For dedicated sleazologists this has to rank as one of the top DVD releases/restorations so far this year. While readily available in the past on VHS, this digitally remastered transfer supervised by director Stephen C. Apostolof ("A. C. Stephen") makes obsolete all previous releases, including Rhino's, which looks shockingly flat, blurry, and faded in comparison. Orgy of the Dead looks like a real movie now (if not necessarily a GOOD one), with excellent color balance and saturation, contrast, brightness, sharpness, and shadow/highlight detail. Exploitation stalwart Bob Caramico's cinematography looks better than it has any right to, and the color is so rich it's hard to believe it's typically fast-fading Eastmancolor. While IMDb says this movie was in 2.35:1 widescreen (it was advertised as being in `Astravision'), it's presented full frame here. The compositions look fine, however, without any cramped, cropped feeling (the common `two noses talking' scenes or other weirdness), leading one to believe that this is the `open matte' version, which was cropped to widescreen aspect ratio in theaters. At any rate, the print looks stunning overall, extremely watchable, with only some occasional very light speckling evident.
The movie, written by the notorious Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Plan 9, Glen or Glenda, etc.), based on his novel (!!), is a curious hodgepodge of hokey monster matinee cliches and typical early-1960s nudie-cutie hijinks. Opening with Ed's standard florid Criswell monologue, Orgy of the Dead's short-lived story line presents struggling horror writer Bob and wife Shirley (sexploitation legend Pat Barrington/Barringer with flaming red hair), out driving one night looking for an old cemetery for "inspiration." (Barrington's character is named after Ed Wood's "drag" alter ego.) Bob loses control of the car, they crash, then stumble on a graveyard where the Emperor Ghoul (Criswell), the Black Ghoul (Vampira wannabe Fawn Silver), and their striped-shorts-and-armband-clad beefcake henchmen are presiding over some sort of dance revue/judgment of dead souls. Coincidentally, all the judged are female and next to naked. For the next 80 minutes, a bevy of voluptuous dead babes in G-strings each in turn do a "theme" interpretive strip dance (Indian, Skeleton, Cat, Golden Girl dipped in molten "gold" a la Goldfinger, Zombie, Hawaiian, etc.), complete with plenty of emotive gesturing and breast-jiggling amidst swirling ground fog, accompanied on the soundtrack by vaguely Les Baxter-ish exotica and Henry Mancini/Herb Alpert-ish lite pop cues. (I love the "yahoo wahoo" chant behind the Indian dance.) Interspersed with the dances are snippets of those patented non sequitur Ed Wood dialogue exchanges between Bob, Shirley, the Emperor Ghoul, Black Ghoul, and crummy, dime-store Werewolf and moth-eaten Mummy. Unlike many (most?) sexploitation movies of the era, the dancers are generally quite buff and several are certifiable knockouts. Barrington remains clothed as Shirley but displays her awesome (augmented) "ticket sellers" (Apostolof's term) doubling as the Golden Girl in a brassy blonde wig. There is a brief, surprising whipping/bondage scene, and it's revealed that the Black Ghoul swings both ways when she demands to have Shirley for herself! (Silver as the Black Ghoul does a sultry knife-dance but unfortunately no striptease.) TV psychic Criswell appears rather glassy-eyed and reads from obvious off-camera cue cards much of the time. It all winds up with a corny "was it all a dream?" twist ending. As reviled as this movie is by mainstream viewers (see reviews on IMDb), sexploitation veterans can vouch that as nudie-cuties go, Orgy of the Dead is relatively painless; some of the dances are actually mildly erotic (if occasionally out of sync with the music), while Eddie's convoluted dialogue, Criswell's hammy declamations, and the otherwise stiff, amateurish acting provide welcome moments of charming Bad Movie ambiance in the framing scenes.
The extras comprise a trailer (surprisingly looking just as terrific as the feature) and an amusing 20-minute interview with director/producer Apostolof, who recounts his beginnings in the film industry, recalls meeting and working with Ed Wood, and expounds on film technique (!!) and his decision not to go "hardcore", all in a likeable, droll manner. Orgy of the Dead is definitely not for the mainstream viewer; there is zero narrative trajectory and relatively little dialogue, mainly just lots of topless exotic dancing, making it extremely tedious or even boring for many, especially at 92 minutes. If, however you're already a fan of grade-Z schlock horror and/or cheap sexploitation, Rhino's pristine new transfer makes this bizarre, unique delight slide down smoother than a cold beer. Essential trash!!