William (Bill) Grefé is a name that will likely elicit a shrug and a look of confusion from most people, even from fairly hardcore fans of drive-in, grindhouse and B-movie trash such as myself.
Luckily the fine folks over at Arrow saw this injustice and decided to do something about it in the shape of the 4 disc boxset He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection, containing seven of Grefé’s films along with the feature length documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé.
Grefé is what would probably now be called a “guerilla film maker”. The things he did, the things he put his cast through, are things that generally wouldn’t fly now (which might explain why it’s been so long since he made another film!) but he’s given us a fantastic catalogue of work to enjoy.
This boxset encompasses a whole range of genres such as horror, monster movies, drama, and crime; there’s something for everyone here as long as you don’t mind your films being a bit rough around the edges. While Arrow have done what they can with the source material, the movies here were filmed on a small budget back in the day and they come across as not having been well looked after since then. There are imperfections such as hissy sound, scratches on the film, and a host of other little visual and audio quirks that grindhouse movies now spend hours in editing software trying to replicate. The varied films on offer here are as follows:
Sting of Death – A bunch of teenagers are hunted down and brutally murdered by a giant Portuguese Man-o-War in human form! There’s also an extended dance number with lots of loving, lingering close-ups of female posteriors. This is a bit of a running theme in a lot of his films. The man likes dat ass. Also features – airboats!
Death Curse of Tartu – In which another bunch of teenagers stubbornly ignore the legends and the warnings to violate an ancient Indian burial ground with predictable consequences. May also feature an actor getting murdered on screen by an anaconda (allegedly) and AIRBOATS!
The Hooked Generation – The most incompetent drug dealers in the history of drug dealing decide to double cross their suppliers and then murder some Coastguard officers for good measure before going on the run, somehow managing to make things worse everywhere they go. Also includes casual racism and abuse of indigenous peoples! Also – AIRBOATS!
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Whiskey Mountain – This is basically the movie Deliverance but with motorbikes instead of canoes (Also – No airboats. Zero out of five. Worst movie ever). A group of teenagers head into the mountains in search of buried confederate muskets, but end up tangling with a group of drug-dealing mountain men who really aren’t impressed that someone has found their secret stash.
The Psychedelic Priest – A film that didn’t have a script. No, seriously. They flew him out to film this thing only to admit they had no script so could he please just make it up as he went along? The result is… watchable. Just about. It’s by far the weakest of the bunch but hats off to Grefé for managing to produce something that’s even passable.
The Naked Zoo – Featuring the iconic Rita Hayworth in one of her last ever roles, this is a story about an author who is also a gigolo. He’s not a very good one, admittedly, as he keeps getting caught. Eventually his affairs escalate from hanky-panky to murder (as you do?). The chequered history of this film is an interesting one, with the distributor adding in gratuitous scenes of sex and nudity against Grefé’s wishes.
Mako: Jaws of Death – Where our lead character commits murder-by-shark because he was once gifted a magical amulet that lets him communicate telepathically with them. Yes, this film is every bit as daft as you think but it also features Harold Sakata as an evil shark hunter. That name might not be familiar, but you might know him better as the bowler-hat wielding henchman Odd Job from Goldfinger.
Documentary: They Came From the Swamp – Which looks into Grefé’s past, his movie career, including lots of behind the scenes looks at what went on in the productions of these various films. Like how the creature actor in Sting of Death nearly suffocated while wearing what was essentially a giant clear binbag on his head, or how they almost throttled Harold Sakata to death.
READ MORE: The Vigil – Film Review
This boxset is a perfect snapshot of the sort of director Grefé is, and with the addition of the documentary looking back over his career it introduces the viewer to many other films which aren’t included in this collection. It’s also a treasure trove of anecdotes and behind the scenes trivia.
Like how the binbags of marijuana in Whiskey Mountain were ACTUAL binbags full of marijuana or how the character of Dr Nicholson in Sting of Death has what initially appears to be a mole or beauty mark on his head, but was actually a scab left behind after they crashed an airboat during filming and he went arse over teakettle into the water. These are productions that would have modern Health and Safety Inspectors waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
Grefé comes across as a true lover of cinema, a man unfraid to take chances, unafraid to push both his cast and what he could get away with while trying his best to give the audience something they would enjoy. His name deserves to be better known alongside the other kings of the B-Movie such as Lloyd Kaufman from Troma, or the man himself, Roger Corman. Everything about this boxset is a delight to watch. Every single one of the films is watchable and genuinely enjoyable (with the exception of The Psychedelic Priest, which even Grefé’s talents couldn’t save).
Stuffed to the gunnels with audio commentaries, new artwork, trailers and behind the scenes information, any self-respecting fan of B-Movies or indie cinema needs to take a look at this collection, it’s a hell of a ride. Do we think it’s worth putting your hard earned money down and purchasing? Unreservedly YES.
He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.