He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (Boxset) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Mar 09, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (Boxset) (Blu-ray Review)

Director

William Grefe

Release Date(s)

Various (November 24, 2020)

Studio(s)

Arrow Video
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A
  • Overall Grade: A-

He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Florida filmmaker William Grefe directed many low budget films over the course of his career, primarily in his home state of Florida. He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection gathers together seven of those films, as well as a documentary about the titular exploitation filmmaker who did not have the same amount of notoriety as filmmakers like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Ed Wood, but nevertheless continued to make films all the way up through the 2000s.

From 1965 is Sting of Death, a teenage rock and roll horror film in the vein of The Horror of Party Beach. A mysterious underwater creature is killing sunbathing beauties and their hunky boyfriends in the Everglades. A scientist’s young daughter comes home from college for a visit, but unbeknownst to her, several other college friends are also stopping by for a wild party, complete with swinging tunes and a propensity for making fun of her father’s disfigured assistant. It isn’t long before the swamp-dwelling monster pops up and drowns as many of these raucous teenagers as it can get its slimy claws on.

Next is the 1966 horror film Death Curse of Tartu. Deep within the swamps of Florida, an archaeology professor has gone missing after setting foot on land near the resting place of an ancient evil. His students arrive not long after and find themselves victims of attacks by snakes, alligators, and sharks. Convinced by a local legend, they come to the conclusion that these attacks are caused by the undead, shape-shifting witch doctor Tartu, who rests nearby in his tomb and comes to life when intruders are afoot. Unable to escape and get back to civilization, the students must hunt down the witch doctor’s resting place and destroy him.

1968’s The Hooked Generation is one of many drugsploitation films of the era, but this one set in the Florida Everglades. Three drug running criminals take out a group of Cuban soldiers and Coast Guardsmen in order to secure a large drug package, taking a couple of hostages along with them for insurance. After their usual dealer bails on a deal, they’re soon on the run from the police, holing up anywhere that they can in a feeble attempt to escape. Meanwhile, a special task force is hot on their trail.

In the same company is 1969’s The Psychedelic Priest in which a young man of the cloth accidentally experiences an acid trip which shakes up his world views. Up against the pressures of continuing on as a small town priest, he leaves the church and drives across the country on his way to California. After picking up a hitchhiking young woman with a troubled past and discovering many harsh realities along the way, he turns to harder and harder substances, leading him into a downward spiral of depression, hopelessness, and self-reflection.

1970’s The Naked Zoo stars Stephen Oliver as Terry, a young author with a penchant for drugs, parties, mind games, and sleeping with multiple partners, including older women with plenty of money in the bank. One of them, Mrs. Golden (Rita Hayworth), is highly dependent upon Terry’s company, attempting to hide it from her paraplegic husband. As the relationship between Terry and Mrs. Golden intensifies, her husband pulls a gun on them and is accidentally killed during the onslaught. Terry then tosses off Mrs. Golden and leaves her to clean up the mess while he continues on with his cruel ways, always wondering if the police will soon be coming for him.

Next is Mako: Jaws of Death from 1976, one of many films released in the wake of Jaws. Sonny (Richard Jaeckal) is a lonely man who keeps sharks as pets. He has a psychic bond with them, going so far as to kill anybody who seeks to hurt them. At a local bar he meets an underwater ballet dancer who takes an interest in his obsession, revealing that part of his abilities come from a sacred medallion given to him long ago. The owner of the bar and the dancer’s seedy husband decides to use one of Sonny’s sharks as part of the underwater show, but when Sonny finds out that he is torturing it for a better performance, he goes on a mad killing spree. It isn’t long before the police come for Sonny in a final showdown that will test his friendship with his pets.

Last but not least is 1977’s Whiskey Mountain, part of the wave of hicksploitation films of the era. In the backwoods of North Carolina, a young motorcycle-riding couple and their two friends have come into possession of a map revealing the location of confederate weapons that are worth a fortune. Camping and trekking their way through the wilderness, they encounter a group of locals who are intent on making life hell for them after they accidentally stumble upon their secret marijuana crop. With no help from the local authorities and the two women eventually taken hostage, the men must take the law into their own hands to save them.

