Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Thirsty Dead (1974)

          When it begins, The Thirsty Dead seems like another sleazy American/Filipino coproduction about slavers abducting women for nefarious purposes—after all, the picture starts with a strip-club dance routine, then continues through assaults and a trek through a dangerous forest. Yet the picture takes a weird turn once the slavers and their hostages reach their destination, a remote city hidden inside a mountain. Wearing a powder-blue number that looks like a ladies’ nightgown, complemented by a giant metal necklace and a stiff-collared cape, Baru (John Considine) is the leader of a bizarre cult that occupies laughable sets reminiscent of the cheapest-looking alien planets from the original Star Trek series. Baru’s people elevate one of their new hostages, Laura (Jennifer Billingsley), to visiting-dignitary status because she sorta-kinda resembles a god whom the citizens worship. Taking the story even deeper into the fantasy-fiction realm, Laura discovers that the citizens drink the blood of various young women whom they abduct from the outside world, because nubile blood combined with a secret elixir creates a formula for immortality. Only some of the citizens are entitled to receive the elixir, however, so the castoffs of the secret society wither away in dungeons, aging until they die. Eventually, a revolution occurs as the powerless members of this secret society pursue revenge.
          Even with the loopy sci-fi concepts at the center of the storyline, The Thirsty Dead is boring, clichéd, and silly. The dialogue is stilted and the acting is worse, so the tacky costumes and sets are the least of the film’s problems, even though the narrative is basically coherent and the technical execution is passable. It’s also tricky to imagine the target audience for the picture. The Thirsty Dead has way too much bloodshed and cheesecake to qualify as family-friendly viewing, and yet the PG-rated picture isn’t rough enough for the grindhouse crowd. And even though the storyline might seem suitable for consumption by genre-flick nerds, The Thirsty Dead is way too stupid to properly stimulate anyone’s imagination. Having said all that, it seems imprudent to utterly dismiss the picture. Anything with ideas, no matter how idiotic they may be, has inherent merit, and the makers of The Thirsty Dead deserve minor credit for avoiding the ugly stereotype of portraying Pacific Islanders as primitive predators. Assigning vile behavior to fantasy characters isn’t much of an improvement, but at least it means The Thirsty Dead is not as numbingly racist as the usual American/Filipino fare of this era.

The Thirsty Dead: FUNKY

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