They Came from the Swamp:
The Films of William Grefé
USA 2016 Directed by Daniel Griffith
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures/Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
Just a quickie, short shout out review to Daniel Griffith’s interesting documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé. This plays, in it’s extended cut, on the last disc of Arrow’s nicely put together He Came From The Swamp - The William Grefé Collection Blu Ray box, which houses seven of this director’s quickie exploitation films plus this film as one of the extras. Now, I hadn’t heard of Grefé before this movie was put out by Arrow so I decided, much like I’d done with Severin Films’ Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection (although, obviously I knew who Adamson was), that I’d dip into the documentary first and at least find out a little more about the man before watching his works. And, frankly, if you want to know why I bought this in the first place, it’s the lure of one of Grefés early films, Sting Of Death, which has a really hilarious looking Jellyfish Man as the main antagonist... I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a movie about a Jellyfish Man?
The documentary, which I think was made independently of this release but has found a home in UK physical media distribution here, is basically a mix of the usual ‘talking heads’ interviews with people who knew/know Grefé and who tell some interesting anecdotes about their time on the sets of a handful of the director’s movies... not just the ones in this set (I suspect the UK release of a couple of the movies not included might fall foul of a certain ‘red flag’ for the BBFC in this country, so my guess is they didn’t try to release them all).
Of course, one of those talking heads... probably the person most featured for this documentary... is Grefé himself, who is now 92 years old (at time of publishing) and, from the looks of it on the IMDB, might still be working (he was filming episodes of a TV show in 2017 but I’m not sure if he’s still doing that or not). He certainly doesn’t look his age and he has some real stories to tell about his times leading up to him loving movies as a kid (especially those by John Ford), being bitten by the acting bug when he was young and going through the whole ‘Summer Stock’ experience before suddenly becoming a director, due to various reasons and opportunities. The talking heads also include some other directors, the most famous of whom is probably the Godfather Of Gore himself, Herschell Gordon Lewis, filmed for this documentary.
This is, as I said, a short review (and I’ll certainly be reviewing the films in this set at some point soon for the blog), but this full version of the film runs for just over two hours and includes little snippets of stories such as the man who was in the aforementioned Jellyfish Man costume, which basically had a big, semi transparent plastic bubble for a head, almost suffocating on set because of the lack of air supply. Or another as to how Grefé managed to get Rita Hayworth at a discount rate for The Naked Zoo in 1970. Or how he’d have to shoot many of his films in really short time periods like, writing one overnight and then shooting it in a week to make the drive-in release deadlines. It also mentions the time he was sought out, since he knew how to film Florida and worked with alligators etc, to do the second unit direction in various countries on the James Bond movie Live And Let Die (which he did, my review of that one is here), with the comment that, with the budget he had to work with as a second unit director on that movie, he could have made three films for.
Perhaps my favourite story (which fortunately has a happy ending), is when William Shatner is telling us about the time he was working as the villain in the movie Impulse. There’s a private detective in the movie called Karate Pete, played by Harold ‘Odd Job’ Skata from Goldfinger. Anyway, Shatner tells his story and it’s accompanied by the unused outtake footage of the very thing he’s describing. As he tells it... and as we see it... Shatner was supposed to hang Sakata’s character from his house and then, when Sakata is dangling there and gurgling in the noose, Shatner starts improvising and hitting him in the stomach etc, as the villain would do and then trying to pry one of the gurgling Sakata’s arms away from the noose. As we watch and as Shatner describes it, Sakata’s other hand starts reaching for his pocket to try and get to it to write a note or something. Then, as Shatner realises that the safety rig had been incorrectly put on Sakata and that he was literally choking to death during the sequence, he lifts him up (not easy with a man as big as Sakata) to try and stop him from dying as he calls to the rest of the crew, who rush on to get Sakata down. Wow, a close call for Sakata but the actor would work again for Grefé, opposite Richard Jaeckel in Mako - Jaws Of Death (a film that nobody wanted to finance but then, all of a sudden, the script became a hot property after Spielberg released Jaws).
And, yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say on this little gem of a documentary, They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé. I’m kind of looking forward to exploring some of the films in this set, although I suspect it may be a very hit and miss affair. I’ll report back on my findings on this very blog, of course.