Rudy Schwartz's Reviews

Unlike Jonathan Winters, Canadian Winters have a way of lingering past their welcome. By the time March rolls around, you know there's still a month to go, but your inner naive optimist is latching onto any signs of Spring. In Montréal, one of these signals of false hope is the scattered garbage season, when the days occasionally drift above the freezing point, the banks of gray and yellow snow begin to melt, and three months worth of discarded Quebecois consumerism appear, like bones peeking through the hide of a rotting mule. Cardboard beverage containers. Old shoes. Dry cleaning bags. An astounding array of condom boxes. Even entire rusty bicycles. All of this detritus is damp with a layer of murky sludge, forming an urban landscape that makes a Bela Tarr movie seem like Singin' in the Rain.

What better antidote to this seasonal gloom than a quick escape to sunny Florida, courtesy of one of its most overlooked auteurs, William Grefé? Why not a ninety minute dose of sunshine, women's butts, swimming pools, pink transistor radios, women's butts, beach towels, patio furniture, Neil Sedaka, and lots of close-ups of jiggling women's butts? Why not a pack of insufferable assholes pretending to be teenagers, and raising obnoxious frat boy behavior to a level worthy of a mass drowning in a silo full of goat urine? Sound great? You bet it is, and I haven't even mentioned "Egon" yet.

Egon has some issues. He's an assistant to a marine biologist named Dr. Richardson. The doctor has a bump on his head that looks like an advanced stage melanoma, and he's a bit condescending toward Egon. To be honest, everyone is condescending toward Egon, which isn't very nice since there's something wrong with Egon that's never really spelled out. His face is a little weird and he walks around crouched over a lot of the time, scaring women by sneaking up on them. This unfortunate social isolation causes Egon to wear a scuba suit smeared with raspberry preserves and festooned with mardi gras beads. That would be okay, but he also likes to sneak up on women at the dock while they're sunbathing, pull them into the water, and tote their corpses back to his underground laboratory, where presumably they play some role in his human/jellyfish evolutionary hybrid experiments. We've all been there.

Grefé offers none of the usual curve balls in Sting of Death. It's immediately obvious that Egon is the swamp creature even though his face isn't shown when he's killing people. This makes you suspect there'll be one of those dumb surprise endings like with Tiny Tim in Blood Harvest or Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket, but nosirree Bubba, none of that shit here. That's not to say there aren't surprises, but Grefé's are more like what you'd get at a frat house full of dadaists.

For example, Dr. Richardson invites his daughter Karen and all of her hot girlfriends out to his remote island laboratory for some spring break revelry. While they're all enjoying a glass of orangeade on the patio, Karen asks him about the creepy bump on his forehead. He says something fell out of a cupboard and hit him. It never comes up again, dousing my expectation that it's part of some evolutionary sealife experiment gone amiss. Dr. Richardson has another assitant who isn't a carnival freak, who announces that he's invited a group of biology students over for a big pool party. Egon walks up, scares some of the women, then gets scolded. He later shares a private moment with Karen, the target of his affection, and expresses concern that the biology students will make fun of him. She assures him they won't.

When the biology students show up, they jump off their boat and begin dancing like spastic rejects from an Annette Funicello movie. One of them looks like Sean Hannity and has a shirt that looks like it was made from a red mylar balloon. As soon as he sees Egon, he rallies his biology pals to chase him and make fun of him. How cruel! And Karen promised this wouldn't happen. Egon runs away, and the horde of biology lab bullies laugh and form a conga line to the swimming pool.

This is when things get really fucked up, because if you've never heard Neil Sedaka sing ska music, this is your chance. Neil's ode to the jellyfish is presented, providing Grefé an excuse for an endless montage of gyrating, dorky white guys, and women's asses from every conceivable camera angle.

Monkey, don't be a donkey

It's nothing like the Monkey!

It isn't funky or anything that's junky!

It's something swella!

The jilla-jalla Jellyfish!

Mercifully, Egon shows up and starts killing people, although under the circumstances, a bit more punctuality would be appreciated. One of the insufferable partying assholes is badly injured, so Dr. Richardson tells the rest of them to put him on their boat and take him back to the mainland for medical attention. This turns out to be a bad move, because Egon has enlisted an army of Man-of-Wars that look like colostomy bags stuffed with cotton candy, but which are capable of flipping over large boats and killing annoying people by merely bumping into them. This provides the film's most compelling moment of terror, and it seems more than reasonable that after the boatload of douchebags is massacred, nobody notices or ever mentions them again.

Eventually Egon expresses his unrequited love for Dr. Richardson's daughter, drags her to his laboratory to impress her, shows her how his head turns into a dry cleaning bag when he mutates into a jellyfish, then suffers her rejection. Karen's boyfriend shows up, setting the stage for a tense standoff between a guy with a bag on his head and another guy parrying a scuba flare. I won't spoil it by telling you what happens, but I will tip my hat to Bill Grefé for providing a wonderful Florida getaway for less than the cost of a tube of suntan lotion or a blow job from Anita Bryant.

And strangely, my all too brief recliner chair sojourn to a warmer clime has helped me to appreciate all the more what I already have. Now I can stop to savor a storm drain clogged with jettisoned condom boxes, all redolent with the urine of a hundred passing dogs. After all, inspiration can be found wherever we choose, and as Egon and I have both learned through experience, the kingdom of heaven is within.

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