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Tufts’ Luck

Serpent Island is a 1954 made-for-television film directed by prolific television director Tom Gries, who is also the father of actor Jon Gries (Terrorvision, Real Genius). More importantly to genre fans, Serpent Island is the first film that legendary “creature feature” writer/director/producer Bert I. Gordon (Earth Vs The Spider, Food of the Gods) would work on, here serving as the Director of Photography, as well as editor.

Serpent Island is also…. well, it’s a film that I never should have been reviewing. Honestly, I probably shouldn’t have even watched it.

The film stars Sonny Tufts. Not familiar with the name? Well, that’s understandable. Tufts was an up-and-coming actor in the early 1940’s, well before 97% of the Horror And Sons audience was even born. Tufts received an injury playing high school football that would later make him ineligible for military service. Because of this injury, Tufts was able to stay behind and make a name for himself as the second banana in films such as I Love A Soldier and The Virginian while younger, more desirable actors were being sent out to the battlefields.

However, Tufts was also a raging alcoholic. Not just an alcoholic, mind you, but one with a propensity for biting strippers and other exotic dancers. While biting strippers generally costs you a few extra bucks these days, it was somewhat frowned upon in Tuft’s heyday. Especially by the strippers who were presumably hoping to be bitten by a “bigger name”. Because of his inability to stay sober and out of trouble, Tufts’ “star” quickly plummeted. Within the space of a decade, Tufts had gone from “rising star” to “laughing stock”. The bigger roles dried up and Tufts was left to take roles in films such as Cat Women of the Moon and today’s subject.

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Tufts stars as former Marine Engineer Pete Mason, now working odd jobs as a harbor bum. As the film opens, Mason is approached by a fiery redhead named Ricki (Mary Mundae – Magic, Ghost Dad), a secretary from Scranton. Ricki is immediately caught off-guard by Mason’s disheveled appearance. Ricki recently discovered a long-lost letter written by her great-grandfather that speaks of a treasure worth over a million dollars that was hidden somewhere in Haiti by the long deceased man. The lawyer for Ricki’s family served with Mason in the Marines. He recommended Mason as a guide due to the man’s knowledge of the island. Judging from the sweat and dirt stains littering Mason’s clothing, no one will be recommending him as a dry cleaner.

While Ricki is wanting to hire Mason as a guide, she’s already chartered a boat from a Captain Kirk Ellis. Ellis is not fond of Mason. Not even close. Ellis initially refuses to let Mason on-board, but soon changes his tune once he’s informed of just what Ricki is looking for, more so once he discovers what his will be.

There is a quick cut-away shot of Ricki looking at her watch. Viewers may be perplexed when they see the manly black hairs growing abundantly out of what is supposed to be her wrist. Viewers may be even more perplexed when they remember that Ricki is wearing a long-sleeved business suit that should have covered her delicate Sasquatch-like wrists.

Ricki returns to the docks the following morning to prepare for her voyage. As she exits her car, a man runs up and attempts to steal her purse. Mason comes to her aid and exchanges a couple punches with the thief. Maybe “exchanges” is a bad choice of words since neither man actually lands a punch. Ricki asks Mason if he recognized the man, which he does not. Mason believes the man to be nothing more than a common thief, but Ricki suspects that someone sent him to get the letter. She quickly changes the topic to accuse Mason of drinking. He admits that he has indeed been drinking….. for some years now. He hopes to continue doing so for a few more years. Hopefully someone alerted the exotic dancers of the world of this development.

The boat soon deports from San Pedro, California. Why Ricki never thought to charter a boat out of Florida, or anywhere else that’s closer to Haiti, will just have to remain a mystery. Shortly after departure, Ricki reveals to Mason that she’s actually flat broke and that this money would greatly help her and her family. She’s saved up for the last 2 years to make this journey happen, so she’s hoping to heaven that the treasure is found.

Soon after, we reach a scene in which Ellis is harassing Mason, trying to convince him to quit the trip. Seeing as the boat is already some distance out to sea, I’m not sure how he expects Mason to actually leave the boat. Mason refuses, which earns him a punch to his shirtless gut; a gut that quivers like Jello in a washing machine. This serves to show that Tufts’s acting career wasn’t the only thing wasting away over the years. Mason is prepared to return the blow, but Ellis warns him that doing so would be considered “mutiny”. As Ellis’s ship is not filled with delicious candied coconut, it’s safe to assume that this is not The Bounty. The threat is empty, but Mason acquiesces nonetheless.

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In the wonderful tradition of 1950’s cinematic sexism, Ricki spends her days lounging on deck in her low-cut black swimsuit. Meanwhile, the men are all working the boat and busting their humps, frequently gazing over and wishing that they could hump her bust.

The crew soon get caught in a stock-footage hurricane. Now, I know there have been numerous advancements in the field of meteorology over the last 50-plus years, but are we really supposed to believe that there was no weather station to notice this earlier? What kind of captain takes his boat out on that long of a trip without checking the stock-footage weather forecast first? Okay, so the Skipper did, but look where that got him. The storm passes as quickly as it arrived, which means that I’ve just wasted your time by making you read this paragraph. Hey, don’t feel too bad. I wasted my time writing it.

Trouble begins as they approach Haiti. Ricki is awoken in her cabin by the sound of someone digging through her purse. While the viewer can clearly see that the perpetrator is actually Ellis, Ricki can not. The man flees the room and Ricki runs out screaming after him, her butt cheeks falling out the bottom of her nightgown as she runs. Mason appears and is informed of what has happened. They return to her room to find the letter sitting on her bed. Ricki accuses Mason of being the (attempted) thief and tells him that she wants him off the boat once they reach Haiti.

Ricki slowly begins to change her opinion of Mason. She informs Ellis that Mason will no longer be fired once they reach the island. Ellis can’t understand why she’d want to keep him around, calling the man an “alcoholic harbor bum”. This truth angers Mason enough to fight. He punches Ellis, knocking the man off the boat. When sharks begin to circle, Ricki demands that Mason jump in and save him. There is no real danger at hand as the sharks are also provided via stock footage, and even less of a threat when you consider that at least one of the shots shown is very clearly that of dolphins.

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The boat finally reaches Haiti. Mason and Ricki begin searching the island for the alleged treasure. Instead, they find a quiet stretch of beach. This leads to an incredibly awkward scene of Mason ogling Ricki as she removes her blouse to reveal her swimsuit once again, as well as the sizable flotation devices that she keeps within it. Mason rushes her like Toys R’ Us shoppers on Black Friday and forcibly kisses her. In the 50’s, this was considered “making the 1st move”. Today, it’s considered sexual assault. Although expecting it, Ricki still takes another opportunity to shit all over Mason’s place in life before letting him force his whiskey-soaked lips upon her for another make-out session. I believe that some would call what she is doing “slumming it”.

After he’s presumably had his smelly, sweaty way with her, he begins to tell her the sob story of how he became a “boat bum”. Upon returning home from deployment, he was greeted with no employment opportunities, as well as the discovery that a lover had married someone else. Because of this, he essentially gave up….. just like I should have given up on this movie 45 minutes earlier.

FUN FACT: Astute viewers (AKA “viewers not in a coma by this point”) will notice that when Mason checks his wrist watch during this scene, we are shown the same hairy wrist that served as Ricki’s earlier in the film. In other words, it’s contagious.

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As Mason and Ricki continue their search, a machete wielding native begins to trail their every move. As he is following only a few steps behind, he really should’ve been noticed sooner. Meanwhile, Ellis takes a dinghy to shore in search of Mason and Ricki, who have since wandered into a small village. The place is eerily quiet. Mason makes the assumption that the natives must be out somewhere “sticking pins into things”. Sure, that seems like a racially insensitive thing to say, but hey, it was the 1950’s. We were some astonishingly racially insensitive fucks back then. So glad we’ve all changed since then. Ahem.

Our two treasure hunters finally notice the man who has been shadowing them. Mason slugs the man while Ricki makes a break for the boat. The large native subdues Mason and carries him back to the now-active village. Ellis eventually comes across Ricki and she informs him what has happened to Mason. Ellis wants to return to the boat for the evening and to search for Mason come morning, but Ricki refuses. Ellis agrees to continue the search once Ricki reminds him that Mason seems to know where the treasure is located.

Back in the village, Mason is met by the village priestess, a woman whom Mason seemingly had a prior romantic involvement with. He seems more happy to see her than she is him. Who can blame her? Mason’s a deadbeat alcoholic dock rat with floppy, sweaty man udders and a bad habit of biting bitches. It’s not an affair to remember.

The priestess tells Mason that the villagers worship the gold as an idol and are willing to kill anyone that attempts to take it. This is followed by a series of stock footage clips featuring “natives” performing various dance rituals/ceremonies. As I’ve already stated, honkeys were racist as shit back in the 50’s. They were also quite naive, so the audience could have been shown footage of black people dancing anywhere and, if told, would unquestioningly believe it to be Haiti.

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Ellis and Ricki arrive at the village. It’s at this point that Ellis reveals that he was the one that attempted to steal her letter. He forces her to continue searching the jungles for the treasure. The large native that was following Ricki and Mason earlier reappears and pulls Ricki into the bush. Panicked, Ellis begins calling loudly for her. I guess she lost his number.

Ricki is led back to the village, where she tells Mason about Ellis. Mason fills her in on the natives’ lethal devotion to the gold. Despite the priestess’s continuous warnings that it will lead to her death, Ricki REALLY wants that gold. And Mason must REALLY want some of that sweet-sweet Pennsylvania poontang because he agrees to continue trying to help her find it.

They are lead back into the jungle by Machete Man. After a short distance, Ricki is made to continue on by herself while Mason is held back. Ricki enters a small clearing and finally finds her great-grandfather’s legendary gold. Thing is, it’s not a treasure chest filled with gold. It’s not even a pile of the stuff. Instead, the “gold” is actually a golden statuette in the likeness of some island Goddess. The idol is surrounded by a few normal-sized boa constrictors. Maybe they’re pythons. Ehh, not important. What is important is that instead of receiving a giant snake or even a poisonous snake, Serpent Island‘s titular “payoff” is nothing more than the reptile section at Petsmart.

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Apparently, in Haiti, snakes have the ability to fly through the air like Vince Carter. Must be all that third-world voodoo bullshit. Either way, a snake does just that, wrapping itself around Ricki. In a hurricane of continuity errors, Mason breaks free from the machete carrying thug and tries to free Ricki from the snake’s clutches. Mason frees Ricki just in time for a final encounter with the now money-mad Ellis.

Simply put, Serpent Island is a boring piece of shit. There is nothing remotely horror or sci-fi about this film, which makes its inclusion on a DVD set called “Creepy Creatures” dubious at best. Honestly, there is no reason whatsoever that I should have been reviewing this movie. So, why did I review it? Well, mostly because I was halfway through the film before I realized that it was a waste of my time, and now yours. But hey, at least I got a new review out this week! And that’s what matters most!

Happy Holidays, bitches!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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