Filmed in 1984 in the actual swampland of Houma, Louisiana under the original title of “Nutriaman”, Terror In the Swamp is a low-budget, regionally produced creature feature. The film was directed by Joe Catalanato, a first time director with some prior film experience, notably working as a member of the crew for the infamous 1976 Texas shocker The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The film was written by Martin Folse. Unlike Catalanato, Folse had no previous film experience. Also unlike Catalanato, Folse would have no film experience afterwards either.
The film starts with the camera rolling down the bayous of rural Louisiana. An unseen creature can be heard growling from the shadows of the surrounding woods and marshes. A local hunter is waiting for his prey in water that comes up to his waist, a small paddle boat nearby. He levels his shotgun, ready to shoot him a nutria. Nutria are beaver-like rodents that live in these swamps, and are generally hunted for their pelts, although I’m sure that quite a few of these folks have eaten more than a few of these critters in their time.
REVIEWER’S NOTE: I do feel obligated to warn animal lovers about some potential violence against animals as it appears that a real live nutria may have been shot and killed for the making of this film. Only mere moments after claiming his prey, the hunter himself falls prey to the unseen creature. However, I am almost certain that this moment of cinematic retribution will come nowhere near being “enough” to make up for the killing of an animal that may or may not have actually occurred just moments prior. Either way, I’m pretty certain some people will stop reading the review at this point, if they already had not. That’s fair. Moving on…..
Not long after, the local game warden is out cruising the waters in his air-boat when he comes across the hunter’s boat, as well as the man’s battered, bloodied body. The warden retrieves the corpse from the water and takes it back into town. Back at the dock, the local fishermen, hunters, and trappers are prepping their boats for their own day out on the bayou. The relative silence of the day is broken by the cacophony of police sirens as squad cars arrive on the scene, just mere seconds before the game warden motors into dock. The other hunters are still on site to witness the boat drifting in with the body of one of their own still on-board.
Due to the larger sized wounds found on the man’s body, both the warden and the town undertaker believe that the man was attacked by a large animal, such as a gator or possibly a bear, even though bears generally don’t live in marshlands. The warden ventures back out into the swamp to search for more clues as to what may have killed the man. Meanwhile, the sheriff warns the other hunters and trappers to take care in their daily excursions, a request that is resoundingly ignored.
As the commotion dies down back at the marina, the mutated swamp beaver continues to lurk the swamps. The creature is shown to have an affinity with the much smaller sized nutria living in the area. As viewers will quickly discover, there’s a very justifiable reason for the monster’s violent response towards man.
The film then introduces us to a family of poachers living deep in the bayou, as well as a couple of biologists working for the fur industry whose failed lab experiment created the mutation. The poachers, unaware of just what is lurking in the murky waters, only want to find whomever or whatever is responsible for damaging their traps, while the biologists just wish to capture their “mishap” before it becomes a bigger problem.
There’s some nonsense about the researchers being pressured by their international and (presumably) government backers to show some positive results or face having the project shut down, but other than acting as a catalyst for future decisions, it adds nothing of importance to the plot. It’s also very much worth noting that the film’s on-screen dialog does not sync up with the audio track, creating a few unintentionally humorous exchanges between characters.
The autopsy of the “chew toy” trapper reveals that the wounds were indeed inflicted by a giant nutria, but that was never really much of a secret. However, as hunting season is opening in a matter of days, the local law officials wish to keep the creature’s existence from getting to the public. The last thing they need is a bunch of gun toting “swamp rats” hitting the marsh to shoot anything that moves, themselves included.
Once this “revelation” is made, the film becomes a little more willing to show off its creature creation. While never truly (and probably wisely) on “full display”, the creature resembles….. well, it looks like a guy in a cheap gorilla suit, albeit one with modifications. Kinda like a demonic Monchhichi. Or that furry villain from the old She-Ra: Princess of Power toy line. Not that I know anything about that.
PS, His name was “Grizzlor”.
The plan to keep the creature’s existence “hush-hush” is quickly abandoned when the biologists themselves “out” the monster, offering a sizable bounty to any hunter or trapper (or anyone else) that brings the creature down. Naturally, this brings those guys in, quite literally, by the boatload.
The police counter this by bringing in a mercenary group, led by a guy that looks like “Kip” from Napoleon Dynamite, to help bring down the giant killer nutria-beast. Soon, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, no holds barred race to see who can bring down the creature first. Think of 2001’s Rat Race, but instead of Jon Lovitz, you get a man-sized rat monster. That might have been a bad example. Ok, just think of 2001’s Rat Race.
One of Terror In the Swamp‘s stronger assets is its scenery, most notably the scenes filmed from the monster’s perspective. These POV shots feature the camera hovering just over the surface of the bayou, skimming mere inches above the water at times. While some may not find much aesthetically pleasing in these moments, I personally find the swamp’s natural flora and fauna to be quite alluring, even if most of it wants to kill you.
Terror In the Swamp also features a plethora of likable characters to help drive it through its slower moments, especially bayou brothers Jesse and T-Bob. However, the film’s most notable aspect is that, despite a few mild swear words and some moments of fairly tame violence, Terror In the Swamp is safe to watch with the younger horror fans in the household. That is unless your kid(s) is a pussy. In that case, they can go watch some Peppa Pig or whatever the Hell little pansies watch these days.
Granted, I can’t think of many kids longing to watch a regionally produced, low-budget creature feature from almost 40 years ago. Either way, Terror In the Swamp is a fairly entertaining waste of time. Despite a shallow plot and a shoddy creature costume, the film features respectable performances, a few chuckles, and a solid pace. Unfortunately, the ending does feel like more of a “thud” than a “bang”…. which is quite odd since the film actually does end with a “bang”.
If you’re a fan of the 1970’s Bigfoot films, or even lesser known vintage low-budget creature features such as 1979’s Bog, you may just get some enjoyment out of Terror In the Swamp. While the film was released on VHS in 1985 by New World Video, it has yet to receive a DVD or Blu-ray release (at least, not here in the States). Thankfully, the full film is available on Youtube and has been included at the end of this review. Actually, it’s included twice. However, it’s not my upload, so I don’t care.
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