Orgy of the Dead
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|Orgy of the Dead|
|Directed by||A. C. Stephen|
|Produced by||A. C. Stephen|
|Written by||Ed Wood|
Pat Barrington (as Pat Barringer)
|Music by||Jaime Mendoza-Nava|
|Edited by||Donald A. Davis|
|Distributed by||Crown International Pictures
Rhino Video (VHS and DVD)
Orgy of the Dead is an unrated 1965 film directed by Stephen C. Apostolof under the alias A. C. Stephen. The screenplay was adapted by cult film director Edward D. Wood, Jr from his own novel. It is a combination of horror and erotica, and is something of a transition for Wood, who began as a horror writer and later wrote pornography.
The film belongs to the genre of nudie cuties, narrative-based films featuring female nudity. It was an evolution of earlier films, which featured striptease and burlesque shows. These predecessors mostly depicted actual stage performances, sometimes attached to a frame story.
The film opens to the scene of two muscle-bound men. dressed in loincloths, approaching a crypt. They open the doors, revealing a coffin. They remove the lid and exit the crypt, then the inhabitant of the coffin (Criswell) sits up to deliver an opening narration. This narration mostly matches the prologue of Night of the Ghouls (1959), with one minor variation and an additional line. The phrase "world between the living and the dead" of the original is changed to "void between...". There is also a new line at the end: "A night with the ghouls, the ghouls reborn, from the innermost depths of the world!" The opening credits feature the image of "an immobile young woman clad in gold". The image was probably inspired by a memorable scene of Goldfinger (1964).
Following the credits, the camera shifts to a desert road of California. A Chevrolet Corvair is the sole vehicle driving down the road. Its passengers Bob (William Bates) and Shirley (Pat Barrington) are arguing over the decision to use this night to search for a cemetery. Bob is a horror writer who hopes that the scene of a cemetery at night will bring him inspiration. The conversation ends when Bob accidentally drives the car off the road and over a cliff.
The next scene opens to a nocturnal image of a "fog-shrouded" cemetery. The lonely figure of the "Emperor" (Criswell) is walks towards a marble altar, sits, and then summons his "Princess of the Night" (Fawn Silver). The summoned female ghoul appears and bows before him. The "Emperor" warns that if the night's entertainment fails to please him, he will banish the souls of the entertainers to eternal damnation. Indicating he is an all-powerful demonic being.
As the full moon appears, the Black Ghoul summons the first dancer of the night. She is identified by her garments as a Native American woman (Bunny Glaser). The Black Ghoul explains that this woman loved flames, and that both her lovers and she herself died in flames. The woman dances and strips before the flames of the cemetery. The Black Ghoul then introduces the second dancer of the night, a street walker in life. While the woman dances, Bob and Shirley make the way to the cemetery and start observing the dance from a distance. Shirley suspects that they are observing a college initiation, though Bob seriously doubts her theory.
The "Emperor" himself summons the third dancer, a woman who worshiped gold above else. The Golden Girl (Pat Barrington) dances in her turn, and the "Emperor" instructs his loin-clothed servants to reward her with gold. The supposed reward is soon revealed to be a punishment, as the servants place her in a cauldron with liquid gold. What emerges from the cauldron is a golden statue of the living woman who entered. The servants transport the immobile statue to a nearby crypt.
At this point a Wolf Man (John Andrews) and Mummy (Louis Ojena) appear and seize the intruding young couple. They are brought before the "Emperor" who decides to postpone deciding their fate. The intruders are tied up, side by side, and allowed to continue watching the dances. The Black Ghoul next introduces the fourth dancer, a "Cat Woman" (Texas Starr). She is depicted as a woman dressed in a leopard costume, which exposes her chest area. As she dances, a servant follows her around and thrashes her with a bullwhip. Offering a sadomasochistic show for the spectators.
