Today’s movie is another low-budget classic from Roger Corman: Creature From The Haunted Sea.
Creature From The Haunted Sea was written by Charles Griffith, a frequent Corman collaborator who penned such memorable flicks as Death Race 2000, Attack of the Crab Monsters, A Bucket of Blood, and The Little Shop of Horrors.
The director and producer of Creature From The Haunted Sea was, of course, Roger Corman, who is widely known as the king of the b-movies. Though he has primarily worked as a producer over the years, he also has over 50 directing credits, including The Wild Angels, Attack of the Crab Monsters, A Bucket of Blood, and The Little Shop of Horrors.
The cinematographer for Creature From The Haunted Sea was Jacques R. Marquette, who shot multiple episodes of television shows like The Greatest American Hero, Hawaii Five-O, McHale’s Navy, The Patty Duke Show, and The Streets of San Francisco over his career.
The associate producer for Creature From The Haunted Sea was Charles Hannawalt, who has worked with Roger Corman in a number of different capacities over his career, including producing The Beast with A Million Eyes, acting as cinematographer on Dementia 13, and serving as a grip on movies like The Trip and She Gods of Shark Reef.
Creature From The Haunted Sea stars Beach Dickerson (Attack of the Crab Monsters), Robert Bean (The Wild Ride), Betsy Jones-Moreland (Last Woman on Earth), Antony Carbone (A Bucket of Blood), and famed screenwriter Robert Towne, who later penned such movies as Chinatown, Bonnie & Clyde, Days of Thunder, Shampoo, and Mission: Impossible.
The plot of Creature From The Haunted Sea takes place during a Cuban revolution, where a mobster seeks to profit on the social unrest by smuggling loyalists out of the country with the government’s treasury. However, he plans on killing and robbing the exiled stowaways under the guise of an elaborate fake monster attack. Complications arise in the form of an embedded CIA agent and the appearance of a real sea monster, both of whom threaten the entire operation.
Creature From The Haunted Sea was shot back to back with Last Woman on Earth, using the same crew, cast, and locations in Puerto Rico.
Unlike many of Corman’s more famous b-movies, Creature From The Haunted Sea is an intentionally comedic parody movie, lampooning everything from spy films to gangster flicks to Corman’s own prolific creature features.
Robert Towne is credited under a pseudonym for his role in the movie, taking on the fake name ‘Edward Wain’ in the cast listing.
The reception to Creature From The Haunted Sea wasn’t particularly positive, certainly due in part to the unusual comedic tone. It currently holds a 21% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a 3.3 user rating on IMDb.
The plot of Creature From The Haunted Sea is impossible to fully understand without a familiarity with the context of the time. The movie released in June of 1961, which placed it right in the middle of the most heated diplomatic era between Cuba and the United States in the long history between the two neighboring countries. In April of 1961, two months prior to the film’s release, the United States launched the counter-revolutionary campaign known as The Bay of Pigs, which ultimately failed to depose Fidel Castro, whose communist forces had been controlling the country since 1959. Sixteen months following the release of the film, the Cuban Missile Crisis took place, in which Cuba agreed to house Soviet nuclear weapons within eyesight of the Florida coast. This is remembered as the pinnacle of tensions in the Cold War, and the defining moment in John F. Kennedy’s presidency.
What is important to note about all of this is that at the time, Communism’s hold in Cuba was still new, and most believed that it would be ousted by some sort of United States scheme before too long. Not only was there the Bay of Pigs invasion, but the CIA even built up a bit of a reputation surrounding their failed assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, which were frequent enough to justify a wikipedia page. So, the idea that the Communist revolutionaries would need to flee the country on short notice was far from unrealistic in the minds of the American public, particularly given the US Government’s adherence to domino theory, and its proficiency in meddling in foreign governments during the era.
The other aspect of the time that may not be engrained in the public consciousness, but is of note to the film’s story, is the involvement of the mafia in Cuba. For film buffs, you probably recall a famous sequence from The Godfather Part 2 that depicted the 1959 Cuban Revolution foiling a backroom mafia plot to divide the country. In fact, organized crime had a field day with Cuba during the reign of Batista, which was effectively ruined by the Communist revolution and Batista’s fall from power. However, as depicted in Creature From The Haunted Sea, the organized crime elements didn’t entirely disappear overnight, particularly if they had money wrapped up in businesses in the country. Thus, that’s why there are so many wayward American criminals and mobster-types hanging out in Cuba at the beginning of Creature From The Haunted Sea.
On to the nuts and bolts of the film, this movie is actually pretty funny, particularly in how it skewers the spy genre. The film is interestingly more of a spy movie than a monster movie at its core, which certainly isn’t what it appears to be at first glance, and wasn’t how it was marketed.
The storyline is incredibly culturally relevant and political, particularly for a b-movie creature feature. It is still goofy without any doubt, and a lot of jokes fall flat, but there is more to it than just simple comedy, which it had every right to limit itself to. More than anything, the movie provides a fascinating window into the time period, and how the American public viewed Cuba and communism in the country. I was reminded a little bit of an episode of The Twilight Zone that also dealt with a veiled version of Cuba called “The Mirror,” which also released in the latter half of 1961, and is worth checking out.
I can’t very well not talk about the ridiculous monster in this movie, which makes The Creeping Terror look like something Stan Winston or Rick Baker cooked up in a workshop. If you ask me, the goofy eyes are really what ties the whole thing together, and gives the monster its life-like quality. It is actually admirable in my opinion that Corman could laugh at himself and the reputation of his movies with this flick. For a modern example, this movie is comparable to what it would be like if Michael Bay had directed Hot Fuzz, if you could imagine such a thing.
While this wasn’t Corman’s only foray into the realm of comedy, it is certainly the least acclaimed of his three famous ventures into the genre. Both A Bucket of Blood and The Little Shop of Horrors are better polished, more memorable, and more fondly treasured as b-movie comedies than Creature From The Haunted Sea, and I can’t help but think that is partially due to the ad hoc nature of the production, as Joe Dante describes in the video above. When you are literally cobbling together a movie from the screenplay up with spare time while making another movie, there is no way you can give it the attention and care that the feature merits, even if it is in the hands of Corman’s notoriously quick movie-making machine. Even with similar back-to-back situations, like with Dolls and From Beyond, both screenplays were at least fully formed at the outset, whereas Creature From The Haunted Sea was a mere concept when the cast and crew was setting out for Puerto Rico.
Overall, Creature From The Haunted Sea is an uneven comedy with plenty of dead spots, and it was obviously cobbled together and padded out with extra footage. That said, it still has a peculiar charm to it and some solid comedic moments. This is a movie that I would say requires some research ahead of going into it, because it certainly isn’t a conventional Corman creature feature, and shouldn’t be viewed as such. If nothing else, this film is a curiosity worth checking out for its novelty value, if not for its cultural value as a window into a bygone era and into Corman’s own opinion of his movies.