Orgy of the Dead

Color, 1975, 79 mins. 26 secs. / 77 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Bernard Hirschenson
Starring Jill Senter, Alan Long, Gini Eastwood,
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Mill Creek, BCI/Eclipse (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The very Pick-Upbusy drive-in distributor Crown Pick-UpInternational really knew how to turn a challenging, unclassifiable film into an exploitation hit, but they really caught moviegoers by surprise with Pick-Up. Marketing as another film about sexy young things menaced by backwoods yokels, it's actually a much stranger beast closer in spirit to experimental films made over the previous decade. There's enough nudity and local Southern color to still keep it exploitable enough, but anyone expecting a sleazy T&A romp is in for quite a shock. On the other hand, if you love weird '70s cinema that refuses to play by any normal rules, this one really delivers.

An assignment to deliver a bus to Tallahassee by nightfall turns into a spiritual journey and assault on the senses for driver Chuck (Long) when he picks up sexy free spirit Carol (Senter) and the more mystical Maureen (Eastwood). Some dabbling in drugs and encounters with a bunch of fellow travelers (including a bunch of very '70s kids) becomes very strange as they end up having sexual and religious awakenings in the middle of the Everglades, with everything from clowns to politicians popping up along the way.

Like most other '70s Crown titles, this one has made the rounds on home video for years from a number of different labels including drive-in movie collections from BCI and Mill Creek. However, you can ignore Pick-Upall of those in favor of the dual-format 2017 release from Vinegar Syndrome, which presents the film in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ration and looks gorgeous with a fresh 2K Pick-Upscan of the original negative. The vibrant colors really pop here, detail levels are strong, and the nature scenes look much more impressive than before. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also in great shape. In a nice surprise, this is the original director's cut of the film (under the title Pazuzu) including a dreamy, hand-drawn opening sequence jettisoned by Crown. The film can also be played with an audio commentary featuring director Bernard Hirschenson and Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin, which offers a nice sketch of regional Florida filmmaking at the time including lab work in Miami and location work in Naples. He also reveals that the project was initially pitched as an X-rated project that he would only do if it was toned down to be R-rated, in addition to shedding a bit of light on the mysterious Long (a personal friend who was working as a projectionist) and goes into the turbulent process of having the film acquired and released by Crown.

However, the biggest news on this disc is tucked away in the special features but reason enough to snap this one up right away: Orgy at Lil's Place (77m14s), a 1963 nudie film co-produced and photographed by Hirschenson. Though copious promotional material has been around for this title, the film itself was considered lost for years and became a holy grail of sorts for devotees of obscure exploitation. Its eventual resurfacing a few years ago has finally led to a video release of this William Mishkin-released curio, which also featured Del Tenney (Horror of Party Beach) as assistant director. Wide-eyed Ann (Kari Knudsen) arrives in New York City to stay with her sister, Sally (June Ashley), who's in a relationship with hunky painter Pick-UpBob (John Lyon). What starts off as an Pick-Upenvironment of nude art modeling, narrated by Ann in a voice that sounds a lot like Janet Leigh, starts taking strange turns as tours through the big city accompanied by photographer Charlie (Bob Curtis) go from twisting at Coney Island to swinging sex parties overseen by the imperious Lil (Terry Powers). Among the highlights is purportedly the American screen's first roughie scene, a bit of bondage and whip modeling obviously inspired by Belle de Jour and paving the way for the next big wave in dirty movies. The actual nudity quotient here is pretty low, but it's a brisk and enjoyable rarity with lots of that beloved voiceover narration tying it all together in classic zero-budget style. Image quality is terrific throughout, with the monochrome lensing featuring beautiful deep blacks; there's also a startling shift in formats at the end of the film that's guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

More Hirschenson can be found in a new video interview, "From Orgy to Pick-Up to Nixon" (23m24s), which covers his early career days working as a camera operator on West Side Story and David and Lisa through his own filmmaking inspired by foreign films and documentaries. He also touches on a number of other familiar titles like Satan in High Heels, on which he served as director of photography. An audio interview with Eastwood conducted by Rubin via telephone charts essentially her whole life story from being an entertainer as a child in upstate New York through her singing career including a stint with New Christy Minstrels. Also included are the original trailer, a teaser, the standard Crown Pick-Up main titles, and a quick stash of Orgy at Lil's Place stills from Cinema Arcana.


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Reviewed on December 31, 2017.