more like he took on the World’s Champion Bubblegum Blower....and lost.

.

.

"Gesundheit."

 .

John tries to persuade Karen to leave, but she won’t go without Egon. Egon, in turn, begs John to take her away. “It’s all gone wrong!” Oh, you think? John finally drags Karen away, promising to come back for Egon if he can. The two make their way through the cave entrance and out into the lake. A relieved Richardson pulls Karen into the air-boat, just as Egon’s lab goes up, and the lake-bed erupts.

 

Well, “erupts”. It’s more like a slight belch. As explosions go, this one really didn’t. It doesn’t even bother the fish that are swimming by.

 

Meanwhile, Karen is sobbing in her father’s arms. “How could something so horrible happen?” “I don’t know, Karen,” he replies. “Maybe one day, someone will find an answer.”

 

Richardson, of course, doesn’t actually know what the horrible thing is; but that hardly matters. Clearly, he has delivered the obligatory Science Fiction Epitaph; and sure enough, in a moment John is piloting their air-boat away, as the end credits roll....

.

.

What happened to the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!

 .

Footnote:  Fun fact: the Portuguese man o’ war isn’t actually a jellyfish at all. It’s a siphonophore, a colony animal consisting of four individuals, each of which differentiates into a distinct, functioning body part: in this case, one becomes the float, one becomes the stinging tentacles, one becomes the feeding tentacles, and one becomes the reproductive system.

 

Mind you, if they couldn’t get the jilla-jalla-jellyfish to catch on, I guess there wasn’t much hope for the jilla-jalla-siphonophore.
 
This review is a part of the B-Masters' 10-Year Anniversary Roundtable.
Click the banner below for more of
STINGATHON '09!

hit counters
website-hit-counters.com
----posted 20/11/2009