Curse of the Swamp Creature

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Sometimes things simply have to wait for their own time, understanding this is a mark of age and wisdom.  That’s why old people drive so freakin’ slow and young people race around like mad rats in a lunch meat factory, it’s the difference in urgency.  When I was a kid, maybe eight years-old, I used wait anxiously for the TV Guide (Oh, great and wise TV Guide, how awesome you were in the era before home video and internet) to scout out that week’s horror and science fiction offerings.  What monster movie did we have showing on that particular week?  Flip-flip-flip! Friday night on Channel six . . . Curse of the Swamp Creature!  Yes!  They were usually on late at night, which required parental permission, especially for movies that started as late as this one, which didn’t start until 11pm.  It took some serious fast talk and the summoning of the most puppyish of puppy-eyes, but I managed to carry the day.  I was happy all week long, knowing that I was going to kick my weekend off with what promised to be a truly lurid and terrifying movie.  How could any film called Curse of the Swamp Creature fail?

Friday night came and I was all set.  I had the TV going and was ready to see some swamp creature action!  Here is what I remember happening next.  The movie opens with a guy in a lab coat feeding a corpse to some alligators.  Nice!  Next, this creole guy runs up to the guy in the lab coast, yelling about how his brother is missing.  I’m thinking the creole guy’s brother was just fed to some alligators not more than twenty seconds before.  Nice!  The creole guy leaps on the guy in the lab coat, knocking both of them to the ground.  The creole gets his hands around the lab coat guy’s neck and starts to choke him.  Suddenly this other guy comes out of nowhere and stabs the creole guy.  Nice.  Then I fell asleep.  It was late and I was just a kid.

Last week I was scouring the scut on a certain movie rental service’s website and came across Curse of the Swamp Creature.  Feeling the urge to finally finish the movie after so many years, I stretched out in my comfy chair and queued it up.

The plot is a totally ridiculous throwback to the golden age of bad mad scientist films, an era even then long gone by.  Dr. Simond Trent (Jeff Alexander) believes that humans evolved, not from an earlier form of primate, but from lizards and dinosaurs.  To prove that he’s right, the good doctor is trying to create a race of part human, part reptile, part fish swamp monsters made mostly from the local creole population.  Trent has been at it for a while and though his experiments to this point have been failures, he’s getting closer; until then, the work continues, the creole  population shrinks and his pet alligators get fatter.

Tramping though the neighboring swamp is a party of  bad actors, including a very dazed and confused John Agar; they’re pretending to look  for oil.  Eventually they come across the Trent’s house where mad scientist mayhem ensues.

You’ll notice that I’ve not said anything about curses or swamp creatures; that’s because there is no curse and the swamp creature doesn’t appear until the very end of the movie.  Does the wait end with a good pay off?  That depends on whether or not you’re wrapped up in the notion of this being a creature feature.  When I was eight years-old, I’d have been really pissed off by the appearance of the creature, not only doesn’t the creature show up until the end of the movie, when it does show up it’s incredibly lame.  It’s a mask that looks as if it’s made of  papier-mâché and ping pong balls.  Instead of attacking, the swamp creature sort of staggers around and falls over.

The adult version of me understands that this isn’t a creature feature.  It’s a mad scientist movie and like any mad scientist movie, the difference between good and bad rests almost entirely on the actor in the lab coat.  In the case of Curse of the Swamp Creature, it rests on the shoulders of Jeff Alexander, who looks like Hunter S. Thompson and seems to be channeling both the spirits of Lionel Atwill and George Zucco at the same time.  Alexander chews the scenery with such ferocity that even the alligators hooked it out of Dodge City. I wouldn’t have appreciated Jeff Alexander’s awesome performance when I was a kid, because I’d have been totally wrapped up in the fact there was not a creature worth speaking of. Curse of the Swamp Creature simply had to wait until I was old enough to enjoy it.

I don’t want to give you false impression about the nature of this beast; it isn’t a good “bad movie” like the films that Roger Corman cranked out.  This is a film by Larry Buchanan and if Corman was American International Pictures “A Movie” director, then Larry Buchanan was their “B Movie” guy.  Buchanan has no illusions about his place in the world.  He was making shoestring budget remakes of earlier AIP low budget films (in this case the appalling Voodoo Woman) which AIP was bundling as shock theater content for television. Buchanan was a step above the legendary Ed Wood in terms of production value; far from being a  frustrated hack, Buchanan was just glad to be working and reveled in his role as American International Pictures resident slopmeister.

Jeff Alexander’s sinister Dr. Trent is engrossing.  His interaction with the rest of the characters is just plain mad. John Agar, the only actor in this celluloid slopfest that I recognized, is just going along to for the ride.  His character, geologist Barry Rogers, is the only character in the movie that is relatively normal, tending to look at the rest of the cast member as if they just stepped in something awful and tracked  it across the new carpet.  Agar is at his most entertaining in repeatedly shooting down beehive quaffed Shirley McLine, the film’s “femme fatal,” every time she comes on to him.  Bang!  Bang! Shot down!

Curse of the Swamp Creature is entertaining if you approach it in the right spirit. I advise watching it with friends that enjoy  schlocky old movies as much as you do.

The WTF Moment: Watch for the Magic Karate Chop.

Starring:
John Agar as Barry Rogers
Francine York as Pat Trent
Jeff Alexander as Dr. Simond Trent
Shirley McLine as Brenda Simmons
Cal Duggan as Ritchie

Directed:
Larry Buchanan

Screenplay:
Tony Huston

One and a half of five Vincents

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