The Swamp of the Lost Monster (Review)
The Swamp of the Lost Monster
aka El Pantano de las ánimas aka Swamp of the Lost Souls
Directed by Rafael Baledón
Mexican Cowboys meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon! That’s essentially the plot, except there is a murder mystery thrown in and, of course, the Scooby-Doo ending. Hey, did I spoil things? Not really, but before I reveal who the villain is I will give some spoiler warnings, I guess, despite the fact it is really obvious to anyone who hasn’t replaced their brain with a moldy turnip in the past year. But the reason to watch this film isn’t the mystery, it is the crazy cowboy vs. monster action!
This imported schlock is brought to us by the king of importing trash from Mexico, K. Gordon Murray! (hereafter called KGM) We have previously encountered some of his imports with Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy and Night of 1000 Cats, and there are at least two more of his films in the pipeline. He is also responsible for the classic Mexi-trash Santa Claus getting distributed in the US.
TarsTarkas.NET strives to give a diverse range of the movies we cover, and up until now the only western film featured was the Marx Brothers epic Go West. Western Horror is a genre that hasn’t received much love, its few entries include Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (which usually played on a double bill, but I’ve only seen the former with Joe Bob Briggs commentary.) There are also a few dinosaurs and cowboys films such as Valley of Gwangi and The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Finally, one can’t talk about western cross-genres without mentioning the Gene Autry serial The Phantom Empire, where our favorite singing cowboy fights the evil people of Mu. There is also a companion movie to Swamp of the Lost Monster, filmed in 1958 entitled El Grito de la Muerte (literal translation – The Cry of Death) and imported by KGM as The Living Coffin. It is again a Western Horror, starring Gastón and Pedro D’Aguillón, with a copout ending. I have not seen it so I do not know if Moonlight the horse appears.
Obviously, due to the monster design, this is a quick attempt to ride the coattails of the 1954 movie Creature From the Black Lagoon. Just change the setting and people won’t know or care! Plus it is in color, even if it is washed out color, and that is one up on the original film. Thanks to redubbing, several of the characters have vastly different names than their Mexican counterparts. In addition, the print of the film looks like it was stored in the bottom of a porta-potty for a few weeks, with the grimy yellow tinge and the overall scratchiness. Some of the Turkish films have better prints, and they had the army trying to wipe them out. But for us, we only have each other to save us from the Gillman knockoffs that try to terrorize us. From a look at these monsters, a three year old could take them out, so we jump from frightened to laughing hysterically. That’s what I look for in a good film, so at times this is charming.
The film’s opening credits tell us specifically that this film stars Gastón Santos and his horse Moonlight. That would be really cool if we know who the Hell they were! I guess in 1957 we just might have, if we lived in Mexico. But we will soon see that Gastón Santos is an awesome cowboy star! First, we must deal with the beginning of the plot. In Mexico a funeral is about to start. Some men arrive by boat to the service, with the coffin of the dead man. He was slain by the Beast (or “the Bist” as several characters call him!) The widow Aunt Maria and the brother of the dead man go with the body to the cemetery, which I guess you have to go by boat to get to. They canoe down the murky river, with water more yellow than the background tinge on the film’s print! No wonder they tell you not to drink the water in Mexico. The local doctor won’t let anyone else go to the funeral, in case the body has some sort of disease (like murder pox.) The water pathway to the cemetery also forces them to go through the Haunted Swamp, as a sign and a skull by the side of the river lets us know. Ominous music plays, but all for naught as they reach the destination safely. What a letdown, make with the death!
As the body of Fabian is being buried, the widow Maria wants to see him one last time. They goons who are burying the casket seem hesitant, but they reluctantly agree and we get to see the body inside, which looks perfectly normal. Then suddenly Javier rides up! Who is he? He is the son of Maria and Fabian, who wasn’t informed of his father’s death. That’s….suspicious! Probably because Fabian wasn’t his real father, which isn’t mentioned but implied by later events. He also demands to see the body one last time, and this time the goons are even more hesitant. They relent, but the coffin is empty! A twist I never saw coming, mostly because I thought the twist was that everyone was dead but the dead man and some aliens who are hurt by water. It will be 50 years before twists like that, so we are safe for the time being.
