Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
SWAMP GIRL (1971)
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!
The mercury went all the way up to 104 degrees today, and the humidity rose right along with it. Therefore, we’re continuing with our swampy movies marathon, with a look at a drive-in classic from 1971, SWAMP GIRL.
In a hauntingly beautiful opening shot, a young blond girl rows a small boat through a brightly colored, sunset-laden swamp to the accompaniment of sad guitars. When night falls, a couple of poachers show up and discover the boat she left behind along with a man nearly dead from cottonmouth bites. They catch a glimpse of the girl as she creeps away.
Ferlin Husky, the great country western singer and star of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967) is the Swamp Ranger, and he’s introduced singing a lovely song about the girl on his porch. His rich baritone rings out,
“Or can it be, you really live, that the stories told are true,
Out in that dark and mysterious swamp, there’s an angel such as you?
Swamp Girl, Swamp Girl, run away,
But there will come a day when your heart will say that it’s time to go,
When your heart will tell you so.”
The ranger interviews the men who discovered the body, and these guys are certainly real life locals. This isn’t acting; it’s tragic verisimilitude with scary rural accents. After they claim they’ve seen the elusive swamp girl (who is she, Bigfoot?). The ranger takes out his airboat to find the mysterious girl. Is it me, or does everyone in every swamp movie have an airboat?
Cue five minutes of well-shot nature footage, lots of scenery and dangerous-looking reptiles.
Eventually, Ferlin Husky spots Swamp Girl, and he follows her. Luckily, she’s wearing a bright pink and white dress and her hair is so shiny, you just have to wonder where she buys her hair care products out there in the boonies. Our stalker gets his foot caught in a bear trap, and the girl has to help him. “If I could find all these traps,” she says, “I’d just throw ‘em all in the water.” He’s slightly injured, so she takes him to her cabin where she makes him dinner and introduces him to her “Pa,” an African-American man who takes care of her. The warden tells her that the swamp, that nature itself, is disappearing and one day she would have to go out into the real world. The thought terrifies her. He swears to return the next day to hear if she wants to live in the civilized world.
Swamp Girl, or Janeen, is played by the lovely Simone Griffeth when she was about twenty years old. I adore Simone Griffeth, and not just because we share a birthday, but she’s a pretty good actress in some favorite movies of mine. She went on to star in DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), HOT TARGET (1985), and television shows from HART TO HART to STARSKY AND HUTCH to a recurring role on TJ HOOKER. In SWAMP GIRL, she’s playing a fragile innocent, and she plays it very well.
Pa (played nicely by Lonnie Bower) tells her he isn’t her actual “Pa,” that he needs to tell her a story and his name is actually Nat. Begin exposition.
Turns out, he was lost in the swamp, and he was rescued by a doctor who performed illegal abortions in the middle of the wilderness. Janeen’s Ma was too far along, so he let her stay until she had the baby. See, old Doc would send the boy children back with their Mammas, and the girl babies were sold into white slavery to Arab sheiks! WHAT?!! Okay, pass the popcorn. Turns out, Janeen was special to Doc and Nat. She was also a friend to the animals and all nature (MESSAGE! MESSAGE!). Doc sent Nat to visit Lake Turner, who runs a snake farm and procures young girls. It’s a living. While Nat’s gone, Doc tries to sell Janeen, but he gets drunk and greedy and asks for double the usual amount. The white slavers kill Doc and shove the girl into a croaker sack. Nat slaughters the two men with a hatchet and the girl gets dropped and bitten by a rattlesnake! Luckily, Nat’s there and he sucked out the poison. After that, he raised her as his own. Now, she must decide whether to remain in the Okefenokee Swamp, living illegally with her Pa, or should she go with the ranger and find her way in the world?
Two bank robbers on the lam, a man and a woman, abandon their car and attempt to trek to the next state through the swamp. They discover Pa and Janeen’s cabin, and they make themselves at home after blasting Pa with both barrels in a shockingly violent scene. They force Janeen to guide them out of the swamp to Florida, so she leads them, forgetting to meet poor love-struck Ferlin Husky. Swamp Girl has her own plans for this couple, and she knows all the pitfalls and deadly animals in the area.
Meanwhile, one of the robber’s parents just happen to show up, looking for their daughter! The swamp rats, who hate the sheriff and his pinko liberal environmentalist ways of taking care of the wildlife refuge, accompany the robber’s father into the Okefenokee to search for the missing thieves. Don’t ask how, but this leads to a guy being swung over a pit of cotton mouths until he tells them where the old cabin in the swamp is located.
Will Janeen lead the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes out of the swamp into safety? Will the sheriff get to her in time? Will she head for civilization or remain in the wilderness? Before we know the answers, there will be quicksand, gory deaths, an anti-gun speech (Ya ain’t so tough without yer shotgun, are ya?”), a catfight in the mud (!), two alligator attacks, a cotton mouth trap, and more singing by Ferlin Husky. And wait till you get a load of the insane twist ending!
The music, which is so integral to the mood of the movie, is by Gene Kauer, who composed the scores for scores of movies, including THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975), THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961), MONSTER (1980), and all three FACES OF DEATH movies (1978, 1981 and 1985).
SWAMP GIRL was directed by Donald A. Davis, who also made FOR SINGLE SINGERS ONLY (1968), THE MUTHERS (1968), MARSHA: THE EROTIC HOUSEWIFE (1970), and the delightfully named DIAL-A-DEGENERATE (1972). Most of his films were “nudie cuties” or adults-only sex comedies, so SWAMP GIRL is fairly unusual in that it’s rated PG, despite the hatchet murders, abortions, child prostitution, murders, alligator killings, snake bitten children, etc. It was obviously made for the Southern Drive-In circuit, and it works well for what it is. There’s so much going on that there’s never a dull moment, and the swamp photography is quite beautiful and must’ve looked great on those giant outdoor screens. Those authentic accents also add to the fun, creating a nice, if fairly mild hicksploitation hit. In a few more years, Claudia Jennings would star in the similar, and much more exploitive (and therefore much more popular) GATOR BAIT (1974).
SWAMP GIRL is a fun little movie with no pretensions, a good little performance from the super sexy Simone Griffeth, pretty scenery, and more plot than you could usually fit into five flicks. Something Weird DVD has it on a terrific double bill with SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), starring Lyle Waggoner.
I give SWAMP GIRL two and a half Arab white slavers out of four.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl