Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)
Hey, how we doing? Today we have another Roger Corman classic from the early 1960s, back when he was actually directing movies and not just "attaching his name" to other peoples' projects for a quick paycheck (which describes 95% of his post-1970 production credits). As with most every Corman movie, overall it's excruciatingly terrible, but there are some good moments of crackin' dialogue and inspired emotion. And it's a comedy, who knew?
On to the show...
Let me start with a short Cuban history lesson for the youngin's in the audience. Up until about 1959, Cuba was a playground for rich Americans and beatnik poets. Then Fidel Castro ruined everything and we're still not on speaking terms with Cuba fifty years later. As the country was collapsing there at the end, anyone who was able to find a way fled to America with whatever they could grab.
Authentic period photo of two soldiers of Castro's Third Revolutionary Brigade taking a break during the Battle of Yaguajay in 1959.
As our movie opens, General Tostada, recently on the outs from Castro and on the run, hires an American ex-pat mobster to take a strongbox full of pilfered Cuban gold to the States, where the General will use it to, ahem, further the aims and goals of the free peoples of Cuba in their fight against the tyranny of that bastard Fidel and his smelly cigars. Actually, the General will undoubtedly use the gold to buy him a yacht and a multitude of Miami hookers, but it's not like that would surprise anyone. The General (whose name means "piece of toast" in Spanish, go figure) and his translator and seven soldiers board the Mobster's thirty-foot cabin cruiser at an isolated point on the Cuban coast. The gold is with them.
Tostada on the right, several times we get Spanish translations on-screen like this, an overlay print process which doesn't seem like much, but probably cost half the budget.
There are five people we need to meet, all of them Americans on the boat. The Mobster is a Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin sort of shady fellow who looks swanky but is always up to no good. He's a former Sicilian hood who has made a fortune gambling and smuggling in Cuba, though that's going to come to a screeching halt once Castro nationalizes everything in a few years. For all his faults, the Mobster is indeed a charismatic person, even if he can't seem to correctly button his shirt.
Gay sailor hat? Check. Open-chest shirt? Check. Eight-pack a day cigarette habit? Check. Well-cleaned pistol? Check. Insultingly bad Italian-American accent? Check plus.
His moll is Mary-Belle, a..., uh, a large framed woman with an unconvincing Savannah accent (which comes and goes) and a thing for lying around in a bathing suit. Both the actor playing the Mobster and the actress playing Mary-Belle were also a couple in Corman's The Last Woman on Earth, which was filmed at the same time as this one, using many of the same locations and cast members (Corman was the master of efficiency, if nothing else).
Mary-Belle, shaving dice.
Mary-Belle's brother, and the Mobster's main heavy, is Happy Jack, a twitchy killer who smiles way too much (thus the name). He's probably the one character that they could have written out and the movie would have stumbled along just fine.
Happy Jack, identifiable by his horizontal stripes.
The secondary henchman is Animal Voice Guy, so named because Corman decided it would be ho-hi-larious if this guy was a master of animal impersonations so he could foley in library clips of giraffes cooing and penguins chirping every five minutes. It doesn't work, and Animal Voice Guy might very well be the single most fucking annoying character to ever appear in any movie ever made, ever. Never, ever in my life have I wanted so badly to reach into a movie and strangle someone as much as I do now. I defy any human being on this Earth to not have those primal, caveman feelings of violent rage every time Animal Voice Guy is on the screen.
Animal Voice Guy, who favors vertical stripes (because he's a rebel like that).
And lastly we have the Cabin Boy, who at times is our film's narrator, and at other times our reluctant hero. The Cabin Boy also happens to be an American spy, who is keeping tabs on the Cuban gold for the US Guv'mint. The whole spy subplot is cumbersome, and after a few scenes of the Cabin Boy doing a weak James Bond impersonation it begins to weigh the film down like a rusty anchor. It doesn't help that the Cabin Boy character seems at times to be fighting Animal Voice Guy for the Suicide-Inducing Comic Relief role that this movie so dearly needs...
The Cabin Boy (played by an Oscar-winning screenwriter, really).
The Mobster wants the gold for himself, of course, and he hatches an overly elaborate plan to swipe it. While he could just slit their throats in their sleep or gun them down on deck (they have lots of guns, including a gotta-find-one MP-40), instead the Mobster concocts a tale of a spooky sea creature that lives in these parts. To sell the story, the Mobster's henchmen kill a sleeping Cuban soldier and make it look like a creature did it (fake footprints and simulated claw marks). Animal Voice Guy has a lot of screen time here, much to the detriment of Western Civilization, and channels animals from lions to parakeets as the jaunty soundtrack insists that this is funny. Seriously, was this sort of thing really that funny in 1961? Because if it was, then I'm going to build a time machine and go back and kick 1961's ass.
The Mobster and Mary-Belle have a personal discussion about their retirement fund.
