Believe it or not, I’d never heard of “Superbeast” before I saw it among the free movies on the On Demand menu on my cable.
Okay, maybe that’s not all that hard to believe.
The movie was filmed in the Philippines as part of a subset of the movie industry I’ve always been interested in: Cheap exploitation movies filmed – or at least partially filmed – there for release to the US drive-in circuit. For a while there, note some biographies of legendary exploitation filmmaker Roger Corman, exploitation movies and especially exploitation movie trailers included prodigious amounts of Filipino footage of jungles and helicopters and girls firing machine guns. It’s all a little like the footage of chicks shooting machines guns in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown.”
“Superbeast” was released in 1972 on a double-bill with “Daughters of Satan,” a thriller that starred future TV icon Tom Selleck. Selleck went on to greater things, but the same can’t be said for the male lead here, Craig Littler, who did have a stint in the Saturday morning kid’s show “Jason of Star Command.”
Considering the exotic locales in “Superbeast,” there’s a lot of travelogue material here, including trips down rivers with hippos and the like lying alongshore. All this footage serves to fill out the running time of the movie, which has a rather thin storyline.
“Superbeast” is another variation on a couple of well-remembered and much-exploited stories: “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “The Most Dangerous Game.”
A doctor, played by Antoinette Bower, investigates mysterious goings-on in the jungle and finds lab experiments that turn men into half-men/half-animals.
But there’s really not a whole lot going on for the first half of the movie, except for the doctor waking up to the sounds of screams and gunshots. The doc finds out that the mutated results of these jungle experiments become targets for the mastermind behind it all, a hunter played by Harry Lauter.
Even this description makes “Superbeast” seem more action-packed and coherent than it is. It’s marked by the lazy lack of cleverness that is the ruin of many low-budget movies – and makes clever low-budget films seem even better by comparison. Rather than writing and shooting meaningful plot points, the filmmakers include lots of footage of people just wandering in and out of scenes.
“Superbeast” tries to create shocks by including some real-life gore. There’s an autopsy scene using real footage and another with real organs in a jar. And “Superbeast” might be one of the few movies with exposition delivered via slide show. The movie has a real WTF moment when the female doctor dreams about having sex with one of the mutated natives.
After meandering through the plot for nearly 90 minutes, Litter goes all manimal and shows up in an immobile apeman mask. A struggle ensues and well, that’s pretty much it.
The movie even ends with a “huh?” freeze frame, as if to emphasize the futility of trying to find a coherent plot here.
“Superbeast” didn’t have a life much beyond those 1972 drive-in theaters, and that’s just as well.