The Swamp of the Ravens (El pantano de los cuervos) is one of those movies that appears to have the necessary ingredients for a decent horror film, but somehow it just doesn’t happen.
This 1974 Spanish-Ecuadorian co-production is another variation on the mad scientist theme. Dr Frosta (like many another mad scientist before him) is investigating the borderline between life and death. He’s working on what happens to the DNA at this point. This is a horror movie, so the science is of course extremely vague! His private laboratory is a shack in the middle of a swamp, although he also works at a major research facility.
He collects corpses, some of them not actually quite dead at the time, for his experiments. The failed experiments are dumped into the swamp. His colleague at the research facility is somewhat suspicious of his activities, and she becomes more suspicious when it appears that certain drugs are going missing.
The police are also suspicious, as quite a few people have gone missing as well. One of them is the girlfriend of an American, so the possibilities of an international incident have undoubtedly encouraged the police to be a little more zealous than usual in investigating her disappearance. It appears that her ex-boyfriend was a brilliant but unstable scientist, the same brilliant but unstable scientist who has the laboratory deep in the swamps.
There should be plenty of classic horror movie atmosphere here, with swamps infested by huge numbers of buzzards (there’s not a raven to be seen in the whole film, but The Swamp of the Ravens is a much cooler and more Poe-like title than The Swamp of the Buzzards). An there are some very grisly scenes. But somehow it just falls flat. The shots of circling buzzards are effective the first few times, but they get used over and over again until you find yourself never ever wanting to see another buzzard again so long as you live. The direction is too uninspired, the acting is too wooden, the pacing is too slow, and it fails to deliver either real thrills or any real camp appeal. It’s just dull.
It is however decidedly twisted in at least one respect. Our insane scientist finds that he loves his girlfriend much more when she’s dead than when she was alive. We’re talking major necrophilia themes here.
It also boasts extreme musical weirdness, with one of the most excruciatingly awful songs you’ll ever hear in a movie. Even by 1970s standards the music is bizarre.
This is the other half of the Something Weird double-bill that also includes The Thirsty Dead. Sadly the print of The Swamp of the Ravens is in very poor condition. It’s very muddy, very dull, and the colours bleed all over the place or disappear altogether.
While I can’t really recommend The Swamp of the Ravens, the DVD is still worth getting just for The Thirsty Dead.