Swamp of Horrors was a low budget black-and-white science fiction B-movie released in 1957. It was directed by Walter Fanik and produced by Artificial Light Studios. It starred Adrian Cooper as Professor Derek Spire and Sheena Sown as his beautiful assistant Melody Malone. The film was shot in New York and Hammerston, Louisiana. Its tagline was "The Animal Kingdom declares war on humanity!"
Artificial Light was initially reluctant to release the film without significant re-editing as they believed that its political message was subversive. However, Fanik stood his ground and the film was released unedited, partly because Artificial Light was not willing to allow a film with "such stunning special effects" to escape its grasp. The groundbreaking special effects of Swamp of Horrors and all of Fanik's subsequent films were provided by Ann Allen, an extremely reclusive woman with a hunchback who refused to reveal the secrets of her technique.
The Sixth Doctor and Melanie Bush were investigating UFO sightings in the proximity of Hammerston and became involved in the production of the film after attacking an actor in a rubber alien suit whom they mistook for a genuine alien. The Doctor, who used his common alias "Dr. John Smith", and Mel were assumed to be uncredited actors playing fictional characters by film critics.
The film's storyline involved Spire and Melody searching for the Fountain of Youth in the Louisiana bayou. While there, they discovered that giant animals - including snakes, alligators, eagles, locusts, turtles and snow leopards - were terrorising the people of Hammerston. Spire and Melody assisted the United States military in defeating the giant animals. Their efforts were both helped and hindered by Dr. Smith and Melanie. It is eventually discovered that the animals escaped from an alien vessel which had crashed in the area. Ingesting the aliens' rations caused the animals to grow to an unusually large size. When Melody ate part of the rations, she similarly grew several feet taller.
Throughout the film, Dr. Smith continually stressed the importance of conservation as he learned from the aliens' records that they were on a mission of mercy; the various animal specimens aboard the ship were all facing extinction. Conversely, Spire argued that the aliens were Communists and that they had created the giant animals as a form of attack. The General was persuaded by Spire's arguments, in part because he believed that Dr. Smith's coat made him look like a "circus clown".
The military launched an attack on the giant animals, killing them all in the process. Dr. Smith lambasted the General for doing so since he had wiped out species which were previously thought to be extinct. In the melee, Melody was knocked unconscious by a piece of flying masonry. Realising the error of his ways, Spire shielded her body from an explosion and sacrificed his life, redeeming himself in the process.
Many years after the release of Swamp of Horrors, a reviewer described it as a "surprisingly competent film" which subverted many of the clichés associated with monster movies of the 1950s. He noted that the film was predominantly shot in a documentary style, which he claimed gave it a much needed grounding in reality. The reviewer was critical of the performances of both Cooper and Sawn. He believed that Cooper was uncharismatic as the "boorish" Spire, claiming that he was "the kind of scientist who only appears in these kind of movies; square-jawed and athletic, he'd be more at home on a football field than in a lab coat". In the case of Sawn, he opined that she was clearly cast more for looks and dancing ability than for her acting ability.
However, the reviewer believed that the film marked an important turning point in Fanik's career as his subsequent films made the ecological and political subtext of Swamp of Horrors explicit. Although they were disliked by the American government, his films proved to be highly popular with the growing youth movement of the 1960s and the 1970s.
The reviewer also noted that Fanik made two appearances as himself in the film. The first came when Dr. Smith and Melanie attacked the actor in the rubber suit. In his second appearance, Fanik was furious that a giant alligator had destroyed one of his cameras, though the footage from it was recovered. Some critics described these appearances as a clumsy attempt at breaking the fourth wall.
He made note of the fact that Swamp of Horrors was the final film for both Cooper and Sawn. Cooper was killed in a freak on-set accident while Sawn retired from acting and became an expert on animals, writing several books on endangered species. After her death in 1985, a conservation charity was established in her name.
At the end of the viewing notes for the film, the reviewer called attention to the incongruous presence of a British police box in Louisiana in a scene outside the inn where Spire and Melody stayed. (PROSE: Swamp of Horrors (1957) - Viewing Notes)