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Rhino presents
Orgy of the Dead (1965)

"I am Criswell. For years I have told the almost unbelievable, relayed the unreal and showed it to be more than fact. Now I tell a tale of The Threshold People, so astounding that some of you may faint."
- Criswell

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: May 10, 2004

Stars: Criswell
Other Stars: Fawn Silver, Pat Barrington, William Bates, Mickey Jines, Barbara Nordin, Bunny Glaser, Nadejda Dobrev, Colleen O'Brien, Texas Starr, Rene De Beau, Stephanie Jones, Dene Starnes, Louis Ojena, John Andrews
Director: Stephen C. Apostolof

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity)
Run Time: 01h:30m:35s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 603497032129
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB- B+

DVD Review

The name Ed Wood has long been synonymous with the "so bad it's good" school of filmmaking, with his 1959 classic Plan 9 from Outer Space highly regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. The cult appeal of Wood's work is steeped in the campiness factor, and in no small part to his complete disregard for such basic things as continuity or special effects. His talents as a director notwithstanding, Wood was also a prolific screenwriter, and his indelible touch is evident on a ton of horrendously offbeat B-movies he wrote from the 1950s through the early 1970s. Such is the case with this full-color 1965 exercise in sexploitation strangeness, helmed by Bulgarian-born nudie-cutie director Stephen C. Apostolof, here calling himself A.C. Stevens.

According to the opening credits, Orgy of the Dead is based on a "novel" by Wood, but if you have ever seen this film you would be hard pressed to figure out what exactly could have possibly been in the book. The reason is that there is very little in the way of dialogue in the film (let alone a story), with 99.99% of the film consisting of thematically interpretive and sexually expressive topless dancing. This is essentially a grindhouse nudie flick, augmented by a howlingly funny performance by Wood's pal Criswell, the fey psychic who also appeared in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Criswell, who has the habit of shouting his line reads and putting hammy emphasis on unexpected syllables, pops out of a coffin in the opening sequence and serves as a slightly swishy graveside host, tossing out comments after each sultry dancer. But that's all inconsequential, and though Criswell is supposed to be playing some kind of effeminate Emperor of the Night, his role is just filler in between the boob-shaking nudity.

In true Wood fashion, the narrative begins and then suddenly goes nowhere, as the heroic leads Bob (William Bates) and Shirley (Pat Barrington) are involved in a late-night car accident while prowling for a cemetery to visit. We don't see much of Bob and Shirley for another half hour or so, and yes, it is the very same cemetery where the Emperor (Criswell) is holding court and demanding entertainment. The Emperor's sultry right-hand girl is the Vampira-esque Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver), who is required to parade a bunch of dancing topless women by for his pleasure. Each of the women perform a short dance, with such vague themes as a street walker, a slave, a cat, or a gypsy, all set to a kitschy lounge music score.

No surprise, but the bulk of Orgy of the Dead has no real plot, and is like visiting a Halloween-themed strip club with beautiful and busty nude women jiggling with a hip sense of sexual abandon. Conveniently, Bob and Shirley do show up later, tied to tombstones as the Emperor's prisoners, after being captured by shuffling henchmen the Mummy (Louis Ojena) and the Wolf Man (John Andrews). Criswell is a riot to watch, and his over dramatic "interest" in the endless stream of topless women is a hoot. The cutaways and reaction shots are priceless, second only to the stilted delivery he gives such lines as "Torture, torture, it pleasures me!".

The Criswell material is classic, and almost on its own makes this required viewing, but credit to Apostolof for really stacking this film with an array of attractive women. Unlike a lot of low-rent grindhouse titles of the 1960s where the participants seemed either dumpy, sedated, or disinterested, the exuberant dancers here are all remarkably stunning and sexy; standouts include the red-headed Colleen O'Brien's street walker dance and Mickey Jines (who could have been Betty Page's younger sister) getting way, way into a Hawaiian-themed performance.

Late in the film, the Black Ghoul mercilessly taunts chesty Pat Barrington, who plays the fiery Jill St. John-ish Shirley, and nearly rips her bra off with the blade of a knife. Even after having been inundated with topless girl after topless girl, there was something forbidden and intriguing about the possibility of Barrington bursting out of her tightly-stretched blouse (she doesn't), but take note that she does ironically show up as one of the topless dancers. Billed not-so-cleverly as Pat Barringer, she does a steamy Goldfinger-inspired number where she's eventually dipped in a cauldron of melted gold.

It's one thing to have a great, campy performance by Criswell, and another to have pretty girls dancing topless. Put them together and you have a uniquely cool Ed Wood experience.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 full-frame transfer from Rhino was remastered from an original 35mm negative, supposedly under the supervision of Apostolof. Considering its low-budget background, the color print found on this disc looks damn good. Aside from some expected age-related minor debris issues, the transfer carries consistently pleasing and lifelike fleshtones throughout. Image detail is surprisingly sharp (you can really make out the bad makeup job on Criswell) for a sexploitation title like this.

Nice job, Rhino.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: English mono is the sole audio option, and it delivers the bad Criswell line reads just fine, with a minimum of hiss. The martini bar lounge music score from Jaime Mendoza-Nava sounds acceptable, as well. Nothing fancy, but effective for the material.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: I wasn't expecting much in the way of extras for this bizarre oddity, but Rhino has come through with an invigorating Interview with the Director (19m:50s), in which a talkative Stephen C. Apostolof (aka A.C. Stevens) touches on a little bit of everything, from his first meeting with Ed Wood (decked out in his trademark angora sweater and miniskirt) to scoring this particular film to breasts (which he calls what sounds like "mammal glands"). Apostolof, who lovingly refers to the Plan 9 from Outer Space director as "Eddie," ironically professes to never having seen one of Wood's films for fear of having to tell him he had no talent as a filmmaker, but praises his skill as writer and typist. I'm not sure when the actual interview was recorded, but Apostolof concludes with a brief, generic discussion about a possible Orgy of the Dead 2, where he promises we will get backstory on all of the characters, despite it being set in the year 3000.

In addition to a theatrical trailer for the feature, the disc is cut into 14 chapters.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

This is fabulously weird, sexy, and hilarious, and it is as if a strip club crash-landed on the set of Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Highly recommended.


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