Friday, 27 November 2020

He Came From the Swamp (1966 - 1977)


"Makes Al Adamson Look Like a Genius"

If someone had asked me to compile a list of movie directors whose work I never expected to see a Blu-ray boxset devoted to, then William Grefe would have been close to the top. And yet here we have, courtesy of Arrow Films, seven movies and a documentary about the Florida-based film-maker. Unfortunately it's sadly lacking two of his best-known films - STANLEY (famous for being the one about the snakes) and IMPULSE (famous for featuring William Shatner going full Shat as a sleazebag who marries women and then murders them for their money). So now I've told you what you don't get, let's take a look at what you do:

Disc One

Sting of Death (1966)

In which a man becomes a killer jellyfish monster through the miracle of special effects that consist of a repurposed wetsuit and a plastic bag placed on his head. Parents should advise their children that they should not copy this. Nor should they be putting plastic bags on their heads, or even watching STING OF DEATH, a pretty terrible film that alternates 'beach party'-style gyrating with attacks from Mr Jelly. There are a lot of crash zooms into young ladies' gyrating bottoms during the dance sequences. "What more do you want from filmed entertainment?" asks Frank Henenlotter in the documentary on disc four. Quite a lot actually, Frank. Quite a lot.

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

In the good old days of double bills if you didn't make both movies you didn't get to keep all the money. And so we have DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, rustled up by William Grefe over a weekend and making use of the idea that a restless Native American spirit could manifest itself by the convenient ultra low-budget use of animals. It doesn't work and neither does the reanimated corpse that we finally get to see after a good hour of interminable wandering around that will have your finger wandering to the fast forward button. Or possibly the eject one.

Extras on disc one include new introductions for each film by William Grefe and commentaries on both films ported over from the Region 1 Something Weird DVD release with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter which are both worth a listen for nuggets of Drive-In movie gossip. Continuing the theme there's a look at Spook Shows (a cultural phenomenon more common to the US than the UK) by Doug Hobart while C Courtney Joyner gives us a history of the entertainingly-named rock and roll monster genre.

Disc Two

The Hooked Generation (1968)

There's plenty of drug taking, drug dealing and a fair bit of spaced out dancing, quite a bit of it on the inexpensive location of a motorboat as our three dodgy central characters turn on, tune in and drop out, although by the end of the film you'll be wishing they'd dropped over the side of the boat at the beginning. It's all dull, uninspiring stuff with a little bit of violence to try and spice up the mix. It doesn't work.

The Psychedelic Priest (1971)

A bit like being stuck with the spaced out person at a party who's no fun but just won't stop talking to you, this one is the interminable 80 minute tale of a priest who discovers the drug scene via a group of hippies and embarks on a variety of thoroughly uninteresting adventures. Another one for completists.

Extras include archive commentaries on both films with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter, new introductions from the director and behind the scenes footage from THE HOOKED GENERATION. You also get two short pieces (about eight minutes each) on the making of each film with Chris Poggiali

Disc Three

The Naked Zoo (1971)

The sex-filled drug-fuelled non-stop party lifestyle of the jobbing author (it's all true, you know!) is depicted with little coherence but a surprising star turn from Rita Hayworth in this psychedelic mishmash of double-crossing, murders and at least one quite terrible song. The print looks as if a couple of reels have been rescued from the jaws of a combine harvester and the opening shows that even films like ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER required some style and talent to make them work. Which is not the case here, unfortunately.

Mako Jaws of Death (1976)

It's time for some crap sharks! Actually that's not really fair. The sharks in this are likely just as good as any other sharks. The problem is that they've found themselves in a William Grefe movie. Richard Jaeckel is the man who develops a telepathic connection with them and trains them to kill. MAKO is kind of a cross between JAWS and WILLARD but is too slow moving to be anywhere near as good as either. It does however feature what must be the largest man ever to be eaten in a sharksploitation movie.

Extras include commentaries on both films, seven minutes on shark films by Michael Gingold, audio interviews with screenwriter Robert Morgan and star Jennifer Bishop, Barry Mahon's recut version of THE NAKED ZOO and MAKO on Super 8

Disc Four

Whiskey Mountain (1977)

I wish I could say the final film in the set is something good but sadly it isn't. WHISKEY MOUNTAIN probably looks better through the bottom of a bottle of J&B but I'm not going to test the theory. Instead I'll just say this immensely slow moving tale of its four lead characters riding around on their motorbikes, going off to search for treasure and encountering troublesome hillbillies can't even be saved by the presence of exploitation star Christopher George (from CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE EXTERMINATOR). 

They Came From the Swamp (2020)

Better than any of the films is this two hour plus documentary on the making of them, filed with interviews with key personnel, lots of remembrances from Grefe himself and the always energetic Frank Henenlotter to offer his opinion at every given opportunity. In some ways this is the film to kick off watching the set with as it helps contextualise everything else.

The Bottom Line: Arrow did a fantastic job with their Herschell Gordon Lewis set a couple of years ago. This year has seen Severin Films come up with the remarkable achievement that is their Al Adamson box set. Compared to such fare, He Came From the Swamp just doesn't really cut it. A major part of the problem is the films themselves, which aren't made with the skill (yes I said skill) of the Lewis or Adamson pictures and just aren't as watchable. While there are quite a few extras here, some of the featurettes could have been much longer. Arrow calls Michael Gingold's piece on shark movies a 'deep dive' but it's only seven minutes. Similarly the 'That's Drugsploitation!' piece deserves more breathing space.

If you find the history of late 1960s and early 1970s drive-in cinema fascinating, or if you find yourself watching all the films in your HG Lewis set over and over and are pining for more of the same (but of lesser quality) then this is the set for you. However, everyone else should probably have a long hard think before handing over the cash for this one. 

HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFE COLLECTION is out from Arrow in a four disc Blu-ray set on Monday 30th November 2020

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