Director: William Grefé
Scripts: Al Dempsey, Quinn Morrison, Ray Preston, Robert Madarin,
Cast:  Joe Morrison, Neil Sedaka, Valerie Hawkins, John Vella, Jack Nagle, Sandie Lee (Sting of Death), Fred Pinero, Babbette Sherrill, Bill Marcus, Maryrn Gomez, Sherman Hayes, Gary Holtz, Maurice Stewart, Douglas Hobart, Frank Weed (Death Curse), Jeremy Slate, Steve Alaimo, John Davis Chandler, Willio Pastrano, Socrates Ballis, Lee Warren, Dete Parsons (Hooked Generation), John Darrell, Carolyn Hall, Joe Crane, Ken Keckler, Larry Wright, Susan Hayes, Chubby Jackson, Abe Newman (Psychedelic Priest), Rita Hayworth, Stephen Oliver, Fay Spain, Ford Rainey, Fleurette Carter, Lynn Topping, Bill Kelly, Kim Bretton, Jeff Gillen (The Naked Zoo), Richard Jaeckel, Jenifer Bishop, Harold Sakata, John Davis Chandler, Buffy Dee, Ben Kronen, Mitton Smith, Bob Leslie (Mako: The Jaws of Death), Christopher George, Preston Pierce, Roberta Collins, Linda Borgeson, Jerry Rhodes, John Davis Chandler, William Kerwin, Robert Leslie (Whiskey Mountain)
Running time: 736 minutes
Year: 1966 – 1977
Certificate: 18

This excellent collection from Arrow Video includes everything you could ever what to see from a director that you’ve probably never heard of, namely Florida-based William ‘Wild Bill’ Grefé. William was a maverick filmmaker who spent way too much time sloshing around the Florida Everglades creating crazy exploitation films for the drive-in market during the 1960s and 1970s. This fantastic Arrow boxed set brings together seven of Grefé’s weirdest films, which feature the likes of an off-his-face catholic priest, a zombiefied witch-doctor, a jellyfish man, homicidal hippies and up-for-anything go-go dancing teens, who look like they’re at least in their mid-twenties! The films are:

Sting of Death

 (1966, 80 mins)

Marine biologists Dr John Hoff and Dr Richardson bring a bunch of their students over to an island in the Everglades. Cue lots of go-go dancing and over-age students picking on dodgy-eyed handyman Eygon who has the ‘hots’ for one doctor’s daughter, Karen. A strange jellyfish man starts to attack the group, resulting in a number of deaths and Karen being kidnapped.

This was an amusingly sexist film with quite a few chauvinistic remarks sprinkled throughout, but, as with the questionable fashions and dancing on display, one has to make allowances for the time the film was made. The jellyfish man is hilarious (basically a man in a wetsuit covered in weeds and beads, with a plastic bag on his head, replete with ‘stinging’ streamers hanging down from it) and the acting is very am-dram, but this is still fun exploitation fare, with the camera getting up close to lots of gyrating bottoms and some great Everglades footage. Probably the most disturbing thing about the film is the older professor’s stripped tight shorts!

Death Curse of Tartu

 (1966, 88 mins)

Probably William Grefé’s most well-known film, at least on the drive-in circuit, Death Curse was scripted in one day and shot in seven by Bill himself – possibly something of a record? But, despite the quota quickie nature (it was rushed out to get a drive-in double-bill deal) Death Curse is still a lot of fun and holds together surprisingly well considering its cheapskate production history.

The plot, such as it is, concerns a group of archaeologists being menaced by a now zombiefied Indian witchdoctor who, years ago, had placed a curse on those who’d dare to trespass on the Indian burial ground – yes, that old chestnut! However, it’s the atmosphere and all-round weirdness that helps keep this film memorable, not the lacklustre story.

Highlights include an explorer being strangled to death by a python of some sort (no CGI here – this looked like it was a dangerous stunt), some nice locations, some attractive women not wearing much, and one of the funniest shark attacks ever filmed – as some bright spark points out: “sharks don’t live in fresh water!” Tartu, the zombie witchdoctor, is quite a cool creation (all weirdly angled teeth and war-paint) and there’s a shocking poisonous snake attack that looked very real. Yes, it’s all very silly, with continuity issues all over the place, but it’s a lot of fun and well worth a watch.

The Hooked Generation

 (1968, 94.5 mins)

Three drugged-up criminals get into serious hot water when a normally routine transfer of drugs from the Cuban military goes awry and they end up killing some of the river patrol and taking a young couple hostage. The authorities soon start tracking them down resulting in a chase through the Everglades to try and escape justice.

