Orgy of the Dead
U.S.A. / 1965
Directed by Stephen C. Apostolof
Fawn Silver
Pat Barrington
Color / 92 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD / R1 - NTSC
Rhino Home Video
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
"Torture! Torture! It pleasures me!"
    So exclaims the Emperor of the Night, watching gleefully as an undead slave girl is whipped — though perhaps he's referring to the agony inflicted on viewers of this Ed Wood-scripted abomination, 1965's Orgy of the Dead.
    Horror novelist Bob (William Bates) and his girlfriend Shirley (Pat Barrington of Mantis in Lace, under the alias "Pat Barringer") are driving along a rural road late at night, looking for an old cemetery Bob hopes will serve as inspiration for his stories. After a few moments of supremely clumsy dialog and bad day-for-night shots, Bob somehow totals the car — we know this because we hear screeching tires and the frozen camera frame starts twirling 'round and 'round like crazy. (I almost expected the front page of a newspaper to pop up, a big headline reading "Johnson Commits More Troops To Vietnam" or some such.) Knocked unconscious, the couple wakes up in a wooded area — even though they were shown driving through the desert — with no sign of Bob's car to be seen. Strange music is heard in the distance coming from a nearby graveyard. Hoping to find help, they investigate... but instead of a caretaker with a radio, they stumble upon the Burlesque Revue of the Damned!
The evening's entertainment is overseen by the Emperor of the Night, played by celebrity psychic-cum-actor Criswell (best known for his opening monologue in Plan 9 from Outer Space). Lord of the Underworld, he sits atop a tomb in a Dracula cape and Col. Sanders tie, passing judgment on a procession of scantily clad dead women who must dance for his amusement. Should their performances fail to please him he'll consign their souls to eternal damnation. Acting as M.C. is the busty Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver), a.k.a. Princess of Darkness, the Emperor's companion in the Netherworld. (Whose costume, by the way, clearly inspired the look of horror hostess Elvira). One after another the various acts are introduced, mostly consisting of tired, old fashioned strip club routines that were passé during the Eisenhower Administration. Hiding in the bushes, Bob and Shirley look on in horrified fascination — well, supposedly, that is — until they're suddenly grabbed by two of the Emperor's minions, a cheaply-costumed mummy and werewolf. The couple are then tied up and forced to watch the rest of the show. (Unlike yours truly, at least they have an excuse!) The Emperor promises his dark mate that, before the sun rises, she may amuse herself with them for her own pleasure...
If, like me, you subscribe to the theory that no film is every really hurt by including a bevy of naked women, I have the sad duty to inform you that Orgy of the Dead blows said theory completely out of the water. There are ten — count 'em — ten striptease numbers in this flick, and while most of the gals are attractive enough, their gyrations, set to lame lounge-style music, are anything but erotic. (The "Hawaiian" dancer's got the best moves, and with her black wig gets something of a Bette Page vibe going. A gangly, embarrassed-looking blonde in a bridal veil, however, simply hunches over and flops her tits around while doing The Swim.) These topless routines just go on and on and on... An average of seven minutes apiece, in fact, which means the film devotes all of 20 minutes' screen time to everything else (i.e., the plot). It's a shame. The chief appeal of an Ed Wood script is his clunky, convoluted dialog. With the bulk of the picture given over to this boring bump 'n' grind action we definitely get the short end of the stick.
So how is it, then, that I spared this turd the ignominy of '1-Star' stinker status? In a word: Criswell. Of the three films he appeared in, Orgy of the Dead marked his biggest role. I don't know if he was a heavy drinker but he sure seems sloshed here... Bleary-eyed, the Criz Man leans over in his seat like William F. Buckley after five pitchers of martinis. With his goofy expressions and oddball delivery — it's painfully obvious he's reading from cue cards just off camera — the guy has me in stitches whenever he's on screen.

Though presented fullframe — 1.33:1 is apparently not the film's correct aspect ratio — Orgy of the Dead looks astonishingly good on Rhino's new DVD. Some speckling is evident now and again but the vivid colors and image sharpness defy the movie's age and ultra-low budget origins. (Criswell has never seemed so... alive!) The disc's mono audio track is likewise pretty clean, free of any hiss or distortion.
There are extras, too — something I didn't really expect with this DVD. Incredibly, the unintentionally humorous theatrical trailer is in the same swell shape as the feature itself; one almost never sees trailers for these old grindhouse flicks looking this good! A 20-minute interview with director Stephen Apostolof (who helmed Orgy using the name "A.C. Stephens") unfortunately discloses very little about the actual production of the film and, alas, nothing about its cast. (What? No Criswell stories? Damn!) Instead he focuses on how he got into the B-movie business and his later association with Ed Wood... who showed up for their first face-to-face meeting in drag. 6/07/04