Tuesday, October 2, 2012

DVD Review: SCREAM THEATER VOL. 7 SWAMP OF THE RAVENS (1974) & ZOMBIE (1964)



SCREAM THEATER VOLUME 7 

SWAMP OF THE RAVENS (1974)
ZOMBIE (1964)  
LABEL VCI Entertainment
REGION: ALL NTSC
DURATION: 83/93 Minutes
RATING: Unrated
VIDEO: 16x9 Widescreen (2.35:1)/(1.85:1)

AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.0
CAST: (SWAMP OF THE RAVENS) Ramiro Oliveros, Marcia Bichette, Fernando Sancho, Toni Mas, William Harrison, Cesar Carmichael, Mark Mollin (ZOMBIE) William Joyce, Heather Hewitt, Betty Hyatt Linton, Dan Stapleton, Walter Coy

DIRECTOR: (SWAMP OF THE RAVENS) Michael Dannon/ (ZOMBIE) Del Tenney

Just in time for Halloween VCI Entertainment are releasing an eight volume series of b-movie, horror and schlock double feature discs from the 60's through the 80's. We're getting it from all sides here; zombies, evil doctors, slashers and straight up insanity. So, I closed my eyes and shuffled eight volumes and this is what came up...



THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS (1974)

SYNOPSIS: Dr. Frosta (Ramiro Oliveros) has been conducting illegal and immoral experiments on the recently deceased in an effort to conquer death and perfect the mental control of his subjects. All that Simone (Marcia Bichette), his estranged girlfriend knows is that the doctor works too hard and doesn't give her enough attention. The police inspector (Fernando Sancho) assigned to the case is getting closer and closer to catching and stopping the doctor. Also, Dr. Frosta has been dumping the dead rejects from his experiments into the swamp. Unfortunately, the dead are now undead, and the swamp water is infested with living corpses bent on a showdown with the mad doctor!

So, I was about two brews into the night when I slapped this one on and while I don't think I was even buzzed at that point that this film kept it's mysteries well guarded, meaning it was semi-incoherent but from what I can recall Dr. Frosta experiments on corpses in an effort to cheat death, shunned by the medical profession he relocates to the swamps of Ecuador where he continues his ghastly experiments on the homeless and the hapless. He's been dumping the bodies in the swamp behind his laboratory and then some weird shit happens, this is definitely a weird-shit-happens' sorta film, too. 


While honestly this damn thing didn't make a whole lot of sense it was littered with creepy images, some great bubbling mist-filled swamps and that particular tinge of bizarre 70's Euro weirdness coursing through it. Ramping up the oddity-quotient we have the dubbed English dialogue that lends the usual scent of unreality, including some odd narration. Also a plus in my book is the 70's score, we get everything from acid-tinged rock to a.m. gold lounge ballads - all of it perfectly kitschy and awesome. 

The story in pretty mind-bending in a what-the-fuck sorta way, by the third beer in I was feeling pretty good and content to just sit back and watch the schlock unfold. A few fun things that stood out for include Dr. Frosta's girlfriend Simone who leaves him for her ex Richard, you see Dick's a lounge singer who croons to a mannequin in her likeness onstage. She dumps the creepy doc by leaving the mannequin with a pre-recorded message on a cassette recorder to break the news to him, fun stuff. Two Ecuadorian detectives are on the case and a particularly entertaining scene has a severed hand being thrown on the dinner table as one of the detective is scarfing down a plate of vittles.

The film definitely has some kind of atmosphere, it's like a nightmare you just can't wake up from or make sense of either - not unlike a Lucio Fulci film - or maybe I am just confusing that damned mysterious fog that comes in from outta nowhere for atmosphere. 

We get a decent amount of gore with severed limbs and rotting corpses floating in the swamp which at one point inexplicably are reanimated. What must be the most disturbing aspect of the film is some corpse molestation as the doc starts making out with the corpse of his beloved Simone and before you know the nasty bastard is balls deep in the cadaver, ewww. OK I take it back, there was one nugget that was a bit more disturbing than even that, what appeared to be the autopsy of what honestly looked to be a real corpse, stomach churning stuff. By the fiery end of the film I was pretty buzzed and feeling alright, but make no mistake this is not a good film but a weird and entertaining drunken feature for sure that has some rewatch value - just not a lot.


