Saturday, April 12, 2014
Blood Island Tour!
I chanced across a documentary which chronicled the exploitation movies made in the Philippines in the 60's and 70's. Most of that stuff is limited interest to me such as the women in prison pictures and such like. But I was struck by some of the earliest efforts by a director named Eddie Romero, horror movies which at once sounded lurid and fascinating. Specifically mentioned was a trio of movies set on a weird place called "Blood Island".
The first from 1968 is titled Brides of Blood and details how a trio of Americans find themselves on a remote island in the Pacific which some few years before had been contaminated by radiation from atomic bomb testing. Dr.Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor) is a biologist who comes to the island with his exceedingly randy wife Carla (Beverly Hills/Powers) who seems constantly on the lookout for a handsome young man. Also on the trip is Jim Farrel (John Ashley), a Peace Corp volunteer come to help the natives with agricultural concerns. This trio find a village racked with fear which holds lotteries to decide which of its lovely maidens it will offer up to a hideous manlike monster who comes lurching out of the jungle at night and dismembers his victims. Farrel becomes attracted to a lovely islander named Alma who eventually becomes the chosen sacrifice. He fights to save her which puts him in conflict with the village. Meanwhile the trio have met Estaban Powers and his servant Goro who have lived on the island longer than anyone. Carla wants to do Estaban but finds him a difficult conquest since he seems always to be suffering from some headache or other. One odd thing about the island, is that the plant life can move around and it seems not uncommon for tentacles to reach and grab unsuspecting folks, mostly girls it seems.You can probably guess the rest.
The success of that movie convinced its star John Ashley to team up with Romero to make some more of these exploitation movies, specifically designed for America's drive-in crowds. Their next effort from 1969 was titled The Mad Doctor of Blood Island which introduces us to John Ashley as Dr.Bill Foster who arrives on Blood Island to find a different but similar village and a similar threat. Along with Sheila Willard (Angelique Pettyjohn), who has come to the island to find her long lost father, a local drunk, Foster uncovers a weird menace centered around an estate in the middle of the island. One Dr. Lorca and his assistant Razak are using a weird chlorophyll concoction to experiment on people, turning them green and mad. One such victim was the father of the handsome Carlos Lopez who he believes died some years before. But the truth is far stranger and puts all of them in considerable danger. Along for the ride is a fascinating native girl named Marla who is a powerful personality and has an agenda all her own.
The success of the latter movie led to an immediate and direct sequel in 1971 titled in Beast of Blood which picks up the story and gives us a variation on the monster we met in the previous movie. John Ashley returns as Bill Foster, but this time he survives an ocean disaster to return to Blood Island and face the threat of Dr.Lorca who apparently survived the finale of the last movie along with his assistant Razak. This time Foster is joined by reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnell) and the pair quickly find all sorts of danger in this movie which is more of an adventure than a pure horror film, a movie with a distinct James Bond-like feel to the action sequences. They find a hidden lair with lots of mercenaries and a most memorable monster.
These are fascinating movies, leisurely paced in some places and with questionable sound quality, but nonetheless compelling little horror flicks with just enough nudity to make things interesting and sufficient gore for most any reasonable fan of such stuff. One of the best things in these movies is Bruno Punzalan who plays first Goro and later Razak, a fascinating and memorable face ideal for horror pictures. His presence adds a great deal of atmosphere to these smarter-than-you'd-think outings. Romero, much to surprise of most fans I suspect, deals a lot with the personalities and motivation of his characters making you feel more for their fates than is typical in many horror flicks.
The versions I have feature a commentary track on each detailing not only the making of each movie, but putting into context the whole of the movies of this kind from Hemisphere Pictures, the company which produced them.