The Hooked Generation is a surprisingly good film considering the throw-away nature of many of these sorts of films that were made during the late 60s and early 70s. The acting is solid, the action well-handled (although it’s obvious that it was all a bit rushed) and the story keeps you engaged. It’s all a bit trippy at times, especially the acid party sequence, but it kind of works, given the time period in question. Although viewers with epilepsy should be aware there’s one scene with a lot of strobbing in it…

 

The Psychedelic Priest

 (1971, 80.5 mins)

A young idealistic priest stops to talk to some youths with the intention of turning them off their drug-filled lifestyle, but he ends up sharing an acid-spiked coke with them and thereafter begins a drug-fuelled odyssey that has him meet and fall in love with a female hitchhiker, who he then pushes away in a pique of religious guilt, leading to a tragic series of events and him falling back into the hands of God, sort of.

Apparently there wasn’t a script when Bill was asked to direct this drug movie and it shows as it free-wheels around; part road movie, part travelogue and part drug movie. If the whole vibe of the film feels very authentic it’s because most of the characters were actually playing versions of themselves – hippies played hippies, druggies played druggies and homeless people played homeless people.

The film is nicely underlined by a 70s rock score with some good psychedelic blues and flower-power rock music dotted throughout. If you’re happy to let a freewheeling sort of narrative lead you down a ripping yarn alleyway then you could do much worse than watching this film. I quite liked it for all its flaws…

 

The Naked Zoo

 (1971 92 mins)

Terry Shaw (Stephen Oliver), a playboy writer with a side business as a male gigolo for richer older ladies bored of their husbands, is frustrated with the way his writing career isn’t going anywhere fast and takes most of his frustrations out on the women around him, whether it’s sexually or through manipulation of their emotions. One of his clients, Helen Golden (Rita Hayworth), becomes more demanding of his time and when her disabled husband finds them kissing he tries to kill both of them with a pistol. Fortunately for the amorous couple he misses them and manages to accidentally kill himself by driving his motorised wheelchair into his fireplace, as you do!

When Terry realises that Helen is now sitting on a fortune he makes plans to get rid of her and take her money for himself, however he didn’t bank on her cunning daughter…

The Naked Zoo is quite an interesting film to watch, what with the morals and emotional intelligence of today’s society. The ‘Me Too’ movement would not be impressed! Despite being something of a cad, women seem to throw themselves at Terry who seems to enjoy treating women with contempt, for the most part, unless he’s having sex with them. In fact, his lack of humanity makes it difficult to care what happens to him in the final reel.

The acting is pretty good and the dialogue naturalistic, although the music sometimes overwhelms it. The drug induced sequences are nicely done and one of Terry’s older clients, Pauline, (played well by Fay Spain), really sells her trip and elicits the audience’s sympathy, perhaps more than anyone else.

 

Mako: The Jaws of Death

 (1976, 86 mins)

Jonny Stein is not just a shark fan, he’s a shark saviour, frequently rescuing sharks from fisherman’s nets and killing those who hurt his oversized fishy friends. He swims with the local Tiger sharks, and even feeds them with meat from his local butcher. When a local scientist wants to borrow one of his fishy friends to study pregnancy in sharks, and a local restaurant owner wants to use another one to attract more customers by having his foxy girlfriend, Karen, swim next to it, Jonny reluctantly agrees to loan them his shark friends, but the humans soon show that they can’t be trusted and therefore need to die, horribly, in ‘the jaws of death’.

Mako wasn’t really what I’d expected, but in a good way, with it having a fairly sensitive story, one which highlights environmental concerns for all marine wildlife, not just sharks. Richard Jaeckel is excellent as the somewhat eccentric and disturbed Jonny who was rescued by a shark cult years previously and therefore feels he owes sharks his life and wants to pay them back with kindness and his protection.

The photography is very good; particularly the underwater material, and the stunt performers and cameramen really earned their money on this film since much of what we see looks pretty dangerous. Jen Bishop makes for pleasing eye candy when she’s doing her stuff underwater and any film that has Harold Sakata  (Odd-Job from Goldfinger) standing in his swimming trunks firing a gun can’t be all bad, can it?

 

Whiskey Mountain

 (1977, 90 mins)

Two middle-aged couples head out into the American wilderness to try and find some hidden American Civil War muskets that might be worth a small fortune. They take their scramble race bikes with them to allow access to the more difficult terrain, the idea being that they’ll have a bit of a camping holiday while they’re looking for the hidden ‘treasure’. Unfortunately for them the only people they encounter while they’re visiting ‘out of season’ are rough-and-ready hillbilly types who are secretly growing and selling weed and they want to keep they’re ill-gotten gains and business just that, a secret. Thus begins a survivalist horror film, in a similar vein to Deliverance (this was actually shot not far from where Deliverance was made), which features the usual joys of such a film, including tricky river crossings, tourists being stalked by shadowy mountain men, gang-rape and bloody revenge, all underlined by a well presented banjo and country music soundtrack.

