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Thirsty Dead, The

Thirsty Dead, The(1975)

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For anyone seeking a trash movie fix - preferably something that played the drive-ins in the early seventies - you can't do much better (or worse!) than The Thirsty Dead. Now available on DVD from Something Weird Video, this 1973 import from the Philippines plays like some twisted version of Lost Horizon, the excruciating 1972 musical version. The cast members all look like escapees from some low-budget gladiator film costumed by Bob Mackie and everyone's having a bad hair day. Daily activities in this jungle-based Shangri-La include group chanting, instruction in "interpretive dance" and - BLOOD DRINKING, but only a select few are singled out for that honor. The latter detail was the basis for the film's publicity campaign which carried the tagline, "They need a special liquid to stay young."

Jennifer Billingsley, who convincingly played a white trash bimbo opposite Burt Reynolds in White Lightning the same year, is perfectly cast again as a bubble-brain named Laura. Kidnapped at the film's opening by hooded cult members, she is whisked away to a tropical prison with several other showgirls abducted from Manila nightclubs. Once there, Laura is groomed for induction into the secret order due to her striking resemblance to a former cult member but mostly because it is the wish of the reigning deity "Raoul" - a 5,000 year old disembodied head in a glass case. Her companions, on the other hand, get to lounge around in pastel colored tunics while waiting for their next blood-draining session. But this is PG-rated drive-in fare - no nudity, profanity or extreme violence. So where's the entertainment value? Well, for one thing, John Considine as the cult leader is unintentionally hilarious. Dig that bad perm which isn't helped by his choice of clothes - high-collared robes, a super-sized medallion necklace and several unflattering togas. The Thirsty Dead is probably a major embarrassment to Considine now, especially considering his later success as a TV screenwriter (MacGyver) and character actor in the films of acclaimed directors Alan Rudolph (Welcome to L.A., 1976, Choose Me, 1984) and Robert Altman (California Split, 1974, A Wedding, 1978).

Providing additional comic relief in The Thirsty Dead is Judith McConnell as Claire, Laura's slutty cellmate, who seems completely unfazed by her current predicament and, if anything, appears delighted at the prospect of being ravished by male cult members. She also gets all the best lines. In one jealous outburst she bitterly acknowledges her rival's triumph, "The girl most likely to be sacrificed to a pagan god! Well, think of the honor of it, honey!" Ms. McConnell later found steady work as a TV soap opera queen in such TV series as As the World Turns, One Life to Live and Santa Barbara.

As long as you're not expecting a genuine horror film, The Thirsty Dead is a passable time waster, as absurd and tacky as any episode of Fantasy Island or The Love Boat but minus the famous guest stars. The bonus feature, The Swamp of the Ravens (1974), is another matter entirely. Filmed in Miami by Michael Cannon (aka Manuel Cano) with a Spanish cast, this is one exploitation film guaranteed to put you in a coma. Yes, it has a demented scientist, multiple murders, severed body parts, autopsy footage, female nudity and a swamp full of zombies - and it's still boring as hell! The zombies, all failed human experiments of Dr. Frosta, are particularly disappointing. They never attack or threaten anyone; they merely serve as silent witnesses to the doctor's madness, milling around in the stagnant pond bilge among the water lilies. If nothing else, the film does succeed in creating an intensely morbid atmosphere, combining scenes of the doctor's dank, unsanitary laboratory with exaggerated sound effects (wild bird cries, bubbling test-tubes, a beating heart). The English dubbing (which rarely matches the actors' lip movements) is also good for an occasional laugh. A sample:
Cop to mortician (on the discovery of Dr. Frosta's experiments): "Don't let this out to the press. They'd put us in a nuthouse."
Mortician to cop: "When this case is over, maybe I'll go there for a short vacation myself."

Instead of slogging through this lethargically paced turkey though, you'd be better off combing through the other extra features on this DVD. Among them are some fun horror trailers (The Vampire and the Ballerina, 1960, The Sinister Monk, 1965, etc.) and an episode of the shot-in-Sweden horror anthology (made for TV), 13 Demon Street (1959). Hosted by Lon Chaney, Jr., this particular entry entitled "The Black Hand" bears some similarities to Maurice Renard's famous story, "The Hands of Orlac," which served as the basis for Mad Love (1935) starring Peter Lorre and many other movie versions.

For more information about The Thirsty Dead/The Swamp of the Ravens, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Thirsty Dead/The Swamp of the Ravens, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford