Corman’s The Devil’s Partner Morphs Onto Blu-ray, Courtesy Film Masters

Photo: courtesy Film Masters.

Once again this month, practically like clockwork, Film Masters, the vintage film restoration and distribution company founded in 2023, unveils a new low-budget treasure from the hoary past in the Blu-ray and DVD restoration of Roger Corman’s The Devil’s Partner (1961), a film that by at least one measure was well more than a decade ahead of its time. Paired with its flaky twin-bill partner Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961), The Devil’s Partner, like each of Film Masters’ releases to date, makes for a B-movie buff’s delight, chock full of curios unearthing the quirky curiosities of cinema’s nearly forgotten past.

The Devil’s Partner

Like so many of Corman’s films, The Devil’s Partner wears its low-to-no budget on its sleeve, patching together a piecemeal script with some cornpone acting, simple props, and clever edits, somehow pulling it all together in a few weeks’ time to the delight of drive-in theatergoers across the U.S.

The Devil’s Partner isn’t directed by Corman but produced by him and his brother Gene via their Filmgroup production company, which occasionally acquired projects by other filmmakers. That’s the case here with The Devil’s Partner, made in 1958 under the direction of Charles R. Rondeau. Apparently the story was just a bit too macabre for release at the time: its plot concerns an elderly man who, to enjoy the lost fruits of a life that his passed him by, regains his youth when he makes a deal with the devil. The film languished unreleased until picked up by Corman’s Filmgroup three years later.

Were the Cormans onto something? Perhaps? The film predated a whole devil-worship subgenre that would later earn some modest popularity beginning in the 1970s, exploiting a cultural panic of the day. But it’s hard to imagine just what theatergoers would have thought of this film’s satanic requests in the summer heat of 1961. Satan’s work is small-stakes stuff here. Creaky-boned codger Pete Jensen (Ed Nelsen, in some impressive old-coot makeup) sacrifices a goat (in silhouette, thankfully) to make his deal with the devil: he’ll be reincarnated as a much-younger man for two years and have the opportunity to best a rival for a young woman and take claim of his business.

Pete Jensen (ed Nelsen) collapses on the floor.
Ed Nelsen as Pete Jensen in The Devil’s Partner (1961). Photo: courtesy Film Masters.

Given that that business is a run-down gas station in a tiny run-down town and the prize paramour is a pretty pedestrian plaything, it’s a little hard to see how Jensen’s deal with the devil is worth the stakes here. It’s also a little hard to see how the local law enforcement doesn’t suspect the smart-styled, neat-coiffed young’un who shows up claiming to be Jensen’s long-lost nephew just after the old man’s murder. (Didn’t these people watch Perry Mason?) The newbie, calling himself Nick Richards (also played by Nelsen, a dead giveaway in the film’s opening credits), insinuates himself into the lives of the townies, stealing a business and a girlfriend (Jean Allison) from David Simpson (Richard Crane).

To do do, Nick uses goat’s blood smeared into a hexagram on old Pete’s cabin floor. (A hexagram? Not sure what these filmmakers were consulting for their research.) Doing so lets him take the physical form of any animal, which proves useful in knocking off or maiming his enemies, at least until the slow-witted townsfolk begin to piece together the clues. To be fair, “He’s actually dead old Pete, done made a deal with the Devil!” is probably not the first card to play, no matter the hand dealt. Let’s give the locals a pass.

Any film Roger Corman produced or directed is going to be an exercise in cost- and corner-cutting, using the power of cinematic imagination to convince viewers they’re seeing something they’re not. The Devil’s Partner is as much if not more so than any of Corman’s (he produced hundreds and directed over 50 himself): here, we never see an actual bestial transformation or killing; rather, nearly every pivotal moment occurs off-screen, leaving the cast to engage in plenty of ungainly exposition about what might or did happen.

David collapses in a chair after being attacked by his pet dog.
Richard Crane as David Simpson in The Devil’s Partner (1961). Photo: courtesy Film Masters.

As the young and devilish Pete-turned-Nick, Ed Nelsen, who went on to a long career in television, is smooth and debonair with just enough of an evil glint in his eye and a smarmy style to his talk to make The Devil’s Partner work. Petticoat Junction‘s Edgar Buchanan plays the town doctor, who is at least several steps smarter than the local sheriff (Spenser Carlisle): he notices that despite the town’s unbearable heat, Nick never breaks a sweat. It’s one clue that leads to the next.

If the film disappoints when it comes to scares and smarts, Film Masters’ 4K restoration surely does not. This new version, presented in both a theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and a 1.37:1 television format, including English SDH and DTS-HD/Dolby AC3s audio, could hardly look any more pristine. You could count the rivets on Allison’s tight jeans or Nelsen’s eyelashes!

Creature from the Haunted Sea

Often paired with The Devil’s Partner as a drive-in double feature during the summer and fall of 1961, Creature from the Haunted Sea was finished in 1959 but languished on the shelf for two years before its release. If The Devil’s Partner is a straight-up genre film (one that actually predated its genre by a good decade), Creature from the Haunted Sea is a bizarre genre mashup, channeling the macabre humor of Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors in a strange tropical-paradise heist parody interrupted by a creature feature.

The Creature attacks a diver underwater.
Photo: courtesy Film Masters.

