Belly Of A
Sting Of Death
Directed by William Grefé
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
Warning: Spoilers lurking like tendrils
of death wrapping around your heart.
Sting Of Death is the first film in Arrow’s lovely He Came From The Swamp - The William Grefé Collection Blu Ray boxed set and it was my primary reason for picking this collection up because, after all, who doesn’t want to see a movie where various people are threatened by a jellyfish monster? Well, after watching the movie, I suspect the answer is probably me but, hey, the concept sounded like it was a lot of fun.
The film is watchable and it has bright colours. It’s about a bunch of women going to stay with the father of one of their number, Karen (played by Valerie Hawkins) for their vacation. Her father, Dr. Richardson (played by Jack Nagle) happens to live on an isolated island in the Florida swamps and is a marine biologist, helped by his two assistants in the form of Karen’s love interest Dr. Hoyt (played by Joe Morrison) and the forever lurking, facially disfigured, hulking Egon (played by John Vella). And, yeah... I think the character’s name is supposed to invoke associations with Ygor and his ilk in the 1930s and 40s Frankenstein movies from Universal. Well, I say he’s disfigured but his bashed in right eye, which is supposed to be sealed shut, does kind of pop open and come a little unstuck in some scenes.
Okay, so the film starts off with the jellyfish monster destroying radio communication on the island and then grabbing a bathing beauty off the decking outside the front of Richardson’s place and pulling her to her death while the credits play out. There is a line around halfway through the movie where the Doctor asks where Ruth disappeared to and I think this is in reference to this character... who is otherwise not mentioned again throughout the running time of the film.
Then the girls arrive, as do some students who promptly chase the freakish Egon off with their hateful prejudices, before enjoying the second of two long dance scenes where Grefé seems to spend an incredibly long time focusing on the backsides of various bikini clad girls as they dance about to Neil Sedaka’s new song written for the movie, “Do The Jellyfish”. It’s not a good song but the various party shenanigans seem to distract the teenagers from noticing right away that the jellyfish man attacks a girl in the swimming pool right in front of them. Another teen is also badly injured and, due to no radio, the doctor sends him and all the students back to get medical attention but... yeah... they are attacked by a swarm of jellyfish controlled by the jellyfish-man and all die. And when I say jellyfish, what I mean is inanimate polythene bags tied up with dangling bits of string floating calmly on the surface of the water while various teenagers act like they’re being stung and in their death agonies. Yeah, the special effects are not high tech on this one.
It all ends in tears after a few more deaths and people going ‘missing’ as, in a twist reveal (which really was a twist for me because, it was kinda lame and I must not have been paying proper attention), the Jellyfish man turns out to be Egon, who has perfected, among other things, the power to transform himself into a man wearing a muddied up diving suit with dangling tendrils and an almost completely see-through polythene bag on his head. I promise you, the jellyfish man looks a lot worse than I’m making him sound here.
There’s the usual resolution to this kind of picture and it’s not unwatchable... just not quite making it into the ‘so bad it’s good category’, as far as I’m concerned... although it certainly flirts with it at times. I do have a love for the atmosphere of these kinds of throwback pictures though... it’s colourful and it feels like it’s been shot in the 1950s, rather than being filmed the same year that The Beatles had their Revolver album in the charts. I’ve mentioned this in reviews of films before but it’s like certain filmmakers were kind of stuck in time and churning out exactly the same product in the 1960s which was more ‘of its time’ a decade earlier. I do like these kinds of films but, the movie doesn’t quite do enough to turn this into an absolutely essential piece of viewing, as far as I’m concerned... although I think it would be a good one for a monster themed allnighter with your friends, in between two more scarier pictures, to be sure.
Of note is the big, black bruise on Jack Nagle’s head. He hit his head on the first day of shooting and the wound had to be explained away in the script. Also, when the bruise was wearing off in the shoot, this had to be augmented by having the make-up artist drawing in the bruise for various scenes. This is mentoned on the wonderful William Grefé documentary feature, which also comes in this set (reviewed by me here) and a few other anecdotes, two of which I’ll briefly mention here...
One involves the loss of the cable for the ariflex camera, overboard in the swamps before a day’s shooting was even started and this caused some headaches on the location during the day, a lot of hours were lost... remember, this was when Grefé could churn out one of these pictures in two weeks or less so time was a valuable commodity while shooting.
The other thing involves John Vella. I wasn’t kidding about that being a big polythene bag on his head so, on at least one occasion, when a shot was taking a long time to get done, he nearly suffocated through lack of air. Obviously he didn’t (or the film would be much more well known now, I guess) but you can pretty much see his head lurking within the bag, in many of the shots.
And that’s pretty much it for me on Sting Of Death. It didn’t quite hit the mark with me but, well, it was watchable and I did kinda enjoy looking at it to an extent... but it didn’t blow me away like I’d hoped. I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that it’s not, as some reviewers have said, the best of the movies on Arrow’s Grefé collection. Time will tell I guess.