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Creature From the Haunted Sea

Creature From the Haunted Sea(1961)

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Home Video Reviews

Any film buff with an interest in the low-budget early 1960s features of Roger Corman is probably well familiar with Public Domain Theater - that section of your local Home Video retailer devoted to cut-rate releases. It was here for many years that the various VHS and DVD editions of Corman's late 1950s and early 1960s Filmgroup Inc. movies could be found, since as public domain titles, anyone with a print of the film could put it out on home video. The most ubiquitous of these has been Little Shop of Horrors (1960), but hot on its heels is the similarly-flavored Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) and the sci-fi drama featuring virtually the same cast, The Last Woman on Earth (1960). The two latter films, along with a World War II film called Battle of Blood Island (1960), have been released in a comprehensive disc by Retromedia. Taken together, the three films and all of the accumulated extras tell another story: that of the adventures of a small group of actors and filmmakers making the most of the miniscule resources and budgets at their disposal to make a trio of drive-in movies in an exotic location.

Roger Corman himself is on hand to introduce each film and to set up the broader story: in 1960, Corman and his Filmgroup company wanted to take advantage of tax incentives and shoot two films back-to-back in sunny Puerto Rico. The films were The Last Woman on Earth, to be directed by Corman in color and in CinemaScope, and a war movie, Battle on Blood Island, directed by Joel Rapp. Corman took only a skeleton crew and his lead actors to Puerto Rico. The Last Woman on Earth was written by Robert Towne, who would later pen such essential 1970s screenplays as The Last Detail (1973) and Chinatown (1974) (as well as serving as a "script doctor" for many important movies of the decade). Upon their departure time, Towne had not finished the script. The obvious Corman solution to that problem was to bring Towne along to finish the writing chore on location, and as long as he had to be there, Corman recruited him to act in the film as well - in one of the lead roles. To add to the fun, Corman decided at the last moment to film a third movie during the trip! He asked frequent collaborator Charles B. Griffith to rework the script from an earlier film, Beast from Haunted Cave (1959), into a light-hearted romp to be filmed almost entirely on a boat. The result, The Creature from the Haunted Sea, is the third part of the trilogy.

The behind-the-scenes story does not end there. As was the custom for drive-in quickies of the day, the running time for each of these films was barely over an hour. When the time came a few years later to sell the movies for television broadcast, they were too short. Filmgroup had Beast from Haunted Cave director Monte Hellman reunite the cast members of all three pictures and shoot extra footage (in California this time) to bring the films up to a saleable running time. The DVD presents the theatrical versions of each movie, and the extended TV scenes as separate bonus features.

The main film in this collection is The Last Woman on Earth, which is presented on the A side of the disc. Featuring an ideal scenario for a low-budget drama with a small cast, the movie introduces small-time mobster Harold Gern (Antony Carbone), his wife Evelyn (Betsy Jones-Moreland), and his lawyer Martin Joyce (Robert Towne, acting under the name Edward Wain). Following a well-populated scene in which the trio watch a cockfight (and a rather graphic one, too), the party goes off on a scuba-diving excursion. When they come up from the ocean depths, they see that something terrible has happened while they were submerged - due to some unexplained occurrence, oxygen has disappeared, killing their boat driver and every other living creature. Determining that the oxygen has returned, the trio take off their air tanks and investigate the city. Seeing no sign of life, they take over a large house in the countryside and start to go on with their lives. They discover fairly soon that "three's a crowd," even under these conditions! Martin begins to pay excess attention to Evelyn, which she gladly returns, causing quite a rift between the two men. Although the film has a deadly slow pace, the dialogue is good, the actors are game, and the situations are tense enough to hold interest. The sci-fi elements are slight, so the movie disappoints as a genre film. The print quality is not ideal, and yet this is by far the best looking copy of this movie ever released on home video. Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the print is fairly free of dirt, and has good color and contrast - Corman fans can toss out their old, washed-out VHS and DVD copies of the film. The mono audio is fine, and clearly points out that almost all of the dialogue was dubbed in after the fact - there seems to be little or no sync sound recorded during principal photography. The audio commentary includes a lively discussion of the Puerto Rico trip with co-stars Carbone and Jones-Moreland. Robert Towne did not participate, unfortunately.

