Something a little bit different this week.
Turner Classic Movies has been running drive-in double features this month, those monster movies from the fifties that were packaged together so one had to book both of them or neither in order to wring as much money from the movie going public as possible. They were mostly low budget affairs quickly produced to fill their niche and usually involved nature gone wild as a result of nuclear weapon experiments(we’re talking fifties when that type of weapon was still relatively new).
Many of them I remembered fondly from my youth and a late Saturday show called Shock Theater hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer. They weren’t great films, but I loved them nonetheless.
In keeping with the theme, I’m featuring two movies, the old double bill, that I’d somehow missed from those long ago years. And after watching them this time, I almost wish that I’d missed them this time around! No, not really. They fit into that pantheon of films so bad you have to like them. They rank right down there, and I mean down there, with anything Ed Wood ever did.
First up is CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, a Roger Corman classic filmed in five days back in 1959. The story goes is that he was in Puerto Rico with a small cast to film THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH and produce a WWII film called BATTLE OF BLOOD ISLAND. He was there to make use of tax incentives and cheap labor. Having footage left over from the first film, he asked Charles B. Griffith to rewrite a script previously filmed twice as NAKED PARADISE and BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE for his new classic.
The effort was really bad. supposedly a horror comedy(though ultimately billed as a straight thriller), it was funny in ways I don’t think were intended. The plot was a Cuban general beats it off the island ahead of Castro with the government treasury, a large strong box full of gold. He’s accompanied by a half dozen men. Also along were an American mobster and his moll, the moll’s brother, a former tennis player, and a second gangster that specialized in doing animal impressions. Another along was the radio man, a spy for the American government sticking close to the gangster(‘Sparks Moran is my code name, secret agent XK-150 my real name!”).
The mobster wants the gold and concocts a plan to take advantage of old legends of a sea monster in the area, getting his men to kill off one of the Cubans late one night, the one furnishing the animal sounds, then screaming about a monster. The idea was to get everyone scared of the monster and change course, eventually scuttling the yacht on reefs, overturning the boat and sinking the gold chest. One of the men would go rent another boat and diving gear, they’d find the chest and hide it, returning at a later date to retrieve it. Little did they know the monster was real, adding another victim to the late night effort, and they don’t think a great deal about the extra body.
All goes as planned otherwise and Happy Jack, the ex-tennis player, goes off in their small skiff to rent the boat and diving equipment. Not a bright fellow, he returns with a woman, a new love, who “lives in a kind of sorority house down by the docks.” I think she was along to take advantage of the left over footage. His buddy, the animal impressionist, finds an Hispanic native woman that also does animal noises, who introduces her daughter to Happy Jack after he’s dumped by his sorority girl for the secret agent. We see the four of them frolicking in the jungles and swimming in the lagoon(more fodder for the monster).
The diving begins, complete with the General wearing a tee shirt with his medals pinned on.
The monster suit was made of a wet suit, sea weed, moss, Brillo pads, pipe cleaners for the claws, tennis balls for eyes, with ping pong balls for the iris, and an oil cloth over all to make it slimy. A really ridiculous looking thing. The film score, by Fred Katz, was originally written for A Bucket of Blood, recycled for seven films altogether. The movie was finally released in 1961.
The most notable thing about this movie was the actor playing Secret Agent XK-150. Screenwriter/director Robert Towne, the author some years later of the Oscar winning screenplay for Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.
Click to watch the film trailer and get a load of the completely “frightening” monster:
Creature From The Haunted Sea
The next little gem(cough) in our double feature is a film called THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES. The budget on this one must have been about a dollar and a half.
We have people being killed by the second goofiest looking monster in this post, government agents and scientists that persist in walking on the beach in suits and has a mad scientist. Released in 1955, this movie had several shower scenes with the mad scientist’s daughter(fifties style so don’t expect much), Lois. She of course falls for the dashing scientist turned Federal investigator, Ted Baxter(who later didn’t go on to be a news anchor).
The really low budget aspect of this one comes from the boat. Early in the film, a fisherman is on the ocean in a row boat-who goes out on the ocean in a row boat?- and is attacked by the monster overturning the boat, the body found later on the beach covered with radiation burns. Later, Baxter goes out on the same row boat to dive, sees a glowing rock protected by the monster and manages to escape with his life. Then a young couple goes out on the- wait for it- SAME row boat, to be overturned by the monster and killed.
The monster is the unholy creation of the mad scientist who finally realizes his error and goes out with dynamite to kill the thing and destroy that glowing rock. He gets a suitable comeuppance and Baxter and Lois ride off into the sunset together.
A real stinker.
Click for a brief review of the film:
The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues
Next week I may be back with another pair of films. I already have one good candidate. Another might turn up.
For much better Overlooked Movies, go to SWEET FREEDOM