A superlative set – no matter which edition you end up getting your hands on – He Came From the Swamp introduced me to a great independent filmmaker I’d never been acquainted with before. WHISKY MOUNTAIN and THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST were the standouts.
Sting of Death (1966) Plot:
A monster from under the Everglades is killing beautiful women … and is after one woman in particular!
A doctor is studying biology in the Florida Everglades when he either unleashes a monster from underneath the Everglades or the monster is triggered by all of the rip-roaring partygoers having a great time at the doctor’s residence. The doctor’s own daughter is in danger, as the creature – a wetsuit wearing jellyfish monster – seems to be attracted to killing attractive bikini babes, and nothing will stop it / him from zeroing in on her in particular. The doctor’s own assistant, a Quasimodo-type guy named Egon, has been the punch line of too many jokes, and he takes his revenge by carrying on the good doctor’s experiments and creating for himself the ultimate tool of revenge with his Sting of Death!
A colorful and buoyant creature feature from director William Grefe, Sting of Death is a lot of fun, even though it’s pure hokum, but the girls are great looking and the music is pretty great too. There’s a song at the center of the film called “The Jellyfish Song” that all the boys and girls dance to, and it’s a gas! There’s nothing scary about this movie, but if you’ve got a heart stuck somewhere in nostalgia land, it will take you there and you’ll never want to come back. Fun stuff!
Death Curse of Tartu (1966) Plot:
Archeologists on an excursion to the Everglades wander into the cursed burial ground of a powerful shaman … who awakens to kill!
A field trip to the Florida Everglades for a group of archeology students turns into a fight for survival when they wander into an ancient burial ground of a shaman called Tartu, who had the powerful ability to put his essence into all manner of deadly animals, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, and tigers. The legend is real, and when they unearth a tablet that warns them of Tartu’s power, they shrug it off and decide to party and get down with each other … which is a big mistake for these young students of archeology. Tartu takes the form of a shark and devours two nubile young people (to the horror of the others), and then switches form from a python to a crocodile, selecting victims who wander off alone. Turns out that Tartu can also resurrect himself as a young version (or an old, dusty looking mummy version too) who wields a hatchet, and he seems deadliest in this iteration, as he can’t be killed or even slowed down by bullets or axe, or any other weapon. The only thing that can stop Tartu is nature itself, which proves to be a tricky way to be rid of a powerful shaman in the Florida Everglades!
A fun variation on what would later be known as the slasher genre, Death Curse of Tartu has some wackiness in it (sharks in the Everglades? all righty, then), but the horror factor is pretty effective, and Tartu makes a great villain. The make-up design is creepy, and the girls are really attractive, so all the right stuff is here for a good time. It’s bloody too! Enjoyable and quick at less than 90 minutes, this one has aged fairly well. Director William Grefe packs as much creature action as he can, but the standout scenes include a python attack and a crocodile chase.
Whisky Mountain (1977) Plot:
Two motorcyclists and their wives go for a treasure hunt deep in the North Carolina wilderness to a fabled place called Whiskey Mountain and find a backwoods drug dealer gang instead.
Lifelong friends Bill (Christopher George) and Dan (Preston Pierce) take their wives Diana (Roberta Collins) and Jamie (Linda Borgenson) and their motorcycles deep into the North Carolina wilderness to go hunting for a valuable stash of Civil War era muskets that are supposedly buried in a cave located at a fabled area called Whisky Mountain. Their trip out fairly uneventful and free-spirited until it becomes clear that someone – or a group – is tracking them and trying to sabotage their excursion. First, their rope bridge is cut while they are trying to traverse a river, and then small items are stolen from their camp. When they encounter a true lunatic living in the woods, it’s a portend of things to come, and as they close in on the location of the treasure they’re seeking, they find themselves at the mercy of a bunch of ruthless drug dealers who are using the cave to store all of the marijuana they’ve been growing. Bill and Dan and their ladies are taken captive and separated, and the backwoods drug dealers have their way with the women (in a truly disturbing scene that was shot in a unique and memorable way). When Bill and Dan escape, they hightail it to the nearest town, but are met with resistance from the sleazy local sheriff, and so they take matters into their own hands by raiding a gun shop, stocking up, and head straight back to Whisky Mountain to get their revenge.