ZOMBIE (1964)  AKA I EAT YOUR SKIN 

SYNOPSIS: Best-selling author Tom Harris is working on his next book and schedules a trip to the aptly-named Voodoo Island. Engine problems force their plane to land on the beach where Tom meets a native skinny-dipper and the zombie who is stalking her. The zombies have been created by Dr. Billedeaux with radioactive snake venom but are under the control of a voodoo witch doctor whose plan is to sacrifice the doctor's lovely daughter. Filmed in 1964 as Voodoo Blood Bath this movie went unreleased until 1971 when it was retitled and placed on a double-bill with I Drink Your Blood.

The second part of this double-feature is the mid-60's black and whiteZOMBIE aka I EAT YOUR SKIN. What I noticed first about it was a cool exotic score that fluxes from kitschy jazz to island bongo percussion - it's fun stuff, a groovy score can go a long ways in my book, even if the movie totally sucks I can just stare at the inside of my eyelids and listen to it - which I did a few times during this snoozer.


We start off in Miami with some goofy narration, real pulpy stuff. A best-selling author slash womanizing playboy named Tom Harris is getting grief from his agent for not completing a new book, it's suggested he travel to the exotic Voodoo Island to research - what else? - voodoo! On the island the author encounters bug-eyed zombies in the service of a mad scientist who transforms the natives into mindless drones with a serum derived from irradiated snake venom. The zombies abduct the author's ultra-blond female companion in an attempt to sacrifice the pretty young thing to appease some island curse. 

What we get here is a lot of recycled stock footage, weird voodoo rituals i.e. funky dancing, some goat sacrifice and a bizarre cigar chompin' voodoo priest who reminded me a lot of some 90's Prince video with with a pair of wacky sunglasses festooned in strings of beads. The film is utterly devoid of atmosphere, chills or scares in any way, the zombies make-up effects consist of oatmeal plastered faces and egg-white eyes. It's not hard to i can really see why this sat on a shelf for six years - it felt like it took six years to watch. 

The lead William Joyce is a shirtless Sean Connery knock-off and there's an undeniable 007 influence on the action here which is sorta a fun genre mash-up but for every bit o' fun there's tons schlocky badness like what has to be one of the worst slow-dissolve transformation scenes ever, there can be no doubt this is a low budget cheapie and it's worse offense - there's no skin eating - sure that was a re-titling of the movie but still, that's a damn cheat! There's some fun 1960's sexism and campy macho-man fun here but I'm not really sure this even rises to the level of fun schlocky fun, it's pretty lame.

DVD: VCI have presented both film in 16x9 enhanced widescreen in their original aspect ratios with English language Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The transfer for ZOMBIE (1964) is fairly clean with a few scratches and staining but for a 48 year-old drive-in reject it's not too shabby at all. Contrast is pretty poor and detail and film grain seem wiped away but I was expecting far worse. The audio is quite boxy with some hiss and buzz throughout, dialogue seemed muffled, too. SWAMP OF THE RAVENS also gets the 16x9 widescreen transfer and is pretty poor with print damage and dirt, flesh-tones looks like everyone in the film is suffering from third degree sunburn, the English dubbed dialogue like the image is below par but adequate and neither film has a subtitle option or any supplemental features. 

VERDICT: A very odd pairing for a double feature, neither will win the hearts of your average horror fan but for the Euro-cult enthusiasts out there I think SWAMP OF THE RAVENS (1971) might have something to offer, it's not much but it might just be enough to tempt a purchase, just be forewarned that there's a lot of camp, kitsch and schlock here but a lot of it just ain't that enjoyable. Over all this is not a recommend for anyone but the most die-hard lovers of bad cinema, but if you count yourself among the unwashed masses of schlock-lovers the SCREAM THEATER series might just be worth a look. 2 Outta 5 

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