‘The Devil’s Partner: Special Edition’

Bloody hexagon, soggy monster

‘The Devil’s Partner: Special Edition’
Film Masters
Two-disc set $29.95 (Blu-ray), $19.95 (DVD)
73 minutes plus bonus film and special features
Not rated

By Mark Voger, author
‘Monster Mash: The Creepy Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972’


Charles R. Rondeau‘s tepid horror film “The Devil’s Partner” and Roger Corman‘s wavering comedy “Creature From the Haunted Sea” didn’t make a cohesive, simpatico double feature back in 1961, when the two Filmgroup releases shared a bill. As often happens in the realm of “cult” movies, the story behind these releases is more interesting than the plots of the actual films.

But I don’t want to, as the expression goes, “bury the lede.”

The reason Corman aficionados need to see Film Masters’ new home video release “The Devil’s Partner: Special Edition” is one of its special features. “Roger Corman: Remembering Filmgroup” presents a new on-camera interview with the legendary auteur, who is now 97 but looks 77. Corman’s memory for detail is amazing as he walks us through his early career. And he hasn’t lost that twinkle in his eyes when he recounts how he may have cut corners, or done something a bit shady, here and there.

Furnace Flats to ‘Peyton Place’

Ed Nelson was going places in the genre — and then he landed a role on “Peyton Place.”

“The Devil’s Partner” features Ed Nelson in his pre-“Peyton Place” period, when he was grabbing any role he could in low-budget horror films like “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Invasion of the Saucer Men” (both 1957). Ambitious Nelson even produced such a film, the sci-fi noir “The Brain Eaters” (1958).

In “The Devil’s Partner,” we first see a gnarly old man slaughter a goat (in shadow, thankfully) and use the blood to fashion a hexagram on the floor. But grandpa croaks immediately prior to the opening credits. The man’s nephew, Nick Richards (Nelson), suddenly materializes in rural Furnace Flats (pop. 1505) in search of his elderly uncle. Told the man has died, Nick decides to move into his uncle’s dilapidated shack and take a job as a gas station pump jockey.

Jean Allison is the purdiest lady in Furnace Flats.

Nick takes notice of lovely Nell Lucas (Jean Allison), who is engaged to his gas-station boss Dave Simpson (Richard Crane). Nick talks a good rap, but there’s something off about him. He woos Nell in a passive-aggressive way — like a nice guy who outwardly respects the boundaries of Jean and Dave’s engagement, but we know what he’s really after.

This is the most horrific still from this “horror” movie. It’s got blood, anyway.

Bad stuff starts happening. An old-timer dies after drinking goat’s milk. Dave is attacked by his own (usually loyal) dog. With his ripped-up face, Dave doubts that Nell could still love him. This leaves Nell confused and hurt. That’s when Nick swoops in with a kiss, right in Dave’s own gas station! “I didn’t mean that,” he says after Nell stops the kiss. Yeah, right.

Guess who? To avoid spoliers, I’ll reveal the actor’s name in Pig Latin: Ed-ay Elson-Nay.

The film’s creepiest moment comes when the town drunk (the always dependable Byron Foulger) watches in wide-eyed terror as Nick uses the bloody hexagon to transform himself back into … the old man! The transformation is done in stages with dissolves, kind of like they once did with Lon Chaney Jr. An eerie thermin playing in the background adds to the scene’s undeniable effect.

Nobody did “folksy doctor” like dentist-turned-actor Edgar Buchanan.

Top-billed as Nell’s father Doc Lucas is Edgar Buchanan, a former dentist with a folksy manner who attained sitcom immortality as Uncle Joe in the 1960s rural comedy “Petticoat Junction.” Buchanan made a ton of westerns, some OK and some classic like “Ride the High Country” (1962), “The Commancheros” (1961) and “McClintock!” (1963). Buchanan also played a lot of characters named Doc. “The Devil’s Partner” is just one more.

Bonus film: ‘Creature From the Haunted Sea’

Renzo (Anthony Carbone) and Mary-Belle (Betsy Jones-Moreland) have company.

Like its double-bill mate, “Creature From the Haunted Sea” sat around for a couple of years before release. The original title, “The Sick Sea Monster,” was scrapped in favor of the film’s (misleading) generic horror title. The movie poster and lobby cards, too, did all they could to not let audiences know that this was political satire with only a minor horror angle.

“Creature” is the third of three movies Corman made back-to-back-to-back in Puerto Rico. Anthony Carbone stars as Renzo, an American skipper-for-hire who is really a gangster on the lam. Mary-Belle, his gal Friday (and any other day), is portrayed by Betsy Jones-Moreland, an actress who played brassy broads to a tee. Jones-Moreland likewise suffered for her art in Corman’s “Viking Women and the Sea Serpent” (1957) and “Last Woman on Earth” (1960).

Undercover agent XK150 (Robert Towne) has a soft spot for Mary-Belle.

Robert Towne — yep, the same guy who won an Oscar for writing “Chinatown” (1974) — is the third wheel as XK150. He’s an American double agent who monitors Carbone’s party as it sails with a shipment of gold absconded from post-revolution Cuba by ousted Gen. Tostada (Edmundo Rivera Álvarez). Naive XK150 falls for Mary-Belle, but her heart belongs to Renzo.

Renzo (right with jaunty captain’s cap) and entourage endure the Puerto Rican heat.

“Creature From the Haunted Sea” is no great shakes, but a lot of fun. And when you listen to Tom Weaver‘s commentary (in which he sifts in fresh Corman quotes), you think: Someone should make a movie about the making of this movie. Twenty-five cast and crew members staying in one small “villa” with one toilet that doesn’t work? Horrors!

Post script

Film Masters’ release comes with a 24-page booklet with essays about both films (Mark McGee on “The Devil’s Partner,” Weaver on “Creature From the Haunted Sea”). The two films are included in both their theatrical and TV iterations — basically four prints of two films. There are also audio commentaries and newly recut trailers from restored film elements for both films. Ballyhoo Motion Pictures continues its deep dive into Corman’s onetime distribution company with “Hollywood Intruders: The Filmgroup Story Part 3.” And like I said, do not miss that new Corman interview.