Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Blood Island films

Tonight Cinematic Titanic, one of the off shoots of Mystery Science 3000 is playing in New York City. For those who don't know Mystery Science Theater was the originator of skilled commentators adding color commentary to films that are often of questionable quality. Think Plan Nine From Out Space or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians but add witty retorts concerning the insanity on screen. I have no idea what film they are going to pick on when I go tonight since I'm trying to remain an aware until I get to the theater. However in the spirit of Cinematic Titanic and Mystery Science Theater 3000, I'm devoting this weekends double feature to material that would be right at home on either show.

Tomorrow I'm going to talk about filmmaker Andy Milligan and his output of films. Today I'm going to talk about the Blood Island films that were produced the late 1960's and early 1970's in the Philippines as co-productions with the US.

(An aside after the fact: It's no secret that with this blog I'm often working ahead of myself. If I want something to appear on a certain date and I know I won't be around to write up the film I'll work ahead of the need. For example with the Tribeca Film Festival coming up this week I've pre-programmed material. Because I knew I was going to the Cinematic Titanic show tonight I wrote up material a couple of weeks ago never suspecting that when I got to the show that what they were showing Danger on Tiki Island was a cut of Brides of Blood which is talked about below. I think this means that I was right on target on picking material that was right on home for the show.)

Now I'm going to be upfront here and say that I really like most of the films in the series. They are just so wonderfully joyously exploitative and classically drive-in that I can't help but love them. I mean how can you not love a monster that's best know as the chlorophyll monster?

The Blood Island films are a loose collection of films that all take place on a place called Blood Island. The money men at Independant International up the ante by adding blood to the title of several other films so what is really three or four films in a series expands to six or seven. The focus of this article is not the entire series but the three core films Brides of Blood, Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Beast of Blood.

The series unofficially started with Terror is a Man, a 1959 version of the Island of Dr Moreau. Its a neat little film about a made scientist turning people into animals and vice versa. Its important to the series only in that it names the place .

The next film is a strange vampire film called The Blood Dinkers. which is an odd mix of black and white that was colored and color film. It concerns a vampire trying to find a heart transplant for his lover. Its actualy a very good. Its much better than the dopey title suggests.

BRIDES OF BLOOD (1968) is the first of the core series. Its a wild and over the top film that is a great deal of fun. The film concerns nature going berserk in the wake of nuclear testing on Blood Island. a Giant tree has become caneverous and is sending out tentacles to pull people in so it can feed. Animals are mutating and there is a lumpy creature running about that looks like the Michelin Tire guy on a bad day (he's very silly). A research team arrives to investigate.

Edgy and atmospheric this is a monster movie in the grand tradition. You have weird things going on, sexual tension between the cast members, and monsters running amok, what more could you ask for? This movie was a drive-in staple for years and its easy to see why since it gives you everything that a drive-in crowd would want sex blood and breasts. Its also lots of run, creepy and just a bit scary.

Its set in the same location as the next two films but is otherwise unrelated. For me the viewing of the next two films back to back is drive-in nirvana.

MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968) has three people going to Blood Island for their own reasons. The beautiful young girl is there to find her father. The handsome islander is there to reunite with his mother. The doctor is there to investigate a supposed out break of a new disease. What they find when they get there is a monster on the loose that likes to disembowel and dismember (graphically) his victims.

"Sequel" to Brides of Blood this is more of the same only up a notch. Its mad doctor on the loose using science to create a monster that runs around killing people. Hooray for crackpot medical degrees.

What can I say about a movie that begins with the audience being given "the pledge of the green blood" other than see this movie? If you like old school horror, or drive-in style movies, this film is for you. This movie is a blast. It moves along at a good clip, has a great monster, some very graphic killings (you will see blood, limbs and intestines) and some topless women. Its the sort of movie they don't make any more.

My only complaint is that some knucklehead thought it would be a good idea to zoom in and out every time the monster attacks. Its the equivalent to whiplash and really distracts from the early attack scenes. Thankfully the effect isn't done as wildly in the later scenes and you actually can put away your neck brace and enjoy the film.

BEAST OF BLOOD (1971) literally picks up hours after the last film ends. The film begins on the boat sailing away from Blood Island. As John Ashley waxes poetic about his time on the island fighting monsters, the man beast from the first film appears (he was seen to have secreted himself in a lifeboat at the end of Mad Doctor) and a battle occurs which destroys the ship and leaves Ashley as the only survivor. A year or so later Ashley heads back to Blood Island to investigate stories that weird things have begun to happen again despite the death of the evil Dr Lorca. On the island Ashley finds that many people he believed dead survived the final battle of the first film and that some how the "green men" have returned. It isn't long before its realized that Dr Lorca is back and up to his old tricks.

Watching this in close proximity to Mad Doctor I find that the film plays much better than it does as a stand alone film. I was never a big fan of this film prior to the back to back viewings because I always felt that it was missing something. What it was missing was the set up that the first film gives it. If you watch the two films together I think you'll find it a better film than when it's viewed all alone.

A sequel it is, but its not as scary (nor as gory nor as titillating). Sure there are some horrifying moments, but on some level this is more an adventure/ mystery film than a real horror movie. The man-beast is effectively off camera for most of the film following the opening battle (I have to say the make up here is infinitely better than in Mad Doctor). Some of Lorca's victims do cause mayhem, but the majority of the film concerns trying to find Lorca and a kidnapped reporter. Its not bad, but if you are expecting a straight horror film you may end up very disappointed, despite a great monster.

What can I say? High art its not. Definitely worth seeing especially as part of a double feature with Mad Doctor of Blood Island.

After this the producers decided to continue the "blood series" and added two more films to the mix.

is one of the most painful viewing experiences I've ever had, and I've had it repeatedly as I've run up against this film under several titles. It concerns a family who have to deal with a dirty little secret, their mother is a vampire and she keeps coming out of the crypt to feast on people. Its a horrible movie and I can't recommend it.

The last film in the mix was HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS which concerns a plague on earth tied to a space probe on a distant planet where cave people battle strange monsters. The truth of the matter is the core part of the film, the space part was a black and white film they couldn't release in the US because it was black and white. So they had Al Adamson come in and shoot wrap around sequences that have nothing to do with the rest of the film. They then tinted the black and white footage and said the strange color was due to the alien atmosphere. Its actually not bad in a so bad its good sort of way.

That effectively ended the series.

For the most part the series is a great deal of schlocky fun with Brides, Mad Doctor and Beast all worth the time to see (especially with a bowl of popcorn and a soda.) If you want a great night on the couch seeing films that might have played the drive in or grindhouses in the early and mid 1970's see these films.

All are out on DVD. The best news is that Alpha Video, aka has appears to have re-released the Image release at a fraction of the cost, about 5 bucks a DVD. They come with trailers and super commentaries from Sam Sherman of Independent International.

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