Tuesday, April 19, 2016

They Came From The Swamp: The Films Of William Grefe

I don’t know why anyone would make a 123-minute documentary about the man who directed DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH, THE NAKED ZOO, and STING OF DEATH, but I am sure as hell glad someone did.

The director of record is Daniel Griffith, who made a name for himself creating featurettes and small-scale documentaries as DVD extra features. Griffith’s full-length THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP profiles Florida filmmaker William Grefe, who began his directing career with a pair of independent car-racing dramas, THE CHECKERED FLAG and RACING FEVER, aimed at drive-ins across the South.

While Grefe never escaped the world of exploitation movies, he did at least manage to lure some Hollywood names, including Jeremy Slate (TRUE GRIT), Alex Rocco (THE GODFATHER), Mickey Rooney, Richard Jaeckel (THE DIRTY DOZEN), Christopher George (THE RAT PATROL), and William Shatner. None of these stars, unfortunately, sat down with Griffith to share stories about working with Grefe in the Sunshine State (to be fair, most of them are dead), but STANLEY star Chris Robinson, WILD REBELS star Steve Alaimo, and character actor John David Chandler did, as well as filmmakers Frank Henenlotter (BASKET CASE) and Herschell Gordon Lewis (BLOOD FEAST).

A love letter to Grefe, THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP stints on salacious stories and gossip, possibly because Grefe was a mild-mannered family man, possibly because his films were generally short on sleaze. Griffith spared every expense in sharing film clips, which, entertaining as they are, are mushy and grainy and pixelated and look half as good as these films did in theaters fifty years ago.

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