ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: A.C. Stephen
Vinegar Syndrome

Ed Wood launches the career of A.C. Stephens with the colorful nudie cutie ORGY OF THE DEAD on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

Under the light of the moon on nights when the sky is clear, The Emperor (Criswell, PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE) summons the Princess of Darkness (Fawn Silver, TERROR IN THE JUNGLE) to entertain him with the damnation of recently dead loose women. This ritual takes the form of the women dancing topless before being consumed by their vices: an Indian maiden (Bunny Glaser, MOTEL CONFIDENTIAL) whose lover was consumed by flames eventually goes up in smoke, a golddigger (Pat Barrington, THE SATANIST) is dipped in molten gold, a "pussycat" (Texas Star) is treated to the cat o'nine tails as is a slave (Nadejda Dobrev), a Hula girl (Mickey Jines) causes an eruption, a streetwalker (Coleen O'Brien) is forced to walk the streets in vain for fulfillment, and a murderess (Coleen O'Brien) dances with her husband's skeleton. Into these festivities stumbles horror writer Bob (William Bates) searching for inspiration in graveyards with his girlfriend Shirley. They are captured by The Emperor's henchmen – a werewolf (John Andrews, THE NOTORIOUS DAUGHTER OF FANNY HILL) and a mummy (Louis Ojena, COUNTRY HOOKER) – and force to watch while The Emperor and the Princess of Darkness make plans for Shirley to join them in the afterlife after they get rid of Bob ("no one wishes to see a man dance") unless they can keep their captors distracted until sunrise.

Cited in the credits as being based on a novel by Ed Wood – although the book was actually a novelization of the script – ORGY OF THE DEAD is a very late entry into the "nudie cutie" genre at a time when roughies were replacing the more burlesque dancing and stripping-oriented films and auteurs the likes of Joe Sarno and Russ Meyer were taking advantage of greater permissiveness to explore their cinematic obsessions. The film was the feature directorial debut of A.C. Stephen AKA Stephen C. Apostolof who would quickly get the hang of where the genre was heading with non-stop softcore bump-n-grind-fests like THE CLASS REUNION and DROP-OUT WIFE and some lighter R-rated sexploitation fare later in the seventies. Squinting to read his lines off of cue cards, Criswell and the equally stiff Vampira-substitute Silver are laughable but really are no worse than anyone else with dialogue in the film (taking into account the dialogue itself). Shot on a studio set of reasonably executed cemetery statuary and mausoleums, the film at least looks much better than it deserves thanks to the photography of Robert Caramico (LEMORA: A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL) assisted by Ted V. Mikels (THE CORPSE GRINDERS) and fellow dependable exploitation DP Robert Maxwell (BLOOD MANIA). The dance sequences are monotonous, distinguished only by the women themselves, but one wonders if Wood had something darker and more obsessive in mind (until, of course, the Cat Dancer comes out in a leopard pajamas with the bust and rear cut out).

Released theatrically by Crown International Pictures in 1965, ORGY OF THE DEAD became more accessible in the nineties after the release of Tim Burton's ED WOOD with the resurgence of interest in the filmmaker's oeuvre with Rhino Video VHS and DVD releases bringing Apostolof out of obscurity, followed by S'more Entertainment's BIG BOX OF WOOD six disc set shedding light on more of their collaborations. Restored in 2K from the original camera negative, the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode of ORGY OF THE DEAD looks nothing short of stunning thanks to the professionalism of Caramico and the controlled lighting of the studio conditions resulting in a crisp and colorful image that maintains its heightened clarity amidst the dry ice fog with depth in the wide angle close-ups making it seem as though one was looking out a window at the images and could even step into the frame. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is clean but subject to the rudimentary mixing with always audible but sometimes uneven mixing of dialogue while shrill screams and the scoring of future exploitation cinema great Jaime Mendoza-Nava (MAUSOLEUM) having more presence. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

Extras start off with an energetic audio commentary by Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter who are able to draw on interviews with Wood and Apostolof. They provide some background information on how Criswell became a celebrity by doing predictions on television commercial space for the promotion of Criswell Family Bibles, his previous Wood appearance in NIGHT OF THE GHOULS not actually being seen until the eighties after Wade Williams paid the lab bill, and his promotion of the film during an appearance on Johnny Carson. They discuss Apostolof's first meeting with Wood in drag at The Brown Derby, as well as how he was accepting of Wood's pitch of an eighteen-page script he had been kicking around for a time titled NUDIE GHOULIES (which the commentators have on hand and point out some differences) since his only experience with the genre was a viewing of Russ Meyer's THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS (1959). In discussing the film itself, they note how much sexploitation had changed between 1959 and 1965, and how outdated ORGY must have seemed to the raincoat audience. They provide what little information they have been able to find on some of the performers (mostly those whose only other appearance was in Apostolof's follow-up MOTEL CONFIDENTIAL) including Barrington, Bates (who helped fund the film), and Andrews who was a fan of Bela Lugosi and was able to provide the actor's cape from ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN for Criswell to wear.

"Impressions of Nadejda" (16:37) is an interview with actress Dobrev who recalls emigrating form Bulgaria to Syria and then from Syria to Cleveland before ending up in Los Angeles where she studied at Desilu studios before being called about appearing in ORGY based on some nude modeling photos for which she had posed. She claims not to have known about the nature of the project until she arrived on the set and performed her dance sequence without any choreography to the music on the set. She forgot about the film until twenty-five years later when Apostolof contacted her. Although initially dismayed – especially because she thought she was contributing to a work of art – she not regards it as a funny film of a creative type that could not be made these days. "Orgy of the Ted" (2:27) is a brief interview with Mikels in which he recalls training Caramico on another film before coming on to assist him on ORGY of which he remembers little. A short still gallery (0:41) is also included. The reversible cover features new arwork by Earl Kessler which also adorns the slipcase that is included with a limited run of copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome. (Eric Cotenas)