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W. Lee Wilder
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Lilia del Valle,
A Haunted Swamp, Bland Heroics and Ol' Squirreleyes
The merging of the horror and western genres has been a sort of warped grail for various enterprising producers. After all, the blending of a supernatural menace and a few hapless victims in an endless and vastly isolating prairie _should_ generate a certain amount of easy suspense value. You'd think.
The fact remains that no studio, no matter what resources it brings into play, or how determined the cast and crew may be, has succeeded in making a viable horror western. Not that they haven't tried. CURSE OF THE UNDEAD succeeded in injecting a certain unreal quality to a couple of exterior scenes, but for the most part, the product of these tamperings played on the artistic level of TEENAGE MONSTER, BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA or JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN.
This said, I have to confess a certain unfathomable affection for this mid-'50s color offering from Mexico. Initially released as SWAMP OF THE SOULS, the film was subsequently dubbed for release to American TV by K. Gordon Murray, and given the archly deceptive title SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER (or, if you check the title card on a wide screen, the film hints at more than one terrifying creature -- it has none).
In watching SWAMP, certain concessions must be made. This is not CITIZEN KANE. It's actually a modest little, rural-set mystery film with a few token "horror" trappings added to make it intriguing to the unsuspecting. The plotting is strictly "Point A To Point B" in execution, and it features the bland (almost languid in places) heroics of Gaston Santos and a thoroughly infuriating comedy relief in the character "Squirreleyes." Santos had evidently been somewhat in demand at around this time, appearing in a handful of films -- several with fantasy themes.
SWAMP works best if you accept it as a lightweight watch for a rainy day. Interestingly, the public domain prerecord contains several lines which slightly clarify character's stances which seem to be missing from the TV print which was circulating erratically as late as the middle-1980s.
The action revolves around the mysterious disappearance of the corpse of a man, killed in a hut in the swamp, by "the beast" -- a rather lumpy orange sea creature with a wide nasty streak. Clearly seen in his coffin at both the jetty and at the graveyard, the corpse is missing when the coffin is opened a third time, so the deceased's son can have a final look. The local doctor and the dead man's brother instantly swear the peons to secrecy and send them out to locate the body, which may or may not carry a virulent disease.
Local rancher and detective Gaston is brought in by the son, who is ambushed en route to his estate, but still manages to gasp out a few details before he expires.
Gaston goes to the widow's estate and divides his attention between trying to renew his relationship with the woman's niece and seeking the solution of the puzzle of the missing body. A gang of local toughs are somehow involved, as is a dread secret the widow is struggling to keep.
The whole affair eventually boils down to a plot to collect on several massive insurance policies held by the dead man's brother, and defraud the widow of the last of her savings.
The film has a few holes. First and foremost, the "monster" is revealed as a cheat within 20 minutes of the opening credits, when it takes a potshot at Gaston with a speargun. Though it's played fairly "straight" as a monster for most of the ensuing action sequences, the audience already realizes that it's been gulled. An odd decision on the part of the writer.
Then there is Gaston's comedy sidekick, Squirreleyes. This worthy has been called in by Gaston to assist him (evidently by making Gaston seem brighter by simply being on hand to invite comparison). Squirreleyes is superstitious, sings (badly) and begins to grate within the first few seconds of his introduction.
A 5 out of 10, simply because it's mild fun with no real demands made on the viewer.
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