The "Emperor" next calls for a Slave Girl (Nadejda Dobrev) to be whipped for his amusement. The slave wears a tunic and is chained to a wall. Following her torture session, the Slave Girl breaks free and becomes the fifth dancer of the night. Later, the Black Ghoul exhibits a fascination with Shirley and scratches a mark on her. She draws a knife and seems about to kill Shirley, when the "Emperor" decides it is not yet time for the intruders to properly join them. The female ghoul reluctantly obeys.
The "Emperor" is puzzled when a human skull appears instead of the next dancer. The Black Ghoul explains it is the symbol of the sixth dancer, who loved bullfighting and matadors. She used to dance over their demise, and now its time to dance over her own. The dancer of apparent Spanish/Mexican heritage (Stephanie Jones) appears to perform. The "Emperor" and Ghoul briefly discuss the past of the dancer, who came to them on the Day of the Dead. The seventh dancer appears dressed in Polynesian garments. The Black Ghoul describes as a worshiper of snakes, smoke, and flames. A rattlesnake is depicted along with her dance. The camera shifts to the Mummy and the Wolf Man. The Mummy voices his dislike of snakes and recalls the death of Cleopatra. He informs his companion that Ancient Egypt had many snakes and they were the stuff of nightmares.
The 'Emperor' next expresses his boredom and demands "unusual" entertainment, while the Black Ghoul notes that the night is almost over. She reminds her superior that they will be gone at the first sight of the morning sun. They proceed to argue over the fate of Shirley. The argument ends with the introduction of the eighth dancer (Barbara Nordin), a woman who murdered her husband on their wedding night. She dances with the skeleton of her spouse. The argument over Shirley then resumes, as the Ghoul claims her for her own. The "Emperor" feels the need to assert his own authority over the Black Ghoul.
The ninth dancer (Dene Starnes) was a zombie in life and remains zombie-like in death. The tenth and final dancer (Rene De Beau) is introduced as one who died for feathers, fur, and fluff. She starts her dance in clothing matching this style. When the final dance ends, the "Emperor" finally offers Shirley to the Ghoul. The Ghoul briefly dances herself as she prepares to claim her prize. But dawn arrives and with it sunlight. The "Emperor" and all his undead are reduced to bones. The final scene has Bob and Shirley waking up at the scene of the accident, surrounded by paramedics. Suggesting it was all a dream. Criswell appears in his coffin to offer parting words to the audience.
Production and casting
The film's graveyard prologue is a recreation of the opening scene from Ed Wood's then-unreleased 1958 film Night of the Ghouls. Criswell reprises his role from the earlier film. The action begins when a young couple, Bob (William Bates) and Shirley (sexploitation actress Pat Barrington, billed as Pat Barringer) survive a car crash only to find themselves tied to posts in a misty cemetery where they are forced to watch dead spirits dance for the Emperor of the Night played by Criswell (best known for Plan 9 From Outer Space). Ten striptease performances by topless dancers from beyond the grave outfitted in various motifs comprise most of this movie. The Wolf Man (wearing a very obvious mask) and The Mummy are also tossed in for comic relief. Barrington doubles as the blond Gold Girl (inspired by Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger) while her red-headed "Shirley" character watches her perform. Criswell's undead consort, the sexy Black Ghoul, was written for Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. Vampira, but was instead played by Fawn Silver, who wore a black bouffant wig.
Wood served as writer, production manager, casting agent, and even held up cue cards on this low-budget film, although he did not direct. An article on the making of this film was published in Femme Fatales, 7:1 (June 1998).
The Black Ghoul appears to have "pasty white skin", with red fingernails and lipstick. She wears a black dress, implying the role of a funerary garment. Black, red, and white are the main colors associated with her.
- Craig, Rob (2009), "Orgy of the Dead (1965)", Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786454235
- Craig (2009), p. 217-241
- The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1996), documentary film directed by Brett Thompson
- Rudolph Grey, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) ISBN 978-0-922915-24-8