Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, November 04, 2007
      ( 11/04/2007 09:26:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"IT WAS DUSK. I COULD TELL BECAUSE THE SUN WAS GOING DOWN." My first Halloween with a DVR, so naturally I took advantage of it to collect monster films off Turner Classic Movies that I hadn't seen in ages. Got five in all and watched the first on my list, Roger Corman's Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) last night. A no-budget horror comedy, Creature is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Little Shop of Horrors and Bucket of Blood. (All three flicks were quickly dashed off by scriptwriter Charles B. Griffith.) But where the two earlier flicks were held together by their broadly goofy anti-heroes (Jonathan Haze's Seymour and Dick Miller's Walter Paisley, respectively), Creature makes its central figure a third-string Bogart (Anthony Carbone's Renzo Carpetto) and keeps the more overtly cartoonish characters (such as an unfunny retarded muscleman who mainly speaks in animal sounds) on the sidelines. The results, alas, are much less consistently watchable.

A few traces of Griffith's hipster humor survive in the flick - most of which revolve around future Oscar winner Robert Towne's performance as government agent Sparks Moran. Sparks (who also calls himself Agent XK150) delivers the film's ludicrous narration with such amusing deadpan seriousness that you wish he'd been given more to do in the actual picture. (As the movie's good guy, he's fairly negligible.) Purportedly, Creature was written in less than week after Corman - who had just finished shooting Last Woman on Earth in Puerto Rico – asked Griffith to deliver a new script quickly so he dash off a second picture with the same cast and crew. Perhaps if Griffith'd been given two weeks, he might've given Corman a fuller movie script. As it is, the script is a mess.

The plot, such as it is, aims for early sixties currency by being set in post-revolution Cuba. As a jerkily animated cartoon tells us in the movie's opening, anti-Castro elements looted most of Cuba's treasury in the final days with the idea of using that gold and money to finance a counter-revolution. Sicilian Renzo Capetto (Carbone), eager to offer his yacht and his assistance, contacts some of these Batista loyalists with the aim of ultimately ripping 'em off. His scheme is pick the Cubans off one by one, blaming the killings on a sea monster that supposedly inhabits the waters. But, of course, the real creature shows up to ruin Renzo's plans.

As for the title creature, it's as lame as you'd expect: a guy in a mossy covered wet suit with no neck, eyes that resemble overcooked eggs and strands of plastic seaweed dangling from his arms and torso. The scene where the monster comes on board Renzo's boat to grab Betsy Jones-Moreland's gangster's moll is so ridiculous that it's shown up on at least one "wacky" teevee commercial over the years. Per cheapie tradition, the monster is largely kept out of clear camera sight until its big attack at the picture's conlcusion (though we earlier see several quick underwater shots of its head in the murky waters).

The version TMC broadcast appears to be the original release: purportedly, Corman had Monte Hellman shoot about ten minutes of extra footage a couple of years later to pad the flick for teevee release, adding a theme song performed by Jones-Moreland. Somehow, I don't think I missed very much.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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