A real deal grindhouse action / exploitation movie that is entirely on par with like-minded movies such as Deliverance, Whisky Mountain has indelible characters, a great pace – especially in the last act – and a nail biting sense of suspense and tension when things get rolling. I enjoyed this one a lot, and director William Grefe’s take on the hillbilly revenge genre is as solid as it can be. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.
Make: Jaws of Death (1976) Plot:
A man who can communicate with sharks uses them to get revenge any time he sees fit to do so.
Sonny Stein (Richard Jaeckel) can communicate with sharks. Sometimes he speaks out loud to them, and he even has names for all of the ones who swim around his little private island where he lives a quiet, lonely existence. We learn that Sonny was once gifted with a sacred talisman that gave him this unique power, and we also learn right away that Sonny takes great offence to anyone who hunts sharks for sport. When a local ordinance in the Florida Keys goes out offering bounties for the killing of sharks, Sonny takes it personally and goes on a secret crusade to use his shark friends to kill anyone who is on board with the ordinance. By chance, Sonny saves a woman from being raped (or worse) from two thugs (played by Harold Sakata and John Davis Chandler), and being a lonely heart, he tries to appeal himself to her by showing off his ability to speak with sharks, but it doesn’t go well at all. In fact, it backfires, and she uses him by tricking him to sell one of his sharks to her entrepreneur husband (played by gigantic Buffy Dee), which enrages Sonny. Compounded with the fact that a local scientist has also tricked him by slaughtering his favorite pregnant shark and all her young in the name of science, and the recipe for disaster has been made: Sonny goes off the rails and is ready to get revenge, but by then, the entire local community has turned against him.
A unique revenge / slasher film using sharks as a weapon, William Grefe’s Mako: Jaws of Death isn’t a riff on Jaws at all, as one might expect, but a creature all of its own making and design. It’s a weird one, to be sure, but it works, thanks in part to Jaeckel’s committed and forceful performance, and the movie sets his character up to be both the villain and the hero. Every other character in the movie is unsympathetic and vile, but he comes across as a damaged vet-type of guy who snaps. It’s an interesting little film, and the shark footage is impressive too. Shark movie connoisseurs need to check this one out.
The Psychedelic Priest (1971) Plot:
A young priest unwittingly drinks a soda laced with acid, and God speaks to him and tells him to go a quest to find himself.
Father John (John Darrell) is a young priest that works at a high school, and his job seems to consist of ministering to dope smoking youths who skip out on class and trying to inspire the next generation to do better, to be better. The hippie movement is in full swing, and John might be in over his head, and when a couple of kids prank him by slipping acid into his soda, John reels in a bad trip and he resoundingly hears God speak to him. God tells him to go find himself in the world, to quest for experience, and so when John’s acid trip ends, he quits his job and goes for a drive in his car. He keeps driving, heading nowhere, anywhere. He picks up a young blonde hitchhiker named Sunny (Carolyn Hall) who is wary of male drivers because she was recently raped by one. Sunny is already a damaged young woman, and for John this is an opportunity to minister to her in a gentle way, and instead of dropping her off somewhere, John and Sunny keep each other company for days, weeks, maybe even months, just driving and stopping at the side of the road to sleep separately in sleeping bags. She introduces him to the drug culture, and John partakes. After a while, Sunny confesses to him that she loves him, and this throws John for a loop. He spurns her and tells her that is impossible, that she doesn’t even know him, and it breaks her heart. She leaves in the middle of the night while they sleep, and when he wakes up he realizes that she’s gone. It strikes him in the heart that he was so unprepared to face such a feeling as love, and he tries to find her, but she’s gone; it’s too late. He seeks out a private investigator to find her, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack: She’s in the ether. Desperate to find Sunny, John sheds everything he owns and sells his car to continue his search, and when he finds out what happened to her, he is lost in a haze of regret. He dives deep into the drug culture and plumbs the depths and dregs of the drug scene, becoming a beggar and a vagrant, and eventually is rescued by some Christians who once again lead him to Christ. At last, Father John comes full circle and takes on the frock once again …
A true masterpiece of exploitation cinema, The Psychedelic Priest took me entirely by surprise. Director William Grefe had no script to speak of to work with and used real hippies in his cast, which gives the film an undeniable authenticity. The movie resembles some of the great quest stories, and this is exactly the sort of story I love reading or seeing in movies. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and it has an almost mythic quality to it. I absolutely loved it, and it proves to me that William Grefe is a great filmmaker, and one to discover at all costs.
