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In that hot bed of hidden cult activity, the Philippines, a group of young women are hustled through the soiled sewers and seedy jungles of Emelda Marcos' favorite shoe storage unit in order to give up their blood, assembly line style, to an ancient sect of plastic surgery disaster victims. The severed head of Raoul (?) commands it in the name of eternal beauty and youth. The skull's servant, Queen/Priestess Ranu, knows she and her pasty people need the claret cosmetic makeover: her own fright mask face looks dermabrasioned and mortician's waxed beyond repair. Her fey enforcer Baru, who has trial tested all of Michael Jackson's new noses before the gloved one chisels them into his skull, has other ideas. Complete with a Fantastic Sam's perm and singles club manfur in full fluff mode, he befriends the horse-faced Laura (she of many mandible and ethmoid issues) and eventually decrees that she is the lost Goddess of Somethingorother. Naturally, this makes her want to escape, but she can't get her brassy barmaid compatriots to go along for the flee. As with most things in the Far East, everyone ends up in the jungle: hot, sweaty, and tired of being chased by oversized baby-men in diapers. When Baru hits the biological clock barrier and starts to crumple like a Miami Beach lothario, it's time for the rest of the runaways to make like Cherie Currie and get while they're certified gold. Otherwise, they'll become corporeal cocktails for The Thirsty Dead.
Meanwhile, in a bayou full of body parts, Dr. Frosta fools around with some strange white powder that he hopes will reanimate the newly dead (hey, it worked for Liza Minelli and Andy Warhol). But instead, he just produces more scat to be strewn into said corpse-filled creek. Experiments on the local leper and beggar population are equally unproductive. Soon, our mad scientist is eyeing his rather fickle girlfriend with weird intent. She is no longer happy in her rebound relationship with the strange surgeon (she left an equally peculiar pop singer with the strangest onstage repertoire in the history of lounge acts) and tries to make a surreptitious escape. But before you can say "useless restraining order," cold Doctor Chilblains has locked the lady in his broken down love shack: a brutal bungalow nicely decorated with animal carcasses and deformed fetuses in jelly jars. Eventually, a perspiring police chief tracks down the incredibly five o'clock shadowed and chin-butted brute. His hideout is not really that hard to miss. It's near the only body of water surrounded by ugly ass vultures and afloat with human buoys. Frosta fakes out the fuzz and ends up teaching in Europe where crazy clinical practices like cloning and geriatric pregnancy are commonplace. But it's only a matter of time before he is caught. You just can't take the Swamp of the Ravens out of the raving lunatic.
Like a tired made-for-television movie married to a misguided prehistoric fashion spread, The Thirsty Dead is over 88 minutes of PG gore-free monotony. Frankly, the words "exploitation" and "parental guidance" should never be used together, and this oblique monkey funk is a perfect example of why. While hoping to tell a tale so tawdry and terrifying it makes mothers cover their kiddies' eyes in factum and in the inducement, all we really get is a lot of Filipinos looking pissed off. As the ruling drag queen creation, Tani Guthrie is all scene and skeleton chewing, her high cheek boned bizarreness giving her a manic mummy in make-up demeanor. And poor Tim Considine. With a face only Bubbles could welcome and so solemn he seems to be acting through scotch, his take on the unstuck-in-time turncoat is so barely there it's like watching a bottom burp emote. In reality, the only disturbing aspect of this movie is how hideous everyone in the cast looks. From the lead actress with a reed-like asexuality who is second only to Rocky Dennis in uncontrolled façade factors to the hidden grotto guards resembling Mr. Sumo Clean impersonators, The Thirsty Dead will leave you parched for entertainment and dehydrated for some real zombie fun. While there is some amusement to be had at the bodiless head in a blood tinged box called Raoul (?), this is one secret society of Shangri-La losers that is just a bunch of craven cult crap.
On the other hand, Swamp of the Ravens (which is really more like the brackish water of disgusting turkey buzzards) is a fairly creepy exercise in European-style horror, which means it may not make a lot of logical or common sense, but it will provide some truly troubling moments before it completely disintegrates. The ghostly white corpses bobbing like spent corks in Dr. Frosta's backyard bog are disturbing, and some of the make-up effects are particularly gruesome, yet this stagnant Swamp also features some scenes of true insanity as an "anything goes" attitude is taken to tweak the terror. We witness a graphic autopsy, surgeon swiftly slicing through fat and tendon for the sake of a minor line of exposition. A portly police chief chokes on a muffaletta sandwich as a chewed human hand is unceremoniously plopped onto his desk. And representatives of Gillette should get on the phone to star Raymond Oliver right away. This guy's ever-present stubble of jet-black bluebeard is like an overgrown kudzu patch in desperate need of a Trac II trimming.
But undoubtedly the most jaw-dropping gem in Swamp of the Ravens is a delightfully deranged musical duet, an offal ode to a "robot" (?) sung by the Sephardic answer to Don Ho and a mannequin (??). As this swarthy swisher swaggers around the stage, we inter-cut between the bored audience and Dr. Frosta canoodling with a cadaver. We then get to hear the "doll's" part, atonal and piercing, over random shots of someone's hair. Then the dapper dude swings it into high as he finishes the farce with the following, actual lyrics:
Never, never will you fly from me, lifeless heart that doesn't beat after
Nothing more to be said, really: this cracked collection of couplets sums up Swamp of the Ravens perfectly. It's a terrific, trippy ride.
Something Weird has again gone out of their way to provide a nice package of materials to supplement the hit or miss mixed bag movies here. The films themselves do offer decidedly diverse image issues. Thirsty can't help but look like a boob tube disaster in its near full screen 1.66:1 transfer. While the print is clean and crisp, it's also flat and without finesse. Swamp, on the other hand, looks like it was actually handled by backwater bayou boys before making the leap to a 2.35:1 original aspect ratio. There is a faded streak running through the middle third of the film, and the colors seem heavy on green and blue (everything dark has a moldy, moss quality to it). While it is the far better film, it is a really disappointing visual mess. Still, SWV loads up on the goodies to hopefully distract us from the picture problems. The trailers here are all great, including more mouth-watering titles like Kill Baby, Kill and War of the Zombies (yeah!). We even get an episode of the 1959 Swedish terror television show rarity 13 Demon Street (this time featuring a fairly decent take on the tired old "killer hand" formula). Top it all off with more Dead Elvi and creature feature comic covers, and you've got an overall excellent DVD with only one really clunky characteristic.
While Swamp of the Ravens soars with a real sense of soggy bottom shock value, The Thirsty Dead is as desiccated as its cast's creviced remains. So avoid one arid quagmire and feast your flesh on a marsh of ominous dampness, my dead robot.
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