12/9/08

Terrifying Tuesday: The Thirsty Dead(1974)



Hey, folks. Sorry about my absence on Monday. I let time get away from me playing with the site and fell out right after I watched the film I was going to review. So tonight it's like a two-fer. Tonight's film is both worthy of being a Terrifying Tuesday and It Came From Videotape. In fact this came from the tape I mentioned last week when I started ICFVT. This is the tape which the owner of the nearly defunct video store pointed out as being from the first batch he ever received. That in and of itself made me want to see it as soon as I could.   

I didn't know a thing about the flick going in, and I was pleasantly surprised by this tale of kidnapped vixens, jungle cults, a faux Pistilli, and some extremely parched but strangely vital folks known as....

The Thirsty Dead (1974) starring Jennifer Billingsley, Judith McConnell, John Considine, and Tani Guthrie. Directed by Terry Becker. 

Manilla is a swinging place. Especially the Wells Fargo restaurant (Open 24 Hours). Inside some hep cats are laying down a fake Booker T & the MG's groove, that is if Booker T was half drunk and the MG's had been replaced by members of MC5, and a crazy chick is throwing down some mad go go dancing in a cage. The dancer, Claire (McConnell), finishes up shaking her booty and goes to freshen up for a "date" with a sailor. While she's getting ready she turns on the radio just in time to hear a report about a rash of girls kidnapped in the city. The suspects are thought to be white slavers from Hong Kong. As she admires her outfit in the mirror she takes a wistful moment to imagine the life of a white slave. She won't have to imagine long though. When a knock comes on her dressing room door, she thinks it's the impatient Navy man, but when she opens the door she is greeted by a gang of hooded figures that bonk her on the head and carry her off. 

Elsewhere in Manilla, Laura (Billingsley), an airline stewardess with Farah envy, is breaking it off with her boyfriend Francisco. He has finally but it to her that he is ready to marry her, but Laura just isn't the marring type. So they split up and go their separate ways. Francisco turns back to go after her, but changes his mind. Too bad for Laura since she gets a knock on the head herself.

Soon Laura is loaded into a longboat and taken down a canyon river with another girl, Ann. They soon arrive at a jungle shangri-la, but no matter how idyllic it might seem, what secret are the girl's captors keeping from them. The girls surely think it's nothing to worry about as they take a communal bath and make themselves at home. This gives the High Priestess Ranu (Guthrie) and Priest Baru(Considine) time to consult with their God, Raoul. 

Raoul is just your typical disembodied head in an opaque red box, but he delivers messages and visions to his Priest and Priestess. Raoul has foretold that another of the chosen will come to the village to lead them and teach them a new way. Baru has been given visions of the chosen, and his paintings of the woman look eerily like Laura. Soon she is segregated from the rest of the girls and given special treatment, but she has no idea why.

Ranu soon convenes a ceremony to initiate Laura into their cult. The other girls are laid on slabs and their necks cut so their blood drains into little bowls, but they aren't killed. Instead a magical leaf is put on their wound which instantly seals it over. Each of the chosen is to drink from the blood and thus become immortal and have everlasting youthful beauty. When the bowl is passed to Laura, she's having none of it. She refuses to become one of them.

The next day Baru shows Laura what the alternative is. The girls who are bled are kept in tiny caves, and as their blood is drained they become horrifying old crones. Baru tries to convince Laura that she must accept her fate as one of the chosen, but she refuses again. Even the Priest begins to have doubts as he falls in love with his beautiful captive.

Soon the girls mount an escape which is quickly foiled, but Baru takes pity on them and unleashes all the crones to create a diversion for the girls. As they attempt to escape the dense jungle, Laura and the girls must run for their lives or become nourishment for the eternally young. 

Film Facts
--Jennifer Billingsley also appeared alongside Joe Namath and Ann Margaret in CC and Company. Why mention that? Check back Thursday and find out!

--Judith McConnell was a former Miss Pennsylvania and later appeared on several daytime soap operas.

-- John Considine appeared in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) as John, but then again who wasn't in that?

--Richard LaSalle who composed the music also scored TV favorites Wonder Woman, Land of the Giants, and the TV movie Back to the Planet of the Apes. 

The Bug Speaks
I was really surprised by this one. For all it's attempts to be a neutered exploitation film, a goreless horror flick, and an insipid melodrama, it still managed to capture my attention for the whole of its 86 minute running time. What it lacked in all three of those categories it made up in spades with a swinging soundtrack, bizarre characters, and far out costumes and settings. 

The characters are where the movies strong suit really is. Laura is only serviceable at being the much put upon Chosen One. The real standout among the girls is the curvaceous Miss McConnell. Claire is not only bawdy (she merrily lusts after and flirts with her captors from the start), but her eventual desire to join up with the jungle cult is a very amusingly played. It's a very over the top turn that could easily been hammed up to cartoonish levels, but McConnell keeps it grounded and sassy in such a way that you believe it. She really seems deluded the fact that the cult would drain her dry like a bottle of Boone's farm in the hands of a 14 year old. 

John Consdine was also very good as the tenderhearted Baru. His costuming consists of a short bathrobe looking thing in powder blue with a matching high collared cloak. He looks a bit like the least threatening vampire of all time. Speaking of looking a bit like, he struck me as looking a bit like one of my favorite actors, Luigi Pistilli. While he had nowhere near the chops of Luigi, it made for a good time thinking of the star of so many westerns and giallo having to mince around all decked out in powder blue.

The direction of the film is practically unobtrusive. There would be nothing really of note at all, but some of the footage of the jungle was stunning, particularly the footage of the canyon boat ride. When the set pieces started rolling, it was obvious that Becker had done television work. Some of the scenes made me think that Captain Kirk was going to show up around the next corner to beam the girls out of there. 

The film is not without some serious problems. The title is misleading at best with the drinking of blood only coming up once and the dead being, well not there. I suppose the immortal Chosen are kind of undead. If they pass the dreaded Ring of Age their years catch up to them very quickly. That doesn't really cut the mustard. The only other beings even similar to the living dead are the drained women kept in the caves. While scarred, bloody, an disfigured, that does not an undead make. This added up with the lack of any real shocks or gore (or nudity) does leave a bit to be desired. The film plays out much more like a science fiction movie from the '30's or '40's rather than a swinging '70's horror flick.

This is a flick I will probably watch again. That being said I'm not sure how many repeat viewings other people might get out of it. You see, for all the faults, it's easy to imagine The Thirsty Dead as part of a drive in double feature. Probably on the bottom of the bill. The movie provides enough freakiness and drama to make for a good watch, but if you were distracted for a bit, there's really not much to miss. 

The Bug Rating


2 comments:

  1. Hmmm, I've heard of this one, but have never seen it. It sounds like something I might enjoy, your review made it sound intriguing anyways.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just wanted to say, great review. And I love the cool, new layout. Looks very good!

    ReplyDelete

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