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Blu Review – He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (Arrow Video)

Blu Release – 4/5

Sting of Death
Director – William Grefe (The Psychedelic Priest, The Naked Zoo)
Starring – Joe Morrison (Safe at Home!, Flipper), Valerie Hawkins (The Beverly Hillbillies, The Delta Factor), and John Vella (The Wild Rebels, More American Graffiti)
Release Date – 1966
Rating – 3/5

Tagline – “What’s wackier than a living mummy? How about a jellyfish man?”

It’s not often that a company like Severin Films, Synapse Films, Vinegar Syndrome, and Arrow Video release a movie on blu or UHD that I had previously seen. Most of the releases from these amazing boutique labels are first time watches for me which is one of the many reasons I get so excited for their releases. However, sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to see a movie here or there over the years and this time it just happened to be two films from the He Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe.

The first film in the set, Sting of Death, is one I had seen before many years ago when I snagged a double feature DVD with another Grefe release. When I saw that Arrow Video was the company behind this release I quickly turned to MVD and requested a copy which they were kind enough to send over. Thanks guys!

**Spoiler Alert** The film follows a deformed man who works for a marine biologist who works in the Florida everglades. When his boss’ daughter arrives to throw a party at his home for her birthday, he finds himself the center of their jokes. Heartbroken and emotionally abused, he turns to his boss’ work where he is able to turn into a jellyfish man to seek revenge against those that mocked him. **Spoiler Alert**

Sting of Death is one of those notoriously bad drive-in films that most genre fans love to mock. However, I find it to be an extremely fun experience and the camp is part of it’s charm. I love cinema and I would have loved to be alive during the mid-60s to early 70s drive-in era when films like this were common. It’s a lot of fun but it’s easy for genre snobs to mock films like this.

The acting in this one is extremely campy but I enjoyed it. The characters are all replicas of the early 60s beach party flicks with some minor differences. The cast is all in but their inexperience mixed with quick writing didn’t give them a lot to grab onto. With that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the cast and the characters. It’s not memorable but it entertains.

The story for this one blends into the crazy monster movies of the 50s and 60s but sets itself apart from them with the strange creature instead of something predictable. So many films during this time features various monsters, mutants, and aliens. However, very few took the comical twist that Sting of Death did and deliver something so memorable yet unpredictable as a jellyfish man. The story is straight forward but is remarkable because it follows the slasher formula that consists of people dying one by one by a masked killer (or creature) because they were wronged by them. These formula would become very popular in the next 15 years but here in the mid-60s it does stand out.

Finally, the deaths are nothing that really stands out. Most are off screen and feature some light make-up effects along with one of the cheesiest monsters in film history. I loved how silly the jellyfish man looks but really respect it’s uniqueness. Overall, Sting of Death is not the most redeeming drive-in era monster movies but I enjoy it. It’s campy, goofy, and flows like a slasher with a fun and equally as goofy creature that I love. I highly recommend this one.

Death Curse of Tartu
Director – William Grefe (The Jaws of Death, The Naked Zoo)
Starring – Fred Pinero (The Devil’s Sister, La Virgen de la Calle), Babette Sherrill (The Devil’s Sister), and Bill Marcus (Scrooged, Married…with Children)
Release Date – 1966
Rating – 2.5/5

Tagline – “This is horror”

When I received the He Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe set for review I was really looking forward to revisiting the first two films in the set along with the rest of the movies I had never seen. I had previously watch Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu several years ago when I grabbed a double feature DVD from Something Weird I believe. Sting of Death was a great revisit and I couldn’t wait to rewatch Death Curse but it would deliver different results that I had originally remembered.

**Spoiler Alert** The film follows a group of amateur archeologist who are uncovering a n indigenous burial ground in the Florida everglades. That night they throw a party mistakenly on the grave site of their priest Tartu who is awakened by their disrespectful act. Taking the form of the local wildlife, he extracts his revenge on the group one by one. **Spoiler Alert**

I originally thought that I had enjoyed Death Curse of Tartu when I first watched it but after revisiting it I found myself very underwhelmed. It wasn’t as campy or as fun as Sting of Death and the story left a lot to be desired. I wanted to have fun with it but I couldn’t.

