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Orgy of the Dead

Orgy of the Dead
1965 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 92 min. / Street Date May 25, 2004 / 14.95
Starring Criswell, Fawn Silver, Pat Barrington, William Bates
Cinematography Robert Caramico
Second Unit Directors Ted V. Mikels, Edward D. Wood Jr.
Art Direction Robert Lathrop
Film Editor Donald A. Davis
Original Music Jaime Mendoza-Nava
Written by Edward D. Wood Jr. from his novel
Produced and Directed by Stephen C. Apostolof (as A.C. Stevens)

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Yes, it's Ed Wood time again, as only a writer perhaps, but except for the absence of an angora sweater this one has his mark all over it. The script for Orgy of the Dead is practically non-existent, but Criswell and a crude graveyard setting are all too familiar. Rhino's picture-perfect DVD looks far better than this tawdry exercise in sleaze deserves.


Shirley (Pat Barrington) and Bob (William Bates) go to a cemetary for inspiration for Bob's horror tales but after crashing their car become witnesses a meeting of ghouls. The Emperor (Criswell) presides over a series of erotic dances performed by the damned souls of various perfidious females. His henchmen The Mummy (Louis Ojena) and The Wolfman (John Andrews) capture the lovers and force them to watch while awaiting their fates. The Princess of the Dark, a.k.a. The Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver) wants to execute Shirley but The Emperor keeps putting it off.

This isn't really a horror film but a cheap girlie show as primitive as the one-reelers of strippers seen in the omnibus collection Best of Burlesque. Criswell appears from a coffin in time-honored Ed Wood fashion (did he think this was an important tradition?) and speaks the immortal yet incoherent words "Monsters to be pitied, monsters to be despised." One exterior of a car driving is followed by a fake driving shot while the terrible actors (one an associate producer, hope he didn't have to pay too much) read the awful lines. They crash and land on the film's one set, a haunted graveyard where a convocation of demons celebrate the sins of the dead.

One after another, a group of pro strippers ranging from dreadful to pretty darn good (Rene de Beau) dance about interminably to music that often verges on the comical. They're supposed to be expressing their evil lives but besides a cat costume or a cutaway to a badly matched shot of a snake, nothing makes the slightest sense.

A few years farther down the road from his better-known Wood efforts, Criswell is now puffy and bloated-looking. His weird curl of white hair sits neatly on his forehead, making him look like a senior citizen kewpie doll. Fawn Silver reads her lame "As you desire master" lines wearing a costume reminiscent of Lily Munster. The Mummy and Wolfman have terrible rented costumes and add unfunny comic relief.

This is basically 90 minutes of repetitious and numbing strip acts, with poor cutaways to the presiding ghouls who bicker about how much time they have before dawn or who gets to stab who. The most elaborate act uses Pat Barrington in a double role as a greedy dancer who gets coated in gold. Barrington's figure can be conservatively described as "statuesque."

The direction is limp, but the action and camerawork are a big improvement on the older Ed Wood films. A few camera moves are added to the formula, the sets often look attractive and whoever is behind the smoke machines does a good job. The handsomely lit dancing bodies almost look 3D. This production may be cheap but it's obviously not the disaster that most of Wood's films were. Not a single gravestone falls over, not even once.

Orgy of the Dead is a ridiculous picture, but Rhino's DVD looks great. This is obviously sourced from the original negative, which is in perfect shape and allows us to see every flaw in Criswell's complexion. There's an extra interview with the film's producer and director, Stephen C. Apostolof. He's a Bulgarian gentleman with a long string of adult product and this was his first effort after an anti-communist film called Journey to Freedom in 1957. That was photographed by William C. Thompson and had Tor Johnson in the cast; the beginnings of the Ed Wood connection. Apostolof relates his first meeting with Wood, claiming that the "eccentric" director arrived at the Brown Derby in full drag and moustache. I think he's telling the truth. Apostolof also tells us that the 'golden girl' idea was his - it came from Goldfinger (surprise)! The girls all danced to pop songs, and composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava composed his original soundtrack afterwards. Another mystery of the cinema revealed.

That's about where "A.C. Stephen's" credibility ends. He offers a full rundown of directorial advice and filmic observations as if Orgy of the Dead were an accomplishment to be proud of; chances are that his assistant directors (see above) gave what minimal direction was needed. He's really a basic sexploition producer who put together a formula for a film that could be shot cheaply, and then didn't scrimp on the photography or the dancers. But Apostolof still comes off as barely articulate in English - he thinks that pleasure can't be a verb, and keeps calling breasts "mammal glands." He optimistically plugs something called Orgy of the Dead part 2. In it we'll find out the origins of The Black Ghoul and the Emperor, and what the real relationship between The Mummy and the Wolfman were! Can't wait. I know editors who've had to work with guys like this, and it can get very depressing.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Orgy of the Dead rates:
Movie: Poor unless you like this kind of trash, in which case it's Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Stephen Apostolof interview, original trailer.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 17, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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