Daily Archives: March 13, 2019

Orgy of the Dead (1965)

*. Universal’s classic monsters were creative milestones and box office hits in their original incarnations, but went into decline throughout the 1940s before finally petering out entirely. Hammer only momentarily revived some of their energy and glory with garish colour and low-cut dresses before they too experienced a steep decline. But if you really want to see the nadir of what happened to Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy you need look no further than Orgy of the Dead.
*. The film’s only claim to fame is that it was based on a screenplay by Edward D. Wood Jr., though there’s little here in the way of a story. (Oddly enough, it was apparently based on a novel Wood had written. I can’t imagine what that was like.) Instead of a well-made plot there’s only a Halloween-themed floor show where the MC Criswell (playing someone called the Emperor) introduces various topless-dancer routines. Apparently they’re all sinners being punished in some way, with a pair of unlucky motorists being forced to watch. But not to belabor the obvious: the audience is in the same position, so are we being tortured as well?
*. The film’s limitations are evident right from Criswell’s introduction. When he is first revealed lying in his coffin I think we all assume the camera is going to zoom or dolly in before he begins speaking. But the camera doesn’t move. Instead there’s simply a cut to a closer shot. One would expect to see little inventive camera work in what’s to come, based on this. Those low expectations are met.
*. The script will sound familiar to fans of Wood’s oeuvre. The opening narration by Criswell is even taken nearly verbatim from Wood’s previous film Night of the Ghouls. Was it worth keeping? Hardly. And Criswell still hadn’t learned the lines, as he clearly has to drop his eyes and read them from cue cards that Wood himself reportedly held up.
*. Wood gets cut a lot of slack because he was true to a such a quirky and intense personal vision. Some might call it an obsession. But how interesting or original were his fetishes and hang-ups really? Not very. And his writing is downright dreadful. It’s not just that his actors can’t deliver the lines with any naturalness; the lines as written are entirely unnatural. Wood had no idea how dialogue worked and everything that comes out of his character’s mouths sounds like some ridiculous speech written by a highschool student for an unmountable play.
*. The upshot of all this is that it’s hard to tell what is worse: the dancing or the play-by-play. As soon as the one starts you want to go back to the other, without ever enjoying what’s happening on screen.
*. So there’s Criswell. And Vampira (or at least a part that was written for Vampira). And a girl who gets painted gold because Goldfinger had just come out a year before. And there’s a mummy and a guy in a werewolf mask and furry gloves to provide some stand-up comic relief. Yes, this is what the classic monsters had been reduced to: the Monster Mash with tits. The whole thing is just a riff on the nudie cuties, and indeed the script’s original title was Nudie Ghoulies. Whatever it’s called, it’s unwatchable.

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