MERMAIDS OF TIBURON (1962 and 1987)/YAMBAO (1957)
Directors: John Lamb and Alfredo B. Crevenna
Kit Parker Films/VCI Entertainment

John Lamb was a man who wore many hats. A writer, director, and producer, Lamb is most often associated with underwater cinematography. His camera and talents where in high demand throughout the 1960s and 1970s, in both feature films (MONDO KEYHOLE) and television (“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”). For his first theatrical picture, John took his knowledge of underwater photography and his arsenal of aquatic equipment to the coasts of Mexico to film an undersea adventure that would captivate him so that he would return to retool the film again and again.

Doctor Samuel Jamison (George Rowe) is set to journey to the island of Tiburon after an encounter with Ernst Steinhauer (John Mylong, ROBOT MONSTER) promises the opportunity for a once in a lifetime scientific discovery. Steinhauer has come into possession of a rare and colorful pearl, unlike any Samuel has seen before, and claims to know of a location where similar treasures can be found. Enticed by the promise of such a unique find, Dr. Jamison agrees to travel to the remote island and explore its waters for the rare prismatic pearls. However, Dr. Jamison is not the only one aware of the riches hidden underneath the islands rough waters. Milo Sangster (Timothy Carey, THE KILLING) also seeks the distinctive pearls and has hired local Pepe (Jose Gonzales-Gonzales, KRONOS) to carry himself and his equipment on an expedition of their own. Upon his arrival Jamison wastes no time in getting his feet wet and is soon exploring the many inhabitants that flourish underneath the island's coast. Samuel searches for the oversized clams said to house the elusive pearls, all the while unknowingly shadowed by a throng of undersea beauties. Hidden from the rest of the world, these nautical nymphs covet the oversized clams that contain the pearls in closely guarded gardens. Stumbling across their plot of gigantic clams, Dr. Jamison is initially teased and taunted by the mermaids, but they will quickly champion his arrival as they will require his help in fending off the determined poacher Sangster.

Originally filmed in 1962, MERMAIDS OF TIBURON has gone through a number of edits and re-edits since its initial release. The original cut, released by Roger Corman’s Filmgroup, was clearly marketed as a fantasy adventure under the sea. In contrast, its concurrent International release is said to have had additional topless footage incorporated to appeal to a more European sensibility. A couple of years later, the film got a fairly major overhaul, with additional nude footage shot and inserted to create a more flesh oriented picture. This cut, retitled THE AQUA SEX, focused less on the ocean's natural inhabitants and more on scenes of topless gals rippling through the water. Twenty-three years later, Lamb would re-edit his film for a final time, to create a director’s cut dubbed the “Nude Version.” It wouldn't surprise me to find out that there are additional versions of this film floating around somewhere.

It is the later “Nude Version” presented as the featured attraction for this release with the original cut available in the disc's extra features. No matter which version you prefer, the dialogue and major plot points are consistent, as are the performances of the leading male actors. Jose Gonzales-Gonzales holds his own as the comic relief and captain of the Weazel, against scene stealer Timothy Carey, who chews through most of his scenes with smug delight. Fans of nudist aficionado Diane Webber will undoubtedly favor the film's original cut, as it devotes noticeable more on-screen time to the lovely sea siren. The disc's package mentions additional nude footage of Diane present, but my watchful eye did not catch Mrs. Webber without a top in either cut presented. Many of Diane’s scenes are replaced in the “Nude” version by shots of Gaby Martone and friends cavorting through seaweed and over cliffs as they wobble after Doctor Jamison. It’s especially easy to distinguish the original mermaid footage from the “Nude” version, as no one bothered to provide fins to the topless girls for the re-shoots.

Originally filmed open matte, it is unclear if both versions present here have been taken from an original 35mm negative, as advertised on the disc's cover. The “Nude Version” is presented letterboxed in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, while the original theatrical version is presented full frame in 4:3. Both prints definitely show their age, but are certainly acceptable. There are some instances of faded colors present in the “Nude Version” not found on the original cut, but as this film has been cut and pasted together so many times, the print was bound to have garnered a few errors during its multiple edits. For a motion picture that primarily takes place underwater, the film's aquatic scenes hold up well, with only a few scenes too dark and murky to clearly view the action. Audio is suitable with George Rowe’s narration comprehensible and Richard LaSalle's score hitting all the right notes. There is an optional introduction to the “Nude Version” of MERMAIDS OF TIBURON from filmmaker Elijah Drenner, which touches on the film's history and highlights such cast members as George Rowe, who would later direct a number of cult films including BLACK MAMBA.

Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment have coupled MERMAIDS with the Cuban/Mexican occult thriller YAMBAO, also known as CRY OF THE BEWITHCED. Jorge (Ramón Gay, THE CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE) owns a sprawling sugar plantation in Cuba with his wife Béatriz (Rosa Elena Durgel), who is anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child. The couple and their slaves live a peaceful, quite life but the tranquility of their plantation is rattled one night by a mysterious midnight drumming. Such drumming has not been heard since Jorge’s right-hand man killed a local voodoo priestess 15 years ago, having pushed her off a cliff. Jorge and his men follow the rhythmic pounding into the fields where they find the priestess' granddaughter Yambao (Ninón Sevilla) practicing the full moon rites once performed by her slain grandmother. Yamboa's intoxicating undulations have a hypnotic effect on the local men, even catching the eye of Master Jorge. When her appearance is preceded by the arrival of a plague, the workers quickly blame the epidemic on the free spirited Yambao, as it is assumed that like her grandmother, her presence has brought misfortune to their land. Jorge urges his wife to travel in order to escape the reach of the outbreak, only to find himself stricken with the deadly plague. Love struck, Yambao races to Jorge’s bedside, determined to cure him of the deadly illness, but struggles to keep her wits while tending to Jorge, as her mind and body are no longer under her control. Her grandmother has been living in the mountains surrounding the cane fields, having survived the deadly fall, where she has been raising her granddaughter in secret, conditioning her as tool to enact revenge.

I'm not a big fan of musicals and YAMBAO has one too many song and dance numbers for my particular tastes. The film is well shot and the acting is passable, I just find it hard to stay invested in a story when every ten minutes the entire cast breaks out into an episode of "So You Think You Can Tribal Dance?" Dancer turned actress Ninón Sevilla does has a number of impressive routines, most notability an evening ritual in which she uses a live goat like most burlesque dancers use a feather boa. It may be unfair to label YAMBAO as a musical, but if the film had highlighted the underlain voodoo elements more than the taboo romance between Jorge and Yambao, the production might not have seemed so much like a Rodgers and Hammerstein number.

Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, YAMBAO is still holding in there. Picture quality is fair with colors coming through a bit muted in some scenes and a bit too bright in others. I’m not sure that Mother Nature makes grass that green. Audio is sufficient, with the numerous songs and musical numbers noticeably a bit detached, as they are presented in their original Spanish, while the remainder of the dialogue has been dubbed in English.

Along with the original cut of MERMAIDS OF TIBURON mentioned earlier, extras include trailers for DELIQUENT SCHOOLGIRLS, MONDO KEYHOLE and UP YOUR LADDER. Each of the initial three volumes of The PSYCHOTRONIC collection can be purchased individually or bundled in a box set. If you’re interested in any two of the three volumes, I would recommend going ahead and buying the box set, as it is only a few bucks more than buying the discs stand-alone. The packaging for the collectors set does have a number of errors of note, claiming to include deleted scenes for DREAM NO EVIL and YAMBAO, which is unfortunately false. (Jason McElreath)