Exploding from the Everglades of Florida comes William Grefé; a dude that has directed an impressive array of schlock… but alas schlock I’ve never set my eerie eyeballs on. That’s something I aim to fix right quick… and what better way to do it than with the new Blu-ray collection from Arrow Video (along with MVD Entertainment); He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection!
Disc one begins with the creature feature Sting of Death (1966), and what a doozy this putrid picture is my cats n’ creeps!
College gal Karen (Valerie Hawkins) spends her vacay visiting her marine biologist father (Jack Nagle, who possesses a seemingly magic headwound that grows and shrinks throughout the picture) in his remote island laboratory cum home deep in the Florida Everglades, along with her cadre of comely female friends.
Everything is absolutely keen as beers are downed and everyone gets their collective rocks off doing the hot new dance craze “The Jellyfish”, accompanied by it’s own theme song… but soon folks go missing only to show up as mutilated corpses.
The main suspect is the doctor’s deformed handy-man Egor (John Vella) but in a shocking, criminally unbelievable turn of events, the culprit is a mutant humanoid jellyfish (probably summoned by all the deep knee bends and ass shaking to that aforementioned musical number).
What is my favorite part of Sting of Death? Is it the long-ass dance numbers… maybe the monster suit that must of cost ones of dollars (but I adore the ever-lovin’ hell out of it, make no mistake)… how about the cotton candy stuffed plastic bags doubling for jellyfish? Well, it’s all of those, and so much fuckin’ more!
While following the typical creature feature tropes of the period (damsel in distress from horny monster, dodgy science, maybe a musical number or two), ol’ Sting manages to strike out on it’s own in ways you can scarcely imagine… well, you can probably imagine some, but to see this shit is a psychotronic near-religious experience.
Add to the mix some pretty girls, eye-popping lurid color, and a cast that seems game for the action and nonsense at hand, and you have yourself an irresistibly fun fright flick, and a rather swell way to kick things off!
Next up comes Death Curse of Tartu (also from 1966) which concerns a gaggle of archaeology students who drag their asses to the Everglades in search of fossils, but instead find themselves at the mercy of impossible animal attacks.
What is causing such wicked wildlife static? Why it’s that centuries-old zombie Native American medicine man scamp Tartu, who gets a major hair up his ass over the dance party/ make-out sesh our heroes throw on his resting place, and decides to transform into various animals to put a bite on these frisky folks post-fucking-haste!
If you dug Sting of Death then you’ll most likely feel the same goodwill towards Death Curse of Tartu as it’s cut from the same cloth; dance numbers, Everglades setting, scientist hero, creature feature tropes et. al… although this film definitely feels like it was made with the leftover cash from it’s predecessor’s production (mostly exterior locations, not as many extras, etc.).
That being said it’s still a great drive-in fight flick, especially with it’s titular villain appearing at times like a maniacal skeletal nightmare that reminded me of Alfredo Alcala’s renderings of Skeletor in the original Masters of the Universe pack-in mini-comics… and that is high praise indeed, believe you me!
As for special features on disc one; first we get audio commentaries for both flicks from Grefé (moderated by legendary horror maestro, and one of my personal favs, Frank Henenlotter) that discuss the productions with a ton of humor and a “no bullshit” attitude about how the films were slapped together… all of which makes them infinitely enjoyable!
Also included are a fun look at rock n’ roll infused creature features of the 1960’s courtesy of author/film historian C. Courtney Joyner, tales from Tartu creature designer/performer Doug Hobart’s early days as a creator of spook show live events, and trailers & intros by Grefé for both films!
First up on disc two is The Hooked Generation (1968) which spins the yarn of three degenerates; the hippie degenerate Daisey (Jeremy Slate), his muscle Dum Dum (Willie Pastrano), and hardcore drug addict Acid (John Davis Chandler), who end up on the lam after a nice calm day of flat-out executing some of Fidel Castro’s soldiers and stealing their drugs.
