WARNING: Spoilers Ahead
Strangler of the Swamp was a 1946 production from Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) and quite possibly one of their best early films. That may not be saying much, though. PRC films from that era also included things like The Devil Bat, Jungle Man, and Nabonga.
Strangler of the Swamp was written and directed by Frank Wisbar with additional contributions to the screenplay by Leo McCarthy and Harold Erickson. It may be worth noting here that of the lot of them, only Wisbar has more than a handful of credits on his filmmaking resume, but the vast majority of his credits are as unknown to most film fans as most of theirs. Judging by the quality of Strangler of the Swamp, there’s probably a good reason for this.
Despite that last comment, Strangler of the Swamp is actually an enjoyable little film. Well, mostly… It’s also an extremely quick film to watch, clocking in at just an hour in length.
The basic plot is a rather simple one. As our story starts, we meet the locals who already fear something may be amiss in their swamp. The reason for this is they’ve already convicted and executed a man via hanging, but it’s repeatedly made clear through somewhat less than natural sounding dialogue that they know they may have killed an innocent man. This may well be the case. However, that later becomes somewhat questionable as once we meet our vengeful ghost he seems to be willing to carry out his revenge on even those who had nothing to do with kangaroo court trial.
Our ghost makes his first appearance rather early in the film, and we get to see the means by which he likes to kill his victims. He terrifies them first, and causes them to flee in such a blind panic they end up strangling themselves on old ropes, vines, or other things in the swamp. This is helped with a little bit of ghostly telekinetic nudging of some objects. The locals discuss the goings on, and one of the older women points out that they’ll all die unless someone offers themself as a sacrifice to the Strangler in order to break the curse that now hangs over all their heads.
It’s after the first act of revenge when we meet Maria Hart and Chris Sanders Jr. played by Rosemary La Planche and Blake Edwards. Yes, film fans, the guy you most likely know as the writer/director behind The Pink Panther, SOB, Victor/Victoria, and more. This was one of his early goes at acting, and it’s an example of why he made the right career choice by moving behind the camera.
Maria is the granddaughter of Joseph Hart- the man who now works the ferry the swamp -and she takes over working the swamp ferry when the strangler strangles him. Chris is the son of one of the men who judged Joseph and called for his death, long away from home and only now returning. So, obviously, they’re going to become an item well before the film is even halfway over.
Our ghost, played with stoic menace by Charles Middleton, starts doing away with people rather quickly. As this is happening, Chris impresses Maria by beating up the local guy who has designs on her but won’t take no for an answer. Eventually, the ghost decides to go after Chris. He decides to do this even though Chris had nothing to do with his being put to death in the swamp. All he cares about is that Chris is the son of a man who judged him. Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to go after Maria the same way despite the fact that her grandfather offered the key bit of testimony that condemned him to death.
The ghost is probably the highlight of the movie. The look of the ghost on film is amazingly well done; much better looking than he appears in the publicity photo below. The swamp is also wonderfully done and used to create just the right scary movie perfect, fog filled mood and atmosphere.
The ghost hunts Chris down while Maria begs him to allow Chris to live. Eventually, the vengeance on everyone but Maria filled spirit has Chris in his sights. This is followed by a bit of hunting where the ghost loses Chris more than once. As far as vengeful ghosts go, he’s a bit of an amateur apparently.
The ghost is about to make his move on Chris when Maria stands between them and offers herself as a sacrifice in his place. This act of selflessness strikes deep within the ghost, and he disappears in a puff of swamp fog. We watch as he drifts away and is now finally allowed to rest in peace.
The film ends with Chris Sr. giving Chris and Maria his blessing to be together because of her act of offering herself as a sacrifice to save Chris Jr. and ultimately him as well.
The film could have used a few more runs at the script before it went before the cameras, the direction is a bit pedestrian, and the acting ranges from just okay to badly stilted. There are also a few performances in there that make you wonder if a 2X4 was the actor’s inspiration to get into acting. The ghost effect as it appears on the prints now available looks fantastic, but that may be due more to the poor quality of the prints than the work originally done in the film. The effective swamp sets are worth a look though, and they really do visually make the film more than it could have been if the story had used a different setting.
The Strangler of the Swamp is currently streaming as a free to subscribers film on Amazon Prime streaming. There’s also a DVD, but I’d pass on it for the price it’s now selling for. It’s silly, but it’s fun. It’s worth a look and, given the runtime, it’s an easy film get through.
Article by Jerry.