Halloween Endurance Test: Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)
This year, if there was a movie that I wanted to see more than Class of 1999, then Creature From the Haunted Sea was it. I found this Corman “classic” in the same horror movie collection I mentioned in a past review. The one where I found a hodgepodge of b- to z-grade horror films of varying quality. While some of the collection stood out due to their lethality (Night of the Living Dead, White Zombie), others for their dullness (Nightmare Castle, The Human Monster), this one stood out heads above the rest due to its irreverence.
Corman decided to throw every cinematic genre into this script. Spoofing spy flicks, comedies, and monster movies all in one shot. Which is clearly what caught my attention growing up. This is not to say the comedic aspects are, you know, actually funny. They’re certainly not. They are, however, also not tongue-in-cheek. Which is what ultimately saves them. All the failed puns and gags are played straight; no panning to the camera as an easy cop-out.
Creature From the Haunted Sea grabs your attention right from the credits. The credit crawl is drawn in a style owing much to MAD magazine’s Sergio Arrigone’s margin illustrations. These drawings manage to endear the film to any viewer who grew up reading MAD, while also establishing a not-so-serious tone.
It’s this tone that I love so dearly. The exaggerated artificiality,the cloying acceptance of its own falseness, that allows this movie to stand out. For movies aren’t (and shouldn’t try to be) representations of reality. It is our job, as viewers, to support/appreciate those in the arts that then accept/internalize these limitations of their chosen mediums.
This “spectacular” tone runs throughout the film; straight through the credit crawl all the way into the plot.
Creature From the Haunted Sea‘s plot utilizes the same convention covered in my review of They Bite. The use of a fake monster which is mirrored by an identical, “real” monster. Only this time, rather than populating themovie with fat, old porno stars, Corman used Cuban ex-patriots. This(albeit) minor touch makes all the difference.
Set in the post-revolution Cuba, a squad of capitalist sympathizers steal Havana’s treasury as Castro takes over. The American thieves then conspire to take the stolen funds from Batista’s remaining troops who are safeguarding it. It just goes to show you, you can’t trust thieves to work hand-in-hand with the corrupt without skulduggery eventually going down.
The plot sounds complicated until you realize the American spy (who has infiltrated the thieve camp) communicates with Washington via a CB radio made from hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs. One of the thugs speaks only in animal calls. He later falls in love with a Caribbean princess who is also part feral. Batista’s generals just stand around clueless.
These characters contrivances mark one of the other reasons I love this film: everyone is underhanded and corrupt. There are no “heroes”in the traditional sense. Even the protagonist, while he does work for the United States’ government, is still a spy; relying on deception to achieve his goals. The thieves are, well, thieves. Eventually reaching that elusive “murderous thieves” plateau. Anyone with any knowledge of pre-Castro Cuba knows that Batista and his men were nothing more than Mafia hit men put in power to keep the casinos running (a profit). Even the islander love interests have an edge. The feral one marries a thief so the mother can get to the same money that the thieve gang is gunning for.
It’s a film with no honest characters whatsoever. Totally ruthless.