Release Date(s)1956 (March 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Universal International (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
In 1954, Universal Studios struck box office gold with Creature from the Black Lagoon, about a prehistoric monster lurking in South American waters. Two years later, the studio attempted to capitalize on the success of that film with another creature flick set in the Brazilian rain forest, Curucu, Beast of the Amazon.
Reports of a long-clawed beast cause hundreds of Brazilian plantation workers to abandon their jobs and return to the forests. With no one left to work their plantations, the owners hire troubleshooter Rock Dean (John Bromfield, Revenge of the Creature) to go deep into the rain forest to investigate and convince the workers to return.
Before beginning the expedition, Dean gets a medical check-up and meets Dr. Andrea Romar (Beverly Garland, Not of This Earth), a cancer researcher who wants to accompany him to look into native medicines reputed to have strong healing powers. Dean adamantly resists bringing a woman into the jungle where danger lurks. She’s one step ahead of him, however, and hires the boat and guide that were supposed to take him. Now he has no choice. They set off together.
The jungle offers plenty of danger from wild animals and local headhunters, but Dean and Romar simply don’t believe in the existence of such a fantastical beast. Assuming it’s heightened superstition that made the workers flee, they push on.
Writer/director Curt Siodmak, who wrote the screenplays for The Wolf Man and Donovan’s Brain among many others, put together more of a jungle adventure than a monster flick. Unusually expensive for the genre because of its location filming in a foreign country and use of color, Curucu, Beast of the Amazon promises far more than it delivers. Siodmak builds suspense at the beginning when we see the beast of the title attack a local woman, but then dissipates it completely when he turns to developing an awkward romantic thread between the two leads. Aside from slowing the pace, these scenes appear to be padding to fill out the minimum running time for a feature. At one point, the film turns into a sort of travelogue, as Siodmak seems more concerned with showing off Brazil’s natural beauty, marketplaces, and magnificent waterfalls than with moving the narrative forward.
Bromfield’s Dean is not a nice guy. He’s quick with his fists, regards the natives as inferiors to be dealt with harshly, and is not above killing indigenous wildlife when not even necessary. Bromfield looks the part of an adventurer but his performance is far from convincing. Apparently, despite the high-quality production values, the film’s budget didn’t allow for a more convincing actor.
Beverly Garland was a staple of monster and sci-fi films during the 1950s and 1960s and is once again the damsel in distress. Although her character is written more intelligently than others she’s played, her matter-of-fact reactions to a snake falling from a tree into their boat and a stampede of wild buffalo eventually give way to her trademark scream as the beast abducts her in a scene lifted right from Creature from the Black Lagoon. Despite the tropical heat and humidity, Garland is never less than perfectly coiffed and made up, even in a scene when she wakes up in a hospital after a dangerous ordeal. This doesn’t help with the character’s credibility. Apart from Bromfield and Garland, the cast is composed of local Brazilian actors.
Horror and monster fans likely will feel betrayed by this film’s poster advertising and its marketing as a monster picture. A key revelation about two thirds of the way in will be a huge letdown. Even as a jungle adventure, the film lacks action, and much of what action it has comes from stock footage of animals fighting. There’s a lot of footage of characters walking—too much. Again, it looks to be a way to fill time. Raoul Kraushaar’s score tries to infuse drama into generally mundane images.
Curucu, Beast of the Amazon was shot by director of photography Rudolf Icsey on 35 mm film and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.00:1. The Blu-ray is scanned and restored in 2K from a dupe negative. Overall quality is pleasing, with good contrast and detail. Eastmancolor lacks the deep saturation of Technicolor and was used by studios as a less expensive alternative. The color palette is varied. In some shots, as in a close-up of the multi-hued clawed beast and of a group parrots, the colors virtually pop. Other scenes are more muted, with greens and earth tones dominant. Complexions vary. Garland wears make-up throughout and looks untouched by sun. Bromfield has a deep tan and some of the natives have much darker skin. In a few instances, certain actors appear to have had their complexions darkened with make-up. Occasionally, faces glisten, suggesting sweat after a long trek in intense heat. A good deal of stock footage of animals is edited into the main action as actors appear to be watching them. Visual quality of these inserts lacks the sharpness of the main action. Scenes of piranhas feeding are actually black and white clips, tinted. Some spectacular shots of waterfalls and the rain forest do enhance production value.
The soundtrack is English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear throughout but several scenes appear to have been overdubbed, which is quite noticeable and distracting. Beverly Garland lets out quite an ear-piercing scream at one point that is far more dramatic than what she is reacting to. Gun shots, punches, machetes cutting through thick underbrush, a small airplane engine, native chants, and cascading waterfalls are key sound effects.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary with Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman
- Archival Interview with Curt Siodmak (5:02)
- Still Gallery (:26)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:56)
Film historians and authors Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman begin by noting that Curucu, Beast of the Amazon was a disappointment to avid horror and monster fans, and explain why. The point of view of the film is from reality and there are a number of red herrings in the script. They describe John Bromfield’s character as brash and lacking in charisma. He doesn’t change much during the film. Similarities and differences between Curucu and Creature from the Black Lagoon are discussed. Creature was filmed in black and white on the studio backlot, while Curucu benefitted from filming in color in a foreign locale, but there’s no question which is the better film. In discussing the career of Beverly Garland, they note that actors in low-budget films often had no idea they would be best remembered for them. Garland had to do her own makeup on location. The editing of Curucu was done by the person who inserted the scenes of Raymond Burr into the Japanese footage for Godzilla. Brazil was chosen as the film’s location because “there was a good moviemaking set-up in Brazil.” The director of photography had a long career directing Brazilian films. They liken the last shot of the film to a Twilight Zone ending and call it the one real shock in the film.
Archival Interview with Curt Siodmak – Siodmak walks through an unidentified exhibit of horror film artifacts as he talks, with a heavy accent (English subtitles are included), about the history of the genre. He traces modern horror back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and its inspiration in Jewish folklore and the golem character—a human-like creature made from clay. The idea of creating an artificial human being was the dream of many scientists. He notes that today it is possible to replace body parts with artificial ones. He personally has a heart bypass implant which will prolong his life. Siodmak mentions lycanthropy, or “wolf madness,” which causes sufferers from the condition to believe they can transform into wolves. This is the basis for the films Werewolf of London, The Wolf Man, and many others. Horror films are expressions of childhood fears. Siodmak wrote screenplays for horror films during World War II. After the atom bomb was developed, there was a renewed surge in horror film production based on the effects of radiation and alien invasion.
Stills Gallery – Color posters and black and white stills from the film are shown in slideshow format.
Theatrical Trailer – Because this trailer is sourced from poor-quality video, it’s inferior to that of the main feature.
Curucu, Beast of the Amazon is a curiosity. As a “monster” movie, it bears little resemblance to what the film’s poster and coming attraction promise. As a jungle adventure, it is only mildly interesting. With a lackluster leading man and a weak script, the only things going for it are a game Beverly Garland, its color cinematography, and picturesque locations.
- Dennis Seuling