Whiskey Mountain is probably the most accomplished film in this set. It’s well made, well-acted, (by a seasoned cast), and has a number of impressive set-pieces including cool motor bike stunts, gunfights and a cleverly realised rape sequence that’s very disturbing, but played out through the clever use of polaroid photos and off-camera screams and taunting. Admittedly there’s probably a bit too much travelogue footage and it takes a while to get to the good stuff, but the main protagonists make for believable friends and married couples and, once again, Grefé’s favourite slime ball, John Davis Chandler, plays the leader of the drug gang with intelligent nastiness and zeal. This is definitely a hidden gem.

Special features

Beyond the movie: Monsters a go go! (12 mins): A look into the history of rock n’ roll monster movies with author and historian C. Courtney Joyner. Joyner talks us through the key films in this subgenre, accompanied by some cool clips from the films in question.

The curious case of Dr Traboli: Spook Show Extraordinaire (10.5 mins): A look into the early days of Spook Show featuring some retro footage.

Audio commentaries with Bill Grefé and Frank Henenlotter;

Trailers for Sting of Death (2.06 mins) and Death Curse of Tartu (1.36 mins) 

 Disc Two

Beyond the movie: That’s Drugsploitation (8 mins): A look inside the counter-culture films that inspired The Hooked Generation with author and film historian Chris Poggiali. Chris sees The Hooked generation as being a biker movie but one without the bikes! Remarkably the film was promoted in schools with free pills with tiny promotional flyers inside!

Beyond the movie: The Ultimate Road trip – the story behind the Psychedelic Priest (8.5 mins): Author and film historian Chris Poggiali talks about how the producer didn’t have much money and much of the production crew survived on food and fuel stamps during filming!

The Hooked Generation; behind-the-scenes footage (23.5 mins) – This shows the sizable crew filming on a yacht and one of the actors having his ankle bandaged up after a slip.

Hooked stills gallery (6.40 mins) – 40 stills from the film; one revealing the film is also known as ‘Alligator Alley’.

Audio commentaries with Bill Grefé and Frank Henenlotter

Disc 3

The Naked Zoo – The Barry Mahan version (87 mins) – This features gratuitous nudity and additional footage of the band Canned Heat.

Beyond the movie: That’s Sharksploitation (7.5 mins): Author and film journalist Michael Gingold (Fangoria) talks about the history of shark films from The Lost World to the documentary Blue Water, White Death.

The Aquamaid speaks (10 mins) – An interview with actress Jenifer Bishop. Mako was her second film for Grefé. At her audition he asked her how long she could hold her breath for, underwater; understandable given her eventual role! Luckily she wasn’t actually in the tank with any sharks.

Sharks, Stalkers and Sasquatch (10.5 mins) – An interview with writer Robert Morgan, who informs us that the script’s original title was ‘Sharkenstein’ and describes actors as being ‘the end of his pen’!

Mako Super 8 Digest version (15 mins) – Despite a lot of print damage this is still a fun summation of the entire film, in a fraction of the time…

Original Promo (10.5 mins) – Mostly just showing key images from the film;

CBS promo (33 secs) – Sadly not very good quality pictures;

Behind the scenes news segment (2 mins) – We see a 15 feet long shark swimming around a swimming pool as a publicity stunt.

Stills galleries: The Naked Zoo (12 stills); Mako (49 stills)

Audio commentaries with Bill Grefé and Frank Henenlotter


Disc 4

As with all the boxed sets films Grefé does a decent introduction to the film, and then we have:

They came from the swamp: The films of William Grefé (127 mins) – A feature-length documentary plotting the rise and rise of Bill Grefé as a force to be reckoned with in the annals of exploitation cinema. Featuring lots of archive footage, movie clips and posters this is great stuff and yet another good reason for getting hold of this wonderful boxed set. It was also nice to see the likes of exploitation legends Herchell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman being interviewed about Grefé and his canon of work. Fascinating stuff…

The Crown Jewels (17.5 mins) – A featurette on the indie film distributor Crown International Pictures. Again, really interesting stuff about a company that’s been described as being ‘the poor man’s American International Pictures’ (AIP).

Short film – Bacardi & coke bonanza (7.5 mins) – An advertorial about how Bacardi fits in with a rodeo; replete with lots of product placement.

On location – Grefé in Miami (5.5 mins) – Grefé takes us on a tour of some commonly used locations from his films, explaining how they made maximum use of them and how they’ve since changed.

Whiskey Mountain trailer & promo gallery – We get to see the original trailer (1.16 mins); a radio spot (33 secs) and TV spot (1.5 mins). It’s interesting to note the film was rated a PG!

They came from the swamp – deleted scenes (7 mins) – Some additional cool stories are told about Grefé’s productions.

Bonus trailer gallery – A number of trailers of films that were all made in Florida and that also feature some of the same people that appeared in Grefé’s films. The trailers include: The Weird World of LSD (2.5 mins); Fireball Jungle (22 secs); The Magic Legend of the Juggler (32 secs); Bloody Friday (2.09 mins); Super Chick (32 secs)

Whiskey Mountain audio commentary with William Grefé;

 

He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection
Justin Richards reviews Arrow Video's He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection
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