Monster from the Ocean Floor, one gets the sense, wouldn’t have merited a Wikipedia article were it not for the fact that it was the first film Roger Corman produced. Despite its B-movie quality, there’s quite a lot to like about it. First of all it has a strong female lead. Julie Blair is the only gringo in Mexico to believe the locals that there’s a monster just off shore. Steve Dunning, the scientist, is an avowed skeptic. The plot is cheesy—the monster is an overgrown amoeba irradiated by the Bikini Island underwater nuclear tests, and it’s killed by getting a submarine in the eye—but there are some very effective cinematographic moments. When the young boy talking to Julie in the opening turns to stare at the ocean where his father disappeared, the framing and emotion are perfect.
The theme music for the approach of the shark, and then the amoeba, anticipate Jaws by a couple of decades, and I have to wonder if John Williams hadn’t watched Monster from the Ocean Floor. (I’m sure even cultured people watch the occasional B-movie.) There’s also an unexpected religion angle. A series of episodes in the film have a couple of locals trying to kill Julie as a sacrifice to the monster. Despite the holes in the plot, it’s remarkable that in 1954 there could be dialogue suggesting that the Christian God (“the other god” according to a local woman) isn’t the God that Quetzalcoatl is. All the same, the sacrifice is based on the folklore that the sacrifice of the “fairest” (Julie is, naturally, blonde) will appease the monster. Maybe not the most solid theological basis, but still, not bad for a bad movie.
I’ve recently published a piece on Horror Homeroom about women and water monsters. Having a strong woman in a 1954 film is especially remarkable. Julie, despite the skepticism of the scientists, takes the initiative to dive right down and see the monster for herself. It’s only when she comes up with physical proof that the men consider that she may be right (and in danger). Of course, the men do have to rescue her—you can’t have it all. Yes, it’s a cheaply made movie with a paper-thin plot but it was beginning to show that a woman could take the reins and with good motives (if nobody else will do something about the monster, she will). Although she’s the love object of the movie, she’s so much more. And a submarine in the eye—that’s gotta smart.