What The Thirsty Dead is not: a film about zombies, or vampires, or other undead creatures preying on the innocent and spilling buckets of fake blood. There is no gore, and no more than a few dollops of blood. Despite this being from 1974, the wheelhouse for drive-in movie exploitation, there is no nudity, gratuitous or otherwise, despite four main cast members being young(-ish), buxom(-ish) ladies.
What The Thirsty Dead is: a film with a misleading title. That happens often with shitty movies. It’s a crime compounded by the fact that not only is this movie not about thirsty dead things, it’s not even a horror flick. There are horror elements to the plot, but there just isn’t enough for this film to cross over into that hallowed genre. This is just exploitation schlock, done poorly. Exploitation films are supposed to be downright sleazy — a guilty pleasure that will get one strange looks from the ideological purity police. This film flirts with sleaze, but never commits. Seriously, what kind of exploitation film needs zero edits to be suitable for commercial television?
From screenwriter Charles Dennis and director Terry Becker, The Thirsty Dead follows four women who have been abducted from the streets of Manila. They are Laura (Jennifer Billingsley), go-go dancer Claire (Judith McConnell), tourist Ann (Fredricka Meyers), and local Bonnie (Chiqui da Rosa).
They are taken through the remote jungles of Luzon to a cave complex wherein resides an ancient cult. The cult worships the head of Baoon, the leader of the cult who died centuries before. He was survived by his wife, Ranu (Tani Guthrie), who carries on his legacy to this day. How she, and the other members of the cult, are able to do this is directly related to the kidnappings.
In order to gain immortality, the cult has been abducting women on Luzon and forcing them to participate in a bloodletting ceremony. The blood is then mixed with local plants into a potion that grants eternal life. For the majority of those abducted, the bloodletting process results in rapid aging, as if their youthful essence has been transferred from them to the cultists.
After the newest abductees arrive, one of the bigwigs in the cult, Baru (a miscast John Considine, but, really, is there such a thing as bad casting in a shitty movie?), discovers that Laura is the spitting image of a legendary past member of the cult who has the ability to resurrect Baoon. Ranu, eager to be reunited with Baoon, offers Laura a place in the cult. Laura refuses, for the flimsiest of reasons, and the remainder of the film follows Laura and her three new friends as they try to flee the cult.
It’s not the worst plot a viewer could find in a shitty movie. This film’s largest fault is in failing to embrace any form of cinematic extremism. There is potential here for a shitty movie on a grand scale. Human sacrifice, cult rituals, and human trafficking lend themselves to all the things that make grindhouse cinema fun and offensive. But this flick is just a tease. If a filmmaker is going to shoot a movie with this subject matter, then they should go all in. No half-measures. Otherwise, all one will end up with is just another bad movie. There aren’t even any standout moments of incompetence to be mirthful over. I cannot possibly enjoy a shitty movie when there is no joyfully shitty filmmaking.
The Thirsty Dead is one of the more disappointing films added to the Watchability Index. It takes over the #232 spot from Dead Trigger. Even the most dedicated of shitty movie fans will have trouble watching this mess. Stay away.