Just because they haven’t made things ultra shit-hot for themselves, they also kill some folks from the Coast Guard, and kidnap a young couple. Needless to say, the authorities are none-to-pleased about that shit, and are more than willing to devote all of their time to perusing our anti-heroes!
The Hooked Generation is the antithesis of the flicks on disc one; where they were colorful romps filled with dancing, foolin’ around, and occasionally a body or two turning up, this film is a pitch black tale of psychopaths on the run causing murder and mayhem wherever place is unfortunate enough to have their asses show up!
While featuring the trappings of hippie culture here and there, this is no peace n’ love joint, but rather a picture filled with folks being blown away, rape, mild necrophilia, rampant drug use… you know, the perfect recipe for exploitation flick fried fuckin’ gold!
As a quick aside, this flick would make a solid double bill with Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left!
Following that comes a truer dive into full-on hippiesploitation; 1971’s The Psychedelic Priest (released decades later in 2001).
A preacherman (John Darrell) gets off his ass on LSD (thanks to some of those damn hippies serving him a laced soda) and tunes in & drops out… way out, ya dig? He begins a road-trip where he falls in love with a hitchhiker, witnesses shocking racism, and ends up losing everyone before taking a swan dive into hard drugs and alcohol abuse. It’s feel good family fun and laughs with The Psychadelic Priest!
Playing out in a rather stream of consciousness manner (no surprise as the film shot completely without a script), the film is inconsistent in nearly every aspect from acting (the cast was literally plucked off the streets) to technical details (the ADR is not exactly sterling in presentation)… but it never fails to be completely fascinating.
This is due to the fact that the film was shot right in the heart of the hippie movement, and performed by those living the lifestyle… this adds not only an air of authenticity to the proceedings but serves as a warts n’ all time capsule view into 1971 Los Angeles.
Special features this go around include another round of commentary tracks courtesy of Grefé and Henenlotter (as well as intros to each film from the director), followed by looks at the counter-culture, drugsploitation film movement that inspired The Hooked Generation, and the story behind The Psychadelic Priest (both courtesy of author/film historian Chris Poggiali).
Also included are a collection of behind-the-scenes footage and a stills gallery for The Hooked Generation.
Moving on to disc three we have 1970’s The Naked Zoo.
Terry (Steve Oliver) is a busy dude… while technically a writer, he is presently “self-employed” as a gigolo… a booze swillin’, drug takin’, GILF fuckin’ gigolo.
One such mature client is Helen Golden (Rita Hayworth)… a client who’s gun-packin’, wheelchair bound husband catches her with ol’ Terry, and through a chain events more at home in a Looney Tunes cartoon, gets ejected from his wheelchair at top speed and flies into the mantel where he drops deader than a doornail!
No biggie as Terry soon moves on to Pauline (Fay Spain), whom he decides to drug and humiliate in front of his wigged out peers at a far out shindig at his pleasure pad… an event that gives him a bright idea on how to make sure ol’ Helen keeps her cake hole shut about her hubby’s demise!
Now here’s a picture that combines elements from both of the previous discs; namely wild, swingin’ parties and fucked up characters doing some pitch-black devil’s biz!
Our hard partyin’, ever-horny “hero”, Terry, is a narcist sociopath completely devoid of conscience or humanity; and the humiliation he is willing to put another human through for kicks is actually quite disturbing, when it isn’t over-the-top mod and completely bananas. Needless to say, Oliver plays the role to the hilt.
Speaking of acting, Hayworth, while far from her Hollywood Golden Age glory days, turns in a damn fine performance and doesn’t seem to give a toss that she’s in a drug-fueled exploitation flick, so “fuck yeah” to that!
Just as an aside, this version of The Naked Zoo represents the “director’s cut” of the film and has sequences that haven’t been re-mastered… a small price to pay to see an artist’s original vision if ya ask yours cruelly!
Next we get 1976’s Mako: The Jaws of Death… a film you’d assume was a rip-off of Spielberg’s Jaws from the same year, but it honestly isn’t… it’s a rip-off of 1971’s Willard instead…
Sonny Stein (Richard Jaeckel) is super into Mako sharks… so much so he actually has a telepathic bond with them (thanks in part to a outré medallion he received from a Filipino shaman in the while working salvage in the South Seas).
