Directors: Manuel Caño (Michael Cannon), Del Tenney
VCI Entertainment

VCI Entertainment’s zombified double feature of SWAMP OF THE RAVENS and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (aka ZOMBIE) might bring on initial moans of “why?” since like too many DVD releases these days, these films have already been readily available on the format. But don’t let that deter you, as the two horror titles represented here look better than ever before, and I know that’s a cliché, but we really mean it (and you’ve been reading this site for over 10 years so we must be doing at least some things right).

In THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS, Dr. Costa (Ramiro Oliveros, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE) is a youngish scientist who has been banned from numerous medical councils due to his unauthorized want to do advanced experimentations on cadavers. Working during the day in a quiet, humdrum lab along the busy streets of Ecuador, the good doctor has a shed of a dwelling in the middle of the swamp where he does all his bizarre work, with plenty of gypsies, hookers and homeless people (including a leper who goes to him for help) as subjects. Costa is upset that his passionate relationship with his lovely raven-haired girlfriend has come to an end, as she has run off with an American lounge singer who uses a mannequin (or rather a living doll in the image of her) in his act. When he goes to her apartment and is greeted by this living doll in a rocking chair, with a tape recorded message in place of a “Dear John” letter, Costa goes off the edge, abducting her and doing experiments on her listless, topless body, as well as performing necrophilia.

A Spanish production, THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS is one of the most unusual horror films you’ll see, one that’s hard to recommend to anyone but those who have the sensibilities for weird Euro 1970s nonsense. The film takes the tired old mad scientist/Frankenstein motifs and attempts to update them with brooding atmosphere, in this case a secluded, swamp-bound fortress filled with caged animals and dead babies in glass jars, as well as hovering ravens and buzzards, which also double as some kind of symbolism, or so we assume. Costa’s failed experiments are thrown into the swamp and appear to be in suspended animation, as they pop their rotted heads out now and then, looking as bewildered as the audience. There’s a very funky score appropriate of the early 1970s (one will expect Andy Kim to start belting out one of his hits), quirky characters and a real autopsy is thrown in, not autopsy footage, but rather, several actors portraying the police in a scene watching the barf-inducing scene actually go down. If the terrible post-synced dubbing (and inappropriate voices) wasn’t enough to remind you that this was a Spanish production, then the presence of Carlos Sancho will. Best known to horror fans for his turn in RETURN OF THE EVIL/BLIND DEAD, Sancho was mostly cast as slob villains; here he’s a police captain introduced while eating sausages as a severed hand (criminal evidence) is thrown on his dining table.

THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS was previously available on DVD from Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment as part of a double feature package with THE THIRSTY DEAD. The print used for that release was very dark and somewhat tattered, and VCI’s version is a vast improvement. Presented here in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the Eastman colors look correct, and the film has good detail, with only some minor blemishes throughout the presentation, and the mono audio is as good as can be expected. VCI’s presentation of the film also boasts a longer ending with footage not seen on the Something Weird disc.

Our second feature, shot in 1964, concerns hunky playboy and novel writer Tom Harris (William Joyce) who is introduced poolside at a Miami Beach hotel pool, smooching with a beauty while dodging a jealous husband. Tom is called upon by his agent (Dan Stapleton) to accompany him and his bimbo, poodle-toting wife (Betty Hyatt Linton) to an exotic Caribbean island, which will serve as inspiration for a new book. As soon as they get there, they are greeted by hostile natives, voodoo rituals, and a scientist (Robert Stanton) working on a cancer cure using radioactive snake venom; unfortunately this results in a small army of the walking dead. Hero Tom falls for the scientist’s young pretty daughter (Heather Hewitt) whose virginal status makes her fodder for a mumbo jumbo altar sacrifice, overseen by a mad witch doctor in a top hat and sunglasses.

As most of you reading this already know, the film known as ZOMBIE (or sometimes ZOMBIES) was shot as VOODOO BLOOD BATH and was shelved for years, until 1971 when it was picked up by Jerry Gross as second feature for David Durston’s masterful I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. With its shirtless macho here, ghouls with oatmeal complexions and fried egg eyeballs, and a plot right out of a Saturday afternoon serial, the film owes more to the horror films of the 1950s (or even 1940s) than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The black and white effort was even dated when it played on that early 1970s drive-in program (no clips from it were shown in the promotional trailer), but the theatrical playings, as well frequent late-night TV airings and subsequent VHS and DVD releases have made this one a favorite among bad movie fans.

How bad is it? Well, low budget filmmaker Del Tenney was based in Connecticut, where he had already produced a trio of entertaining horrors (PSYCHOMANIA aka VIOLENT MIDNIGHT, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, the latter two which he also directed), but I EAT YOUR SKIN is arguably the least of these. It was shot in Florida (William Grefe did second unit work on the film), and perhaps a bit more ambitious (it looks as though it was partly inspired by the recent success of the Sean Connery/James Bond series, as you’ll notice by the score), and does have merit as far a vintage schlock is concerned, but as you also probably know, no skin is eaten!. Anyone looking to own the best copy of the film out there, this would be the one to go with.

There have been numerous versions of I EAT YOUR SKIN/ZOMBIE out there, but this one is by far the best ever seen on home video. With a print source bearing the original ZOMBIE title, the film has been presented widescreen (1.78:1) and anamorphic, with crisp detail, and the black and white image is very clean, with only some occasional light staining and very little grain. The mono audio is clear and free of any noticeable problems. This version runs over 92 minutes, which is longer than a lot of the prints of the film available on various PD labels. With such a nice, definitive presentation, it’s too bad they couldn’t get Tenney to do a commentary (as he did for Dark Sky Films’ DVD releases of his other 1960s horrors), as the only extra here is a promo reel for other VCI genre-related DVDs. (George R. Reis)