The acting in this one is similar to Sting of Death but the characters are not as fun. The cast was mostly inexperienced and the rushed filming and writing doesn’t give them a lot of time to actually create characters for their roles. They go through the motions but that’s about it. Such a huge disappointment.

The story for this one has a great set up that is not fully explored. Native American burial grounds has always captivated movie goers and the horror genre has seen many attempts at this over the years but Death Curse seriously drops the ball by having Tartu controlling animals instead of resurrecting and killing them one by one. It’s the perfect premise for a slasher but was half-hazardly explored. Instead, its a story that’s started only to rush through to people dying in unimaginable ways.

Finally, the film has a body count with some fake blood but no real memorable effects for genre fans to enjoy. Overall, Death Curse of Tartu was one that I thought I enjoyed but that was not the case. It was dull, half-written, and obviously rushed. This is one I would skip.

The Hooked Generation
Director – William Grefe (Mako: The Jaws of Death, Sting of Death)
Starring – Jeremy Slate (The Lawnmower Man, My Name is Earl), Steve Alaimo (Hammerhead Jones, The Wild Rebels), and John Davis Chandler (Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, Crash and Burn)
Release Date – 1968
Rating – 3/5

Tagline – “Their bag – supplying the hooked generation”

Florida filmmaker William Grefe has had one hell of a career. He started out in the early 60s making racing films before creating two of the greatest drive-in horror classics of all time. He then moved on to some rough exploitation films before slowly progressing into psychedelic exploitation films. The first of those films was his 1968 crime drama The Hooked Generation.

Drawing inspiration from his film The Wild Rebels, he would find himself directing three drug-fueled films that were almost career defining for him. I had never seen any of these films and was looking forward with them. I started this journey with The Hooked Generation and it didn’t disappoint.

**Spoiler Alert** A group of drug smugglers are forced to throw their narcotics overboard and are spotted by a young couple. They abduct the young couple and attempt to get their drugs back. Soon, they are beach bound where they find a tribe of indigenous living in the Florida everglades. They shack up with them to lay low for awhile before robbing them at gunpoint and attempt to retrieve their drugs yet again but this time the coast guard is ready and a gun fight ensues. **Spoiler Alert**

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from The Hooked Generation. I knew it wasn’t going to be as campy and cheesy as Death Curse of Tartu and Sting of Death but I wasn’t expecting it to be as serious and grounded as it was. I enjoyed it but, like so many of Grefe’s films, it could have been so much more than what it was.

The acting in this one is a lot of fun. The cast in this one had a lot of experience prior to filming the film and many would go on to appear in some seriously iconic genre films. I seriously loved the characters, the energy the cast brought into the film, and their on screen chemistry. They all worked very well together and it looks like they were having a lot of fun on set which translated very well to the film.

The story for this one works very well as an exploitation film centered around killer drug smugglers who will stop at nothing to make a quick buck. I really liked it but it’s obvious that the film was rushed as the story progresses which is a theme among most of Grefe’s films that I’m noticing. I like it for the most part but the last leg of the film just doesn’t do a great job of wrapping everything up nice and neatly.

Finally, the film has a little blood but don’t expect some memorable deaths with great gore and effects. Most of the deaths are gunshot wounds with some blood splatter and no make-up effects. Overall, The Hooked Generation is an entertaining exploitation flick centered around heavy drug use and murder. It marks a change in Grefe’s filmography and I’m all for it. I highly recommend it.

The Psychedelic Priest
Director – William Grefe (Death Curse of Tartu, The Hooked Generation) and Terry Merrill (Beach Boy Rebels)
Starring – John Darrell (The Wars of the Roses, Whoops Apocalypse), Carolyn Hall, and Joe Crane
Release Date – 1971/2001
Rating – 3.5/5

When I heard that Arrow Video was releasing He Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe I was curious about the release for several reasons. I was looking forward to revisiting Death Curse of Tartu and Sting of Death but I was also interested in checking out two other films for the first time. One of those films was The Psychedelic Priest. This one really caught my eye because it was originally filmed in 1971 but wasn’t released until 30 years later. I’ve seen it mentioned in different movie groups over the years but never had the chance to actually see it until now.