The visual and aural quality of each film fluctuates as not all of the elements were available, were in poor condition, or had to be pieced together. For Sting of Death, the original 35 mm camera negative was scanned, along with the original 35 mm optical track negative, all in 2K. While it’s a healthy presentation, it’s also loaded with damage, including scratches, speckling, discoloration, and wobble. However, it appears natural with high levels of detail and an eye-popping color palette. Blacks are fairly solid and everything appears bright. The English Mono LPCM soundtrack offers a clean presentation, though not without its flaws. It’s extremely narrow and there’s a mild hiss running throughout. Minor crackle and slight distortion are evident, but dialogue exchanges and the music selection are clear and discernible.

The video and audio for Death Curse of Tartu have been taken primarily from a 2K scan of a 16 mm TV print of the film, utilizing 35 mm print inserts to complete it. It actually fares slightly better than the previous film in terms of damage. Since it’s farther away from the original camera negative, details are softer and blacks lean towards crushed. Speckling and scratches are prevalent, but to a much lesser degree. Color is inconsistent and less impressive overall, almost faded in some shots, likely due to the varying elements. Stability is also improved, but certain sequences feature more of it than others. A single shot of Tartu appears to have been taken from a lower quality source as the edges of the frame are faded and macroblocking is present. The English Mono LPCM audio track is much dirtier than its counterpart, but slightly less narrow with good dialogue reproduction and decent push for the score. Leftover hiss, crackle, distortion, and dropouts are all plentiful.

For The Hooked Generation, a 2K scan from a 16 mm internegative with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and audio sourced from a 16 mm optical track negative have been utilized. Uneven across the board, the presentation is sometimes underexposed and features heavy grain, speckling, lines, delineation issues, and, in one scene, what appears to be intentional damage, though it’s difficult to tell. Yet the transfer appears natural with good color (though not altogether solid at times due to the damage) and excellent contrast. The English Mono LPCM soundtrack is heavily distorted, particularly the dialogue. The mixing of sound effects and score leave a bit to be desired as well, though gunfire has the most heft behind it. It also suffers from occasional crackle and hiss. It’s the most difficult soundtrack to adjust to at first.

The video and audio for The Psychedelic Priest have been sourced from a 2K scan of a 16 mm Ektachrome release print. It features heavy grain, a mild softness, scratches, speckling, lines running through the frame, and debris in the film gate. It’s organic with stable color and contrast, and surprisingly good detail. It’s one of the better presentations thus far. The English Mono LPCM soundtrack is similar, though damage is limited to thumps, minor hiss, and a couple of dropouts. Dialogue is discernible, if a bit distorted at times depending upon the quality of the recording. The music is also slightly distorted, but comes through just fine.

For The Naked Zoo, multiple elements were used since two different cuts are presented: the original version which inserted alternate footage (and can be selected in the extras menu), and William Grefe’s director’s cut, created specifically for this release. A 35 mm negative of the original version has been mixed with a 35 mm workprint with audio sourced from a 35 mm double-edged track print and a 35 mm track negative. Since this is a hodgepodge of elements, the quality is all over the place, but all of it is highly organic. Instability, scratches, speckling, lines, fading, and mold are all present. However, everything has been color corrected with good contrast as much as possible. The English Mono LPCM track fares much better, though it’s also a tad bit of a patch job, mostly towards the beginning when the quality of the track changes significantly. After that, it’s mostly fine outside of thumps, a couple of dropouts, and minor hiss. Dialogue exchanges are clean while score and sound effects are more ample than any of the previous presentations.

Both the video and audio for Mako: Jaws of Death were sourced from two separate 16 mm prints of the film. The most consistent presentation thus far, it features high levels of grain, minor instability, softness, and crushed blacks. It’s also natural with mostly good color, outside of a couple of spots with molding, and decent contrast. Speckling, scratches, and lines running through the frame are also present. The audio is included in English Mono DTS-HD MA. Hiss, thumps, crackle, and occasional dropouts are evident throughout, though dialogue is clear while score and sound effects have a healthy push to them.

