Color, 1966, 80 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by William Grefé
Starring Joe Morrison, Valerie Hawkins, John Vella, Jack Nagle
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment / Something Weird (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Color, 1966, 87 mins. 39 secs.
Directed by William Grefé
Starring Fred Pinero, Babette Sherrill, Bill Marcus, Mayra Gomez, Sherman Hayes
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment / Something Weird (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Color, 1968, 94 mins. 22 secs.
Directed by William Grefé
Starring Jeremy Slate, John Davis Chandler, Willie Pastrano, Steve Alaimo, Cece Stone, William Kerwin
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment / Something Weird (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Color, 1971, 80 mins. 33 secs
Directed by William Grefé
Starring John Darrell, Carolyn Hall, Joe Crane
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment / Something Weird (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Color, 1970, 92 mins. 3 secs. / 86 mins. 53 secs.
Directed by William Grefé
Starring Rita Hayworth, Steve Oliver, Fay Spain, Ford Rainey
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Something Weird (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC)

Color, 1976, 86 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by William Grefé
Starring Richard Jaeckel, Jennifer Bishop, Buffy Dee, Harold Sakata
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Color, 1977, 90 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by William Grefé
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.55:1) (16:9)

Color, 2016, 126 mins. 51 secs. / 123m.
Directed by Daniel Griffith
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (DVD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

A Sting of Deathfascinating figure in the '60s and '70s drive-in Sting of Deathscene often overlooked in favor of his peers, the Florida-based Bill Grefé managed to dip his toes in several trends with a high rate of financial success. Most video collectors know him now through the killer snake favorite Stanley and the immortal Something Weird double bill of Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu, a pairing carried over from their original theatrical engagements. However, he also dabbled in biker films (The Wild Rebels), drugsploitation (The Hooked Generation), thrillers (the bizarro Rita Hayworth vehicle The Naked Zoo and even crazier William Shatner film Impulse), sharksploitation (Mako: The Jaws of Death), and even an early stab at car racing thrills with Checkered Flag and Racing Fever. Though the rights to his films have been scattered around a bit, he's been given a worthy spotlight on Blu-ray with the four-disc He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection, which features some of his greatest hits and a slew of bonus features to put his Florida-based filmography in context.

Up first is perhaps the biggest stunner in the Grefé canon, the killer mutant jellyfish man epic Sting of Death. Inexplicably out of commission for decades after its initial release and once considered a lost film, this colorful slice of nautical monster insanity was resurrected by Something Weird back in 2001 when it made its home video debut on DVD paired up Sting of Deathwith the same film it ran with theatrically (and with which it's still paired on Blu-ray), Death Curse of Tartu. Both films also featured Sting of Deathextremely lively and bemused audio commentaries by the director and Frank Henenlotter, both of which are still worth listening to now and quite entertaining. (Just bear in mind some of it is outdated now, such as a plea to salvage his incomplete The Devil's Sisters which has since been released on DVD.) The story here takes place in the Everglades where a blonde bathing in a black bikini (say that five times fast) has just been attacked and dragged underwater by a monstrous creature in flippers. Nearby, a slew of college biology students descends on the home of Dr. Richardson (Nagel) for a pool party that irritates his disfigured assistant, Egon (Vella). The doctor's daughter, Karen (Hawkins), is easily the nicest of kids and has a potential romance with lab assistant John (Morrison), while her buddies pass the time shaking their butts to Neil Sedaka's infectious theme song, "The Jellyfish," and tormenting poor Egon. Soon the jellyfish humanoid is running rampant and racking up a body count to rival Horror of Party Beach, with Karen herself at the heart of his monstrous secret. A crackpot gem that must be witnessed to be believed (and even that's a dicey proposition), this is Floridasploitation at its finest with garish, blinding color schemes, fantastic '60s fashions, and a weird monster in love plot that veers Death Curse of Tartuthrough increasingly weird territory as it goes along.

