The Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966) -*½
You don’t understand. No, seriously. I don’t care if you’ve seen Mars Needs Women or The Eye Creatures or The Naked Witch. I’ve seen all those movies too, and I didn’t understand. The Curse of the Swamp Creature, Larry Buchanan’s entirely unnecessary remake of Ed Cahn’s only slightly less useless Voodoo Woman, is one of those movies that you just won’t be prepared for unless you’ve already seen it. We’re talking here about a film in which John Agar is the most charismatic member of the cast. A movie in which the makeup effects make Paul Blaisdel look like Rick Baker. A movie that asks us to believe that a screened-in backyard swimming pool is a mad scientist’s alligator pit!
The first thing you’re going to ask yourself about The Curse of the Swamp Creature is why in the hell anybody would want to set an updated version of Voodoo Woman in eastern Texas. As near as I can figure, the line of thinking went something like this: 1). Larry Buchanan lives in Texas. 2). Larry needed a place where they have voodoo that was within driving distance. 3). Texas shares its eastern border with Louisiana. 4). New Orleans is in Louisiana. 5). They have voodoo in New Orleans. 6). If Larry had gone all the way to Louisiana, he would have been arrested for transporting a dangerously shitty movie across state lines. Ergo, The Curse of the Swamp Creature is set in eastern Texas. Anyway, in an opening gambit that might really have worked if Buchanan had any talent whatsoever, or had hired people who did, Dr. Simon Trent (Jeff Alexander, from Twisted Brain and Zontar, the Thing From Venus) stands beside a coffin-like glass enclosure filled with opaque white vapor, exhorting whatever is concealed by that vapor to "Live! Breathe!" A grayish, clawed hand with webbed fingers rises slowly out of the mist, but suddenly goes limp and sinks out of sight. Trent then carries a shrouded, humanoid form out to the backyard, where he drops it into what is obviously a swimming pool (he walks out onto the fucking diving board, for Christ's sake!), but which "artful" use of stock footage attempts to convince us is really a murky pond full of hungry alligators.
Elsewhere, at the Fly’n Fish Inn, proprietor Frenchy (Roger Ready, from Night Fright and Creature of Destruction) and a woman by the name of Brenda Simmons (Shirley McLine, of The Eye Creatures and The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald) are attempting to pump an oil man named Driscoll West (‘Gator Bait's Bill Thurman, whom Buchanan also hired for In the Year 2889) for information. Brenda and Frenchy know that West has hired a geologist to take him out into the swamps, which can mean only one thing— that West thinks there’s oil out there somewhere. And if there’s oil in them thar swamps, then Brenda and Frenchy want it for themselves. While Brenda tries to seduce the information she desires out of the oil man, her “official” boyfriend, Ritchie (Mars Needs Women's Cal Duggan), sneaks into West’s room, looking for maps, charts, or anything else that could help the conspirators divine just where in the marshes the oil is likely to be found. West returns to his room before Ritchie is finished, though, and in the ensuing struggle, Ritchie kills the oil man. That’s trouble any way you slice it, but Brenda has a plan to turn the situation to her advantage. Frenchy and his friend, Rabbit, will dispose of the body in the swamp. Meanwhile, she’ll pose as West’s wife and pass Ritchie off as the dead man’s assistant. When geologist Barry Rogers (Agar, from Invisible Invaders and Journey to the Seventh Planet) arrives, they'll hire Rabbit as a guide and use West’s own preparations to get their hands on the oil. Then (although she doesn’t tell anyone but Frenchy about this part of the scheme), Brenda can eliminate everybody who came with her into the bogs and skip town with Frenchy to live it up on their newfound wealth.
Like Voodoo Woman, The Curse of the Swamp Creature embarks on a lengthy stretch of following the travelers on their journey at this point, and as in my review of the former film, I’m going to ignore this part almost completely on the grounds that it’s incredibly fucking boring. What I’m going to talk about instead is Dr. Trent and his private little monster factory. Whereas most of your mad scientists live alone, Trent has quite an entourage over at his place. In addition to Tom, his laboratory assistant (Tony Hutton, another familiar face from The Eye Creatures and Mars Needs Women), Trent employs several men from the nearby village of voodoo-practicing black marsh-dwellers. One of these, Valjean, serves as a generalized right-hand-man to the doctor, running the show around his compound while Trent himself is busy making monsters in the basement. Another, Tracker, has what might be an even more important job in the long run— keeping watch over Trent's wife, Pat (Francine York, of Space Probe Taurus and Mutiny in Outer Space). Pat would very much like to leave her husband and return to the real world, but the doctor will have none of that, especially once he learns that Pat has figured out what he’s been doing down in the cellar. What tips the woman off is the disappearance of Tom. Trent had pressed him into service as a guinea pig for his monster experiments when the young man expressed his growing distaste for the nature of the project, and he happened to be strapped down in that glass tank we saw earlier when Pat finally worked up the gumption to sneak into her husband’s lab.
All of which really just means that Trent has a real problem on his hands when Rabbit leads Roger, Brenda, and Ritchie into the part of the swamp where the doctor makes his home. On the theory that at least that way he’ll know for certain where they are and what they’re up to, Trent sends Valjean to round up the interlopers and bring them back to his house. Thus we have now lined up the last three set-pieces from Voodoo Woman that have yet to be duplicated here: Ritchie’s attack on a native girl, which finally turns the voodoo villagers against Trent (who, as Ritchie’s host, would be expected to take some kind of responsibility for his guest’s behavior); the meeting between Pat and Rogers that provides the woman with an escape route when the shit hits the fan at last; and most importantly, the monsterization of Brenda Simmons, whom Trent subjects to his experimental treatment after Pat euthanizes Tom. Brenda’s monstrous incarnation proves to be even less controllable than her counterpart in Voodoo Woman, and throws Trent to his own alligators after only a couple of minutes onscreen. Then she dives into the pond herself, unwilling to face life as a gill-man. (And yes, I really do mean gill-man. It’s Bill Thurman [remember him? Driscoll West?] under the monster makeup, and no attempt whatsoever was made to disguise the creature’s masculinity.)
And if you paid close attention to that last paragraph, you’ll already have some idea why The Curse of the Swamp Creature sucks even worse than Voodoo Woman. As bad as it was in every other respect, Voodoo Woman at least featured a considerable quotient of monster action. Buchanan’s Swamp Creature, on the other hand, keeps dying before it gets a chance even to leave the tank, and never shows up as anything more than a webbed hand emerging from a cloud of dry-ice fog until the movie is practically over. The impossibly pathetic makeup goes some small way toward making up for this, but that compensation is in turn counterbalanced by the fact that the monster scarcely does anything once it comes to life successfully. Its role in the story is limited to shambling out of Trent’s basement laboratory, offing the doctor, and then standing around by the side of the swimming pool/alligator pit for a few moments while Pat tries to convince it to commit suicide. All this takes maybe five minutes. The other 75 or so move so slowly and are so laboriously talky that not even the fantastic and conspicuous cheapness of the production or Larry Buchanan’s famous technical ineptitude can liven them up. That’s an awful lot of crap to suffer through, and what limited payoff the creature’s eventual revelation offers frankly isn’t worth it.