For Whiskey Mountain, the video and audio have been sourced from a 16 mm scope print. The narrow framing works well for aerial shots of the woods and open country, though not so much for close-ups and medium shots. Heavy grain, lines, scratches, speckling, and color breathing are apparent throughout the presentation, but it’s mostly stable with good contrast. The accompanying English Mono LPCM soundtrack is very quiet with distorted though discernible dialogue, decent heft for the music, and lackluster sound effects. Mild crackle and hiss are also evident.

Subtitles are provided for each film in English SDH.

STING OF DEATH (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D/B/B-
DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D-/B-/B-
THE HOOKED GENERATION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/C+/D+
THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/B-/C+
THE NAKED ZOO (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D/C/B-
MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/B/C+
WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D/C/C

The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE: STING OF DEATH & DEATH CURSE OF TARTU

  • Optional Introduction to Sting of Death by William Grefe (HD – 2:51)
  • Optional Introduction to Death Curse of Tartu by William Grefe (HD – 3:13)
  • Audio Commentaries with William Grefe and Frank Henenlotter
  • Beyond the Movie: Monsters a-Go Go! (HD – 11:43)
  • The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire (HD – 10:50)
  • Sting of Death Trailer (Upsampled SD – 2:06)
  • Death Curse of Tartu Trailer (Upsampled SD – 1:34)

In the introduction to Sting of Death, William Grefe discusses the logistics of making the film, including arguing with the producer about where to shoot the underwater scenes. In the introduction to Death Curse of Tartu, he speaks about how fast he had to get the film shot and dealing with a live alligator. Both films feature audio commentaries with William Grefe and Frank Henenlotter, which are carried over from the Something Weird Video DVD release. The two men discuss each film with reverence and humor, coming across more as fun conversations than two people trying to fill time. Beyond the Movie: Monsters a-Go Go! features author and film historian C. Courtney Joyner speaking about the history of rock and roll monster movies. In The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh, make-up effects artist Doug Hobart talks about the history of “spook shows” from the era and his involvement with them. The trailers for both films are sourced from low grade VHS copies.

DISC TWO: THE HOOKED GENERATION & THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST

  • Optional Introduction to The Hooked Generation by William Grefe (HD – 2:40)
  • Optional Introduction to The Psychedelic Priest Generation by William Grefe (HD – 2:15)
  • Audio Commentaries with William Grefe and Frank Henenlotter
  • Beyond the Movie: That’s Drugsploitation! (HD – 7:51)
  • Beyond the Movie: The Ultimate Road Trip (HD – 8:22)
  • The Hooked Generation Behind-the-Scenes Footage (Upsampled SD – 23:29)
  • The Hooked Generation Still Gallery (HD – 40 in all – 6:40)

In the introduction to The Hooked Generation, William Grefe discusses the cast and the use of Native Americans in the film. In the introduction to The Psychedelic Priest, he speaks about the origins of and the making of the film, pointing out that he shot it on the fly with no script. The audio commentaries with William Grefe and Frank Henenlotter are also carried over from the previous Something Weird Video DVD release and feature the same caliber of conversation and information about each film. That’s Drugsploitation! features author and film historian Chris Poggiali discussing the films that inspired The Hooked Generation. The Ultimate Road Trip also features Poggiali speaking about The Psychedelic Priest’s mixing of the types of movies that were being made at the time, as well as how it made. The behind-the-scenes footage for The Hooked Generation reveals that the film was made under the title The Pushers, mostly showing the opening scene and the Native American community scenes being filmed. The still gallery features 40 behind-the-scenes photos, posters, lobby cards, and home video artwork stills.

DISC THREE: THE NAKED ZOO & MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH

  • Optional Introduction to The Naked Zoo: Director’s Cut by William Grefe (HD – 2:42)
  • Optional Introduction to Mako: Jaws of Death by William Grefe (HD – 4:06)
  • Audio Commentary for The Naked Zoo: Director’s Cut with William Grefe
  • Audio Commentary for Mako: Jaws of Death with William Grefe
  • The Naked Zoo: Barry Mahon Version (HD – 86:53)
  • Beyond the Movie: That’s Sharksploitation! (HD – 7:27)
  • The Aquamaid Speaks! (HD – 9:49)
  • Sharks, Stalkers, and Sasquatch (HD – 10:28)
  • Mako: Jaws of Death Super 8 Digest Version (HD – 15:06)
  • Mako: Jaws of Death Trailer (Upsampled SD – 1:35)
  • Mako: Jaws of Death Promo (Upsampled SD – 10:24)
  • Mako: Jaws of Death CBS Promo (Upsampled SD – 0:33)
  • Mako: Jaws of Death Behind-the-Scenes News Segment (Upsampled SD – 2:09)
  • The Naked Zoo Still Gallery (HD – 12 in all – 2:00)
  • Mako: Jaws of Death Still Gallery (HD – 49 in all – 8:10)