**Spoiler Alert** The film follows a priest who is drugged by some teenagers when he shares a drink with them. This moment opens him up and he realizes that he is meant for more than just preaching sermons. He still believes in his faith but wants to explore his mind and the world more. On his adventure he tries many different mind altering drugs and meets different people from varying backgrounds before he goes too far down the rabbit hole. After an accidental overdose, he finds himself back in religion. **Spoiler Alert**

The Psychedelic Priest is the highlight of this box set so far and I fucking loved it. It’s not a complicated film but it is a story that has a few layers that you may not pick up on as the film progresses. This is the kind of film you can watch several times and still find something new to appreciate.

The acting in this one is great. The cast is rather small and unexperienced but John Darrell carries the film. His performance was fantastic and I fucking loved his spin on a religious character that finds recreational drugs. The supporting cast is solid but it’s Darrell and his character of the priest that makes the film as enjoyable as it is.

The story for this one is follows a priest who explores his own faith while opening his mind to psychedelics. Controversial, especially for the early 70s, but it works on several ways. It not only works as a drama about religion and counter culture but it also works as a film handling political and social topics of the time. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and can see myself revisiting several more times before I get tired of it.

Finally, the film does have a little blood but this is not one with a body count. It’s a character driven piece that focuses more on story than gore. Overall, The Psychedelic Priest is one of the highlights of the He Came from the Swamp box set. It’s a fantastic film that fully embodies the counter culture cinema of the time. I highly recommend this one.

The Naked Zoo
Director – William Grefe (Sting of Death, Death Curse of Tartu)
Starring – Steve Oliver (Werewolves on Wheels, The Bloody Slaying of Sarah Ridelander), Rita Hayworth (The Wrath of God, The Bastard), and Fay Spain (The Godfather: Part II, Night Gallery)
Release Date – 1970
Rating – 3/5

Tagline – “The wicked games young swingers play…”

As I work my way through the He Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe I find myself seriously having a good time. I thought the set would be camp drive-in era monster movies but after the first two films I’ve worked my way through three drug-fueled films about drug dealing, drug abuse, and murder. The Hooked Generation is a great film but the Psychedelic Priest really hit it off with me. Now, I’m finishing the third film in the set that follows the same themes which is 1970’s The Naked Zoo which features a guest appearance from one of my favorite bands Canned Heat.

**Spoiler alert** The film follows bachelor Terry (Oliver) who is an author that is struggling financially but has used his sex appeal and charm to get his way through life with parties, sex, and drugs. If necessary murder is an option as well but he prefers to fuck his way out of any situation. **Spoiler Alert**

I was riding a high in some regards going into The Naked Zoo. I was extremely impressed with The Psychedelic Priest and couldn’t wait to the Naked Zoo especially once I discovered it had a small appearance from Canned Heat. It wasn’t a bad film. In fact, I did enjoy it for the most part, but I did find it to be a little dull at times. As you guessed it, it feels like it was rushed in several scenes which is something that is fairly common in Grefe’s films.

The acting in this one is extremely uneven. Oliver is inconsistent in his performance. At times he delivers a seriously great performance but at other times he acts as if he is just tired and ready for the film to end. I feel like this may be a result of the rushed production. The supporting cast is the same way. In some scenes they deliver fantastic performances and then other scenes they feel completely drained and uninterested.

The story for this one is all over the place. Rita Hayworth’s scenes were filmed differently from everything else and are added at random times which does nothing for the film while we bounce between each sex/drug use scene and the next. It’s chaotic at times and the story is difficult to follow. However, if you stick with it you can find some fun in it.

Finally, the film does have a death or two but there is no blood or enjoyable practical effects. Overall, The Naked Zoo is not the best film in the set but it doesn’t disappoint and really does work as another great example of counter culture cinema of the late 60s and early 70s.

Mako: The Jaws of Death
Director – William Grefe (Whiskey Mountain, The Psychedelic Priest)
Starring – Richard Jaeckel (Starman, Killing Machine), Jennifer Bishop (Bigfoot, House of Terror), and Buffy Dee (Nightmare Beach, Super Fuzz)
Release Date – 1976
Rating – 3/5

Tagline – “Sheer terror!”

Several years ago I took a month or so to review some sharksploitation flicks. Most of them were Asylum and Sy-Fy releases but I was able to find some films that were released in the months after Jaws which was a lot of fun. One of the films that I had snagged on DVD with the intent of watching but never made the time was The Jaws of Death which was released under the title Mako or Mako: The Jaws of Death.