Thanks to the loose lips of Karen (Jennifer Bishop), a constantly wise-crackin’ aquatic showgirl, some no good bastards; including her corpulent, strip club owning hubby Barney (Buffy Dee… who chews the scenery like there’s no tomorrow) and a shady scientist, get wise to Stein’s ways and plan on exploiting our boy and his finny friends to the fullest!
Add in a tropical storm and you have some major obstacles standing in the way of Stein’s favorite pastime; straight up murdering anyone that messes with sharks… often with help from his toothsome pals!
Mako: The Jaws of Death is a full on blast of pure drive-in cinema goodness; you get a pretty lady, psychic powers, sharks, sleazy characters… all the classics are here, some for the first time ever… hell, even Harold ‘Odd Job’ Sakata shows up!
Mix in a fantastic, “lone wolf” turn from Jaeckel, some solid shark footage, and a nostalgic “tacky” ambience (provided free of charge from one Mr. Father Time, ya dig?) and you end up with one of the best flicks on an already rad-as-balls box set!
Special features on disc three include the now standard commentaries (this time with Grefé flying solo… and while these chats are engaging, the presence and energy of Henenlotter is missed) and intros, followed by the theatrical cut of The Naked Zoo (featuring 100% more added in nudity and Canned Heat performances).
Following that we get a brief examination of sharksploitation courtesy of author/film journalist Michael Gingold, audio interviews with Bishop and screenwriter Robert Morgan, the 8mm truncated home version of the film, a collection of trailers and promo for Mako, and still galleries for both pictures.
Disc four begins with 1977’s Whiskey Mountain…
Bill (Christopher George, he of Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces fame) and his motocross gang are hot on the trail of a cache of valuable Civil War era rifles hidden deep within the backwoods of Whiskey Mountain.
Getting that treasure isn’t going to be easy however, as the land is ruled over by a cadre of dope growin’ sadistic mountain men led by Rudy (John Davis Chandler returning from The Hooked Generation and Mako: The Jaws of Death) who holds the are, including the law, in an iron grip of fear… so their asses are as good as grass, and rudy is the mother fuckin’ lawnmower!
Whiskey Mountain is loaded with motorcycle ridin’ and rapey backwoods action in equal measure… so the type of thing you’d only see in a grindhouse or drive-in of the 1970’s, and while it’s as uneven as the dirt roads our heroes ride their bikes down, it sure as hell is entertaining!
As the “good ol’ boys” style pickin’ and strummin’ (provided by The Charlie Daniels Band no less) fills the air we get a tale filled with shotgun blasts, dirt bike action, and one of the most disturbing rape scenes I’ve ever seen in a film (we only hear the assault as developing Polaroids give us still images of the horror transpiring); it’s that delicate balancing act of trash and treasure that connoisseurs of exploitation lap up!
As for bonus features on our final go around of the set, we get the standard commentary (again solo-style) and intro, followed by a fascinating featurette concerning frequent Grefé distributor Crown International Pictures, a short film (Bacardi and Coke Bonanza ’81… a rodeo based promo piece for Bacardi), an archival look at the locations utilized in the director’s pictures (hosted by the man himself), trailers and promo for Whiskey Mountain, as well as a trailer gallery for other Florida lensed shockers (some of which feature Grefé alum, and all of which I hope we see from Arrow in the future!).
Also included is They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé, an over two hour examination of Grefé’s career (complete with a host of deleted scenes in the ol’ bonus content department) and the perfect way to end this collection!
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this set also contains an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring a lengthy, never-previously-published interview with Grefé, as well as a reversible poster featuring new artwork by The Twins of Evil (who also provided sleeve artwork for each of the films).
Absolutely jam-packed with all manner of exploitation goodness, He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection is a dream come true for lovers of psychotronic cinema and is a wickedly good watch from beginning to end!
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