In 1994, Tim Burton's delightful comedic biography of cult filmmaker Ed Wood rolled out to theaters, where it was largely ignored by the massed but adored by critics. It was a watershed moment for me, however, as I had been traumatized since childhood by Wood's magnum opus, Plan 9 From Outer Space. When I was seven years old, my father - newly divorced and head of the bachelor pad household we'd made together - showed me Plan 9 with the reasonable expectation that I'd laugh as much as he did and would be able to share in his joy of the film. However, I was a complete pussy at that age and instead of picking up on the camp acting and pitiful production value, I was instead terrified that space vampires were going to come for me while I slept.
I had nightmares for months and ended up building myself a laser gun out of Lego bricks to hide under my pillow just in case they came for me. Dad felt miserable, he thought he'd broken me, but in reality it was a combination of a new situation away from my mother and sisters and a fragile ego that ended up with me in a pitiful ball of tears at the end of what's widely considered to be the worst movie ever made. When Ed Wood came out and Dad took me to see it when I was 15, I was - for the first time - able to peel back the curtain and laugh at my own long-held misery. An odd story, but one that is important to consider when discussing Vinegar Syndrome's newish Blu-ray release of Ed Wood's Orgy of the Dead.
After the release of Ed Wood, there was renewed interest in this campy filmmaker who's entire oeuvre had existed on the fringes of acknowledgment for decades, Burton's film legitimized Wood, and there was a flood of product onto video store shelves shortly thereafter. One of the first home video releases, oddly, wasn't an Ed Wood directed film, but the Rhino Records VHS of A.C. Stephen's Orgy of the Dead, a film written by Wood and starring Plan 9 leading man, Criswell. This film was irresistible to a 15-year-old Charlie, and I immediately ran off to the Suncoast in my local mall and grabbed a copy. It didn't matter what was on the tape, but the description of the film as an "orgy" and the promise of naked ladies was like catnip to my adolescent brain.
Well, suffice it to say that Orgy of the Dead was the film that first showed me that naked ladies can, in fact, be boring as hell, and the film has gone down as both a treasured memory of my sexual maturation, and one of my greatest disappointments.
In case you've never seen the film, here's the plot, such as it is:
A couple are driving down the road on the way to a haunted site as the man is a writer of horror fiction, but the woman is not quite sold on the idea and insists that they turn around. In the process of abandoning the mission, the pair crash and end up in a haunted cemetery as The Emperor (Criswell) and the Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver) preside over a series of undead striptease performances in an effort to please the dark lord before the sun comes up. A dozen lovely ladies dance for far too long with little to no energy to music that can best be described as dreary for an HOUR AND A HALF. It's truly one of the most boring spectacles I've ever put myself through, in spite of the ridiculous volume of naked flesh on display.
Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray release of the film is exceptional, their new 2K restoration looks as good, or likely even better, than you could possibly imagine. The original audio is clear and well-defined with dialogue coming through beautifully. I have yet to be disappointed with the A/V presentation of any Vinegar Syndrome release, even when the film is less than stellar.
There are three bonus features on the disc, though, if I'm being honest, only two are of any real value. First up is a feature commentary with director Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage) and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey. The commentary is FAR more entertaining than the film, thanks in large part to Henenlotter genial presence, unfortunately, Grey's audio is compromised and quite difficult to hear for most of the feature. However, both contributors have a lot to say and I'm glad I've heard it. The other significant and really quite charming extra is an interview with actress Nadejda Dobrev, who plays one of the dancing dead. It's a surprisingly entertaining interview and well worth checking out. The third extra is a super brief talk with director Ted V. Mikels about his tangential relation to the production. You can skip that one.
Would I recommend Orgy of the Dead? God, no. It's a terrible film. The disc, on the other hand, presents a few decent arguments for a place in your collection. If you don't mind suffering through the film itself, the extras on this disc are a lot of fun. Make up your own mind.