Obviously, this was a William Grefe film that I was very familiar with but never really had the time to watch until I received the He Came from the Swamp to review. This wasn’t one of the two films I was looking forward to the most out of the set but I was still interested in finally checking it out nonetheless.

**Spoiler Alert** The film follows an ocean diver who shares a link with sharks after a shaman gives him an ancient charm. This connection with sharks alienates him from other people and when spear hunters encroach on his waters he turns to murder to protect the sharks from the humans he has distanced himself from. **Spoiler Alert**

I wasn’t expecting a shark flick that would forever change the way I see shark movies but I was looking for a camp shark flick with plenty of fake blood and cheesy acting. Mako wasn’t the cheesy late night shark movie I was looking for but it wasn’t a bad film. Honestly, I enjoyed it but it is forgettable.

The acting in this one is solid throughout with several great performances shining through in each scene. A few of the scenes did lack energy and enthusiasm but the overall acting in the film was pleasantly surprising. The story for this one is not what I was expecting at all. We have a mystical power that helps a lonely man communicate with sharks while others exploit and murder them in the choppy waters of the sea. It’s a different spin on sharksploitation but it’s not as wild as some of the newer shark films I’m accustomed to watching. I would have loved a little more insight into the shaman and the mystical side of the story instead of the man feeding people to the shark but that’s just my opinion.

Finally, the film has a lot of blood and frenzied sharks but don’t expect fun shark deaths and great practical effects. The deaths are very lackluster and not a lot of fun in the grand scheme of things. Overall, Mako is not the film that will fill any void you have for shark films but if you are looking for something different to watch late at night it will not disappoint. It’s not the best film in the He Came from the Swamp set but it’s not one you should skip either. Check it out.

Whiskey Mountain
Director – William Grefe (The Naked Zoo, Sting of Death)
Starring – Christopher George (Grizzly, Day of the Animals), Preston Pierce (Doomsday Voyage, Girls for Rent), and Roberta Collins (Saturday the 14th, Death Wish II)
Release Date – 1977
Rating – 3.5/5

Tagline – “Beyond the song and the legend… a search for treasure turn to terror”

I’m almost at the end of my journey as I work my way through the He Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe with just two films standing in my way. One of those films is one that I was extremely looking forward to. That film is the 1977 hixploitation horror flick Whiskey Mountain which features a theme song from Charlie Daniels. The moment I finished Mako: The Jaws of Death I immediately tossed in the final disc from the set and hit play.

**Spoiler Alert** The film follows two married couples who venture into the mountains looking for a cave that is supposedly the location of buried muskets from the civil war. On their trip they find themselves surrounded by strange occurrences like random fires and so on. They chalk it up to bad luck but when they finally reach the cave they discover that a group of hillbillies who use the mountain to grow pot. They abduct the two couples and plan on murdering them to hide their secret stash. However, the two men are able to escape and go into town to seek help from the local sheriff. The local police are obviously in on it and refuse to help them. They visit the local gun store and once they stock up on arms and ammunition they return to the mountain expecting war. **Spoiler Alert**

Whiskey Mountain is a movie that I’ve wanted to see for several years now. I discovered it when I was writing my review for the Incest Death Squad trilogy when I came across a list of hixploitation horror films. It really caught my attention when I saw that it featured a theme song from Charlie Daniels and starred Christopher George. There was several occasions where I had tried to buy the DVD through Amazon and other online retailers but the releases were not the best quality so I backed out. When I saw that it was included in this set it made it even more intriguing and was the big push to review this one. The film did not let me down and it’s a damn shame this one doesn’t get more love from other genre fans.

The acting in this one is probably the best of the Grefe directed films. At least the ones I’ve seen and reviewed. Christopher George never disappoints and his character here is a little more likable when you compare it to his other films like Grizzly and Day of the Animals. His character is well grounded and down to Earth allowing George to show more of an emotional range than other films allow him to. The supporting cast is just as great with a lot of the characters having a lot more personality for the viewers to enjoy than most Grefe films. I especially enjoyed Robert Leslie’s performance as the crazy old hermit. He brought in some much needed humor and his character is the unofficial face of the film.

