It’s funny how the passage of time can affect a film. Take this one, for instance. Ridiculous? An absolute bore? To stuffy minds of earlier decades, perhaps those descriptions are apt. However, for today’s modern devotee of vintage strange cinema, The Swamp of the Lost Monster doesn’t lend itself to such an easy dismissal. Translation: Off-the-cuff incompetence ages gracefully into absurdist art, bearing 75 minutes of dreamy disconnection.
First, the facts. From 1962 to 1969, showman/producer K. Gordon Murray imported nearly thirty Mexican horror films, dubbed ‘em up, and unleashed the results to TV sets and double-billed theaters around the U.S. The films ranged from comedic to downright artsy, ensuring endless hours of enjoyment for lovers of odd monster films. Swamp hails from 1965, a dubbed version of the earlier El Pantano de las Animas from 1957. It’s a horror-Western-comedy, filled with awkward dubbing, strange cowboy clichés, and a genius lo-fi monster.
Our setting is a dusty backwoods river, complete with chocolate-stained water and breezy cattails. As a funeral procession arrives at the burial site, a flip of the coffin lid reveals a vanished corpse! Here’s where things get confusing. The authorities proclaim that the missing body may contain a virus that must be stopped within 24 hours. About five minutes later, that plot line is semi-dropped, as Gaston the cowboy-detective (Gaston Santos, with his horse, Moonlight!) is called in to tackle the mystery, along with his portly comedic sidekick, Squirrel Eyes. Concurrently, a jaw-dropping red monster (looking similar to the gill-man rip-off from La Mujer Murcielago) begins attacking the locals. This beastie also yields a crossbow and sends messages via Morse code. Hmmm. In between scenes of family tumult and Western fisticuffs, random occurrences breeze through the film like sagebrush in the wind: rodeo stock footage, horse dancing tricks, insurance fraud, Squirrel Eyes singing to the fishies, and a frequent reliance on Morse code communication scenes. I didn’t really understand the film’s outcome, but I sure did admire that underwater rubber knife fight.
Co-directed by Rafael Baledón and Stim Segar (both of whom were responsible for several films in the Murray catalog), Swamp is by far the most surreal of all the 60s Mexi-imports. The random placement of scenes, awkward dialogue (“That martian! That fishy-eyed ghost!”) and general lack of cohesiveness place the film in an elite league, sharing the table with other mind-melts like The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackal and Graveyard of Horror. If you’re tuned into that novelty of disconnection, a viewing can obviously yield interesting results. The haphazard mix of various pop culture elements is so ineptly constructed that the finished product appears almost Warhol-ian at times. Insignificant events garner as much screentime as “plot” formation. Characters spontaneously burst into warbled songs. The monster frequently adjusts his mask and gloves mid-battle (turns out there’s a reason for it…I think). It’s all positively dreamy: I even dozed off for a second, only to find myself waking to…another Morse code scene.
The years have been kind to Swamp of the Lost Monster, elevating its once-incompetence into a flawed relic of pop-art long forgotten. Most people might moan in disapproval, but beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.