Orgy of the Dead

Color, 1965, 91 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by A.C. Stephen
Starring Criswell, Pat Barrington, William Bates, Fawn Silver, Bunny Glaser, John Andrews, Louis Ojena, Texas Starr, Nadejda Dobrev, Stephanie Jones, Dene Starnes, Rene De Beau
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Rhino (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Though Orgy of the Deadhe certainly Orgy of the Deaddirected enough films in his lifetime, the legendary Edward D. Wood, Jr. also lent his unique talents to projects directed by others over the years. The most famous of these is easily Orgy of the Dead, a lovably ridiculous, horror-themed nudie cutie scripted by Wood, who also performed multiple duties behind the camera including casting the actors and serving as production manager. The film was actually helmed by A.C. Stephen, better known as Stephen C. Apostolof, the man behind such drive-in staples as Office Love-In, Suburbia Confidential, and later Wood-penned films like Drop Out Wife, The Snow Bunnies, and The Class Reunion. Though Wood wasn't officially calling the shots here, his fingerprints are still all over it courtesy of the dramatic, highly artificial dialogue, the sincere passion for genre cinema, and of course, the presence of Criswell, the peerless prognosticator who narrated Plan 9 from Outer Space.

In an opening basically repeating the one from Wood's Night of the Ghouls, Criswell emerges from a tomb courtesy of two muscular assistant and warns us weren't about to descend into a story about "the threshold people, so astounding some you may faint! This is a story of those who live twilight time, once human, now monsters, in a void between the living and the dead. Monsters to be pitied! Monsters to be despised! A night with the ghouls, the ghouls reborn from the innermost depths of the Orgy of the Deadworld." From there we meet our two heroes, horror writer Bob (Bates) and girlfriend Shirley (Mantis in Lace's Barrington, credited as Pat Barringer), whose twilight drive to a graveyard takes an unexpected turn when he skids off the Orgy of the Deadroad down a small cliff. They're welcomed to a nearby cemetery by Criswell and his Vampira-styled, beehive-wearing sidekick (Silver), who subject them to ten summonings of cursed women beneath the full moon. What ensues is basically a string of topless burlesque routines involving a greedy woman dipped in gold (Barrington again in a wig) and numbers titled the Hawaiian Dance, the Skeleton Dance, the Slave Dance, the Street Walker Dance, the Fluff Dance, the Mexican Dance, and the Zombie Dance. Along the way, the provocative Silver starts jonesing to sink a knife into the human couple before their time to join the realm of darkness comes at dawn, and a werewolf and mummy show up to deliver wisecracks and tie the couple up for some added kink value. It all ends with a little twist ending, though it probably isn't the one you think.

It helps if you have some familiarity with the burlesque-themed films that popped up throughout the '50s and '60s as buxom, smiling women strutted their stuff, but it isn't necessary to appreciate the charm of this cracked little curio. The eye-blazing colors (billed as "Gorgeous Astravision and Shocking Sexicolor"), complete lack of story momentum, and almost nonstop delirious lounge music combine to create a bizarre experience that will confound some viewers while completely delighting others. Orgy of the DeadAt over 90 minutes it feels way too padded for its own good (as a 70-minute programmer this would have absolutely killed), but what's here is certainly something to cherish if you're into watching undead strippers doing their thing in a graveyard drenched in dry ice.

Orgy of the DeadReleased a few times in theaters over the years including temporary ownership from Crown International Pictures, Orgy of the Dead hit VHS and then DVD from Rhino Home Video (the latter format in 2004). The film has been well preserved over the years and fared quite well in SD; fans may want to hang on to that earlier DVD as it features the theatrical trailer and a video interview with Apostolof (19m51s) about his entire filmmaking career including his plans to mount a futuristic sequel to this film! Talk about a lost opportunity.

It was inevitable this one would have to get the Vinegar Syndrome treatment sinc it hits all the exploitation bases of the time -- and they certainly don't disappoint with its 2017 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release. The already hypnotic, garish color scheme looks terrific, and the film grain has been left intact with a nice sense of texture and detail throughout. The 1.85:1 matting also snaps some compositions into focus that felt adrift before, though that doesn't make the framing much more artful. (The opening credits will look Orgy of the Deadodd no matter how they're presented, for example.) The LPCM English mono track sounds great (much better than the soundtrack CD released many years ago, which sounded like it was ripped from a film print), with optional English subtitles provided. A new audio commentary with Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey (who's hard to hear at times) and the peerless Frank Henenlotter, which is as lively and colorful as you'd expect complete Orgy of the Deadwith lots of Criswell (especially his "crackpot predictions") and Wood trivia, the tie-in novel (which is a tad expensive now), the state of sexploitation at the time (which was already moving past nudie cuties into roughie territory), and even some anecdotes about Silver and why she was the lone female cast member who didn't do nudity. There's a discreet allusion to some wild times between Grey and Apostolof involving women that could send the mind reeling, too, as well as an amusing explanation for the fate of all the still photos from this film. "Impressions of Nadejda" (16m37s) features the film's slave dance performer elaborating on her own colorful background that brought her from Syria to Hollywood where she did this "secret" project that kept coming back into her life. Don't miss her annoyed reading of a thank-you letter from Apostolof, too. The brief "Orgy of the Ted" (2m27s) explains how he wound up coming to do the lighting on the set to help a fledgling camera operator, and a 41s gallery compiles some men's magazine photos and publicity stills from the film's aggressive PR campaign.


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Reviewed on September 16, 2017.