Death Curse of TartuAnother monster film about interloping youths basking in the blazing sun of the Everglades, Death Curse of Tartu takes its sweet time chronicling the havoc unleashed when the grave of a long-dead witch doctor (Tartu, of course) buried in the swamps is disturbed by an exploration group including Professor Tison (Pinero), his wife Julie (Sherrill), and four carefree students who have no problem dancing around, making out, and throwing a party on a burial site. The awakening supernatural force can also assume the form of various wildlife, a nice cost-efficient way to arrange attack scenes involving available reptiles. Loaded with nature footage, people tromping around in the swamp, and a bit more rock 'n' roll teen partying, this one isn't as garish or bizarre as Sting but that isn't for lack of trying. Tartu himself sports a striking makeup job in his initial awakening state (which understandably became the central image of the film's promotional campaign), though later on he turns into... well, you'll see for yourself in the big climax.

Apart from the great commentaries, the earlier DVD was pretty light on extras but was highlighted by the jaw-dropping excerpt "Love Goddesses of Blood Island" (27m29s), a "Miami Death Curse of Tartuor Bust" (12m35s) nudie short, and trailers for Mako: Jaws of Death, Racing Dever, Sting of Death, Stanley, The Wild Rebels, and Death Curse of Tartu (which happens to be one of the greatest trailers of all time). The Blu-ray features new scans of both features, and as with the others on the Death Curse of Tartudisc, it's important to remember the packaging disclaimer that these are from the best available film materials. Sting comes from the original camera negative, which has wonderful color but has suffered from damage over the years including some visible staining in several scenes. It's still a pretty glorious sight to behold though and one of the strongest presentations in the set. Tartu has always been pretty ragged on home video, and that's the case here with plenty of print damage in evidence throughout. However, the fact that this is the first new scan this has had in many, many years is good news as the color grading and detail are significantly improved throughout. Both films have adequate PCM mono tracks with English subtitles (as with the other films in the set), limited by the source but okay for what they are as long as you understand that there's only so much you can do to combat the degradation of time. Both films have been reframed to 1.78:1 to more closely approximate the theatrical presentations, and the results are fine compositionally even if Sting looks a bit snug in some shots. (Then again, aesthetic framing isn't exactly that film's strong suit.) It's also worth noting that Tartu runs much longer on the Arrow Blu-ray than the earlier Something Weird master, which clocked in at 84m8s. In addition to the preexisting commentaries, the Blu-ray features new video intros by Grefé for both films (2m51s and 3m13s). In "Beyond the Movie – Monsters a-Go Go!" (11m43s), you get a deep dive into rock The Hooked Generation'n' roll monster movies with C. Courtney Joyner touching on everything from Revenge of the Creature and Frankenstein's Daughter to The Hooked GenerationGhost of Dragstrip Hollow and the wave of beach party-era monsters and sand romps. In "The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire" (10m50s), monster maker Doug Hobart escorts you through a look at the early heyday of live horror shows packed with monsters designed to thrill young viewers looking for more than just a movie. Trailers for both features are included (from the old SW masters complete with watermark); the original specs for the set indicate still galleries for these discs, though that's not actually the case for all of them (including this one).

The explosion of drug culture in the latter half of the '60s inspired plenty of filmmakers to cash in with far-out offerings for a turned-on audience, and Grefé was no exception with two offerings separated by three years. First up was The Hooked Generation, a Florida crime film with a narcotic twist. Originally shot as Alligator Alley, it's a seedy saga that begins with three drug-running scumbags -- Daisy (Slate), Acid (Chandler), and Dum-Dum (Pastrano) -- terrorizing the high seas by killing and robbing smugglers, trying to hide their stash from the Coast Guard, and terrorizing an innocent couple, Mark (Alaimo) and Kelly (Stone), who wander in their path after a promise of a boat party with some weed The Hooked Generationand wine. Loaded with that distinctive Grefé flavor and featuring some really out-there moments of black comedy, with several The Hooked Generationperformances pitched to the rafters and the violence quotient amped up here quite a bit. The drug angle really kicks in during the final third with the obligatory psychedelic effects here and there, but mostly it's a sweaty noir-inspired piece of pulp and one of the strongest films in the set.

