Sunday, August 27, 2017


Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956)

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This is the second film I've gone out of my way to watch for the History of Horror Challenge, giving me a whopping 6/51 films in the year long challenge. I'll get through 'er, it's alright.

Anyway, this film was supposed to fill out the "Universal Monsters" requirement for the challenge. I picked it because I had seen pretty much all of the standard Universal Monster flicks so I had to drag the bottom of the barrel.

Curucu is about a bushwhacking adventure dude (John Bromfield) who is bushwhacking his way through the jungle to get to the bottom of a mystery involving a giant bird monster killing people. There's also a lady doctor (Beverly Garland) with him trying to find an herb that the indigenous people use to make shrunken heads.

This movie isn't especially well preserved, which, combined with the fact that I had never fucking heard of it, lead me to worry about what I was getting myself into. The picture and audio quality were pretty bad at times so it was difficult to tell what was going on when the plot was supposed to be set up, although once they got into the jungle it was okay.

Like I said, that's mostly a preservation issue. The budget of the movie, according to wikipedia, was $155,000 (which is like $1.3 million in 1956 money). That's not an extremely massive budget but it's still pretty decent, and the whole thing was shot on location in the Amazon. I had the misfortune of watching the black and white version of this movie that's on youtube, rather than the original colour version which I probably would have enjoyed a lot more.

There is tons of footage of South American wildlife including, but not limited to, crocodiles, anacondas, iguanas, water buffalo, a coati, a marmoset, a margay, a leopard, and a capybara. I seriously had to pause the movie every couple of minutes to get a look at the animals. Sometimes they're interacting with the cast, a lot of the time they're not, once they used a pitiful green screen effect to put the actors in the path of a herd of water buffalo. Doesn't matter, it still delighted the fuck out of me.

The movie also has some things to say about the conflict between indigenous culture, and European culture. It comes up over and over again and is, really, the main theme of the movie. Whether it's the main character literally assaulting a guy for telling locals they should leave the plantations and go back to the jungle, or a confrontation between a Catholic priest and a local spiritual leader over whether or not Curucu is real, indigenous-European relations are at the forefront of the movie.

And I would have gotten away with it, too... (Source)
Just scrolling through other reviews of this movie, one of the main complaints seems to be that the advertising of the film was misleading. It's advertised as a monster movie, and it really isn't. It's an adventure film and the really shitty looking monster is shitty looking because it's actually the local guide (Tom Payne) wearing a costume in an attempt to discourage white people from going further into the jungle and causing harm to his people. So it's basically Scooby Doo with a social message.

I have no idea whether or not the point of this movie was to make us sympathetic towards Tom Payne's character - maybe he was supposed to be viewed as a deranged madman, but when he does his speech about "maybe if you two disappear, they'll leave us alone" seems surprisingly rational for a '50s movie villain. Of course, killing people is not the answer, it's merely an answer, but it still made for interesting moral conflict for a modern viewer.

The issue with that whole thing is that in order to maintain the hero as the hero, he has to defeat the villain and winds up basically burning down the whole village where this group of people lives. The hero was unlikable enough as it was, being a racist, womanizing asshole, so his "triumph" over the "Indians" didn't exactly fill me with joy.

The other problem in general is that after the two leads escape the indigenous village, the movie ought to be over but it's not. They bushwhack their way back through the jungle, now without a guide, and encounter some more animals, and get attack by a snake and also the remaining people from the tribe they just doomed to extinction, except now there's not really any mystery, they're just going back where they came from and trying not to get killed by things. The movie is only an hour-fifteen but the last fifteen minutes drag like a motherfucker, which is unfortunate.

All in all, though, this is a fun adventure movie with lots of footage of wild animals. If you're expecting a Universal Monster movie you're going to be severely disappointed, but if you're ready to relax and look at some exotic wildlife, you're going to have a good time.

- the main female character's name is the same as my name (+1)
- South American wildlife (+11)
- the plight of the local people (+1)
Total: (+13)

- horrible green screen (-1)
- curucu looks stupid (-0.333 penalty reduced because it's not an actual monster, and because curucu stands for social justice)
- the main dude is a douchenozzle also his name is "Rock" (-3)
- there is a dance number (-1)
- casual 1950s racism (-1)
- kiss rape (-1)
- ending is a drag (-1)
Total: (-8.333)
Final Score: 4.667

Written and Directed by: Curt Siodmak.  Starring: John Bromfield, Beverly Garland, Tom Payne.

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