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Orgy Of The Dead: Torturing Pleasures With The Greatest Trash Film Of All Time

“Our newly released ‘Orgy Of The Dead’ will be a pleasant surprise; it was filmed using a widescreen process and exciting color. It could well become a classic in its field.”
— Edward D. Wood Jr.,
Hollywood Rat Race

It’s time to give credit where credit is due. Much like the radiant feast of pleasures that unspools before our eyes throughout the runtime of this magnificent opus, a celebration is in order. Yes, it’s time to recognize A.C. Stephens and Ed Wood for the greatest achievement this side of Sexicolor. With the Wolfman howling to my right and the Mummy cracking wise on my left, Bleeding Skull officially declares Orgy Of The Dead the greatest trash film of all time.

Believe me, this is no easy feat. The competition is utterly fierce. However, a single viewing of Orgy is enough to convince anyone that nothing is impossible in the world of low budget cinema. Orgy Of The Dead is so unbelievably awful-yet-wonderful, its containment can’t be held back. So join me on a trip to the shaky fake cemetery circa 1965, watch your head in the fog, and keep your eyes peeled for sights so astounding…that you may faint!

Sometime in the mid 60s, Edward D. Wood Jr. was paid $600 to write an anthology paperback titled Orgy Of The Dead. From there, it was developed into a streamlined screenplay (omitting many short stories), then produced and directed as a feature length film by A.C. Stephens. Ed worked as a production assistant and casting director on the film and was responsible for hiring the immortal Criswell as a “lead.” Perhaps one of the greatest casting decisions of all time.

Orgy Of The Dead is a film unlike any before or since. Its mind blowing outlandishness will never be equaled. This is quintessential Ed Wood, the perfect synthesis of every quirk that makes his work so alluring and timeless. Although Wood didn’t direct the movie, you’d never know it. Scenes of day-for-night flopping, a lead actress that shouts every single line, Criswell reading cue cards, rattlesnake stock footage, and LOADS of excessively nonsensical monologues fill the film to bursting proportions.

Criswell is the lord of the undead. Each full moon, he and his zombified princess, Ghoulita, rise from their tombs to enjoy an “evening of pleasures.” The pleasures consist of passing judgment on the newly deceased. But that’s not all — the newly deceased are all topless women, pleading for a peaceful afterlife through themed “interpretive” dance! Before this month’s festivities begin, the viewer is introduced to a horror novelist, Bob, and his bitchy girlfriend, Shirley. These two mongoloids drive around, searching for an old cemetery to spark Bob’s creative writing juices. Despite Shirley’s cries to “SLOW DOWN,” the car crashes and the two find themselves at the edges of this undead initiation.

You can’t pull a fast one on Criswell, though. Soon enough, the dark lord summons his henchmen, the Wolfman and the Mummy, to capture the two humans. Both of the monsters are there for some intentional comedy relief. Just exactly what we need relief from is uncertain. The Mummy seems to have stolen his act from a dime store Vegas performer circa 1955 and the Wolfman howls and grunts following every lame joke. From there, Bob and Shirley are bound up (“Tie them that they may watch!”) and forced to observe the proceedings. The film kicks into overdrive. For 90 minutes, audiences are stupefied by ten themed topless dances (none of which are the least bit sexy, all of which are drop dead, boob-shaking hilarious), including the “one who worshipped gold,” “the one who walked the streets at night,” and “the one who in life worshipped cats.” Intercut with the dancing is some of the very best in genius b-movie dialogue from Criswell, the Princess, Bob, Shirley, the Wolfman, and the Mummy. It’s like you’re right there with ‘em.

Unfortunately the party can’t last forever. At the stroke of dawn, the undead must return to their resting places or face damnation. Criswell and Ghoulita take too much time deciding what to do with the humans (“No one wishes to see a man dance!”) and just as they’re about to lower the boom, it’s disaster. The sun comes up. Skeletons replace flesh and Bob and Shirley are whisked away to the auto crash site. As it all comes to an end, Ed Wood’s press book synopsis speaks for itself: “The young writer and his fiancé are then rescued from their wrecked car. Was it a dream? Only the night people know.”

Obviously, Orgy Of The Dead exists on a different plain than most trash movies. Normally, you can count on a trashy film for a few laughs, some thrills, and a really good time. Orgy is all this and much more. The downright surrealism projected by the sum of its parts turns the whole thing into a crooked living nightmare. In trying to make a straight forward nudie, the extreme eccentricity of Wood has turned this film into some kind of off-kilter Bunuel-esque rarity. The dance sequences are often intercut with Criswell blindly nodding his head as the princess looks on. Same for Bob, Shirley, and the monsters. Where does the real person end and the “acting” begin? What the fuck is Criswell talking about? Where does it all take place? Why does it all take place? Questions best left unanswered. “Throw gold at her!”

As of right now, Orgy Of The Dead remains unreleased on DVD and its previous VHS incarnation (Rhino, 1994) is very much out of print. There are no plans to release this film by any company that I know of. I’m left with a couple of thoughts. Just about every one of Wood’s major films, save for The Sinister Urge are available on DVD at your favorite local retailer. How did this one get lost in the shuffle and why isn’t it on the boards for release? If Rhino could release the uncomfortable Pretty Models All In A Row, then why not this home run?

Orgy Of The Dead is the greatest trashy movie of all time. Let’s not let it rot in the vaults. Get this print transferred, find someone to record a commentary, scour the earth for supplements (some super 8 footage of Ed on set appears on The Haunted World Of Edward D. Wood Jr. disc from Image), and get it out there. I’m crossing my fingers.

UPDATE: Orgy Of The Dead hit Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in 2017.

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