Saturday, January 9, 2010

Strangler of the Swamp

This is a fabulous film, perhaps Producer Releasing Corporations best, along with Bluebeard, although I have a soft spot for The Devil Bat. The 1946 film is lean, just under an hour, directed by Frank Wisbar. It's based on a German film. The atmosphere is incredible. The swamp is other-wordly, and the rural Americans seem to exist in another time and world. Charles Middleton, the gaunt, frightening Strangler, was the Emporer Ming in the old Flash Gordon serials. Rosemary LaPlanche, former Miss America, has a purity and innocence that connects to the vengeful Strangler. A young, later to be famous as a director/writer Blake Edwards, is good as LaPlanche's love interest. Rural locals in the film are well cast as well. (LaPlanche later starred in PRC's weird "sequel" to "The Devil Bat," "Devil Bat's Daughter.

Some writers I respect, including Tom Weaver in Poverty Row Horrors, have trashed this film and accuse many "Strangler" fans of parroting an earlier upbeat review by William Everson in "Classics of the Horror Film." I can't speak for others, but I never read Everson's book and Weaver is just plain wrong. There is a pervasive atmosphere of dread Wisbar creates as the Strangler slowly goes after his revenge. The swamp creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that adds to the dread. I admire LaPlanche's mixture of stoicism and faith to deal with the terror.

Here is a small capsule review I wrote for "Strangler of the Swamp" as part of a column for The Standard-Examiner and also on Plan 9 Crunch's main blog:

"Strangler of the Swamp" — Made in 1948, this atmospheric thriller involves a man, hanged for a murder he didn't commit, who returns as a ghost and assumes the role of ferryman at the swamp. Instead of ferrying passengers, he strangles locals in revenge. Finally, a young woman (Rosemary LaPlanche) prepares to offer herself as a sacrifice to get the ghost to leave. The strangler (Charles Middleton) was "Emperor Ming" in the old "Flash Gordon" serials.

As mentioned, a great 40s C genre film, better than most A productions of that time. Don't miss it!
-- Doug Gibson

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