In an amazing coincidence, the real creature shows up! It kills another Cuban soldier and then spends the rest of the first act lurking around in the water. There will be zero background on the creature, where it came from, why it's here, anything at all about it, but at just over an hour, the movie doesn't have the time to deal with any of that. Just accept the fact, ok? As this is a Roger Corman movie made for a song, the creature effects are predictably unbelievably lame. It's an eight-foot tall biped with buggly eyes and kelp for fur. The stuntman's neoprene wetsuit underneath is often visible, as are the swimfins and the regulators for the scuba tank when it's "swimming", but if you squint and stand back a few dozen feet from the TV, it's not really too bad a costume.
You wouldn't think you could get away with many shenanigans on a boat this small.
The Cubans freak out, coming across as superstitious peasants with Desi Arnaz haircuts. General Tosada is especially worried as he knows of old legends of a sea monster in these waters and he's sure this bugaboo is hunting them now. Thus, they agree with the Mobster's devious plan to divert to Puerto Rico. The Mobster says that the "water is too deep for the creature" there, but he also knows that he will have more time to steal the gold.
Talking it out.
At sea they are intercepted by a Cuban Coast Guard boat, manned by three guys who all look like Fidel Castro circa 1960 and are armed with American rifles. To give the veneer of a simple fishing boat, Mary-Belle starts singing a song. It's a pleasant tune, and has the name of the movie in it (?), but the music sounds like a corrupted Commodore 64 midi file and the looping is so lousy that you can barely understand what she's singing. The Cubans hide below deck as they are boarded, though Happy Jack and Animal Sounds Guy start shooting pretty quick, putting an end to the threat.
"Arrgg! Prepare to be boarded! Avast!"
Meanwhile, Cabin Boy the American spy has been reporting everything back to Washington on his homemade radio (made out of a pickle and a tin can). There was a scene at the beginning that set up some of this backstory, but I forgot about it until just now so this will have to do. While he's not sure of where they are going, or what exactly the Mobster has planned, the one thing the Cabin Boy knows absolutely for certain is that he's in love with Mary-Belle. He thinks she's too good for the gangster life (typical), but she comically keeps shooting him down.
The Cabin Boy and Mary-Belle get close (oh, Captain Janeway, you saucy little minx, I can't believe you left Chakotay in charge while you're frolicking down here on this planet).
The Mobster's plan now is to deliberately run the boat aground, toss the box of gold overboard and then come back and dive for it later. Their diabolical (if ill-thought-out and asinine) plot goes as planned, and the boat ends up on the reef, holed and sinking fast. Everyone piles into the lifeboats and row to shore without incident. Once on the sunny beach, the Mobster fake-laments the lost strongbox, content in the knowledge that he'll come back eventually and retrieve it. Even if he has to wait years, he says to his accomplices, it will be worth it in the end. The problem is that, unbeknownst to him, the Cuban soldiers are all trained divers! Now he has to play (more) dumb and change his plans on the fly, and hope that they don't find the box or that he can bump them off first.
Paddling away from the wreck in a teeny little boat, how cute.
They go into a nearby local town and bring back enough Scuba gear for all of them (sure, because all isolated Puerto Rican fishing villages have a dozen sets of Scuba gear for rent). They also get a small boat (a reuse of the Cuban Coast Guard boat from before). Much to my perpetual ire, Animal Voice Guy has a lot of "dialogue" here, and my blood boils like Spock in Amok Time and my vision is blurred by the gleeful image of Animal Voice Guy being eaten by a mutant shark with syphilis.
See the beached boat? It will stay that way the rest of the film, but they will film it from such angles that it appears to be at sea.
The Cabin Boy goes ashore and finds a payphone by a palm tree in the middle of nowhere (?). In a genuinely funny bit, he tries to get the operator to charge his home phone in Washington because he doesn't have any money on him. To further boggle your mind, he then runs into a well-dressed man with a walking umbrella who goes around deliberately stepping in puddles. This entire scene is pointlessly humorous, but in this movie I'd expect little else.
How am I supposed to text on that? Don't they have 3G coverage in Puerto Rico?
Because this is both a Roger Corman production and a 1960's movie filmed in sunny Puerto Rico, it's no surprise that a bevy of well-tanned and under-dressed local girls show up to check out the menfolk. Happy Jack and Animal Voice Guy both find themselves a special ladyfriend and suddenly don't have a lot of interest in guns and ammo anymore. In a twist mostly seen in 1990's German porno, their girlfriends are a mother/daughter combo, though dialogue suggests that the mom pimps out her daughter to tourists, which is nice. The daughter Mango picks Happy Jack the murderous lout for some reason known only to the cruel, heartless Gods above, and Animal Voice Guy is delighted to learn that the mother is also big on making animal sounds! My patience officially drained, I drive to Los Angeles to find Charles Griffith, the screenwriter for Creature From the Haunted Sea, so I can murder him. Sadly, he's been dead for years, but I dig up his corpse anyway, and from Hell's black heart I stab at him.