During a rare relocation to Los Angeles at the turn of the 1970s, Grefé mined somewhat similar territory with The Psychedelic Priest, originally shot under the title Electric Shades of Grey (a title that remains on the existing source prints). Shot without a shooting script, this very loose depiction of the perils of the SoCal hippie scene complete with real members of the counterculture filling out the cast. Feeling an awful lot like the graveyard scene from Easy Rider padded out to a whole feature, this one features a priest named Father John (Darrell) who tries to preach to the dropout crowd but instead gets dosed with a tab of acid in his soda for his trouble. One trip The Psychedelic Priestand a major crisis of faith later, he's stumbling around the desert and the streets of L.A. encountering a variety of hitchhikers, reactionaries, and drug dealers in his downward slide to possible The Psychedelic Priestannihilation.

Co-directed by producer Stewart Merrill, this one ended up being shelved after its completion until its home video debut in 2001 from Something Weird and Image on DVD paired up with The Hooked Generation, of course. That release featured two more excellent and informative commentaries with the director riding along with Henenlotter, along with a reel of Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage (23m28s), a promotional featurette for Mako: Jaws of Death (10m23s), and trailers for Acid Dreams, Hallucination Generation, The Hard Road, Have You Ever Been on a Trip?, The Hippie Revolt, and Musical Mutiny. The Blu-ray carries over the commentaries and behind-the-scenes reel, and the transfers for both are a significant step up with better detail, black levels, and color timing; The Psychedelic Priest also features far more image info visible in numerous The Psychedelic Priestscenes for some reason compared to the DVD, which was heavily cropped in some shots. In "Beyond the Movie: That's Drugsploitation!" (7m51s), the always encyclopedic Chris Poggiali looks at the way the trend intersects here with other trends (swamp movies, biker movies, etc.) and the The Psychedelic Priestties to other films of the era like Born Losers and the promotional hooks used to sell this film. It's a great piece, even if it doesn't actually have a whole lot to do with drugsploitation! Then in "Beyond the Movie: The Ultimate Road Trip" (8m22s), Poggiali runs through the weird history of this film, the influence of religious films of the era (which ties into the unusual resolution), and the youth "loser" films that were all over theaters at the time like Simon, King of the Witches. Again you get new video intros to the films (2m40s and 2m15s), and the disc rounds out with a lengthy gallery for The Hooked Generation (6m40s).

The so-called "hag horror" trend that ran from the mid-'60s into the '70s resulted in many glamorous Hollywood luminaries appearing in bizarre horror and exploitation The Naked Zooproductions that timed perfectly with the collapse of the Hays Code, with stars like Lana Turner, Miriam Hopkins, Veronica Lake, and Tallulah Bankhead all turning up where you'd least expect them. None other than Rita Hayworth had one of her last roles working with Grefé on The Naked Zoo, a 1971 thriller that feels a lot like the ones being churned out by Crown International around the same time like Point of Terror and Blood Mania. Turned-on, The Naked Zoobed-hopping struggling writer Terry Shaw (Werewolves on Wheels and Peyton Place's Oliver) has a tendency to land himself in trouble with married women even before the opening credits roll. However, that's nothing compared to what happens when he gets a call from one of his regulars, Helen Golden (Hayworth), who's been sexually frustrated ever since her older husband (Rainey) ended up in a wheelchair. Terry introduces her to the wonders of chemical experimentation and passionate lovemaking, but things take a bizarre turn when they're caught in the act and thrown into a random maze of death, betrayal, and more drugs.