The Naked Zoo (1970) Plot:
A self centered writer and gigolo gets ahead in life while everyone else suffers at his hands.
Terry Shaw (Steve Oliver) gets around. He’s got a handful of middle-aged women as clients and a slew of one-night stand ladies or girl Fridays at his beck and call. Terry is a gigolo who spends his off time writing pulp fiction for the masses, but he needs the extra dough, which he milks hard from curdling unhappy housewives who crave his attention. It’s clear this man is a heartless bastard, but no one seems to notice it. His best client is Mrs. Golden (Rita Hayworth, once the most beautiful starlet in Hollywood, here reduced to matronly, pot smoking mediocrity), who brazenly sleeps with Terry, even while her wheelchair-bound husband lurks around the corner in his pathetic, impotent state. When they’re caught making love, Golden’s husband whips out a pistol, clearly sick and tired of being made a cuckold, and he unloads nearly ten shots before Terry causes his wheelchair to flip over and crash, instantly killing the old guy in a head-on collision with the fireplace. Was it murder? Self defense? Doesn’t matter, because Terry is outta there, leaving Mrs. Golden to clean up the mess. Later on, when he’s fresh out of money and bored, he comes back to prank Mrs. Golden by pretending to be her husband’s ghost, which causes her to have a heart attack and die (she was also on LSD). Terry’s a peach, and his cruelty doesn’t stop there. He hosts a big bash at his apartment and brings along another one of his square middle aged clients, who thinks she’s in for the time of her life, but instead she’s relentlessly humiliated to the point of being a freak, and the party doesn’t end until the poor lady has all but been mind raped by Terry and his swinging pals. Will Terry ever be punished for being a horrible human being, or will he continue on, ad nauseum?
An uncomfortable little film from director William Grefe, The Naked Zoo features one of the most thoroughly unlikable and unredeemable protagonists I’ve ever seen. The only movie that one-ups this one in terms of having a despicable main character is a film called Simon Killer. Oliver plays him to perfection, but the film is a tough movie to sit through. I watched Grefe’s director’s cut, which adds in material and takes out scenes that weren’t shot by him (including unnecessary nude scenes and a musical performance by “Canned Heat”). The film is remarkably cruel and ugly, and yet it will stay with you, particularly as it really hits the #MeToo thing pretty hard before there ever was such a thing.
The Hooked Generation (1968) Plot:
Dope smugglers kill their Cuban dealers, and then massacre a Coast Guard envoy sent to apprehend them, forcing the smugglers to go on the run with two hostages.