Mango! She could almost make me forget about Animal Voice Guy.
Somewhere in here another local woman named Carmaletto shows up on Happy Jack's arm for a while. When his eyes/hands turn more towards the younger/hotter Mango, she wastes no time in leaping upon the only other available/English-speaking male there, the Cabin Boy. At first resistant, the Cabin Boy warms to the idea quickly, as it's clear by now that Mary-Belle just isn't going to fall for his squishy come-on lines.
Cabin Boy meets Carmaletto (he's so totally scoping out her boobies).
Eventually a group of them dive down into the clear Caribbean water to find the box. The seafloor here, just off shore, is littered with wrecked boats and thick coral reefs, and tropical fish swim this way and that. They don't find the box, but the Mobster and his goons are able to slink up (if you can do such a thing underwater) on two of the Cubans when they venture off alone and kill them with knives. Later, they will blame it on the creature, getting everyone all riled up again.
Ah, but the creature has indeed followed them all the way here (huh?) and on a second dive, it takes a Cuban for a light afternoon snack. Actually, the beast seems to just kill for the sheer fun of it, not for any source of food. Maybe he's trying to kill off Animal Voice Guy, also? Do animal impersonations travel underwater? Do they kill dolphins like sonar? [Editor Pam: Since the creature seems to have zero motivation for killing these people, I guess you're right that he kills for fun. How has he managed to go unnoticed until now, and what's he doing in the middle of the ocean?]
While playing in the surf, the lovely Mango gets munched by the creature, who at the very least, has good taste in women. Back ashore, Happy Jack and Animal Voice Guy blame it all on the Mobster, sure he killed Mango to "make it look real". The two henchmen even begin talking in hushed tones about axing their boss and living out the rest of their lives here in paradise. I wish that Animal Voice Guy would settle down here, it would make it much easier for my swarm of mind-controlled cybernetic killer vultures to find him and drag his soul back to Hades from whence it came.
Mango dies, removing the last redeeming thing about this movie.
One last dive now, as the Americans make a desperate final push to eliminate the competition with spear guns. There's a lot of underwater action here, as spears and knives are out and men fight for their lives in the bubbly water. Crap, it's like Thunderball! But without the demonseed sharks. Somewhere in there, the creature lurks on the edges of the battle, picking off a few stragglers.
Spear gun fight (the stuntmen are very careful not to get hurt in this scene).
The survivors get back to the boat but the creature emerges from the sea to finish them off. Mary-Belle is first to go down, as the beast sneaks up on them somehow (off-screen teleportation, to borrow Ken's term). Seen in bright sunlight, the creature is horrible, just horrible, the pingpong ball eyes, the shredded newspaper hair, the glued-on popsicle stick fangs, the duct tape-and-tenpenny nail clawed hands, it's all just so miserably bad that you can do little but giggle and snort. [Editor Pam: The creature looks like Cookie Monster's retarded cousin.]
The creature has had just about enough of all this kissing and stuff, cuz it's gross. Hey, recognize this shot from the opening credits of Malcolm in the Middle, only in color?
After disposing of Mary-Belle, and proving impervious to both spears and bullets, the creature wades through the boat, mauling everyone still aboard. The last two Cuban soldiers, the translator and General Tostada, plus Happy Jack and (blessedly) Animal Voice Guy all meet their gory ends at the claws of the monster. Watch as the actors have to really work hard to keep from knocking over the stuntman in the creature suit (which had to have had zero visibility), artfully die one by one, and make sure that they fall off to the side enough that the creature has room to shamble forwards to the next victim. It's the sort of thing you'd see in a middle school production of Godzilla Eats Santa Clarita, only without the refreshments at intermission. [Editor Pam: Great, another monster that's impervious to spears and bullets. I know the tradition started with Godzilla, but there's never a halfway plausible explanation given, and it spoils what little believability a movie of this sort has has. But then again, I don't suppose it matters for this movie, which never had any sort of believability to begin with.]
"He's too awesome!"
Only the Mobster escapes unscathed, rowing to shore in a dinghy. But the creature follows him, intent on removing any witnesses to his ugliness (got to get him before he posts any pictures of him on youtube, would totally ruin his street cred with the other sea monsters). The Mobster is munched under a palm tree, though he makes little effort to escape and then the creature presumably disappears into thin air, or more likely swims back to sea. The Cabin Boy and his girl Carmaletto got off before the bloodspilling began and they survive to tell the tale. Well, they survive to kiss on each other as the credits roll.
Postscript: Fidel and the creature would later become best friends, they'd go to the mall and talk about girls and cars and stuff, and one time they even "accidentally" got roaring drunk on Cuervo and woke up naked together. After that, Fidel stopped calling and deleted the creature off his facebook friends list, which hurt the creature's feelings deeply. [Editor Pam: I know this sounds terribly shallow, and I know you're not supposed to judge people by how they look, but I have to say that the creature is going to have trouble getting dates no matter what his sexual orientation is.]
Written in October 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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