Cinema Fearité presents 'Creature from the Haunted Sea'
The third time's a charm for Roger Corman with 'Creature from the Haunted Sea.'
Remakes are almost as old as cinema itself, especially when it comes to horror movies (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, anyone?). Sometimes they’re creative adaptations (Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, the recent Pet Sematary), and sometimes they’re pointless replications (Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, the newest Carrie). And sometimes, they’re subtle recreations. In 1961, B-movie mogul Roger Corman cannibalized a twice-filmed screenplay and came up with The Creature from the Haunted Sea.
Creature from the Haunted Sea is about an American ex-patriot named Renzo Capetto (Antony Carbone from A Bucket of Blood) who hooks up with a Cuban general named Tostada (The Fiend of Dope Island’s Edmundo Rivera Alvarez) leading a group of loyalists during the Cuban revolution. General Tostada has stolen a chest full of gold from the national treasury that he plans to use to fund a counter-revolution, and he hires Renzo to captain a boat to help him and his men escape with the loot.
But Renzo has other plans. Along with girlfriend Mary-Belle Monahan (Last Woman on Earth’s Betsy Jones-Moreland), her brother Happy Jack (The Wild Ride’s Robert Bean), and dimwitted deckhand Pete (Beach Dickerson from The Dunwich Horror), Renzo plans to double-cross the general and steal his gold, blaming it on a mystical sea creature. Renzo and his guys systematically kill the general’s men and leave slimy footprints on the deck so it looks like the work of the monster. But, unbeknownst to Renzo, the monster is real, and the beast also starts to kill off the crew.
And all of this is presented to the audience through the eyes of a narrator named Sparks Moran (credited as Edward Wain, but really played by writer Robert Towne, who did the screenplays for Chinatown and Orca), an American secret agent codenamed XK150 who has infiltrated Renzo’s gang only to fall in love with Mary-Belle himself.
A few years earlier, in 1957, Roger Corman made a gangster thriller called Naked Paradise about a group of thugs who hire a boat to transport them to Hawaii with a cache of stolen treasure. Frequent Corman collaborator Charles B. Griffith (It Conquered the World, Attack of the Crab Monsters) wrote that script, and then was hired again by Corman in 1959 to adapt it into Beast from Haunted Cave, replacing the boat with a monster. Two years later, Corman had Griffith put the boat back in, and Creature from the Haunted Sea was born. Corman wanted an espionage thriller that could cash in on the success of aquatic monster movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a load of campy comedy thrown in to keep things fun. And that’s exactly what he got.
The recycled screenplay is not the only economical aspect of Creature from the Haunted Sea. From the opening animated credit sequence to the final silly frame, the film is a Corman production. It was shot in Puerto Rico (where Corman discovered a generous tax incentive) using film that was leftover from Corman’s recently completed Last Woman on Earth and Battle of Blood Island. The crew was small and sparse, with many of the cast pulling double duty when they weren’t onscreen. Corman himself even switched off holding the audio boom mic with Robert Bean (who played Happy Jack) while directing. The creature was designed by Beach Dickerson (who played the simpleton Pete), and it’s hilariously unpretentious, looking a bit like it walked right off of the set of “Sesame Street.” In every way, Creature from the Haunted Sea is pure Corman.
Maybe it’s a product of its time, but there’s some dubious cultural insensitivity in Creature from the Haunted Cave. The Cuban soldiers are all portrayed as dancing, partying revelers who don’t do much more than drink and smoke, despite the fact that they are supposed to be highly trained military specialists (frogmen, actually). A handful of islanders also get caught up in the racial profiling action as well, being shown as naïve-but-beautiful women (with an overarching mom) who are there to seduce and please the men. To be fair, every character in the film seems to be a shallow stereotype, from the Maxwell Smart-style government agent to the sultry sexpot girlfriend, from the rogue boat captain to the idiot savant deckhand (who communicates with animal noises no less). This doesn’t excuse the mild racism in the film, it only explains it a little bit. And the very next year, Roger Corman would make his very woke The Intruder, so maybe he learned something from Creature from the Haunted Sea.
The initial cut of Creature from the Haunted Sea clocked in at a mere 63 minutes, so when the television rights were sold, additional scenes had to be written and produced to pad the length out to 75 minutes. The added material was shot by Monte Hellman (who directed Beast from Haunted Cave for Corman), and they include a few scenes with Agent XK150 and a female agent as well as an extended boat sequence with Mary-Belle serenading the troops. There’s nothing essential in the added footage. It does exactly what it was intended to do by padding the running time. There’s also a colorized version of the film floating around, but like the extended cut, it’s not necessary. Creature from the Haunted Sea is a fiercely economic film, and it’s better off shorter, and in black and white.
Roger Corman has made an entire career out of getting the most movie for his money. And between the recycling of the screenplay, the shrewd assignment of production duties, and the frugal exploitation of the Puerto Rican tax credit, there is probably no better example of this than Creature from the Haunted Sea.