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Case Number 20200: Small Claims Court

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The Swamp Of The Ravens / Zombie

Zombie (I Eat Your Skin)
1971 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
The Swamp Of The Ravens
1974 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by VCI Home Video
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // November 26th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Paul Pritchard's swamp contains no ravens, only his stash of nudey mags his wife threw out.

The Charge

Now Death Can No Longer Hold The Departed!

The Case

The Swamp of the Ravens is something of an oddity. Yes, it contains staples of the horror genre—mad scientists, the undead, and a good dollop of gore—but each of these elements is surprisingly ineffective, and often executed in a decidedly half-assed manner. And yet, with a caveat or two thrown in, I'm going to recommend the film.

The story itself is nothing original, and fans of Frankenstein and the later Re-animator will find themselves in familiar territory early on. Dr. Frosta (Ramiro Oliveros, credited here under the name Raymond Oliver) is conducting illegal experiments in an attempt to both re-animate the dead and achieve mind control over his subjects (you can't really accuse the guy of lacking ambition, can you?) Unfortunately for Frosta, he's having problems bringing the dead back to life, and uses the swamp behind his lab as a dumping ground for the corpses. But Frosta's activities have started drawing the attention of the local police, who have picked up on the alarming number of cadavers which have gone missing in the area. Worst still, Frosta's girlfriend, Simone (Marcia Bichette), has started resenting the time he spends on his secretive experiments, and is being drawn back into the arms of her ex. But the doctor has a plan for that: kill his girlfriend and re-animate her as his sex slave, naturally.

Chances are, unless you regularly dabble in '70s Euro horror, you'll not have seen anything quite like The Swamp of the Ravens. You have to decide for yourself whether that's a good thing or not, but for fans of cult cinema the film has an undeniable appeal. It may lack the finesse of Argento, or the atmosphere of Fulci, but director Manuel Cano (credited here under the name Michael Cannon) may just have pipped them both when it comes to being just plain weird. The movie features a couple of outlandish musical interludes that just beggar belief. One of the scenes, which opens with fetuses in pickling jars, features a crooner singing a love song (about robots) to his mannequin! Strange isn't the word, and it just keeps going from there. Frosta's experiments prove slightly more successful than he initially thought, resulting a swamp full of the undead just waiting for some poor schmuck to venture into. Hell, there aren't even any ravens in the swamp, just a swarm of vultures.

The Swamp of the Ravens is particularly notable for its dialogue, which is at times wonderfully overblown ("Take your beak out of my heart, and don't leave one black feather;") or unintentionally hilarious if not a little sexist ("Maybe you tried to take advantage of her? If you haven't I suggest you do, and I think she wants it;"). My own personal favorite, delivered by a detective ogling the rear-ends of three senoritas, "Beautiful creatures, and here we are surrounded by shit!" Best of all, the lines are delivered without a hint of irony, which only serves to cement the film's status as an essential slice of Euro-horror that lovers of the macabre owe it to themselves to see.

Director Cano clearly has no interest in telling a cohesive story; the film barely makes a lick of sense. Events rarely happen organically, with everything appearing to take place only to serve whatever brainwave the director had the previous night. This combination of the bizarre and Cano's ability to instill scenes with a healthy dose of atmosphere, ensures the Spanish/US co-production sits comfortably alongside the Italian splatter films of the era.

The Swamp of the Ravens is notorious for its use of actual autopsy footage; the scene in question features two actors bearing witness to a cadaver being sliced up. It's understandable that some will find this totally repugnant or morally reprehensible, but the scene in question is extremely short and, excluding the fact it was shot purely for entertainment purposes, hardly exploitative. No, the autopsy shouldn't worry you at all; a scene depicting the act of necrophilia on the other hand, well that might just be a shade too much for more sensitive viewers.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is reasonably solid, considering the film's age and limited budget. That said, it is prone to softness and there is some damage to the print, though it adds to the feel of the movie. The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is flat and contains one of the worst dubbing jobs I've ever witnessed. The central theme that monopolizes the score is, frankly, terrible and barely in keeping with the film's subject matter. And yet, like so much in this movie, it works.

Though only billed as a "Bonus," the DVD also contains the 1971 crapfest Zombie, A.K.A. I Eat Your Skin. By some strange coincidence, I'd only recently learned of this film thanks to Stephen Thrower's excellent book on American exploitation cinema, Nightmare USA. Filmed in 1964, under the name Voodoo Blood Bath, the picture sat on the shelves until, thanks to studio execs refusing to lose money on the movie, it found itself released as a double bill with I Drink Your Blood, much to the chagrin of that film's cast and crew.

Going into this one having read nothing but negative comments, and finding myself sympathizing with everyone involved in the superior, if somewhat nuts I Drink Your Blood, I Eat Your Skin would have to go some to win me over. It didn't. This is just the type of cheap crap that sullies the good name of exploitation cinema.

The plot centers around a mad scientist (Robert Stanton) working on a cure for cancer using radioactive snake venom. No, really; radioactive snake venom! Of course it all goes terribly wrong, leading to an army of the living dead wreaking havoc on the Caribbean island that is the doctor's base.

One argument frequently thrown at I Eat Your Skin, which bears repeating, is how dated it feels, even when compared against other horror movies of the 1960s. Put it up against Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and most people would assume I Eat Your Skin to be a horror from the '50s, lacking in the subtleties of Romero's work.

Perhaps Skin can be enjoyed on some kind of "so bad it's good" level, but the fact that it only seems to be released on the back of better films, means I have little time for it or its crud-faced zombies.

I Eat Your Skin is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic, black and white, transfer. Considering the film's age, the image is reasonably clean and with a good level of detail.

The disc contains zero extras for either film.

The Verdict

I Eat Your Skin can go to hell. The Swamp of the Ravens is ridiculous, lacking in logic, and one of the strangest movies I've ever seen. It's also not guilty.

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Genres

• Cult
• Horror

Scales of Justice, Zombie (I Eat Your Skin)

Judgment: 5

Perp Profile, Zombie (I Eat Your Skin)

Studio: VCI Home Video
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Zombie (I Eat Your Skin)

• None

Scales of Justice, The Swamp Of The Ravens

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, The Swamp Of The Ravens

Studio: VCI Home Video
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Swamp Of The Ravens

• None








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