The Nutriaman Reloaded
Links, festival picks, and a VCR trip with "Terror in the Swamp"
It’s October now. Time to prep for Halloween, time to watch some spooky films, and time to… revamp the newsletter a bit.
Or to… finally do a newsletter.
In between regular reviews and some interviews, I’ll be doing this new series, which will be exclusive to paid subscribers. Pieces will be concentrated on Hollywood South regional movie culture, from retrospectives of area filmmaking to memories of cinema past.
As always, if you have suggestions or thoughts to share, send them along.
If you like what you read, do pass these posts along.
And if you’d like to support this publication, consider becoming a monthly or yearly subscriber, or leave a supporting tip.
Let the movies roll!:
“What an opportunity it would have been to cast the likes of Egyptian actor Amr Waked or French-Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri in these roles. Instead, we get Javier Bardem doing whatever the Arab version of Blackface is.” - Hanna Flint, on the latest Dune adaptation
“‘Only in Theaters’ is not a promise or a friendly reminder anymore: It’s a forceful shove,” - Kenneth Lowe, on the restrictive model of movie exhibition
Picks for Film Fest Flicks
The lineups for the 2021 editions of Nightstream (our Overlook Film Fest participates) and the New Orleans Film Festival have been announced, and each list expresses an interesting and wide diversity in story and filmmaker.
According to the New Orleans Film Society, forty movies from Louisiana directors will be in competition at the New Orleans Film Festival - 66% of those are directors of color, and 40% are women/gender non-conforming. And of course, Nightstream’s virtual celebration of the worldwide weird and wicked in cinema represents how these events can be more inclusive for audiences.
Of the films announced, I’ve made a list of ten overall recommendations. Movies that I’ll for sure be catching, and that I think everyone should too (all of my NOFF picks are in the Louisiana category):
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Nightstream)
Chip & Kevin Make a Movie (NOFF)
Shapeless (NOFF + Nightstream)
The Laughing Man (NOFF)
This is Gwar (Nightstream)
Mary Queen of Vietnam (NOFF)
Mother Schmuckers (Nightstream)
Nightstream runs from October 7th through the 13th, and the New Orleans Film Festival goes from November 5th through the 14th for in person screenings - 21st for virtual.
Watching Joe Catalanotto’s Terror in the Swamp on VHS
With the assistance of interviewee Cassie Catalanotto, I profiled her father, the legend of “Lil Joe,” for the Bayou Brief some months back. Joe, who unfortunately passed away September 25th, was the quintessential independent filmmaker, and a pioneer of what homegrown Hollywood South is and could be. Cassie’s regaling of Joe’s exploits in the music and moviemaking industries floored this wide-eyed critic, as he indeed was witness to such historic artistry. A master craftsman of his behind-the-scenes trade, Joe’s adventures weren’t just things to mythologize, but to respect among workers all over.
The following review, of his 80s made creature feature Terror in the Swamp, from a VHS I purchased over Etsy, is my humble attempt to pay some level of tribute and honor to the man behind the lens. The film is also available on Youtube, but I hope that an approved restoration will hit streaming and home physical release one day. Until then, enjoy, keep his family in your thoughts, and support film crews everywhere in this time of uncertainty:
If Rodents of Unusual Size - the documentary about the environmental real-world terror of the rodents known as Nutria - didn’t put the concern over Louisiana coastal protection in your heart and mind… neither will the classic, horrifically underseen and all but forgotten Terror in the Swamp, aka Nutriaman: The Coppasaw Creature. I admit to having waited far too long in watching this flick, almost in hesitation that it somehow wouldn’t live up to the hype I had created from the research I had done over the years. Every bit of information I learned was absolutely charming to my affinity and admiration for my Cajun/Creole heritage, not to mention its independent gung-ho spirit of production.
And yet, it lived up to it all, despite the odds. Despite the difficulties of shooting in a bayou. Despite the resources needed and perhaps unavailable. That’s the movie in a pecan shell: Despite it all, it was effective.
Terror in the Swamp isn’t much of a monster movie, as the only clean shot of the half man half Nutria comes towards the finale, and in one of the few flat moments of the film. We’re not scared nor are we all that concerned with the safety of our protagonists from the monster. However, I contend that the final picture wasn’t really meant to be full-on horror, but rather a nature and cultural film with a blend of genres, from government procedural to comedy to straight drama. The “horror” is a mere excuse to get beautiful movements of the Houma swamps, document thick accents, drink plenty of beer, shoot some guns, and blow up a shack.
Is that enough to satisfy audiences outside of Southeast Louisiana? Perhaps not, but whatever. Charles B. Pierce’s Boggy Creek films, for example, showcase the Texarkana environment in the b-movie mold too, though maybe to a more sleep-inducing end (no offense). Terror in the Swamp is never boring. There’s always action and movement, there’s always technique and crafts, and there’s always heart on display. Enough to satisfy those who appreciate such things? Yes.
Shots of the game warden, played by one Billy Holliday, as he stands proudly at the front tip of racing boats, make for whimsically fun frames, which I smiled at. The attitude of his performance in these shots reminded me of George Washington making his way across the Potomac River - seriously, they had the same air of confidence. Bold I say, if somewhat (or a lot) overdoing it. There are many scenes that do the business of style and substance over story, as the story itself isn’t as meaty as the skill of those not facing the camera. But again, there’s nothing boring here.
Characters range in personality, from deep bayou hunters and trappers to local officers and professionals to, well, aggressive drunks. And a mad scientist with plans to beef up the fur industry, of course. Exposition is really the only way we as the audience learn of the inciting incidents, through talk between two swampland brothers and two swamp-based scientists. There are no true blue antagonists or mean-spirited people in the film - everyone has a motive, some positive and some slightly more negative, but they’re all just trying to make their way in this region of the world. In this environmental crisis. In this age of Reaganomics, not to suggest any deep meaning, mind you. It’s a movie all about character and characters, about personalities and charm above all else, even at the sacrifice of basic story structure.
There are much greater than expected moments, all due to creative cinematography and composition. A helicopter flying right behind a boat, the first-person sight from behind the creature’s eyes, and the bright views of such crisp if muddy waterways. Even the cutting is sophisticated in places, especially the opening, which builds tension with mere shots of animals and ADR animal and monster noises. Once again, craftsmen and craftswomen at work and on point.
It’s no reel of perfection, but never is a scene without something happening, and never is the film without some resourcefulness. Terror in the Swamp never succumbs to the easy failings of fellow flicks of its kind. It may be set in a swamp, but it knows its way around for sure, They knew the tale was on the short side, so the team made sure the movie was, well, a movie and then some. Atmosphere, attitude, and action. Get in, and get out. What more could you want? A monster? This ain’t Jaws folks, despite some familiar music being used.
Despite it all. 3/5