Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or
improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if
you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can
be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.
By day, scientist Dr. Frosta (Ramiro Oliveros) works a boring, mechanical
research job under a boss who seems to hate him. In the evenings, Frosta visits
a woman named Simone (Marcia Bichette) with whom he has an unhealthy, borderline
abusive relationship ever since he stole her away from her American lounge
singer boyfriend Richard by staring at her very hard. At night, he works in his
hidden lab hut in the swamps on experiments meant to explore the boundaries
between life and death - sometimes even successfully, going by the abused
biological robot working as his assistant. For his work, Frosta needs bodies
that have been dead for less than eight minutes, so the only reasonable way for
an upstanding mad scientist to get his research material is to decimate the
local population of pan-flute playing homeless lepers. The scientist also steals
drugs he needs for the experiments from his day job.
Alas, many of the good doctor's experiments tend to fail, and now the swamp
in front of his house is full of dead people who pop their heads out of the
water from time to time. Despite nature's useful garbage can, the Doctor's dead
assistant still manages to lose body parts where others can find them from time
to time, so that the police is slowly getting wise to the fact that something's
not right in their beautiful city.
As if that weren't troubles enough for one mad scientist, Frosta's life is
additionally complicated by Simone slowly falling out of whatever it is between
them with him and plans on leaving. Things come to a head when Richard returns,
now singing sweet songs about dismembering women who are his robots to a manikin
that looks quite a bit like Simone. "What could be better for a girl than to run
from one maniac to the next?" thinks our heroine, gets back together with
Richard and attempts to leave the country with him to escape Frosta's influence
(and, I suspect, get murdered by Richard a few weeks later).
But just before the lovers (or whatever they are) can escape by plane, Frosta
snatches Simone from the airport, kills her and starts to regularly replace her
body's blood with that of prostitutes he is now beginning to slaughter in
addition to the homeless so that he can make sweet sweet love to her undead
body. Oh dear.
The Swamp of the Ravens is a Spanish Ecuadorian co-production shot
in Ecuador, directed by Manuel Cano whom you might remember as the director of
the equally bizarre Voodoo Black Exorcist. Unlike that other film -
which is known to contain neither voodoo nor an exorcist - Swamp does
in fact feature the things its title promises, namely a swamp full of ravens.
Said swamp is the film's secret weapon. Whenever the plot gets too confused, or
a murder scene has to be omitted for lack of funds for special effects, Cano
just points his camera at the swamp, lets the birds loose and is instantly
rewarded with scenes oozing a perfectly repugnant atmosphere.
The swamp here, you see, isn't just any old swamp, it is the Platonic Ideal
of a horror movie swamp, looking so naturally bizarre/bizarrely natural that the
whole film could consist only of shots of it without anything happening at all
and I'd still love Swamp the movie for showing me swamp the (un)natural
Fortunately, there's no need to be negative about the rest of Cano's film at
all. If the swamp's not enough for you (and what in Cthulhu's name is wrong with
you?), the film follows the dear European horror tradition of throwing more
weird stuff at its audience in a single minute than less enlightened films do in
their whole running time. Whatever of the bizarre, creepy and tasteless one's
heart might desire, Caño does everything in his power to provide. The unhealthy
love triangle between Frosta, Simone and Richard, hell, even the necrophiliac
sex scene set to improbable easy listening on the soundtrack, is really just the
tip of the iceberg. Further joys can be found in everything, be it the sweaty
sleazy chief of police ("Sheriff" the dub says) and his powers of teleporting
out of a room by looking at a ceiling ventilator, or the mad science rants
Frosta so dearly loves. Swamp is chock-full of peculiar details that
make no logical, linear sense (as it is with the plot), but work together to
give the film its macabre and off-beat charm.
Hidden among the merely insane mad science stuff are moments of surprisingly
effective horror that show Caño to be very adept at turning his weird
sensibilities towards the truly creepy. The scenes of the unsmiling, unblinking
heads of Frosta's victims, their bodies hidden away in the swamp, staring out
over the water's surface at Frosta without attacking are singularly
Equally disquieting, if less delightful, is the inclusion of what looks like
a real autopsy as the backdrop for a dialogue scene. As such things go, the
scene is quite coyly filmed, and not as disgusting as the animal torture in
Italian cannibal movies (the guy's already dead, after all), but it is one of
these moments that might understandably be a bit too much for a viewer's tastes
or morals. I'd love to assume Caño's trying to take a stand for the taboo
breaking aspects of horror film here, pushing boundaries, etc and so forth, but
the truth of the matter is probably that he could pay off a guy working in a
morgue with less money than the special effects would have cost him.
Still, the siren song of the swamps - and basically every other element of
the movie - makes it impossible for me not to love The Swamp of the
Ravens as the sleazy, weird, cheap and dubiously filmed concoction it