"O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15: 55-57
No, nothing like that: it's Jellyfish time!
From 1965 (or 1966) it Came!
A film that had to be resurrected for (in)discriminating viewers of the future. One of the only copies of this m(dis)asterpiece was discovered by the fine folks at Something Weird Video, purveyors of obscure cult and exploitation flicks. But it was covered in mold and the soundtrack had deteriorated. Rather than protect the public trust, they went ahead and shopped around until they found a lab that could restore the visuals of the print was found. Some cleaning up of the soundtrack was also done (as it is, it sounds like a single microphone was used in every scene, usually a bit of a distance from the actors). Rescued from the grave and straight for your jugular!
The quality of the print is truly excellent. Crisp and clean, bright vibrant colors. Sorta the antithesis of the rest of the production.
The Plot that Should've Died!
An important thing to remember is that the script was written over the course of a pill-popping marathon weekend by "writer" Al Dempsey. That explains...part of it.
Two scientists and their somewhat facially deformed assistant Egon (yeah, "Egon"like from Ghostbusters) are working on some sort of never explained marine biology project in the Florida Everglades involving jellyfish (or tangentially involving jellyfish...or not involving jellyfish). The whole jellyfish angle is sort of irrelevant given that zero jellyfish live in the Florida Evergladesbut I digress.
Since three guys on an island in the middle of the largest protected area of wetlands in the United States (even with the luxurious house and swimming pool) is kind of boring, there need to be victims and, even better, victims that are female. The first group of visitors include professor's daughter on break from her midterms and some friends who have no other use than to look pretty in the sub Marilyn Monroe-Jacqueline Kennedy mold, complete with white gloves. That and to die. Just not yet.
Meanwhile we learn of reports of missing fishermen, one of whom is brought back for examination by the sheriff (looking like a poor man's version of Jackie Gleason's sad self-parody in the Smokey and the Bandit movieswithout the charm, humor, or professionalism...but with the sweat stains). The professor and his partner (and Egon) see that the body clearly shows signs of an attack by jellyfish sting. And not just any, the infamous Portuguese Man O' War!
The problem is that the sting is way too big to have been caused by the creature as we know it. This is also confusing given the credits sequence where a man in a frogsuit attacks and drags a sunbather beneath the waves. Never fear, that was no scuba diver. Despite the obvious flippers (some shots showing the actor's ankle), and gloves, and belt (in at least one scene). This is a Jellyfish Monster! Oh, those things that look like unstrung costume beadery? Tentacles. Just trust me. And ignore the fact that they don't do the stinging. His glove-hand-tentacles swipe at people, administering the titular sting.
Not enough victims yet? Perhaps we need a group of crazy teens to do in. No worry, they boat in another group. A group that mocks and humiliates Egon (not exactly Murnau's Der Letzte Mannit ain't Carrie's prom night either, but you can't have everything). One wonders if that was a good idea. You know, teasing the disfigured guy. Let's wait and see.
The professor's daughter Karen (who is nice to Egon and who he has a secret crush on) says "I know they mean well but they just don't consider his feelings." Maybe it's just me but that seems to not meaning well....
Attack of the Killer Quotes!
Of course the kids all talk that fake-teen-speak that has always passed for real in Hollywood.
"This is as bad as rush week."
"It's always rush week on this island."
"There must be a better way to carry ice."
"Yeah, in a highball."
"...who's coming to this shindig?"
"Young people from the university."
"No, not the fraternity group [last word unclear; no subtitles/captions]"
"Mostly seniors and grad students. Good group though."
"...really like to cut loose."
The sublime verisimilitude of the adolescent speech patterns makes Cinéma Vérité look like outtakes from Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.
The Plot has Risen from the Grave II!
So what do wild college students do on an island in the middle of the Everglades? Two words: Dance Party! This also means many gratuitous ass-wiggling shots and the kids do their dance which appears to be done by flailing the arms up and down, twisting in place, occasionally bending forward, and completely ad-libbing the rest (and not entirely in unison). See, they're doing "The Jellyfish." There's a reason this one never swept the nation and all the evidence has been committed to film. And while they spend about five minutes writing around the pool, not one notices the scuba...Jellyfish...monster in the pool. Crazy kids.
This also brings up the oddest credit in the movie (nonot the ones that say "screenplay" and "directed by"). Neil Sedaka. What, you say? Yep. In fact, the name appears second following star Joe Morrison. And he appears as himself. Sorta. Actually he just contributed the "Do the Jellyfish" song. He doesn't actually appear in the film. But it's (apparently) enough to bill him as "special singing guest star" in the credits.
The Jellyfish monster goes on his walking rampage, wounding two teens before disappearing into the water. The kids are rounded up and sent away. To their doom!
The movie chugs forward. We find out that the monster has a secret lab in an underwater cave and Egon has a shack with laboratory equipment out in the middle of the Everglades (okay, the other middle of the Everglades). There's another attack on the house and a "sex" scene (well, for the mid 1960s). A girl takes a shower and through the blurry, foggy shower doors one can see full side-al and full back-al nudity. Kinda. There is a definite...er, crack to be seen. Pretty edgy stuff.
Then there's a boat chase sequence in which only a couple shots show both boats. Karen is kidnapped and taken to the cave where she must be rescued. But it can't be that unpleasant in there with all the green plants growing around that underwater cave. It culminates in a mano-a-jellyfish fight and an explosion so great that the fish swimming by seem not to notice.