At the tail end of her career and suffering at the time from undiagnosed Alzheimer's, Hayworth still delivers a good performance here even if the film itself is a shaggy concoction that seems on the verge of falling apart completely at any moment. (Hayworth also delivered a truly superb performance in the excellent The Road to Salina around the same time, so her abilities certainly hadn't been compromised by this point.) Shot in vibrant, borderline psychedelic colors, this one's best watched with little The Naked Zooattention played to the actual plot; just approach it as a curiosity from the bumpy transition between The Naked ZooOld and New Hollywood when anything got thrown at the cinematic wall for a while. By the time it opened in theaters in September of 1970 from R&S Film Enterprises, Grefé's original cut had been altered substantially with considerable shortening of the opening act, a new main titles sequence, an added nudie scene, and a replaced party sequence now featuring the band Canned Heat, with all the new footage shot by exploitation vet Barry Mahon. Though negative elements for the initial cut are long gone, the closest possible reconstruction of the director's cut turned up on DVD-R and VHS from Something Weird looking pretty faded and ragged but definitely interesting as a curio. The Blu-ray presents both versions, with the director's cut given the default viewing option and assembled via the excellent quality negative of the release version composited with the inferior print for the original footage. It's uneven of course but the best viewing option around. The release cut is tucked away in the extras and looks excellent throughout; try both and see which one you prefer, but the release cut does have its pluses as it cuts to the chase a lot faster at the beginning and certainly Mako Jaws of Deathdelivers more of a sleaze factor.

On the same disc is one of Grefé's best-known films, Mako: Jaws of Death (or just The Jaws of Death), which successfully rode the wave of shark movies that poured out in the blockbuster wake of Jaws. The difference here is that, a la Orca, the film is Mako Jaws of Deathdefinitely (and justifiably) on the side of the sharks, who have been prowling the waters around an island where they're being persecuted by the area fishermen. Sonny (Jaeckel), a loner doing salvage work, not only loves sharks but also develops a psychic affinity with them aided by a medallion bequeathed by a mysterious shaman. As he goes on his mission to protect the sharks from the human predators, the audience is treated to some eye-popping underwater work with swimmers interacting very, very closely with the misunderstood giant fish. Anchored by a very good, committed performance by Jaeckel, this is an unusual entry in the shark movie movement and thankfully much more humane than the likes of Tintorera.

Originally released in theaters by the early incarnation of Cannon, Mako floated around on VHS from labels like Paragon and United American Video before heading to DVD including a very poor, VHS-quality DVD from Retromedia best avoided entirely. Relatively speaking, the Arrow Blu-ray is the best option around despite the Mako Jaws of Deathfact that this film hasn't been treated particularly well over the years; the print has good color but is loaded with debris and jitter that certainly deliver that grindhouse feeling if you're up for it. Both films on the disc come with video intros (2m42s and 4m6s) and solo Mako Jaws of Deathdirector commentaries covering the productions in depth, with the Mako one in particular delivering lots of stories about the ins and outs of the nautical shooting and shark wrangling as well as some technical mishaps along the way. In "Beyond the Movie: That's Sharksploitation!" (7m27s), Michael Gingold runs through the evolution of shark-themed films in the wake of earlier animal amuck movies and the environmental movement around this time that really pushed it into overdrive. In "The Aquamaid Speaks!" (9m49s), actress Jenifer Bishop chats via phone with Ed Tucker about making the film (her second with the director after Impulse) and her memorable swimming display scene in an underwater restaurant (via a real tank at the Rustic Inn in Ft. Lauderdale). Then writer (and Bloodstalkers director) Robert Morgan turns up for an interview in "Sharks, Stalkers, and Sasquatch" (10m28s), again with Tucker, covering his rapport with the director, the original version entitled Sharkenstein(!), and his thoughts on the cast. Also included are the Super-8 digest version (15m6s) - complete with leader! - along with the trailer, that familiar promo short (10m24s), a CBS Late Movie They Came from the SwampTV promo, a Florida news segment (2m9s) from the shoot, and still galleries for both features.

For the fourth and final disc, you get what amounts to an upgraded version of a two-disc DVD release from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures a few years ago -- albeit They Came from the Swampwith the order of the two main features reversed. Grefé finally got the feature-length documentary treatment with They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé, done in the usual style of Ballyhoo whose short and feature-length docs have adorned dozens of cult movie releases covering everything from AIP and Hammer to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Grefé's familiarity with gators and sharks served him well not only in his own films but in larger productions, most notably on Live and Let Die, and you'll find out all about it here. Every one of his projects both familiar and obscure gets covered, with vintage footage of stars like Jaeckel and Mickey Rooney (from the loco mafia cash-in The Godmothers) popping up in film clips and new interviewees rattling off a ton of info about how each of these came to pass. Archival press interviews (including a briefly glimpsed Barbara Walters!) are dotted in as well, and you'll hear plenty of stories about actors having to make do under less than ideal circumstances and sometimes reacting with real terror to threats like sharks and snakes. Brace yourself for a sit-down interview with Shatner, They Came from the Swampbehind-the-scenes footage, and tons more, with Grefé himself providing the major interview segments peppered with other significant contributors: Fred Olen Ray, Henenlotter, Poggiali, David F. Friedman (briefly), actor John Davis Chandler, screenwriter and occasional actor/corpse stand-in Gary Crutcher, and Randy Grinter.They Came from the Swamp

