Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Flying Serpent (1946)

Written by: John T. Neville
Directed by: Sam Newfield
Starring: George Zucco, Ralph Lewis, Hope Kramer

When I picked this flick, I don't think I did more than look at the cover art before making the decision. I'd heard of the movie before, but couldn't remember much of anything I'd read, and based on the poster was expecting something along the lines of The Giant Claw. But any devoted fan of 50's giant monster flicks has heard of most all of them. As popular as they were, in a time before direct-to-video markets, a genre just couldn't get flooded like it does today and it was a lot easier to keep track of even the lowliest embiggened beasties.

Imagine my surprise when I started looking up production information and discovered the flick predated The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms by seven years. And the monster is only about the size of a large dog.

Dr. Andrew Forbes is searching for the lost treasure of the Aztecs, and along with the gold, he discovers the creature they called Quetzalcoatl. It's a sort of mangy horned lizard with the sorriest, most threadbare wings you've ever seen. He somehow manages to confine it to a cage in the treasure chamber, but makes the mistake of giving his wife one of its “beautiful” (stop laughing, they're beautiful, dammit!) feathers. The thing gets out and mauls his wife to death, leading him to discover that the creature is murderously jealous of its plumage. That's right, folks, we have here what is to my knowledge the only vanity-driven monster in cinema history.

When a two-fisted radio announcer (!?) decides he's going to solve the mystery of the vampire murders (the creature inexplicably drains its victims of blood – well, it's not that inexplicable considering PRC just cut-and-pasted some Aztec flim-flammery over the script to Devil Bat, one of their most successful cheapie horror flicks, and apparently didn't bother to remove the vampirism), he's going to have a helluva time convincing the authorities that they're really up against a mad archaeologist and his pet monster.

The acting, as with most of these old programmers, is mostly solid without being exceptional. The monster is an impressively ambitious idea for a movie this cheap, and turns out so endearingly awful it's hard not to like it. The one aspect that really stuck out for me is that the Odious Comic Relief ™ character proves to be of some use and even helps the hero fight off the monster at one point. A useful comedic character in a horror flick is a rarity even today, and almost unheard of when the Poverty Row studios ruled the genre.

I've been having some difficulty finding anything to say about this flick. The toughest part about doing these reviews (“Quit your damn bitching, no one's making you do this and no one really wants you to keep doing it!”, I hear you say) is finding a good angle to tackle each article from; to find an interesting bit of information or a good anecdote to wrap the whole thing around. Not every movie is particularly inspiring in that regard. I enjoy watching lots of movies that I don't have much to say about. But dammit, I've been putting in a ton of extra hours during planting season and just haven't had much time to pick anything else, and I've had this file sitting half finished on my computer for weeks. So if nothing else, I guess this will serve the purpose of cataloging the fact that I watched yet another movie with nothing going for it but a monster so mangy it makes the giant buzzard from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster look as majestic as a bald eagle.

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