Saturday, November 17, 2007


Bad-movie fans will often tell you that there are certain films that, although boring or predictable, maybe riddled with lousy production values and amateurish acting, possess a certain quality, an aura if you will, that makes them compellingly watchable. THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS, a 1973 Spanish production shot in Ecuador, comes close to being such a film, but by not really exploring the exploitive potential of its premise, becomes simply slow-moving swill.

Hack director Manuel Cano, hiding here behind the Americanized pseudonym Michael Cannon, trots out that perennial horror film conceit, the scientist determined to prove death is reversible. Raymond Oliver plays the good doctor this time out, experimenting on fresh cadavers in his secluded laboratory. Each botched subject winds up--some whole, others in pieces--dumped in the nearby swamp, where flocks of ravens wait to snack on these remains.

Trouble brews at home when the Doc's girlfriend Simone (Marcia Bichette) leaves him for a sleazy, talent-barren lounge singer. (Simone's an interesting gal, someone who leaves behind a life-like mannequin of herself as a way of breaking things off.) Determined not to lose her, the Doc kidnaps Simone, intending to incorporate her into the experiment (not that he really needs to, since there's always a suicidal leper or gullible hooker around to use).

For a film about a mad scientist, Cano spends precious little time in the laboratory, deciding to focus on the Doctor's domestic life (a thrill-a-second, to be sure) as well as the police investigation, headed by Fernando Sancho as what has to be the stupidest detective of all time. The fog-enshrouded swamp does make for a particularly chilling location, with its bare trees festooned with ravens, but Cano prefers to abuse his zoom lens than create any real dread.

The third act shows a little promise as the baser elements of the story start to develop (especially as the Doc indulges in a bit of necrophilia on the operating table with Simone, or convinces his zombie-like manservant to immolate himself with gasoline). Unfortunately, the big zombie finale the film's been leading up to fizzles before it ever gets started, as the reanimated subjects do nothing more than poke their heads out of the swamp--a shame, since the zombies have a great deal of creepy potential. Instead Cano treats us to a limp denouement as Sancho, wonder-cop that he is, foils the Doc's latest pick-up.

Quoth the Raven, never again.

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