That night, we see feet of the swamp monster lurking outside the mansion that Aunt Maria lives in with her niece, Julie. There is also a servant living there named Carmela. Neither of them get their names mentioned for a while, so enjoy knowing who they are before I did. Maria pulls out a gun, while niece complains to the servant about how the now dead second husband changed Maria for the worse after she married him, giving us some back-story about how they weren’t happy bliss. Enough backstory, let’s get on with the monster! The three main men are meeting: The Doctor; Nachos, the brother of the dead Fabian; and the son Javier. Javier complains how the local population believes in witchcraft, while the Doctor keeps talking about how the body is diseased and they only have 24 hours to find the body. Better call Jack Bauer, then! Javier says he will get a detective to help them, while Nachos threatens Javier by mentioning there is a secret. Javier cares not for secrets, and leaves. Nachos takes out a Morse Code device and sends a message to someone somewhere to be revealed later. And our Gillman kills a random guy. Who? Why explain when you can just go to the next scene! Now a mysterious guy with a gun is following Javier, and we know Javier is in danger’s path.
Before the danger, we must see Moonlight, the dancing horse! Moonlight dances and prances with Gastón Santos atop him. Clomp-clomp here, trot-trot there, Moonlight is pretty good. Look out, Fred Astaire! After the horse’s interpretation of Riverdance, Javier rides up to ask Gastón for help, but falls off his horse. He whispers to Gastón, and then dies, for he was shot by the mysterious guy.
Back at the haunted swamp, annoying person Squirrel Eyes is singing on a boat and has an encounter with the Mexi-creature! At this point I am cheering for Gillman, as the singing by Squirrel Eyes is HORRIBLE! He is knocked in the water and swims to shore, all while calling the Gillman a Martian. Gastón just happens to be close by, and he calls him over to explain. You see, Squirrel Eyes is Gastón’s sidekick. And what a sidekick he is! Okay, he’s not that special, but he doesn’t have a gimmick, thus deflecting no attention from the hero. That is what a perfect sidekick does. Squirrel Eyes tells a doubtful Gastón about the encounter, but soon Gastón has a new worry as he is shot in the chest by a goon in the forest by the swamp. Don’t worry, Gastón is barely hurt from the blast to the chest, so takes off on his horse Moonlight and chases after the vile villain. Luckily Gastón also brought an extra horse for Squirrel Eyes to use so he can follow. Gastón chases down the gunman and pulls him off the horse he was escaping on, and they have a fistfight, which Gastón wins. Who else could do all this after getting shot in the chest? Maybe only Cuneyt Arkin. The area of the swamp the two have their fight seems to have had all the color sucked away from it and is in some dull sepia ton like the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, but this is just more print damage. The gunman jumps into some murkish water to escape. After all Gastón did earlier, I was expecting him to jump into the water after him!
Squirrel Eyes manages to convince Gastón to see a doctor about his gun wound. He sees The Doctor, who patches up his scratch quickly. Gastón accuses the Doctor of inventing a cholera epidemic to hide what is really going on in the town, which is what Javier told him. At least we now know what disease the Doctor was talking about, despite not knowing the Doctor’s name! Then he asks Doctor about the coffin with the missing body, and the Doctor says he’s starting to believe the local superstitions. Gastón declares he won’t believe them and will find out the truth. After he leaves, Doctor pulls out a Morse code device and sends a message to someone. An evil dude, who leads a gang of thugs into town to start some trouble with Gastón. The message of this movie is clear: Bad people use Morse code devices. Morse code won’t regain its glory until the release of Independence Day.
Gastón and Squirrel Eyes are at the local saloon, hard at work looking for the answers at the bottom of a beer glass. The evil amigos come in and tell Gastón to get out of town. Instead, he fights them, then starts shooting them when they pull guns (Squirrel Eyes also shoots a gun) but the whole mess is interrupted by Nachos, who tells the gang that Gastón is there to help him. No one seems to have any injuries at all from being shot repeatedly, and the gang leaves.