Anthony Carbone stars as Renzo Capetti, a Humphrey Bogart-esque gangster who smuggles a fortune in gold out of Cuba with the assistance of two island officials and six of their privates. Capetti and his crew, which includes a beautiful and snarky gun moll (Betsy Jones-Moreland), her idiot tennis-buff brother and an even duller dullard prone to bleating out various animal noises, set asea with the plan of knocking off the Cubans and blaming their deaths on a legendary sea creature. Also along for the ride is the Academy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) under the pseudonym Edward Wain, playing an undercover federal agent narrating the whole affair in a film noir deadpan.

Did I mention that there are also an island mother and daughter thrown in as part of a lover’s pentagram, just in case the farce wasn’t complicated enough? Or one last fact: the legendary sea creature is actually alive? While I’d like to report that all of the above is funny, most of the humor plays pretty poorly. Maybe in 1961 folks felt randomly knocking off Cubans was good for a laugh. Or an island mom pimping out her daughter’s affections for tourist trinkets. Or animal noises from a doltish human.

Let’s just say that Creature from the Haunted Sea wasn’t Corman’s Plan A. Ever the skinflint mogul, he had finished shooting The Last Woman on Earth in Puerto Rico and made a discovery of his own: he had just enough film stock left in the can for another film. Corman never wasted a foot of film nor an opportunity. Enlisting his longtime associate Charles B. Griffith, the script was developed in six days and locals recruited to flesh out the cast.

The film’s humor hasn’t worn too well, but there’s one thing about it that remains damned funny: that legendary monster of local lore is all too real! And not only that, Corman and crew give us and the cast a good long look at the dude, a big woolly behemoth coated in slick oil and sporting the biggest damned ping-pong peepers ever seen on screen.

The creature pops menacingly out of the water.
Anthony Capetti and Betsy Jones-Moreland’s characters meet The Creature. Photo: courtesy Film Masters.

Jones-Moreland, who played the lead in The Last Woman on Earth, rises above the poor gags and cut-rate effects here. It’s almost as if her knowing, snarky character is just a little too good, too smart for everything around her, her cutting lines about the plot’s second-banana characters a clever Greek chorus in on the joke. Her recollections in the commentary track (see below) present some first-person insight into the Corman method of filmmaking, a highlight of the double-disc set.

Both The Devil’s Partner and Creature from the Haunted Sea are presented with a theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as well as in a 1.37:1 television format. The televised version of Creature From the Haunted Sea includes an additional 15 minutes of footage shot years later to extend the film for a sale to Allied Artists. Both discs are MOD, region free and include English SDH for both the feature film and the audio commentary tracks. Audio is DTS-HD/Dolby AC3s.

Special Features

As has been their pattern with each prior release, Film Masters presents a bouquet of special features to accompany each of these Blu-ray special editions. For some viewers, featurettes and commentaries are just filler, but in cases like this double feature the extras really make the set. Neither film is exactly a masterpiece, but both play a central role in Corman’s developing oeuvre, and the featurettes here flesh out—with intelligence and good humor—just what the king of low-budget filmmaking was up to.

Image of the Blu-ray and DVD packaging for The Devil's Partner.

Audio Commentary for The Devil’s Partner. Larry Strothe, James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan, and Matt Weinhold of the Monster Party podcast provide a giddy, insightful, and wide-ranging take on the film, calling out its absurd plot points but also acknowledging its daring subject matter and excellent lead performance.

Audio Commentary for Creature From the Haunted Sea. Tom Weaver hosts, but with time allotted to contributions from Roger Corman himself (at a spry 97 years of age!), Kinta Zertuche (who was Corman’s executive assistant on all three of his Puerto Rico productions, including this, Battle of Blood Island, and The Last Woman on Earth), and filmmaker Larry Blamire. Weaver’s theatrical troupe reads excerpts from cast and crew members’ recollections, including Jones-Moreland’s, which are a true delight, chock full of convincing performances and entertaining anecdotes. (Truth be told, I found the commentary track a good deal more humorous and engaging than the film itself.)

Hollywood Intruders: The Filmgroup Story Part III. This featurette continues the documentary begun in Parts I (found on Film Masters’ release of The Beast from Haunted Cave) and Part II (on that of The Terror) with Courtney Joyner narrating the Corman brothers’ efforts in the early 1960s to acquire international films and in production of their own. The content here speaks only briefly to the two film in this set, so what is to be gained from this episode from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures productions is purely contextual.

Roger Corman: Remembering Filmgroup. This new interview with the nonagenarian legend is practically worth the price of admission itself. Corman’s memory is still keen and his observations acute. It’s a delight to see  and hear his reminiscences about the these two films and others in his long filmmaking history.

Other features include recut trailers based on the original theatrical trailers; the original Creature From the Haunted Sea theatrical trailer (from 16mm archival elements scanned in 4k); and a brief before-and-after comparison of the restoration of Creature From the Haunted Sea. 

The two discs are packaged in a standard Blu-ray jewel case with a 24-page color booklet with essays on The Devil’s Partner by Mark McGee and on Creature From the Haunted Sea by Weaver. The special edition releases January 16, 2024 and is available now for pre-order from Film Masters at

Written by J Paul Johnson

J Paul Johnson is Publisher of Film Obsessive. A professor emeritus of film studies and an avid cinephile, collector, and curator, his interests range from classical Hollywood melodrama and genre films to world and independent cinemas and documentary.

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