In the introduction to The Naked Zoo, William Grefe talks about working with Rita Hayworth and Stephen Oliver, and his displeasure with the original version of the film. In the introduction to Mako: Jaws of Death, he speaks about filming underwater, the constant problems he had shooting the film, and considering Richard Jaeckel “the biggest pro” that he ever worked with. In the audio commentaries for each film, Grefe flies solo and speaks about many of the same subjects and more. The Barry Mahon version of The Naked Zoo, which was released theatrically (much to Grefe’s dismay), is a few minutes shorter, has alternate opening and closing credit sequences, trims a few scenes, and adds a pointless scene of nudity and the band Canned Heat. Otherwise, it’s the same film. That’s Sharksploitation! interviews author and film historian Michael Gingold about the history of environmental horror films, including those featuring sharks. The Aquamaid Speaks! features an audio interview with actress Jenifer Bishop by Ed Tucker in which the discussion revolves around her working with William Grefe and his cast and crew, as well her various scenes in the film, how they were shot, and her preparation for them. Sharks, Stalkers, and Sasquatch also features an audio interview by Ed Tucker, but with the film’s writer Robert Morgan who discusses how he got involved with working with William Grefe, being chosen to write the script, and a revelation about working on another Grefe film, Impulse. The abridged Super 8 version of Mako: Jaws of Death is in excellent viewing shape, highlighting the main plot points of the original film. The trailer and CBS promo are sourced from low grade VHS copies. The still gallery for The Naked Zoo consists of 12 stills of on-set photos, behind-the-scenes photos, press materials, and posters. The other still gallery for Mako: Jaws of Death consists of 49 stills of posters, newspaper clippings, behind-the-scenes photos, home video artwork, and press materials.

DISC FOUR: WHISKEY MOUNTAIN & THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP

  • Optional Introduction to Whiskey Mountain by William Grefe (HD – 2:54)
  • Audio Commentary on Whiskey Mountain by William Grefe
  • They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefe (HD – 126:50)
  • The Crown Jewels (HD – 17:24)
  • Bacardi and Coke Bonanza ‘81 Short Film (HD – 7:29)
  • On Location: Grefe in Miami (HD – 5:26)
  • Whiskey Mountain Trailer (Upsampled SD – 1:16)
  • Whiskey Mountain Radio Spot (HD – 0:33)
  • TV Show Whiskey (HD – 1:26)
  • They Came from the Swamp Deleted Scene: Grinter on Grinter (HD – 2:12)
  • They Came from the Swamp Deleted Scene: Deathbed Confessions (HD – 1:01)
  • They Came from the Swamp Deleted Scene: Shatner on the Rocks (HD – 2:41)
  • They Came from the Swamp Deleted Scene: Paging Dr. Crutcher (HD – 1:15)
  • The Weird World of LSD Trailer (Upsampled SD – 2:50)
  • Fireball Jungle Trailer (Upsampled SD – 0:22)
  • The King of the Jungle Trailer (Upsampled SD – 1:18)
  • The Magic Legend of the Juggler Trailer (Upsampled SD – 0:32)
  • Bloody Friday Trailer (Upsampled SD – 2:09)
  • Super Chick Trailer (Upsampled SD – 0:32)