The next day, Gastón tells Julie that Javier was murdered. Brother and a goon overhear this and decide to scare Gastón away. Squirrel Eyes is fishing and catches something big…what could it be? First, Gastón discovers that Javier had a large insurance policy on him of $1 million, which was set to go to Nachos, except that without a body Nachos gets nothing! Hmmm… Now we finally see what Squirrel Eyes caught, and instead of it being the Lost Monster, it is a dead body! The dead body of Jose the gravedigger, one of the men who buried Javier’s empty coffin in the beginning of the film. Will he be buried in an empty coffin? No, that would be ridiculous! But at least we know who the Gillman killed in the random scene earlier.
Aunt Maria is worried that her dead first husband will come from beyond the grave because he never found out her TERRIBLE SECRET. What is the TERRIBLE SECRET? Is Aunt Maria a man? Is Aunt Maria dead and Gastón just a gifted boy? Find out…later in the review! Nachos and the Doctor are having a meeting where they each accuse the other of messing up on their part of the deal. What this deal is is not said. Using my expert mystery solving skills, I have determined that the two men are involved in a land deal in South America that is running afoul of the local zoning laws. It seems Nachos hasn’t put in enough bathrooms! Okay, maybe not, but they are worried the police will come. I guess in Mexico you can have up to three mysterious deaths without the police bothering to come, but if they cross the threshold into FOUR mysterious deaths then the police get involved.
Gastón sneaks into Aunt Maria’s room at night (is Gastón some sort of kinky pervert?) and she pulls a gun, but it is soon apparent she can’t see anything. Julia enters, and she tells Julia that she has been blind for months, and that her husband took all her money. Therefore, she says someone took Fabian to punish him. That is her TERRIBLE SECRET? What a letdown! Gastón is allowed to overhear all of this. While all this is going on, the Gillman is creeping around outside.
Gastón and Julie leave her, and then find Squirrel Eyes unconscious in the house. Carmella goes into Aunt Maria’s room, picks up the gun, and points it at Aunt Maria. This odd event is never referenced again in the movie, which means either K. Gordon Murray cut out something, or the Mexican director was throwing around false leads like candy at a parade. Gastón and Julia talk, where he says that Doctor probably knew she was blind, told other people, and then someone did something to the body. The Creature is still lurking around outside as Gastón and Julia continue to talk. We find out he used to live in town and was a detective as a kid. This reminiscing is interrupted when the Creature shoots a spear gun at them. You don’t see that in the Black Lagoon! The Creature misses because the two have headed back inside to check on the now awake Squirrel Eyes, who is screaming about a monster.
Outside, it is a dark and stormy night, but we see the creature escaping into the water in the very next scene and it is daylight with clear skies! Don’t worry, it is night again in the next scene as Aunt Maria wants to get out of bed to go to the library, but Carmella talks her out of it until tomorrow. With the outside weather changing so rapidly it is probably safer indoors, anyway. Plus, what is a blind person going to do in the library? This is a small town in Mexico, it probably doesn’t have an extensive Braille collection as it doesn’t even have police!
The next day in town is the rodeo/parade/something that is a big celebration. Thus everyone is at the celebration in town, except Doctor and Nachos who are playing cards at the doctor’s office. Aunt Maria sneaks into Nachos’s room and breaks into a safe to get some insurance policies. Unfortunately for her, the safe is hooked up to an alarm that rings at the hideout! And who is at the hideout? The Creature! The Creature then pulls out a Morse Code device and begins sending a message to Doctor and Nachos! I bet by now you’ve figured out this isn’t a real creature but just a dude in a suit. A dude who still hangs out in the hideout in the suit, which means he might be taking the roll a bit too far. Doctor and Nachos return to Nachos’s room with guns, capture Aunt Maria and Carmella, and say they will get away with whatever they are up to.
And now a little something for the ladies! Gastón is taking a swim, in his skivvies! He’s a brave man, going for a dip in the murky, dirty water of the swamp, armed with a knife. The Creature is also lurking around, because why not? I am not sure what Gastón is supposed to be doing, but soon he and the Creature are having a fight underwater. Julie and Squirrel Eyes are waiting on the shore as the fight goes on, but Gastón manages to make the Creature retreat. Going ashore, Gastón tells them he didn’t see a monster. It looks like Gastón has figured out the Gillman is a fake.
