The best sea monster movie Bogart never made is this Roger Corman satire.
I recently wrote about Last Woman on Earth (1960), a movie Roger Corman made at the same time, with the same three lead actors and in the same place (Puerto Rico) as Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961). Despite having all those things in common, these two movies couldn’t be more different; where Last Woman is serious, dark and post-apocalyptic, Creature is absurd, nutty and satirical.
From the Last Woman post, you’ll recall that our three leads are Antony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland and Robert Towne (the noted screenwriter/director, here again credited as Ed Wain). Once again Carbone and Jones-Moreland play husband and wife, but this time Carbone is a gangster and Towne is a spy. In the aftermath of the Communist takeover of Cuba, Carbone is hired to move some military officials and most of the Cuban treasury out of the country on a boat. Towne’s mission is to tag along, track the gold and Carbone, and report back to headquarters on his radio made of pickles and hot dogs. Carbone hatches a plan to dump the box full of loot into the sea and then come back to dive for it later, while also using the legend of a sea monster in the area to bump off the Cuban officials, thereby conveniently blaming all deaths on the “creature.” The trouble is, there actually is a sea creature, and it proceeds to munch on the officials, island girls and anyone else, making the treasure hunt complicated and making the movie a horror parody.
Besides sea monsters, Creature from the Haunted Sea also makes fun of Communists, beatniks, gangsters, spies, dumb tourists, and Hollywood movies. The gags range from silly to stupid, but it did crack me up in more than a few places. In spirit it would love to be something like Airplane! or Police Squad. In execution, it comes off more like one of the lesser Scary Movie spoofs, but still, if you can appreciate humour that’s so dumb it’s almost brilliant (one imdb reviewer likens it to MAD magazine), this is for you.
Some highlights: Robert Towne treks down the beach to the one telephone in the area. He’s only begun talking and out of nowhere appears some annoying man who wants to use the phone, so he stands inches away and smiles weirdly at Towne the whole time. Towne’s clever spy disguise is a crookedly tacked-on novelty shop mustache. Carbone and Jones-Moreland do a good spoof of Bogart and Bacall. Jones-Moreland leisurely sings a tune on the boat, like Bacall in To Have and Have Not. She doesn’t miss a beat as some pirates attack the boat and are shot down. To make this the longest song ever, she invents lyrics that include the movie’s title, and would have gone on singing for hours if Carbone didn’t tell her to stop. You get characters named Mango or Colonel Cabeza Grande, a shipmate who does animal impressions and then falls for an island woman who has the exact same hobby. There are lines like “It was dusk. I could tell ’cause the sun was going down.“ The opening credits are animated, the language barrier makes for some mismatched subtitles and good insults, and the monster burps after eating people. I heard a line I’ll use in real life: “they’re like the bottom row prizes at the shooting gallery.”
As for the sea creature, Carbone and his henchmen create the illusion of the monster with a plunger, olive oil and green paint, but the real monster looks like even less work went into it. This creature is a seabed-walking pointy mound of green carpet with googly ping pong ball eyes, and you can see human skin showing where the costume doesn’t cover. The actor who plays the animal impersonator, Beach Dickerson, also built the monster for $150. The actor who plays Jones-Moreland’s brother is Bobby Bean, who was also the mic operator and plays the sea monster. As you can see, this is a cheap quickie made in fun and it’s impressive when you consider it was done in the remaining few days of the Puerto Rico shoot, with no script prepared, and that these same people also made the unexpectedly deep and scary Last Woman on Earth. Creature from the Haunted Sea isn’t anywhere near the funniest thing you’ll ever see– it’s playtime, a joke. But you’ll get a chuckle if you go into it knowing it’s meant to make you groan and meant to look like some crazy amateur movie that was found after the monster ate everyone and burped. Or a spoof of that kind of film.