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  Strangler of the Swamp Who Pays The Ferryman?
Year: 1946
Director: Frank Wisbar
Stars: Rosemary La Planche, Robert Barrat, Blake Edwards, Charles Middleton, Effie Parnell, Nolan Leary, Frank Conlan
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: A young man's body is found in the local swamp, and it appears he has drowned. However, the folk of the village know different: seeing the weeds around the body's neck, they believe it to be the work of the the Strangler, the ghost of the Ferryman who they hanged for murder with flimsy evidence. The real murderer is now the new ferryman, taking the passengers across the swamp in a little boat, and tonight some of the ladies of the village ask to be transported across. The new ferryman is next on the Strangler's list, and it's clear the phantom has plans to kill off the villagers and their descendants, especially when the noose hung up to ward him off lands around the new ferryman's neck...

Strangler of the Swamp is generally regarded as the best film to be released by the low budget studio P.R.C. Only an hour long, it was scripted by the director, Frank Wisbar, with help from Leo McCarthy and Harold Erickson, and based on an earlier film that Wisbar had made in Germany. The atmosphere of dread hangs heavily over the characters as they bicker amongst themselves, convinced that the Strangler will strike again. It's the old "town with a guilty secret" tale again, but handled with great style that grows more dreamlike, or nightmarish, as it goes along.

When the new ferryman ends up strangled, his granddaughter Maria (Rosemary La Planche) unexpectedly arrives in town to visit him. The leader of the community, Christian Sanders (Robert Barrat), refuses to tell her of the curse and she takes her grandfather's place by ferrying the villagers herself. She's mightily attached to her new job, as she wistfully gazes in to space and tells Chris (Blake Edwards, yes, the Pink Panther director), the son of Sanders who has also just returned, that the job reminds her of her life, going back and forth and never settling.

There's a romance brewing between Maria and Chris, but the Strangler has other ideas and has his sights set on the young man. Played by Charles Middleton, we never get a good look at the apparition as he's perpetually in shadow, with deep pools of darkness where his eyes should be. He seems to be composed of the thick mist and those shadows, a constant presence in the swamp, which is as gloomy and uninviting as you'd expect.

If this had been made in the eighties or nineties it would have probably been a slasher movie, but here it has a strangely religious angle. It's funny how in films that innocent people, when wrongly accused with dire consequences, tend to go on a killing spree to exact revenge on their tormentors, making them a lot less innocent than they were originally. But in Strangler of the Swamp, Christian forgiveness and sacrifice of the sort not shown by the supposedly pious villagers reap rewards. With a memorable climax seeing Maria fighting to keep Chris alive ("He's dying!" intones the Strangler), this gem provides everything you'd want from a B-movie of this vintage, with an eerie quality that other horror film makers would love to emulate.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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