Aah, the 70s...how I love thee! A 10-year period packed with so many weird, whacky, and wonderful horror films, the "Have a Nice Day" decade has yet to be rivaled for sheer jaw-dropping entertainment value. You could apparently get away with ANYTHING if your movie played the drive-in, as evidenced here by two of the kookiest low-budget horror flicks to assault your mind. Coming from Something Weird, they've got to live up to the "family name!"
Welcome to the Philippines, land of Blood Island, Vic Diaz (seen here briefly as a police detective),and the location of THE THIRSTY DEAD, a monster-movie update of the 1937 classic (and 1973 not-so-classic) LOST HORIZON. Blonde stewardess Jennifer Billingsley, go-go dancer Judith McConnell (kicking off the movie with a wild performance in a cage!), beautiful Fredricka Meyers, and the token Filipino chick Chiqui de Rosa are abducted off the streets by a group of hooded cultists. They're dragged through the sewers and emerge in a jungle paradise far from civilization, where a persistent cult drinks the blood of unwilling donors to stay young forever. The donors manage to stay alive, as their blood is drained only, but they all grow into old decrepit hags who are locked in cells and attack whomever enters their dwelling. With the help of lovesick high priest Baru (John Considine), the girls plan their escape through the treacherous jungle. Snakes, crazy old ladies, spear-chucking guards, and the pit of despair stand in their way.
THIRSTY DEAD isn't a rock-'em, sock-'em Filipino horror film, that's for sure. It's not MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, with plentiful gore and nudity (it's rated PG), but it's also not COVER GIRL MODELS, with an incomprehensible plot and no action. This drive-in classic falls somewhere in-between. THIRSTY DEAD is driven more by performances than anything else, which are all acceptable. The lack of gore and nudity doesn't really matter, as all the women are likable and interesting and the film, even when nothing is happening, is quite fun and enjoyable to watch, reminiscent of a kitschy color version of an old Republic serial. The makeup job on the aging Baru is very good, I loved the insane old women running amuck, and somehow the film kept me interested during the entire running time, which is hard for such tame horror outings of the 70s to do. But the film keeps its toes firmly planted in the bizarre enough to make it a captivating watch. A firm thumbs up!
THE THIRSTY DEAD is letterboxed at 1.66:1, its original aspect ratio, and looks very good in its presentation. Colors are bold, skin tones are simply gorgeous, and blacks are deep. There is a fair amount of speckling and grain, but not enough to distract from what a good job SWV did with this transfer. The audio is unfortunately quite weak, in its original mono, but it doesn't fluctuate, so keep the volume set high and you'll be fine.
For those who might be disappointed by the less-than-thrilling THIRSTY DEAD, you'll no doubt be floored and amazed by SWAMP OF THE RAVENS! Young stubbled Dr. Costa, despite being denied the authorization by the Medical Council to conduct experiments on cadavers, preys on beggars and gypsies to further his scientific goals. All his failed experiments are dumped in the swamp behind his mansion, where soon heads start bobbing up like lily pads, infecting the swamp with death. Costa's bewildered girlfriend decides to leave him for her ex-boyfriend, a lounge singer whose act consists of singing songs to a dummy/robot (?!), but the mad doctor takes this opportunity to make her part of his sinister experiments.
To put it plainly, SWAMP OF THE RAVENS is one of the most incoherent, mind-boggling, and bizarre horror films I've ever seen. What does Dr. Costa mean to accomplish with his experiments? We don't know, or are thrown a vague idea which is then turned on its head! Ravens litter the film whenever they can, adding a mysterious aura to the film. The multiple shots of grotesque heads on the surface of the swamp are very atmospheric and well-done. Costa mounts and screws his dead girlfriend on the operating table, an amputated hand and multiple other body parts reproduce themselves without reason, Costa's female assistant teeters back and forth from accomplice to opponent, and autopsy footage appears out of nowhere. It's all so whacky and bizarre that the normal human mind might not be able to take it all in during one sitting! Throw into the mix the hilarious lounge music numbers, a kooky synthesizer musical score, and a bumbling police inspector played by exploitation regular Fernando Sancho (X-312 FLIGHT TO HELL, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD), and you've got a film that could only have made sense to the stoned, sex-crazed denizens of a 70s drive-in, capped off by a fiery finale and a goofy punchline. I dare you to make sense of SWAMP OF THE RAVENS...I double dog dare you!!
