(In which I share my thoughts on an obscure piece of vintage cinema: Today's film comes from 1984 by way of the Creole State.)
I've said before, there are few better things in the world of B-cinema than a film that opens with stock footage. One of those things is a movie that opens with a POV shot of monster. In this case, we're looking through the eyes of Nutriaman, a creature that is, well, a giant, mutated nutria. A giant, mutated, pissed off nutria at that.
Nutria are small rodents, akin somewhat to muskrats. And while not indigenous to North America, they have adapted quite well to the swampy terrain of the Gulf Coast states. The state of Louisiana has attempted to promote nutria meat as The Other, Other White Meat™ with little success; despite being allegedly low in cholesterol, most folks aren't too keen on eating rodent. Oddly enough, people aren't too averse to wearing them as coats, which brings us to our story.
The Copasaw bayou is the heart of nutria country. It's a wilderness of trappers, poachers, and mad scientists with only one lone game warden to keep them all in check. (And how much do I love that the film's hero is not a cop but a game warden.) The film opens looking through the eyes of the monster. He grunts, he groans, he skulks behind trees... Until he hears the tortured squeaks of a fellow nutria, snared in a trap. He immediately puts a bayou-style smackdown on the drunken yokel responsible.
Local game warden Frank discovers the body and hauls it out of the swamp. He and the coroner are both confused. Clearly, it wasn't an alligator that tore this man up. It kind of looks like the work of an angry grizzly, but bears don't live on the bayou. Meanwhile, trappers Jessie and T-Bob, along with their agitated father, discover their traps are all empty. Poachers, they assume.
The only people who might know the truth are a pair of research scientists working to create some sort of supernutria for the fur industry. Of course, they're not talking, afraid word of that nasty business with their latest experiment might prove troublesome. After the monster attacks the ramshackle hovel of a crotchety old swamp woman, the scientists kidnap the woman and pump her for information.
She describes "a man, a nutriaman…" Can it be possible? Turns out, the coroner says the same thing. The first victim was killed by a nutria. A single nutria. Frank has a hard time believing a tiny rodent could have slaughtered that man, but there is no other reasonable explanation.
In the meantime, Frank is butting heads with Jessie and T-Bob. They don't like the game warden snooping around their place. In addition to their fur trapping business, the family also cooks up its fair share of moonshine. Jessie and T-Bob have also managed to steal a few crates of dynamite from local miners, in the hopes of turning it around for a quick buck. (It's a business model based on diversification, I guess.) Frank himself has already got his hands full with a killer, mutated rodent roaming his bayou, the last thing he needs is trouble from the locals.
But this is Louisiana, and trouble is what he's got.
One of the scientists has posted notices across town offering $10,000 for anyone who captures a 100 pound nutria. Now, every drunken fool in the parish with a gun and an airboat converges on Copasaw looking to collect that ransom. Too bad Nutriaman isn't so easy to wrangle.
Frank has brought in a Green Beret friend of his to help track the beast. For some odd reason, the supposed commando is wafer thin and is as intimidating as Judge Reinhold. He doesn't look like he could wrestle a poodle to the floor, much less a full-fledged Nutriaman. Nonetheless he and his team load up their rocket launchers and head into the swamp.
And when Nutriaman devours Jessie and T-Bob's father, they too wade into the bayou seeking revenge. It's anyone's guess who'll make it out alive.
This film is far better than it has any right to be. Nutriaman is only seen in flashes, which perhaps worked in his favour. No point in showing off a badly made monster suit if you don't have to. The performances were actually pretty good for regional fare (the bizarro Green Beret casting aside). I particularly liked Michael Tedesco's sympathetic turn as the idiot man-child T-Bob. (Then again, maybe I just have a soft spot for the idiot man-child archtype.)
If you're a fan of rodent-based swamp-monster movies, search out Nutriaman. If you're not, well, that's your problem.