Color, 2016, 123m.
Directed by Daniel Griffith
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (DVD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)


They Came from the Swamp

They Came from the SwampA fascinating figure in the '60s and '70s drive-in scene often overlooked in favor of his peer, the Florida-based Bill Grefé managed to dip his toes in several trends with a high rate of financial success. Most video collectors know him now through the killer snake favorite Stanley and the immortal Something Weird double bill of Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu, a pairing carried over from their original theatrical engagements. However, he also dabbled in biker films (The Wild Rebels), drugsploitation (The Hooked Generation, also out from SW), thrillers (the bizarro Rita Hayworth vehicle The Naked Zoo and even crazier William Shatner film Impulse), sharksploitation (Mako: The Jaws of Death), and even an early stab at car racing thrills with Checkered Flag and Racing Fever.

Now Grefé gets the feature-length documentary treatment with this salute from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, whose short and feature-length docs have adorned dozens of cult movie releases covering everything from AIP and Hammer to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Ballyhoo independently released a DVD of the majority of Grefé's seldom-seen shocker The Devil's Sisters in 2012, and it's nice to see them expanding on the Grefé universe considerably here with a lengthy, in-depth tour through his sometimes surprising career. Grefé's familiarity with gators and sharks served him well not only in his own films but in larger productions, most notably on Live and Let Die, and you'll find out all about it here. They Came from the Swamp

Every one of his projects both familiar and obscure gets covered, with vintage footage of stars like Richard Jaeckel and Mickey Rooney (from the loco mafia cash-in The Godmothers) popping up in film clips and new interviewees rattling off a ton They Came from the Swampof info about how each of these came to pass. Archival press interviews (including a briefly glimpsed Barbara Walters!) are dotted in as well, and you'll hear plenty of stories about actors having to make do under less than ideal circumstances and sometimes reacting with real terror to threats like sharks and snakes. Brace yourself for a sit-down interview with Shatner, behind-the-scenes footage, and tons more, with Grefé himself providing the major interview segments peppered with other significant contributors: Fred Olen Ray, Frank Henenlotter, Chris Poggiali, David F. Friedman (briefly), actor John Davis Chandler, screenwriter and occasional actor/corpse stand-in Gary Crutcher, and Randy Grinter.

The feature is available as a two-disc set (with an early limited edition featuring an insert signed by Grefé) with the first disc housing the doc and a chunk of the special features. Image quality is as fine as you'd expect, with the variations in source materials for the film clips to be expected given the scarcity of some of them. Also included on the first disc from the amusing menu screen (which blasts "The Wild Rebels") are four chunks of deleted footage: Randy Grinter chatting about Florida filmmaker Brad Grinter; a "deathbed confessions" bit with makeup artist Doug Hobart about playing a dead body and getting cracked up by Shatner; a Grefé anecdote about Shatner and a memorable liquor-related office visit; and Crutcher explains how he wound up playing a doctor in Stanley. The 17-minute featurette "The Crown Jewels" America's Oldest Indie Film Company" features more Grefé and Poggiali exploring the history between Crown International, They Came from the Swampwhich pulls no punches about its reputation for churning out some of the most lovably cheapjack drive-in offerings of the golden era and features some great info about its memorable detour through the biker craze. They Came from the Swamp

The big draw on the second disc is one heck of a bonus feature, a very wide scope transfer of the rare Whiskey Mountain, Grefé's own spin on the popularity of both Deliverance and moonshine movies with actors like Burt Reynolds. Notable for having a female assistant director, it's an amusing slice of southern-fried hokum (one character is named Booger, for example) with Christopher George getting a fun leading role among antics like dirt biking, fist fighting, crazy motorcycle stunts, explosions, and pot smuggling in a cave within the title location. Perhaps the most memorable flourish here is a unique take on that drive-in standard, the hillbilly rape scene, which is depicted here via flashes of Polaroid snapshots. Plus you get drive-startlet Roberta Collins and a theme song by Charlie Daniels! Image quality is pretty soft and scratchy, but given the rarity of the title, it's a pleasure just to see the whole frame in any form at all. You can definitely toss out your unwatchable pan and scan tape copies. You can see frame grabs by clicking here, here, and here.

Want more Grefé? Also on the DVD is a 17-minute Bacardi promotional short, "Bacardi: The Mixable One," with William Shatner making a swashbuckling film and taking off for a tour of the famous rum manufacturer, complete with a look at the Bacardi family tree. Then there's the 7-minute "Bacardi and Coke Bonanza '81," a rodeo-themed short about how mixing the two beloved beverages together gets promoted around the world as told by a down-home cowpoke. More familiar is the 10-minute Mako making-of promotional featurette, a great slice of marketing with film highlights, a memorable narrated opener, and a particularly great score. Then there's a 30-second Legends testimonial from Bruce Campbell on the set of Burn Notice, a 12-minute(!) gallery of posters and stills from his films with some great music choices (not spoiled here!), and a huge slate of trailers including Racing Fever, Sting of Death, the fantastic one for Death Curse of Tartu, Wild Rebels, Stanley, Jaws of Death, Whiskey Mountain, Cease Fire, Black Friday, Fireball Jungle (a TV spot), Superchick (a TV spot), The King of the Jungle, The Magic Legend of the Juggler, and The Weird World of LSD. Whew! Snap this one up while you can.

Reviewed on April 15, 2016.