“The Strangler almost got me. I saw him. I heard his voice.”
Near a small village is a swamp. The only way across it is a small rope ferry that goes back and forth all day and all night. Those that want to cross ring a bell at the landing to notify the Ferryman that someone is on the other side waiting to cross. Ferryman Douglas (Charles Middleton) use to be the Ferryman. When he is falsely accused of murder and hung by a lynch mob he swears his innocence and vows vengeance to those that are responsible for his death. He curses them and their decedents.
Since then there have been a rash of deaths that are, for the most part, unexplained. Some appear to be accidents and some appear to be suicides. The people who died have a few things in common. They died near the swamp, they all were hung and they were part of the mob that was responsible for Ferryman Douglas’ death.
Now the villagers speak of a strangler of the swamp. An apparition that is the ghost of Ferryman Douglas. They say he is responsible for the deaths. Others disregard the talk as superstition. When the most recent Ferryman, Joseph Hart (Frank Conlan) dies it is revealed that he was the one who accused Douglas of the original crime. Christian Sanders was one of the judges that were responsible for Douglas’s quick judgment. He finds a letter written by Joseph taking responsibility for accusing Douglas. He realizes that he too is responsible for the death of an innocent man.
When Joseph’s daughter Maria (Rosemary La Planche) returns to town and takes over her father’s responsibility as Ferryman people are surprised. Christian’s son Christian ‘Chris’ Sanders Jr. (Blake Edwards) is also returning to the area. He is smitten with Maria and they fall in love. Hanging over their romance is the literal specter of Ferryman Douglas. His vengeance is now focused on Chris and his apparition tells Maria that Chris is the next to die.
“Strangler of the Swamp” was released in 1946 and was directed by Frank Wisbar. It was a low budget poverty row film made by the Producers Releasing Corporation. The movie is based on the German film "Fahrmann Maria" ("Ferryman Maria") which was also directed Frank Wisbar, one of the rare times that the same director helmed both the American and foreign language version of the same film.
It is also one of those obscure movies with a cult following. I can understand why. The film is dark and moody. The swamp is desolate and dead. Technically it is a horror story, but it plays as more of a love story. Most horror stories during that era had a romantic component to it, but in this one the romance was more pronounced. When the ghost did appear it was quite eerie. The atmosphere of the fog laden swamp added a lot to the gothic style of the film.
Charles Middleton also played Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon serials. Blake Edwards acted in a couple dozen movies before becoming a famous writer, producer and director.
The budget may be small and the special effects may be small but the atmosphere is big and spooky.