Although I don’t claim to be a particular fan of the microbudget horror, fantasy, and science fiction films of this era – as I am most certainly reminded regularly from my reviews on Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films here on the site, but part of me was excited to dig into this latest box set dedicated to the strange works of director William Grefe. All of these films were new to me and each disc of the set will be covered in a series of articles here on the site – which reviews the films on each disc. So, hop in your swamp boat with me, buckle in, and let’s take a dive into the works of Grefe in this gorgeous new release from Arrow Video, He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection!
Here is disc two: The Hooked Generation and The Psychedelic Priest.
THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968)
Director: William Grefe
After sitting through a double dose of microbudget horror films, complete with dance parties and other teen-focused moments, it was a relative surprise to slide into The Hooked Generation. Instead of pure teen fodder, this little dark, crime caper combines the talents of Grefe in adhering to the tropes of the late 60s drive-in exploitation material but taking it in a more mature direction. While it still suffers a bit from its obvious budgetary constraints, there is a sense that Grefe is stretching his wings on this one and the results make for a bit more of a fine-tuned and interesting film.
The Hooked Generation retains a lot of the style that made the last two films entertaining watches – mainly the colorful visuals and grand use of its Florida setting, particularly when our three anti-protagonists go to various drug dealers to unload their stash in colorful places, and it’s focus off-beat characters. The main difference is the darker tones, in particular having the main characters as dope smugglers who very much are the villains of the film. The film is fairly violent, kicking off with a shoot out between boats in the first act, and insinuating a rape sequence that quickly makes the audience hate the three leads. Although I am not one to outright hate on films with villainous protagonists or dark material as the focus, this can make The Hooked Generation a relatively rough watch for those looking for a fun and goofy time like the previous two films in the set. It does certainly make you hate the main characters and wish for their eventual demise, hooking the audience into seeing them garner their comeuppance.
If there is one thing that the film truly struggles with it’s balancing its tones. There are moments where the film is attempting humor to levy the heaviness of its plot and narrative, but it’s not disturbing enough to parallel the tonality nor effectively placed to counter the darker elements. These odd moments are littered throughout, including the color wipe transitions that seem out of place even when the film leans towards the psychedelic. However, with its stronger performances, a more mature directorial style, and an intriguing crime plot – The Hooked Generation does mark a stark contrast for Grefe and a welcome deviation, even if the full experience is mixed in how it’s executed.
THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (1971)
Director: Terry Merrill, William Grefe (uncredited)
Also known as: Electric Shades of Grey
When I initially saw that The Psychedelic Priest had a 2001 release date, it seemed perplexing. William Grefe doesn’t have a wholly lucrative career and most of his output was in the 1970s. It was easy to find out that it was filmed in 1971 and not released until much later, which, sure gives one pause. Now that I’ve had a chance to partake, it makes a bit of sense that the timing was so off.
For the time period, perhaps a drama about a priest that accidentally takes acid, has a crisis of faith, and then goes on a road excursion to find himself works. It’s a film that heavily leans on the ideas of those who grew up reading Kerouac and the manner that it taps on a lot of social themes of the time period makes one see exactly why this film was made. It fringes on a ton of hot button topics, including but not limited to racism, abortion, theology, and the social stress between the generations at the time – the latter which results in one of the most boring bar fights I have ever witnessed on film. For this reason, The Psychedelic Priest is interesting to a limited regard, especially since it does dabble in some heavier thematic material.
While the above is intriguing, the film struggles to execute any of it in a way that carries impact. This is due to the fact that The Psychedelic Priest is utterly forgettable in almost every other way. Grefe, according to the interview, had a lot of issues filming the movie and these issues certainly undermine the end result. The performances are meandering, as is the narrative, and the reliance on its soundtrack to create personality in the script and characters is a massive crutch that barely keeps the energy up. Even when the dramatic heft between characters should resonate, it just feels a bit forced and flat.
The Psychedelic Priest is a film with an interesting idea, particularly when you take into consideration when it was originally filmed, but the execution and lifeless style of the material make it an unmemorable experience. Considering the general enjoyment I’ve received from the other films in this set so far, this one seems to be a misfire.