This week’s review of Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) is an unintentional continuation from last week’s review of Beast from Haunted Cave (1959.) You may recall this introduction from Jeff Rovin’s The Fabulous Fantasy Films:
In addition to Universal, Roger Corman, Dean of the Poe films, made his mark on the man-monster genre. His contributions were mostly in terms of science fiction: Day the World Ended (1956), with its atom-spawned mutants, and Night of the Blood Beast (1958), an astronaut turned into a crusty tendrilled being by an outer space creature, are examples. Corman also produced and directed less technological films in this very prolific grade-Z period. Among them were Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), about a cyclopean cell beneath the sea; Beast from Haunted Cave (1959), about a humanoid arachnid who wraps his victims in cocoons, in this case a bunch of skiing gangsters who commit the perfect crime only to run into the Beast; and Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), this one awash with teens and monsters.
Made closer to Beast from Haunted Cave than the release year indicates, Creature from the Haunted Sea is the last movie Roger Corman directed before solidly landing in Poe territory. It was made before House of Usher (1960), but released afterwards. I’m hard-pressed to think of two movies by the same director that could be any more different.
Although it’s supposed to be a comedy, I must agree with Ed Naha’s comment in Horrors from Screen to Scream that it offers few laughs. That’s my biggest problem with it, not the bargain basement monster that threatens Renzo Capetto (Anthony Carbone), the members of his criminal gang, and the Cuban loyalists that steal their country’s national treasure, a strongbox full of gold.
As you know, I have trouble with horror-comedies, anyway. But this is less a horror spoof than it is an odd gangster/spy movie-hybrid spoof. Some of the set-ups are fun, particularly with complicated relationships; e.g. Renzo’s girlfriend is Mary-Belle Monahan (Betsy Jones-Moreland), but Sparks Moran, aka Agent XK150 (Robert Towne) is in love with her, while islander Carmelita Rodriguez (Blanquita Romero) is in love with him.
It’s the execution that’s squandered and sometimes painful to watch. But it’s sublime compared to the execution of the “talent” of shipmate Pete Peterson Jr. (Beach Dickerson.) For some zany reason, he can imitate the sounds of animals. Clearly recordings that are added in post-production, there’s no apparent point to this. The concept is humorous… maybe, but here demonstrates the unevenness of the film. It goes both too far and yet not far enough.
The overall plot also has potential: Renzo and his henchmen fake a monster in order to kill the Cubans so he can take the treasure for himself, while being simultaneously stalked by a real monster. The weak execution of the plot demonstrates two things: one, it’s more difficult to succeed with comedy that it is with horror, and two, in hands unskilled in comedy, failure is easier to identify.
All this said, Creature from the Haunted Sea is not an awful movie. Had Corman taken a straight approach like he did with Beast from Haunted Cave, I may have enjoyed it as much. There is one thing about it, though, that surpasses its predecessor: the movie poster! A giant amphibious hand holding a scantily-clad woman reaches out of the sea while a ship sinks in the background. That’s a movie I want to see.
Written by Charles B. Griffith
Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Anthony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Robert Towne, Beach Dickerson, Robert Bean
RT 63 min.
Released June, 1961
Streaming Amazon Prime
Physical Media The Film Detective (DVD)
Jeff Rovin, The Fabulous Fantasy Films
1977, Cranbury, NJ, A.S. Barnes & Co., Inc.
Ed Naha, Horrors from Screen to Scream
1975, New York City, Avon Books