Cast & Crew
Edmundo Rivera Alvarez
During a revolution on a small Caribbean Island, international playboy and promoter Renzo Capeto uses his boat to help a group of loyalists headed by Colonel Tostada escape with the national treasury which they plan to use to stage a counterrevolution. Capeto plans to seize the money and claim that a mythological monster rose out of the sea and devoured the loyalists. Unknown to him, a real monster lurks in the very waters where he plans to kill his passengers. When the creature upsets his plans, Capeto decides to sink his boat in 30 feet of water and then retrieve the treasure. Using a nearby island for a base, he and his gang attempt to salvage the loot, but the monster picks them off one by one, except for secret service agent Sparks Moran and his girl friend Mango.
Edmundo Rivera Alvarez
Creature from the Haunted Sea
That, and a canny businessman.
This is Roger Corman we're talking about, and in the late 1950s he had launched his own production company, The Filmgroup, to better control his career and to reap a greater share of its rewards. Other exploitation filmmakers of the era were content to farm out poorly-made flicks for a fast buck, with nothing but contempt for the audiences and disdain for the film business overall (Jerry Warren, I'm looking at you!) But Corman was something else: he had ambition, an abiding respect for film history and its great filmmakers, a serious thoughtful side, and an increasing desire to make the most of each production opportunity. His Filmgroup offerings of the late 50s and early 60s are certainly cheapjack quickies, but they are also inventive, quirky, and memorable.
Producing with his own money, however, tended to turn his "let's make two movies for the price of one" mentality into a "let's make three movies for the price of one." Such impoverished productions could not wow their audiences with anything like spectacle, of course, so Corman opted to focus instead on less tangible qualities, such as an off-kilter sense of humor akin to MAD Magazine. If he couldn't afford to take his movies seriously, then why should you?
Black comedies like A Bucket of Blood (1959) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) had scored big for Corman, both critically and commercially, so he went for the trifecta with Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961). It was in every sense an afterthought.
Roger had gone to Puerto Rico for a "vacation," which is to say he was producing one movie (Battle of Blood Island, 1960) and directing a second (Last Woman on Earth, 1960) using money that was supposed to go towards the making of a third back on the mainland (The Wild Ride, 1960). Once he'd pulled this off and found there were still coins in his pocket and a couple of days left on the calendar, Corman asked the cast and crew of Last Woman to stick around so they could cram yet another movie into the mix.
Since this was a last-minute idea, Corman didn't have the luxury of much preproduction or story development, and simply tasked screenwriter Charles B. Griffith with rewriting the previous year's Beast from Haunted Cave to match the Puerto Rico locations they'd already staked out. Griffith was by now an old hat at this, since Roger had already asked him to do the same thing once before--Beast from Haunted Cave was a remake of Naked Paradise (1957) designed to be filmed at the same snowy South Dakota locations as Ski Troop Attack (1960).
Thinking there might yet be another way to economize, Corman also planned to take one of the onscreen roles himself, to save paying another actor's salary. Griffith, perhaps tiring of this game and looking to get some revenge on his penny-pinching boss, wrote the role maddeningly complex, and given to scene-stealing mood swings. Corman realized he'd have to surrender the part to a trained thespian...good thing he had a spare one on hand as the boom mic operator. So, Bobby Bean alternated between holding the mic, playing a key role, and also starring as the titular monster!
Anything as ramshackle as this is bound to show it, but Corman's approach makes merits of all the amateurism, inviting the audience in on the joke and treating the whole affair as a sort of good-natured home movie. Creature from the Haunted Sea is a broad farce that owes more to Mack Sennett and the Keystone Kops than it does to Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). After some charming cartoon titles (animated by cult film auteur Monte Hellman), we meet CIA spook XK150, played by future screenwriting legend Robert Towne (using the pseudonym Edward Wain). XK150 has infiltrated a criminal conspiracy trying to smuggle the Cuban Treasury out of Revolutionary Cuba. The modern day pirates are led by Humphrey Bogart-look-alike Renzo Capetto (Antony Carbone), his moll Mary-Belle (Betsy Jones-Moreland), and a gaggle of oddities including the afore-mentioned manic-depressive Happy Jack (Bobby Bean) and animal impersonator Pete Peterson, Jr. (Beach Dickerson). To cover up their theft, Capetto concocts a proto-Scooby-Doo notion of faking a sea monster to keep people away and deflect attention. However, a real sea monster arrives, that just happens to look and act like Capetto's hoax.
Corman factotum Beach Dickerson built the monster using $150 worth of tennis balls, oilcloth, and steel wool. It is no more convincing yet no less enjoyable than a kids' Halloween costume.
Compared to the arch satire of A Bucket of Blood, the comic sensibility here makes It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) seem subtle and refined. A sample joke: "It was dusk," XK150 narrates, "I could tell because the sun was going down."
Despite being played more slapsticky than any previous Corman horror-comedy, the advertising inexplicably sold the film as a straight thriller. Misled audiences were peeved, and it showed in the box office returns. Something this cheap couldn't help but be profitable, but Corman grumbled. He was almost instantly moving off in new directions - experimenting with color, adapting Edgar Allan Poe stories to the screen, exploring racial hatred in The Intruder (1962)...The Filmgroup was soon retired, and Corman stopped making "dare pictures" whose only motivation had been to squeeze every last production dollar to the maximum. Instead of making two or three films for the price of one, Corman took the money for two films and made just one, House of Usher (1960) with Vincent Price. And with it he graduated from craftsman to artist.
Producer: Roger Corman, Charles Hannawalt
Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles B. Griffith
Cinematography: Jacques Marquette
Film Editing: Angela Scellars
Music: Fred Katz
Cast: Antony Carbone (Renzo Capetto), Betsy Jones-Moreland (Mary-Belle Monahan), Robert Towne (Sparks Moran), Beach Dickerson (Petet Peterson Jr.), Robert Bean (Happy Jack Monahan).
by David Kalat
Roger Corman, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime Alan Frank, The Films of Roger Corman
Beverly Gray, Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life
Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties
Creature from the Haunted Sea
The Roger Corman Puerto Rican Trilogy on DVD
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
The Roger Corman Puerto Rican Trilogy on DVD
Filmed in 1959 in Puerto Rico.
Filmed in Puerto Rico in 1959. Edward Wain is a pseudonym for Robert Towne.