Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1957)
Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1957)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!
We go south of the border this week for our swamp picture to complete my trilogy of swampy summer goodness. And oh boy, is this a weird one. THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS – 1957 (the final plurality of the monster(s) is almost covered up by the right edge of the screen, but everything I can find on this lost treasure is the singular SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER), is a Mexican import from kiddie matinee guru K. Gordon Murray, who bought these things on the cheap and dubbed them on the cheaper. Murray specialized in Mexican horror movies and oddities, unleashing brain-numbing madness onto the innocent minds of Eisenhower Saturday matinee movie-goers. He brought us such wonders as THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1958), SCANDAL IN FAIRYLAND (1957), and, of course, the unbelievable SANTA CLAUS (1959) where little children team up with Santa to kill Satan and his demons! Oh the Christmas joy! Well, Murray also dubbed and distributed THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER aka THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS aka THE SWAMP OF LOST SOULS.
The credits, scrolled over a picture of skulls and ghosts, proudly announce that the film stars Gaston Santos and his horse ‘Moonlight’. In real life, Gaston Santos was a renowned bullfighter, who often challenged his bulls on horseback. He was also a hack actor in several Mexican cheapies such as THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1959) and THE LIVING COFFIN (1959). When you’re shown up by your own second billed horse, you know you just aren’t made for the movies.
The story starts with a funeral, in which a coffin is rowed across a lake (or maybe the swamp?) to a shore riddled with weeping women in black (actually a very striking image). The widow, Maria, demands a glimpse of her dead husband, and the coffin lid is raised, even though the men rowing the boat inform her he was “killed by the beast.” Then, one of them turns around and says he may have died from some disease. Still, the widow accompanies the men across the lake, riding atop the coffin, to bury her late hubby. Her son arrives, a dashing young man on horseback, who also demands to see the corpse. When the casket is opened, the body has disappeared. Cue many furious signs of the crosses and ‘Santa Marias!’
That evening, a very sad, grade-Z CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON knock-off stalks the grounds of Maria’s mansion. This monster is hilarious, with an oversized fish head, nearly invisible scuba gear on its back, and googly eyes. This ‘lost monster’ should’ve stayed lost; it’s really that pathetic.
The pallbearers (rowboat bearers?) are plotting something, even as Maria’s niece, the manly Julieta, tries to comfort her with their faithful servant Carmela. The dashing nephew makes a dash for the next ranch, where Gaston Santos, rancher and private detective (!) is amusing everyone with Moonlight, his amazing dancing horse. Yes, the horse does actually dance, and it’s cute, but only until the nephew drops dead at his feet, muttering something about cholera and a monster that attacked him. Well, Gaston just has to see what this is all about, so he rides along with his comedy-relief side-kick Squirrel Eyes, who’s like a Mexican Pinky Lee, lisping and singing like Al Jolson. Squirrel Eyes is attacked by the monster after he falls into the swamp because he stood up in a canoe. The whole time we are underwater with the creature, we can still hear the birds in the trees above Squirrel Eyes, who escapes the creature, who, for an aquatic beast, isn’t very fast in the water. Must be all that bulky scuba equipment strapped to its back or the baggy orange rubber costume. Squirrel Eyes must be truly terrified, because he keeps calling the monster a ‘Martian.’ Someone takes a pot shot at Squirrel Eyes but hits Gaston, who takes off after the villain in the slowest chase scene ever.
Gaston goes to the doctor and gets bandaged up, and we see he’s certainly a strapping young man! He’s very muscular and handsome for the time. Anyway, he goes on to Maria’s mansion, where he starts investigating the mystery of the disappearing corpse and the gruesome gill man. Little does he know, the doctor who bandaged him has a wireless Morse Code set in his desk and he alerts someone…to something.
Several gauchos have fun throwing stuff at a wall, but their boss tells them no more games. Gaston gets into a bar brawl in town, but after he whips everyone’s butts, the boss of the ranch at the mansion arrives to take him to the widow’s house. He impresses Julieta with his suave dancing horse skills, and the girl smiles at him, exhibiting no sexual chemistry whatsoever. The actress who plays Julieta is a strange-looking woman with the face of Michael Jackson in his whitest years and a Loretta Young wig. It turns out her uncle had an insurance policy that benefits his brother, not the widow. And the bank may take her house soon!
Squirrel Eyes goes fishing and catches the body of the gravedigger. “Aye Chihuahua!” Carmela finds out the widow Maria has second sight, and she sees that someone is going to try and kill her. She also has another secret—she’s gone blind, and she’s been fooling the villagers for months. Now, she can’t see anything, but she feels better with a gun in her hand. I’m pretty sure everyone else in the house isn’t quite so comfortable having a blind old lady with a revolver bumping into walls and shooting whenever she hears someone getting close!
The creature stalks up on the two lovebird wannabes and the monster fires a spear gun at them! Monsters have lousy aim, however, as it misses them completely and nearly wings Squirrel Eyes (oh please let him die, please!). There’s a bit of a chase, and Gaston strips down to a red Speedo, dives into the water, and wrestles with the rubbery critter for several minutes while his obviously rubber knife wobbles and wiggles in the water. A fiesta takes place nearby…complete with a whole slew of dancing horses and firecrackers. The monster gets away, but it uses the Morse Code machine to send a message. To whom? Some fan mail from some flounders?
Obviously, this monster is no monster! But who is it? Will Maria be ruined by the insurance scheme? Will Gaston solve the mystery of the disappearing body? Will we ever discover why he’s wearing red Speedo swim trunks under his white cowboy outfit? Will Moonlight ever get a dancing partner? After a weird comedic Keystone Kops-style fight with clumsily staged slapstick and another fight between the creature and Gaston (who beats the crap out of the poor beastie with a two by four), we discover all the answers.
And by the way, there’s only one monster, so why is this THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS? And the single monster was never even lost! This is what happens when the smartest character in the movie is the horse.
THE SWAMP OF LOST MONSTERS is a really bad movie, but somehow, the cinematography is quite good in many scenes, evoking shadowy sets and eerie swamp sets. Someone behind the camera had some talent – cinematographer Raul Martinez Solares, who also shot NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969), THE RIVER AND DEATH (1955), and numerous Mexican Lucha films starring Santo. It’s too bad it didn’t trickle down to the screenwriter, the actors, the dubbing specialists, or the director. Still, this is the kind of bad movie that’s a lot of fun, despite its lousiness. Where else are you going to get cowboys, Mexican Catholic funerals, a zipper-backed monster, fiestas, scary heroines that resemble drag queens, dancing horses, handsome, hunky heroes in Speedos, hilarious Mexican stereotypes, insurance scams, an ending right out of Scooby Doo, and more people conversing in Morse Code than two dozen boy scout troops? With some buddies and a few dozen margaritas, this becomes a real treat for fright fans.
I give THE SWAMP OF LOST MONSTERS two and a half ‘Aye Chihuahuas!’ out of four.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl