Blood Of The Zombie (1961)

Directed By Barry Mahon
Shriek Show/Media Blasters DVD

”For all you lovers of high class music and art, The Breeding Room has a special treat for you!” So does Barry Mahon, but it’s going to take an extremely partial sense of trash film appreciation to get it.

Johnny, a poor man’s Bill Kerwin, has just gotten hitched to Linda (Linda Ormond, wife of trash king Ron Ormond). Killing two birds with one stone, he decides to take his new belle honeymooning to a just-inherited plantation. On the way, the love birds plow through lovely New Orleans circa 1961, eating up the hipster lingo, cherished neon, free jazz barn stompers, and of course, exotic dancing (at The Breeding Room, of course). Out at the plantation, there are sinister voodoos stirring. Cousin Monica seems to know that Johnny’s about to inherit the plantation, just as long as he’s married. Not wanting to lose her childhood home, Monica wrangles up the servants and performs a bongo-saturated voodoo curse! Her long-dead brother, Jonas, will rise from the grave and kill Johnny’s new wife, reverting the house’s rights back to Monica. At least, that’s the plan.

By most people’s standards, Blood Of The Zombie is about as exciting as dusting furniture. Luckily, my standards are often lower than dusting furniture. Plus, I’m swayed by films that are distributed by Sam Sherman’s Independent-International. Therefore, I see the good in this once-lost film, not for its surface monotony, but in spite of it. For 68 minutes, Blood presents a living, breathing time capsule of New Orleans circa 1961, capped off with an Alice-Cooper-on-valium zombie in a dinner tux. We get extended nightclub jazz performances, even longer burlesque dance routines, nifty over-acting, and colorful locales that you can reach out and hug. Since this is an early Barry Mahon work, the typical “point and shoot from ten feet away” method of anti-kinetic filmmaking is in full effect. Barry takes us through a shoebox full of voodoo drum rituals and fruitless zombie shuffling, all of which remains just above watchable due to the fantastic locations. Jonas the zombie is no slouch either. Although he has little to do, the visual presence of this pasty green beanpole is a classic in the annals of incredibly cheap films. If there was more of a plot at work, the film might have followed suit. As is, Zombie exists as an eye candy souvenir for those with romantic tastes.

Now, we’re in for a mystery. Stashed under the extras menu, the film Voodoo Swamp is not listed anywhere on the packaging of this DVD. According to Fred Adelman of Critical Condition, Voodoo is an unfinished movie from Mardi Gras Productions, the same group behind Blood Of The Zombie. Nothing is known about its production, but you can be sure of this: backyard 60s swamp films with no credit screens make for a mesmerizing 71 minutes.

After a superimposed montage of swamp animals and haphazard footage, Marie travels to New Orleans in hopes of locating her twin sister. Once there, she enlists the help of a crotchety private detective named Jack. The trail leads to a couple of bizarre character introductions, a secret slave camp in the swamps, and an overlong trip en route to said camp. Along the way, Jack treats Marie to the sweets of machine gun usage, including the mondo-like slaughter of a wild boar and a couple of snakes. Soon after, Marie shoots up the canoe by accident, causing Jack to foam his shorts: “What an idiot! WHAT AN IDIOT!” Eventually, they meet up with the villains — a raven-haired voodoo priestess and her musclebound henchman. The secrets of Marie’s twin are revealed and all hell breaks loose with a gory beheading, fights to the death, and swell nighttime photography.

Voodoo Swamp is as fascinating as it is pointless. Discovering a film of this nature, bathed in dead-end puzzlement, is where a majority of the allure lies. It’s basically a mess of random, crude footage, all tied together with the loosest of plots. More competently shot than one would expect, several scenes of underwater photography and a couple of speedboat/airplane sequences place the film above “home movie” quality, but not by much. The melting pot of nature photography, over-lapped transitions, awful post-dubbing (one scene has sync-sound), and senseless occurrences all warrant a shiny blue ribbon on amateur night. That can be a good thing at times, but unfortunately, the dullness level is way up there. Like Blood Of The Zombie, it’ll take a certain mindset to appreciate what this unearthed oddity has to offer. Whether or not you’ve got the patience is up to you.

Blood Of The Zombie is presented in a splendid widescreen print with two obvious fumbles: 1. The picture is mildly stretched, and 2. There’s a five minute segment of audio beginning at 16 minutes that sounds like it was compressed with a corkscrew. Given the rarity of this film, you’ve got to be your own judge. The audio problem was slightly annoying, but ended in a snap. The print was crisp, filled with vibrant color, and light on damage. Things got a little murkier from time to time, but what do you expect?

Voodoo Swamp appears full frame, with a look that resembles an early Kodak color print coming to glorious life. The low-budget grain is thick. Colors are pretty consistent for the most part, save for a few instances of blue-tint that creep up. Surprisingly, the print (the only one in existence, I’m sure) is mostly free of major defects. The mono sound, obviously taken from it’s original master source, is completely crisp, sounding separate from the film itself. I wish it was a little more muffled.

In addition to the awesome Blood Of The Zombie trailer (as The Dead One), we get four additional trailers of gore-soaked living dead excess, all of which contain the word Zombie in the title.

The scenery was grand, but not everybody will be up for the trip. This double shot of slow voodoo-tinge isn’t for all tastes, so a rental would be your safest bet.