So, imagine this.
You’re on vacation in a tropical paradise. (Maybe you’re even there on Spring Break, just so we can justify including this review in my series of Spring Break film reviews.) One night, while wandering around the city, you get grabbed by a bunch of robe-wearing monks. The monks proceed to tie you up and then force you to take a canoe ride from the sewer to the middle of the jungle. Once you reach the jungle, you’re informed that you’ve been kidnapped by a cult that worships a shrunken head in a box. The members of the cult have been around for centuries but they’ve managed to retain their youth by drinking the blood of the women who they kidnap off the streets of the city. Like you, for example.
That would probably freak most people out. That would certainly freak me out. Not only do I not particularly care for the jungle but I’m also pretty attached to my blood. However, when this exact same thing happens in the 1974 film The Thirsty Dead, no one seems to be particularly shocked to hear about it. Instead, the kidnapped women all kind of shrug and accept their fate as if it all makes total sense.
In fact, Claire (Judith McConnell) appears to develop Stockholm Syndrome within record time. She’s a dancer in Manila who, within hours of being kidnapped, is soon joking with her abductors. She makes it clear that she’s apparently fine with being kidnapped and donating her blood to a good cause. It’s never really clear why she’s okay with that but Claire is so determined to do what she wants to do (even if that means being subservient to a bunch of 100 year-old cultists) that it’s hard not admire her stubbornness.
On the other hand, Laura (Jennifer Billingsley) is determined to escape. Even though the members of the cult believe that she’s the reincarnation of one of their goddesses, Laura wants to get back to civilization. She thinks that one of the cultists, Baru (John Considine), might be willing to help her. However, as Baru explains, if he goes too far into the jungle, he’ll lose his youth and basically just waste away.
(Just in case there’s any doubt on the part of anyone reading this review, the cult is right about the whole eternal youth thing. One cultist makes the mistake of venturing too far out into the jungle and transforms from 49 to 50 right in front of our eyes!)
The Thirsty Dead is an odd film. On the one hand, the first few minutes of the film is undeniably sordid. Claire dances in a cage. Laura gets knocked over the head by a cultist and ends up with her hands tied behind her back. The camera lingers on a doll of a baby floating in a sewer. When the women first find themselves in the jungle, Claire jokes about being sold into prostitution and the whole film, up until that point, has had a rather icky feel to it. However, once the cult shows up, The Thirsty Dead suddenly becomes a rather tame film, one that’s almost totally free of graphic gore and sexual innuendo. The Thirsty Dead ultimately feels less like a film and more like an extended episode of some 70s sci-fi show. For a film about a blood-sucking cult, there’s surprisingly little blood. It feels a bit off and, to be honest, it’s a little boring. This is the type of film that calls out for a sleazier approach.
Despite being rather forgettable, The Thirsty Dead has achieved the dubious immortality of being included in several Mill Creek box sets, the ones with names like 100 Horror Classics or 50 Chilling Thrillers. So, in all probability, you’ve got The Thirsty Dead on DVD or Blu-ray without even realizing it. If you somehow don’t already have The Thirsty Dead in your film collection, you can always watch it on YouTube or Prime or probably a hundred other streaming sites. The Thirsty Dead will never die.