In the introduction to Whiskey Mountain, William Grefe speaks about shooting in North Carolina, his love for motorcycles, and working with Charlie Daniels. In the audio commentary, he’s alone again, speaking at length about the making of the film. They Came from the Swamp is a mammoth two-hour documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (also responsible for many of the other featurettes on these discs) about William Grefe and his entire career. It features many members of the cast and crew of his films, as well as family members and filmmakers Frank Henenlotter, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Fred Olen Ray, among many other participants. The Crown Jewels explores the films and longevity of Crown International Pictures. Bacardi and Coke Bonanza ‘81 is a short film directed by William Grefe for Bacardi Rum in the early 1980s. Grefe in Miami follows William Grefe as he revisits various filming locations from his films. The trailer for Whiskey Mountain is sourced from a low grade VHS copy. TV Show Whiskey is a local news snippet featuring Barbara Walters during the making of Whiskey Mountain. The deleted scenes from They Came from the Swamp feature minor trims of information. The other trailers are for films also shot in Florida featuring varying cast and crew members from Grefe’s films. They too come from various sources.

Each disc is housed in separate thin amaray cases with double-sided artwork. Also included in the package is a double-sided poster featuring the cover art on one side and fun William Grefe “Welcome to Florida” artwork on the other, and a hardback 35-page book featuring In His Own Words: Foreword by William Grefe; Draining the Swamp: Inside Florida’s Most Notorious Exploitation Filmmaker by Chris Poggiali; restoration details; production credits; and a special thanks page. All of this material is housed inside sturdy cardboard packaging.

Covering everything from sharksploitation to hicksploitation to drugsploitation to horror, and everything in between, He Came from the Swamp offers an array of low budget films of varying qualities with enjoyable presentations and slew of great extras. For fans of William Grefe and his work, this is an essential purchase. For everyone else, if you’re familiar with and love recent Blu-ray boxset collections dedicated to the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Al Adamson, and Andy Milligan, this is right up your alley.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

Tags

1966, 1968, 1970, 1976, 1977, 2001, 2016, Abe Newman, Al Dempsey, Al Jacobs, Allied Artists, Allied Artists Pictures, Allied International Films Inc, Arrow Video, B movie, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, Barbara Walters, Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc, Bob Bagley, box set, boxed set, boxset, C Courtney Joyner, Canned Heat, Cannon Film Distributors, Celestial, Charlie Daniels, Chris Martell, Chris Poggiali, Chris Robinson, Christopher George, Crown International, Crown International Pictures, CT Robertson, Daniel Griffith, David F Friedman, Death Curse of Tartu, Dee Wright, documentary, Doro V Hreljanovic, Doro Vlado Hreljanovic, Doug Hobart, drugsploitation, Ed Tucker, Essen Productions Inc, Everglades, exploitation, Falcon International Productions, Falcon Productions, Film Artists International, Floria, Florida, Florida Everglades, Frank Henenlotter, Fred Olen Ray, Gary Crutcher, Gregory Sandor, Hank Rifkin, He Came from the Swamp, He Came from the Swamp The William Grefe Collection, Herschell Gordon Lewis, hicksploitation, horror, Joe Morrison, Joe Sherman, John Davis Chandler, Joseph Fink, Juan Hidalgo Gato, Juan Hidalgo-Gato, Julio C Chavez, Julio Chavez, Julio Roldan, Lewis Perles, Limited Edition, Lon E Norman, Lon Norman, Mako Associates, Mako Jaws of Death, Melanie Grefe, Nicholas E Spanos, Paul A Joseph, Paul Joseph, Paul Ruhland, Preston Pierce, Quinn Morrison, R&S Film Enterprises Inc, Randy Grinter, Ray Preston, review, Richard Jaeckel, Richard S Flink, Richard WA Davis, Rita Hayworth, Robert Madaris, Robert Plumb, Robert W Morgan, Roberta Collins, Ronald Sinclair, sharksploitation, Something Weird, Something Weird Video, Stephen Oliver, Steve Alaimo, Steve Oliver, Stewart Merrill, Sting of Death, Stuart Merrill, Terry Merrill, The Bangles, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Digital Bits, The Hooked Generation, The Naked Zoo, The Odyssey, The Psychedelic Priest, The William Grefe Collection, They Came from the Swamp, Thunderbird International Pictures, Tim Salmons, Universal Majestic Inc, Whiskey Mountain, Whiskey Mountain Production Company, William Grefe, William Kerwin, William Loose, William Marquez, William Shatner

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