Revenge of the Bad Effects!
As noted, the "monster is a guy in a scuba suit. A dirty, sometimes slimy scuba suit, but clearly and obviously a scuba suit. Most scenes only show him from the waist down. This isn't just to heighten the suspense (if it was at all) but because of the ultimate effect: the head. Jellyfish (simplified) are two main parts, the (let's call it a) "head" which is a bladder/float full of gas, and tentacles that hang down from it. Of course, the tentacles are what deliver the "death sting" or the "really, really painful sting" as death from jellyfish is pretty uncommon in humans.
Our monster does indeed have a "head." It's a trash bag. Sort of barely translucent (the actor could only make out blurry images) thing like a large version of those balloons one gets from a party goods storesore-thumb obvious seam and all. This made it difficult to "act" with it on. The other problem was keeping it inflated. Air had to be periodically blown into the bag surrounding the actor's "head" as it would begin to deflatesomething that one can see in some shots, particularly during the climactic fight scene. The head of the actor (who was not the actor playing the character who transforms into the monster) is easily seen through the dirty plastic bag.
And the transformation, itself, something that uses human blood, electricity, and an unspecified chemical stolen from the professor (as well as colored lights, dry ice, and aerators turned on full blast), is a series of shots where the subject gradually gets more and more goo slathered on his face.
And then there's the jellyfish attack on the teens. It's not by the monster but by "real" jellyfish. Well, "real" small plastic baggies full of multicolored material that looks like a jumbled mess of melted Crayolas.
One of the oddest effects actually isn't. Early on, one sees this rather strange and very fake looking bruise on the professor's forehead. It's big and round and distracts whenever you see him. Turns out that is isn't makeup at all. At the start of production, the actor fell out of an airboat and hit his head. That nasty, weird looking "effect" is the scab. Go figure.
Jellyfish of the Damned!
Less as a means of dispensing kudos, than as something similar to posting the FBI's Most Wanted list at the post office, here are those responsible for the film (the cast are left out for reasons of brevitybut there's plenty of guilt to go 'round):
Director: William Grefe
Screenplay: Al Dempsey
Special makeup effects: Harry Kerwin
Stunts: Doug Hobart (he also played the monster and the dead man in the boat)
Dante has a special circle of hell reserved for them.
Escape from Jellyfish Hell!
Perhaps a lame plot, bad acting, the worst monster costume since Ro-Man, and cheesy teen wiggling isn't enough for the viewer. What else is there? Well, there is a lot of excellent footage of the Everglades and its diversity of landscape and foliage. Seriously. As noted, the print of the film is very good and the quality of the greens and blues almost look like Technicolor. Not only that, the underwater scenes (filmed at Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, Florida) are equally well-done. Sad that almost nothing interesting takes place during them. But really nice work, nonetheless.
The Jellyfish that Ate Florida!
Once again the phrase horror movie science proves to be an oxymoron. One of the conceits of the film is the idea that giant jellyfish are possible to create (using the recipe alluded to above). When the sheriff shows up with the body and the topic is broached, it is summarily dismissed because "they never get bigger than eight inches across." Oh really? Not so, say real biologists. A Portuguese Man O' War (or Portuguese man-of-war) (or sometimes called the bluebottle because of the color the sac can take on) ranges from three to twelve inches (nine to 30 centimeters for those of the metric persuasion). The tentacles (which are not like wiry strings of discarded Mardi Gras beads or arms or flippered feet) can be as long as 165 feet (50 m) though that never actually comes up in the discussion and certainly not in the special effects.
So it would seem that "giant" jellyfish do indeed existat least bigger ones than the "scientists" claim. In fact the, presumably, oversized jellyfish in the fish tank in the monster's lair are (reallyreallyfake) in range of those dimensions. Of course, he says they are 20 inches across. I suppose if you look at it just right. One could argue that they are actually not "tall" enough as the air-filled bladder can stick out of the water as much as six inches (15 cm) but that could only happen if the baggies bobbed up above the surface.
At one point it is said the toxin/venom of the sting is nearly identical to cobra venom. Not so sure about that. Both are neurotoxins and the sting of the Man O' War is said to be 75% as powerful as cobra venom. But that doesn't make them nearly identical in chemical makeup or effect. In general, the main reason for a fatality due to jellyfish sting is the result of an allergic reaction (anaphylactic Shock).
The big missing detail is that a Man O' War isn't really a true jellyfish, it only resembles one. It is actually a colony of four modified polyps (the float, the tentacles, the digestive system, and the reproductive system) working together as if a single self-contained organism. But don't let that dampen the fun. In the words of the late great (...what? Still alive? Turning 65 in March? Still touring? hmm.)in the immortal words of the fine songsmith Neil Sedaka:
Wella, you've gotta jella
Or you're not any fella!
Ring the bella with every Cinderella
When you can jella
And do the jella Jellyfish!
And isn't that what life is really all about?
Sources: personal copy of the DVD; the incomparable Internet Movie Database; various webpages for jellyfish info; yes, those really are the lyrics to one verse of the songa couple thousand bucks didn't buy much back in the 60s either. The discrepancy with the year it was made relates to the IMDb putting it as 1965 but the film, itself (as does the DVD), bears a 1966 date.