ORGY OF THE DEAD [Stream This? Review]

Stream This? is a feature devoted to exploring and reviewing some of the lesser known and often-times weirder films that can be found on various streaming services. Today, Matt Morrison examines the 1965 exploitation film Orgy of the Dead.

There is a certain degree of irony that Edward D. Wood Jr.’s career ended the way that it did. Once upon a time, the infamous shlock director got funding from the First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills and made movies that dealt with the moral evils of pornography and juvenile delinquency. By the end of his career, however, Ed Wood had begun writing pornographic novels and working on exploitation films. (Now you know why that Johnny Depp movie ended where it did!)

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Orgy of the Dead has the distinction of being the final feature-length movie Ed Wood was involved in that saw wide distribution. While Ed didn’t direct it, it is still numbered among his films due to the extensive role he took in overseeing its production alongside director A.C. Stephen. In addition to writing the screenplay (based on his novel of the same name) Wood served as the film’s production manager and casting agent. This is a professional way of saying that Ed watched a lot of Los Angeles strippers perform and then asked them if they wanted to be in a movie.

Ed also held up the cue cards for his old friend Criswell, who was also falling on hard times when Orgy of the Dead came out.  The famed TV psychic was completely unable to remember his lines. This proved somewhat problematic as the film offered him his largest role ever in an Ed Wood movie, having previously appeared as the narrator in Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls.

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Criswell plays The Emperor – a mysterious being of undefined dark power. He is accompanied by The Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver); a vampiric being clearly inspired by his Plan 9 co-star Vampira. Together they hold court over an assemblage of damned souls, who are punished according to their sins. Precisely what these sins are is unclear in most cases, but the punishment always involves dancing and stripping for the amusement of The Emperor and the Black Ghoul.

These proceedings are observed by Bob (William Bates) and Shirley (Pat Barrington) – a couple whose car got wrecked as they were driving to the cemetery at night. Why? Because Bob is a horror writer who gets inspired by spooky places at night and kind of an asshole. Shirley doesn’t display a personality beyond “scared girlfriend,” yet still seems far smarter than Bob and wonders why he can’t just stay home and write nice stories.

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Naturally the two stumble across the Dead Man’s Party and start watching it in horrified fascination. Roughly one third of the movie passes before they are discovered, tied to tombstones and made to watch the show that they might join the forces of darkness. Or something. Again, it really isn’t clear, much as it’s unclear why The Emperor has a mummy and a werewolf who act as his henchmen, when he has perfectly ordinary human henchmen who assist in whipping the strippers.

Ed Wood has a reputation as the worst film director in history but A.C. Stephen proves to be his inferior. For all his sins, Ed’s movies were always entertaining and stuff happened in them. Stephen somehow manages to make naked women dancing visually unappealing.

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Most of the performance numbers go on for too long and it seems like the dancers were cast less on their sex appeal and more on their willingness to take their shirts of quickly and spend 5-7 minutes bouncing wildly. So if you’re a burlesque fan hoping to see some vintage dancing, look elsewhere. Two or three of the numbers have some craft to them but most of them are quickly forgotten. I only wish I could forget Orgy of the Dead as easily.

You may be tempted to see this movie because of the title or to see just how bad it is. Don’t. It isn’t worth the time or the effort. If you want a bad movie to make fun of, go watch any other Ed Wood movie. If you want to see naked women dancing, check out the rest of the Internet. Don’t watch this movie, whatever you do.

Rating 1

Orgy of the Dead is currently streamable on Tubi TV.

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