Daisey (Jeremy Slate) is a charming cutthroat drug smuggler who runs a small time drug operation off of the Florida Everglades. He’s got three guys working with, including a not-so-bright enforcer he calls Dum Dum (Willie Pastrano), a heroin addict always on the verge on unpredictability named Acid (John Davis Chandler), and another guy. During their latest transaction with their Cuban dealers out at sea, they flip the script and murder all of the Cubans and make out with the cash and the drugs. The next day compounds their problems when the Coast Guard boards their sea craft, leading Daisey to order his men to massacre the Coast Guard officers, thus putting Daisey and his men at the forefront of an FBI manhunt. Daisey and his guys have kidnapped a couple of civilians – two beachgoers, a man and a woman, in swimming attire – which doesn’t bode well for anybody. In their hideout in the Everglades, Daisey and his guys rape the girl and humiliate her boyfriend, but they get careless and must go on the run. They traipse through the swamps, run into a small, humble Native American outpost, and steal and kill as they please. When the FBI catches up to them, it becomes a last stand effort for Daisey and what’s left of his friends.
Resembling a men’s adventure pulp novel, The Hooked Generation has plenty of shocking violence, rape, and bad behavior by its protagonists, all of whom are irredeemable scumbags. It’s very well cast, particularly co-star Davis who does a remarkable job playing a drugged out deadbeat runaway train. The film is very authentic, portraying the dregs of society on a crime spree with no good outcome, and for a film made in the late ’60s, it’s extremely edgy and suspenseful. Recommended for fans of drug-themed action films, this one is surprising and underrated.
Arrow Video released a limited edition (now sold out) four-disc box set of all of these films (which also includes the feature-length documentary They Came From the Swamp) late last year, and the set is being reissued as a standard edition Blu-ray set soon. The Limited edition comes with a hardbound book and a poster, but both editions have hours upon hours of bonus features to sift through. I watched all of Grefe’s introductions to each film as well. A superlative set – no matter which edition you end up getting your hands on – He Came From the Swamp introduced me to a great independent filmmaker I’d never been acquainted with before.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Seven William Grefé films: Sting of Death (1966), Death Curse of Tartu (1966), The Hooked Generation (1968), The Psychedelic Priest (1971), The Naked Zoo (1971), Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) and Whiskey Mountain (1977)
Brand new, extended version of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures’ definitive documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations on 4 Blu-ray discs
Original uncompressed mono audio for all films
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Reversible sleeves featuring newly commissioned artwork for each of the films by The Twins of Evil
STING OF DEATH (1966) + DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966)
Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé
Archival audio commentaries for both films with William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
Beyond the Movie: Monsters a-Go Go! – a look into the history of rock ‘n’ roll monster movies with author/historian C. Courtney Joyner
The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire – a ghoulish look into the early spook show days with monster maker Doug Hobart
THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968) + THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (1971)
Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé
Archival audio commentaries for both films with director William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
Beyond the Movie: Thet’s Drugsploitation! – a look inside the counter culture films that inspired The Hooked Generation with author/film historian Chris Poggiali
Beyond the Movie: The Ultimate Road Trip – the story behind The Psychedelic Priest with Chris Poggiali
The Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage
The Hooked Generation Still Gallery
THE NAKED ZOO (1971) + MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (1976)
Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé
Brand new audio commentaries for both film with William Grefé
William Grefé’s original 92-minute Director’s Cut of The Naked Zoo, painstakingly reassembled from various source materials
Alternate version of The Naked Zoo, as reedited by its original theatrical distributor, featruring added gratuitous nudity and a performance by blues-rockers Canned Heat – 100% non-director approved!
Beyond the Movie: That’s Sharksploitation! – a deep dive into the history of shark films with author/film journalist Michael Gingold
The Aquamaid Speaks! – a brand new audio interview with Mako actress Jenifer Bishop
Sharks, Stalkers, and Sasquatch – a brand new audio interview with Mako writer Robert Morgan
Mako Super-8 Digest Version
Mako Original Trailers and Promos
WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) + THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: EXTENDED CUT (2020)
Brand new extended cut of They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé
Brand new introduction with William Grefé for Whiskey Mountain
Brand new audio commentary for Whiskey Mountain with director William Grefé
The Crown Jewels – featurette on independent film studio and distribution company Crown International Pictures
William Grefé Short – Bacardi and Coke Bonanza (1981)
On Location in Miami – an archival tour of filming locations with director William Grefé