Back at Aunt Maria’s house, she and Carmella are tied up. Gastón sends Squirrel Eyes and Julia to see if the cabin Javier died in was burned town, if it wasn’t that proves that Doctor was lying about there being a contagious disease. Gastón will go back to the home to check on Aunt Maria. Also, Gastón and Julie have a secret danger signal from when they were kids. A secret danger signal never mentioned again. A lot of scenes of people riding on horses is then used to pad the film out a bit, until Julie and Squirrel Eyes are captured by goons. The goons punch Squirrel Eyes, and call him a “spic”!!! That’s some crazy dubbing, right there. Crazy racism! Julia manages to have her horse Prince escape to go get Gastón. Was that the secret code when they were kids, a riderless horse? What kind of kid detective agency did Gastón run?
Gastón goes into the house, but gets captured by Nachos. Gastón says Fabian isn’t really dead, and he is the Gillman! Gastón kicks the gun out of Nachos’s hand, then the two fight. Not for long, as the manly Gastón KO’s Nachos in no time. He then sees Prince the horse running around outside, and takes Prince back to where Julie and Squirrel Eyes are hiding. That also means he didn’t go further into the house to find Aunt Maria and Carmella tied up with Doctor guarding them. Luckily for the women, Carmella unties herself and knocks Doctor out with a vase. She unties Maria so they can escape.
Gastón arrives where Squirrel Eyes and Julia are, and the many goons there notice the horse ride by, but as Gastón has hopped off they don’t see him. A number of the goons chase after the horse, while some of the rest of the guards seem to be playing cards inside. Gastón sneaks inside, and begins punching and kicking the crap out of the goons. When the goons start shooting at Gastón, the few playing cards notice the excitement and join in. The fighting starts a running joke, where goon after goon is tossed into a hole in the floor to a basement room with no exit. Squirrel Eyes and Julie escape from the room they are in, and Squirrel Eyes promptly steals some of the gambling money from the goons. He also grabs a gun, which will probably be a lot more useful in the immediate future. He tells Julie to stay put, as this is a job for men. (So why is Squirrel Eyes doing the job then?) He shoots his way up to Gastón, who is on top of a pillar for a while fighting some more guards. The Creature also arrives at the house at this point, bugging Julie. While the two struggle, there is a moment where the Creature has to push his mask back on before it falls off, another clue that he is just a guy in a suit! (or more likely a stunt flub, but let’s be positive and assume it was intentional!)
Gastón rushes in to beat up the Creature, as almost all of the goons have been thrown down the hole in the floor. Gastón likes to fight using flying doublekicks, which means he also must have had some Shaolin training in addition to being a cool cowboy detective with a dancing horse. Gastón would out James Bond James Bond! The Creature soon falls prey to the voracious attacks by Gastón, and becomes knocked out. So Gastón will pull off the mask of the Creature to reveal who it is. If you don’t want to know, skip the next paragraph…
The Creature is….Fabian! Duh!
And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Gastón! The big reveal was a bit obvious, as the movie eliminated too many of the characters too soon. Better luck next time. Now that the mystery is solved, it is time for Gastón to go. I guess they called the police or something, but they never show up at all in the movie. So did Gastón really stop the bad guys, or just solve the mystery and leave, forcing Aunt Maria and Julie to fend for themselves to solve the problems uncovered by Gastón? But anyway, Gastón is going, but he tells Julie he might drop by for some smooches. And it ends.
Well, ragging on the ending being so sudden isn’t that fair, as most movies back then just ended suddenly with little resolution. At least they avoided the fate of some kung fu films, which end while the big villain is still dying from whatever fatal ninja blow killed him. So the whole two lines of resolution is an actual treat. Now, Swamp of the Lost Monster is currently not available on DVD, and there is a bunch of rights issues floating around, so we might not see a good version of it for a while. But luckily, many of the VHS tapes haven’t disintegrated, despite the print they used being stored in a vat of melted cheese or something to giving it a permanent filthy tinge. I bet the disgusting Mexican water was probably crystal clear before the ruined print. Okay, maybe not.
Who would win in a fight between this Creature, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Black Lagoon would win by a mile. Until Fat Kid shoots him with a shotgun. Gillman never wins.
Rated 5/10 (Skull, Dead hubby, scream of terror, Morse coding, Swamp monster goes for a dip in the sludgewater)