The story for this one works great as a hixploitation thriller that some will compare to Deliverance, which is understandable, but it still delivers on the entertainment. Grefe has borrowed ideas from other films in the passed and this one was no exception. The southern fed story mixed elements of his drug heavy films with that of the hillbilly thrillers of the late 70s that was becoming famous thanks to films like Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit. It’s not the most original film but it still works especially if you are looking for something with horror aspects.

Finally, the film has a few death scenes but the kills are quick with little to no blood. The deaths are not the focus of these scenes. Instead, the deaths are meant to show the end of a character without the entertainment value of blood and gore. Overall, Whiskey Mountain did not disappoint. It’s a bit of an odd ball film in the set but an enjoyable one nonetheless. I highly recommend it.

They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe
Director – Daniel Griffith (Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Motion Picture Odyssey, Tales of Folklore and Fright: Creating Trick r Treat)
Starring – William Grefe (Cool as Hell 2, Dark Universe), Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Frankenhooker), and Steve Alaimo (The Hooked Generation, The Naked Zoo)
Release Date – 2016
Rating – 3.5/5

Tagline – “If there were rules to making a movie, one director would break them all!”

After a couple days of fun and exploitation goodness, I’ve finally reached the end of my William Grefe journey. Prior to reviewing this box set I had only seen two of his films and was really looking forward to these. Surprisingly, almost all of these films were extremely fun regardless of how cheesy they were. As I reach the end of my journey I find myself reviewing the only film in the He Came from the Swamp not directed by William Grefe. The last film is the William Grefe centered documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe from documentarian Daniel Griffith.

**Spoiler Alert** The documentary follows the filmmaking career of Florida maverick William Grefe. It begins with a look back at his first acting gig when he was hired on as a writer and due to scheduling difficulties he was hired on to direct his own story. Soon he was directing other racing films before helming two genre defining drive-in era horror films before moving on to other films of his. During each year and film discussed we get several interviews from cast and crew that have great stories about working on these films. **Spoiler Alert**

They Came from the Swamp is a fantastic documentary that covers the entire filmography of William Grefe as a director. I found it to be exceptionally informative and only fueled the desire to see his other films that I have not yet like Stanley and a few others. It’s attention to detail sheds some much needed light on several of his projects while giving new fans a lot of behind the scenes information and stories to enjoy.

The interviews in this has a lot to offer ranging from the cast and crew who worked on the project, to lifelong fans, and other filmmakers that were impacted by Grefe’s work. It’s nice seeing such a wide range of people with so many different insights into the films discuss each film.

The topics discussed are in chronological order starting from his earlier films up until he stopped directing. Having each film discussed evenly throughout the film works especially for genre fans who are truly interested in hearing about the behind the scenes of some of these historical films. I love how thorough the interviews are and the topics that go from film to film really works. I learned so much and considering how iconic several of these films are it was great to hear these amazing stories behind them.

Finally, this is a top tier documentary with some smooth editing, nice transitions and perfect pacing. Daniel Griffith is a career documentary filmmaker and all the time and experience he has truly shines here. Overall, They Came from the Swamp is a fantastic and informative look into the legacy of Florida’s most underrated filmmaker. What Griffith brings to the table and showcases here is absolutely astonishing. I highly recommend it.

Special Features:
Seven William Grefé films, all newly restored from the best surviving film elements: 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
Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an extensive, never-before-published interview with William Grefé and a new foreword by the filmmaker
Reversible poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
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
Sting of Death: 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
Original Trailers
Still and Promotion Gallery

THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968) + THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (1971)
Archival audio commentaries for both films with director William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage
Hooked Generation Original Trailer
Still and Promotion Gallery

THE NAKED ZOO (1971) + MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (1976)
William Grefé’s original Director’s Cut of Naked Zoo
Alternate Barry Mahon re-release cut of Naked Zoo
Original Mako: Jaws of Death Trailer and Promo
Still and Promotion Gallery

WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) + THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: EXTENDED CUT (2020)
Whiskey Mountain Original Trailer
Still and Promotion Gallery
They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé – the definitive documentary presented for the first in High-Definition and in a brand new, extended cut

Written by Blacktooth

(Staff Writer) Lover of all things horror and metal. Also likes boobs and booze.

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