Given top billing on the Blu-ray but relegated to the second bonus disc on the DVD is a very wide scope transfer of the rare Whiskey Mountain, Grefé's own spin on the popularity of both Deliverance and moonshine movies with actors like Burt Reynolds. Notable for having a female assistant director, it's an amusing slice of southern-fried hokum (one character is named Booger, for example) with Christopher George getting a fun leading role among antics like dirt biking, fist fighting, crazy motorcycle stunts, explosions, and pot smuggling in a cave within the title location. Perhaps the most memorable flourish here is a unique take on that drive-in standard, the hillbilly rape scene, which is depicted here via flashes of Polaroid snapshots. Plus you get drive-in starlet Roberta Collins and a theme song by Charlie Daniels! Image quality is pretty soft and scratchy given the 16mm source, but given the rarity of the title, it's a pleasure just to see the whole frame in any form at all. You can definitely toss out your unwatchable pan and scan tape copies. Grefé also provides a new Whiskey Mountainvideo intro (2m54s) about his love of the North Carolina mountains and audio commentary on the Blu-ray, chatting solo about the Whiskey Mountainlocation shooting, the arranging of those dirt bike scenes, moonshine culture, the perils of shooting in remote locations, and a variety of other production anecdotes.

The Blu-ray version expands the running time of the doc by nearly four minutes, reinstating deleted material back into the running time. Most of the extras from the DVD release are ported over here including the featurette "The Crown Jewels: America's Oldest Indie Film Company" (17m24s) features more Grefé and Poggiali exploring the history between Crown International,which pulls no punches about its reputation for churning out some of the most lovably cheapjack drive-in offerings of the golden era and features some great info about its memorable detour through the biker craze. You also get a fun promotional short, "Bacardi and Coke Bonanza '81" (7m29s), a rodeo-themed short about how mixing the two beloved beverages together gets promoted around the world as told by a down-home cowpoke. Both editions feature four chunks of deleted footage: Randy Grinter chatting about Florida filmmaker Brad Grinter; a Whiskey Mountain"deathbed confessions" bit with makeup artist Doug Hobart about playing a dead body and getting cracked up by Shatner; a Grefé Whiskey Mountainanecdote about Shatner and a memorable liquor-related office visit; and Crutcher explains how he wound up playing a doctor in Stanley. The Blu-ray also features a trailer, radio spot, and Barbara Walters promo for Whiskey Mountain, and (as with the DVD), bonus Florida-related trailers for The Weird World of LSD, Fireball Jungle, The King of the Jungle, The Magic Legend of the Juggler, Bloody Friday, and Super Chick. (The DVD also tosses in Racing Fever, Wild Rebels, and Cease Fire.) Also on the Blu-ray is "On Location: Grefé in Miami" (5m26s), a Ballyhoo tour of familiar spots from some of his films. Those who own the DVD may want to hang on to it as it does feature three extras not available elsewhere: "Bacardi: The Mixable One" with William Shatner making a swashbuckling film and taking off for a tour of the famous rum manufacturer, complete with a look at the Bacardi family tree; a 30-second Legends testimonial from Bruce Campbell on the set of Burn Notice; and a 12-minute gallery of posters and stills from his films with some great music choices. The Blu-ray set comes with an illustrated ’s booklet featuring an extensive, previously unpublished interview with Grefé and a new foreword by the director, plus a reversible poster spotlighting the new artwork by the Twins of Evil.


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Reviewed on November 22, 2020