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, SWAMP OF THE RAVENS is one of the saddest transfers SWV has unfolded on the digital format. The entire film is very dark, so dark at times it's like looking at a black screen, fleshtones range from green to blue, there are constant instances of water damage, color fading, and general print damage, and I'm led to believe the film isn't complete (the murder of the prostitute is missing...is this abrupt cut intentional?). Taking into account the fact that the film barely had a theatrical release in the U.S. and the grey market prints available probably looked worse, the poor transfer is in keeping with the obscure, off-the-wall reputation of the film itself. The mono audio is strong, though dialogue sometimes sounds quiet and cannot be understood.
Neither trailer for either feature is included (I was intrigued to see how THE THIRSTY DEAD was sold, though), but there is still plenty of horror movie madness present in the trailer selection! First up is MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY by Juan Lopez Moctezuma, the director of the surreal ALUCARDA and MANSION OF MADNESS. This looks much more commercial than those two masterpieces, but looks interesting: a female vampire stalks her victims, both male and female, through Mexico. She kills with a hairpin or a butcher knife and drinks the gushing blood, so this is yet another vampire tale refreshingly turned on its head. THE SINISTER MONK is a German krimi (murder mystery), with a great villain in a black robe and a giant white whip he uses on his victims. Why someone hasn't released this on DVD is beyond me. Look for Deutsch sex symbol Karin Dor! KILL BABY KILL is a surprisingly black-and-white preview (!) for the bold color Mario Bava ghost story. Image still has this Bava classic on the backburner, with problems occurring with copyrights and usable prints, but the trailer is still a good reminder of what a marvelous film it is, with a ghostly little girl and her bouncing ball, innocent victims willed to kill themselves, and a mysterious witch. Erika Blanc, future succubus in DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE, is the heroine. DEAD EYES OF LONDON is the 1961 remake of the 1939 Bela Lugosi classic THE HUMAN MONSTER, with an emphasis on Edgar Wallace krimi trappings. Klaus Kinski is thrown out a window at the start of the preview. The big blind brute murderer is a pretty horrific villain, and you get to see lovely Karin Baal (WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO SOLANGE?) terrorized. Before he delivered juicy Italian sleaze in the 70s with DELIRIUM and THE REINCARNATION OF ISABEL, in addition to a number of porno horror films, Renato Polselli directed his most obscure Gothic horror film, THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. A group of shapely ballerinas in a castle are stalked and murdered by a pretty goofy-looking vampire monster. The 8mm version of the film (which I own) was more popular through mail order than the film itself was in theaters. It's very reminiscent of THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, available from Image. THE VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY is Leon Klimovsky's oh-so-70s vampire story starring Jess Franco favorite Jack Taylor and Spanish horror siren Helga Line. A town of vampires preys on a group of stranded tourists. In addition to the creaky clichés, there is a disturbing child murder, too. The effective Scope photography is crammed into fullscreen for this preview, but there have been a few widescreen releases of the film on DVD throughout the world. Recommended viewing. WAR OF THE ZOMBIES is unfortunately a very misleading title for your standard Italian peplum (sword-and-sandal epic) starring John Drew Barrymore. There are indeed some zombies, but they don't seem to be the focus of the film. THE VELVET VAMPIRE is one of the more interesting 70s vampire films, with gorgeous Celeste Yarnall as a desert-dwelling vampire who rides through the desert in her dune buggy and relishes the sun (a year after Soledad Miranda played a similar character in VAMPYROS LESBOS). Michael Blodgett (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and the atrocious Sherry Miles are the young couple she preys upon; Blodgett has a generous nude scene, so those who felt cheated by BVD should look here. Miles and Yarnall also shed their inhibitions. Directed by Stephanie Rothman, one of few female exploiteers, New World released this, so it might hit DVD...someday...
In place of the standard shorts and clips, the disc includes an entire episode of "13 Demon Street", the unaired black-and-white Swedish horror anthology TV show hosted by Lon Chaney, Jr. I personally have been hoping for a complete set of the series, a la SWV's THE VEIL double-disc set, but the fact that the only available masters for the series have Swedish subtitles make it doubtful whether this will happen. This episode, "The Black Hand," concerns a doctor who has an unfortunate car accident and must sever his pinned-down hand to escape from the burning wreck. He replaces his missing appendage with that of a dead man killed in the crash...but he discovers very soon that the hand belonged to a psychopathic murderer! Unfortunately, this episode has already been included on THE VEIL DVD set; I was hoping for a new episode, but it's still a nice addition none-the-less. Capping off the extras is another awesome gallery of comic book cover art with rockin' music by the Dead Elvi! Yeah! An Easter Egg on the main menu highlights some strange close-ups of stuffed boars' heads, with creepy music playing.
Just in time for Halloween, this double-feature disc of walking dead madness would be perfect for your heavy-drinking holiday shindig. Recommended mind-warping viewing with two films that couldn't be farther apart!! (Casey Scott)
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