October Horror Movie Challenge: STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP (1946)


It’s rather appropriate that this PRC chiller from German émigré Frank Wisbar should be the subject of our first Sunday post for the challenge. It’s a film that is deeply entrenched in faith and sacrifice, the act of giving up one’s soul and sticking to your convictions even in the face of ultimate terror. The face of the STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP is that of a former ferryman (Charles Middleton) who was wrongly hanged for murder and now haunts the dark waters of the bayou as a hollow-eyed phantom meting out supernatural justice to the kin of his accusers. It’s quite surprising to see how many dramatic turning points from this very modestly budgeted melodrama–which is itself a remake of one of Wisbar’s earlier European films–would later turn up with all the Hollywood bells and whistles in Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). But even Wisbar’s film is an echo of fellow countryman Fritz Lang’s DESTINY (1921), which proves only that this tale is immortal and one that we never will be too sophisticated or jaded to enjoy and learn from. Wisbar for his part works his limited resources into a mildly bewitching fantasy the greatest asset of which is its setting of the mist-shrouded swamp. It’s the movie’s sociological cesspool, springing forth from its primordial waters the embodiment of all the villagers’ fears, superstitions, and sins. It is only by the selfless act of true love that uneasy souls can find their rest. And unlike that nefarious dream stalker of Elm Street, the ghostly ferryman is content to leave things as they are. The picture is certainly the better for it.

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