Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Larry Buchanan’s Curse of the Swamp Creature.
Curse of the Swamp Creature is a 60’s mad scientist monster movie and its plot is pretty standard. We have a mad scientist in the swamp trying to put gills on humans and a group of people that happen to stumble into his swampland. Hilarity ensues.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record here on Cult Corner… Curse of the Swamp Creature’s biggest problem is that we don’t see nearly enough of the monster. I’ve said this many times before about movies like Grim and Breeders, but those are stuffed to the rafters with monster action when compared to this one. The Swamp Creature is on the cover. It’s what people are expecting to see. Out of the 121 minute runtime, approximately 5 of those minutes contain the monster. I want to make this as clear as humanly possible. I am not exaggerating for comedic effect. This is not hyperbole. It is only in 5 minutes. Look, this isn’t Jaws. There is no suspense. There are no good performances or interesting characters. There is nothing to fill the monsterless void that is the rest of the movie. You spend every minute bored and just waiting for it, and when it finally comes you’ll probably already be asleep. It’s not even enjoyable when it does show up. It’s entire deal is that it’s supposed to this amphibian creature that can breathe underwater and we don’t even get a single scene where it does that. It’s so anticlimactic.
With that out of the way, the characters and acting are really hit and miss. There’s an overall wooden quality to every performance, but once you get past that there are some enjoyable moments. The mad scientist character is entertaining on occasion. He’s a smarmy douchebag to everyone around him despite looking more like a high school biology teacher than an actual threat. He acts like he thinks he’s super cool even to the point of wearing sunglasses at all times. Weird. On the other hand the film’s depictions of women and African Americans aren’t quite as fun. Given that this is a film from the 60s I wouldn’t expect it to be progressive, but some of the stuff in here is downright offensive. All of the scientist’s servants are people of color and they communicate through tribal drumming. By the time they got to the “snake magic” dance ritual scene I had checked out. It’s certainly a product of its time, but these things really stick out like a sore thumb now.
Shockingly, the pacing of this movie isn’t very good. Aside from the titular creature being absent from 116 minutes out of its 121 minute runtime, things just don’t really go anywhere. There are long stretches of absolutely nothing happening. It’s just establishing shots with no dialogue and characters walking from room to room. There’s little to no forward momentum to the story. It’s just unconnected events happening one after another, so there is no narrative thrust. This removes any tension or sense of momentum and the movie just feels off because of it. On top of that, the people who had come to look for oil just disappear. They are set up to be the main characters and then they are totally absent from a good 20 minutes of the film. Instead, we focus on the scientist. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since he’s way more entertaining, but it comes off as strange. The film lacks focus.
It’s also really cheaply made, but that’s apparent from the second it starts. The camera shakes sometimes, there’s film grain, and the lighting is atrocious and inconsistent. There are moments where sound effects are totally missing, as if they just forgot to do the foley work for that scene. The editing is choppy and sometimes creates continuity issues. The monster looks absolutely terrible and has ping pong balls for eyes. Admittedly, that’s one bit of cheapness that I love. There are also bizarre moments where the actors are dubbed. The movie is completely in English, but I guess sometimes they wanted to change what was being said after the fact or perhaps they didn’t get usable audio when filming this particular scene. But they didn’t even attempt to make it match up, even if the shot is a close up.
Curse of the Swamp Creature is bad. Not good bad, just bad. It’s unfortunate because I had heard that the film’s director Larry Buchanan was a good source of “so bad they’re good” movies, but this one just fell short. There are certainly some moments here and there that make me chuckle, but for the most part this is a boring, confusing, and cheap mess. That monster looked absolutely terrible and I wish it were in every scene of the movie. Maybe then it would be worth watching. As it stands this is something to skip.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.