Thurman’s name:

Buchanan’s ‘DeNiro’ and the Sad, Wasted Fate of ‘Brenda Simmons’

Brenda 66

BILL THURMAN as ‘BRENDA’ redux ~ “Curse of the Swamp Creature” (1966)


“This sort of thing is probably better suited to my (barely alive) ‘Mild Mutants’ blog. But, I thought it might be fun, to some, to give a nod and a tip of the hairy eyebrow to the little known Z film actor Bill Thurman (1920-1995), whose name was the inspiration for my character’s.

b thurman w snake  it's aliveBill Thurman w couple   it's alive

I first saw Thurman in both of two Larry Buchanan films, Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966) and It’s Alive (1969). He was quite memorable, especially in the latter, where he locks away a schoolteacher accidentally passing through his hick hide away.

The flashback sequence telling her tale (as to the woman above, his latest captive) on the cheap with narration and no ‘on set’ sound, plays like a film within a film, and is punctuated by Billy serving her a dead rodent for din din. (Right out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?).

Bill Thurman w 'teacher' ''It's Alive''din din   it's alivebill thurman peroxide its alive '69

I also saw Zontar where he played a sheriff, and In the Year 2889 where he’s more emphatically visible, both initially around that same time. But those other two are the ones that stuck with me, and I’ve been able to see them again more often since.

Definitely a ‘sub-auteur’, (or is that saboteur?), who is an easy one to chew on for his decided shabbiness, Buchanan is best known for generating a number of his films by taking their stories whole cloth from AIP, usually Roger Corman opuses. In some cases reusing the musical scores.

He often used and reused his no doubt just-handy, regional ‘players’. Thurman, a Texan, is one of the best of them. He can be scary to me still. I’ve seen many of his sort, (bearing in mind no actor is only his roles), sporadically throughout my life. And they generally spur my wish to wholeheartedly avoid them. You feel like if abuse is not immediately offered, or tobacco spit ready for launch, a pearl handled gun is always somewhere nearby, it’s barrel awaiting new notches.

I didn’t learn ’til years later that some of these movies debuted directly onto TV in the South, as first runs. And those were most likely the showings that I saw!, which I recommend for a more thorough lay of Thurman’s roles and bio, says that ‘Curse…’ first appeared on TV, February 1968. Perhaps I saw both films close together. Always on the afternoon movie on one of our then only-three-channels. I was just nine or ten and they made quite an impression.

For it’s part, Curse of the Swamp Creature, (the one with John Agar), is possibly the ‘funnier’ of the two, or less disturbing, tho’ both are febrile, misogynistic, creepy, and slow as July.

Bill Thurman’s initial appearance in it, as a regular human, is short-lived. But he is credited as returning, (and you can see it’s his jaw line, et cetera, tho I’m not sure I realized it as a kid at all), in creature garb in the end of the film. He is even referred to, by Francine York as the wife of  ultra blase’, but quite-mad scientist Jeff Alexander, in trying to rouse ‘her’ into avenging her ruined womanliness, as ‘Brenda’: ostensibly the too quickly modified woman Agar arrived with, and confusedly, if not ironically, one of the very ones involved in doing away with Thurman’s human character in the first part of the picture. (Perhaps his disgruntled ghost got into her growth tank and warped her into a parody of his victimized self. ‘What guilt won’t do to a body…’).

billy thurman as brenda   cropbilly w scientist

The earlier motel and airstrip and later home/lab scenes aren’t too hard to get throo, there being the seeming promise of some sort of payoff. But the creature–really no more than blue green make up, an eyepiece, turtle claws, and a lab smock (btw did Billy have his arm tattoos then, under those sleeves?)–doesn’t show up, beyond a growth pond ‘teaser’, until the last several minutes when he takes a kayo into the gator-filled swimming pool.

And, tho to me it’s all worth it, torpidity duly considered, it is a might fleeting. I’d much prefer a number of scenes with Agar sharing one of his ubiquitous cigs with the monster. You know, domestic scenes. Maybe she/he/it could be trained to do a little housework, in an apron of course; break open a bunch of melons for a yard party; or replace the bug strips in the motel like the ‘Bumble putting the star on the Xmas tree in Rudolph… .

Bill Thurman  Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966)_016

Plus, the already run down flick is also padded with a sort of unnecessary side patch of voodoo mumbo jumbo.  But, the humid settings and plots of Buchanan’s swamp tales fit right in with all my horrid summers in Louisiana. If you can tolerate the like of those, then you can get throo these films.

Thurman is probably most readily viewable, to see who I’m talking about, as the coach (it figures) in The Last Picture Show, who’s married to the Cloris Leachman character. Tho’ as I recall they have no actual scenes together.

Other than the Southern bullfrog hum of a last name he had, and the handy memory of these two odd roles, he has nought else to do with my Throbble character. But, a good way to bring it all up again.” –Rick Grimes 1/3/’015 +1/4

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