Next up is Corman and Griffith's monster quickie The Creature from the Haunted Sea. This film does not match the standards of the duo's earlier tongue-in-cheek efforts A Bucket of Blood (1959) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960). The comedy is very strained, and the lack of budget really shows. The film opens in Cuba, as shady mobster and boat owner Renzo Capetto (Carbone) helps some exiles out of the country. They are weighed down by stolen money, which Renzo plans to relieve them of during the trip. Also on the boat are Renzo's moll Mary-Belle (Jones-Moreland), inept government agent Sparks Moran (Towne, again billed as Edward Wain), and Renzo's henchman (Beach Dickerson). Renzo cooks up a story about a sea monster to cover the theft, but things go from strange to bizarre when a real monster shows up. While The Creature from the Haunted Sea has a bigger cast and more activity than The Last Woman on Earth, it is much more tedious. Carbone does an entertaining imitation of Bogart's Harry Morgan character from To Have and Have Not (1944), and Jones-Moreland is clearly having a lot of fun in the moll role, but the movie has little else to recommend it. The slapdash atmosphere is annoying rather than fun, and the monster of the title is of the pathetic steel-wool-and-ping-pong-ball variety. Listening to the DVD's commentary is actually more interesting than listening to the film's soundtrack. Carbone and Jones-Moreland appear again, saying that this film offered more fun and improvisation than their other Puerto Rico shoot. While they praise the antics of Beach Dickerson, his idiotic moves and animal noises in the film are grating at best. The print located for the Retromedia disc is not much better than the public domain copies that have floated around for years - it still has poor contrast and a lot of splices and scratches. The soundtrack is fair, and at least the dialogue seems to have actually been recorded on the set rather than dubbed-in after the fact.

The final film on the set is Battle of Blood Island, distributed by Corman's Filmgroup but directed by Joel Rapp, who also wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Philip Roth. Not sci-fi or horror, the story is a straight drama set during World War II. Two American GIs find themselves to be the only survivors of a beachfront attack on an island occupied by Japanese troops. They find refuge in a cave, unnoticed by the enemy. Ken (Ron Kennedy) is wounded, so Moe (Richard Devon) must go outside the cave in search of food and medicine. While planning a desperation attack on the small squad of Japanese soldiers, they watch in amazement as the soldiers commit suicide upon the news of Japan's surrender to the Allies! Then the drama becomes more psychological as the two men wear on each other while awaiting rescue. Rapp actually handles the two-man drama quite nicely; the tensions between the soldiers become very convincing. Unfortunately, anything approaching an action scene is badly handled; the movie features probably the lamest hand-to-hand combat ever staged for film. The acting by the leads is fine, however, and the total effect is as absorbing as an average episode of the 60s TV series Combat. Corman appears onscreen briefly as a GI, his only acting role during the Puerto Rican outing. The print quality in this transfer is satisfactory, certainly much better than the poor print of The Creature from the Haunted Sea. The contrast and detail of the black-and-white film is quite nice, with a minimum of grain or scratches.

Retromedia wisely keeps the added TV footage for the three movies separate from the theatrical prints. For the most part, this footage is padding and the scenes add no needed information. The most useful bit is a new opening for Battle of Blood Island, showing the actual beach combat rather than just the aftermath. The added footage for The Last Woman on Earth is particularly nonsensical, and would've no doubt just confused the plot, particularly since the actors' appearances had changed a bit in the intervening years. The best added bit for The Creature from the Haunted Sea is a deck-top song by the swimsuit-clad Jones-Moreland.

There are even more extras on the disc - a stills gallery features poster art and lobby cards for all three films, and there is also a generous helping of trailers from various early Roger Corman movies. Added to three movies, three commentaries, three Corman introductions and all of the bonus scenes, there is plenty here for the fan of low-budget 1960s filmmaking to drink in.

For more information about The Roger Corman Puerto Rico Trilogy, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Roger Corman Puerto Rican Trilogy, go to TCM Shopping.

by John M. Miller