B: Brides of Blood (1968)

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If I have one personal failing (well, truthfully, I have many), it’s that I seem to approach movies in a backward fashion. I start in the middle, or toward the end, of director’s filmographies, and work my way backward. Sometimes, it’s happenstance, more often it’s due to simple ignorance. That’s the case here; in an unofficial trilogy that includes Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Beast of Blood, I had had for some reason thought that Brides of Blood was the last movie. It’s not – it’s the first.

Okay, to indulge another of my personal failings – the digression – it’s not actually the first, that honor falls to 1959’s Terror is a Man, aka Blood Creature, which is a surprisingly effective Dr. Moreau rip-off starring Francis Lederer. It is the first of co-directors Gerardo deLeon and Eddie Romero’s movies to use Blood Island as a setting, which must be the most screwed-up place on the planet to live, right up there with Voodoo Island and Skull Island. But this is almost a decade before Brides of Blood, it’s in black-and-white, and it is never marketed with its colorful, far more garish descendants. Rather a pity.

But we should start talking about Brides of Blood at some point, no?

The archetypal tramp freighter is making one of its infrequent stops at Blood Island, and it’s dropping off Jim (John Ashley), a Peace Corpsman, Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor) and his oversexed wife Carla (Beverly Hills, or Beverly Powers, depending on where you are in her filmography). Jim is there to do Peace Corps stuff, and Dr. Paul is studying the possible effects of radiation from bomb tests on the local fauna. Carla is largely there to set feminism back for decades, starting with an attempted rape by one of the sailors on the boat that she starts to enjoy and then become an active participant.

The white folk arrive just in time to witness a mournful funeral procession, which gets even darker when one of the palanquins is dropped and a bunch of dismembered body parts fall out. Past this, the natives are more than happy to welcome the outsiders, and they are greeted by the village elder (Andres Centenera) and his lovely daughter Alma (Eva Darren). Carla breaks the ice by immediately suggesting a threesome between herself, Jim and Alma, but that’s not the main reason the elder and Alma are so secretive about “returning to the ways of their ancestors”.

Most good horror movies weigh in at about 80-85 minutes, and Brides is a somewhat ponderous 97 minutes, so we will cut to the chase. Yes, the natives (not truly native, as they were transplanted from another island during the bomb tests) are dealing with things like man-eating plants, and more pressingly, this bizarre lumpy monster that they appease by choosing two girls by lottery every night, tying them to St. Andrews crosses, stripping them naked, and leaving them for the beast. That is some Spicy Adventure Stories pulp shit right there, and since those man-eating plants seem to change back to normal plants by day, it’s perfectly obvious to the audience that we’re dealing with an atomic werewolf, and our Larry Talbot is actually local rich toff Esteban (Mario Montenegro), whose manservant Goro (Bruno Punzalan) is facilitating his master’s deprivations. And it is going to be up to White Savior John Ashley to point out to the natives that they can gang up on the monster as they do the man-eating plants. The End.

Well, not really, as most of that extra seven minutes is devoted to Alma doing a seductive dance for Ashley, which is okay, as Eva Darren is pretty. Now, mercifully, the end.

Hemisphere Pictures was a small distribution company who had a surprise hit with the equally Philippine The Blood Drinkers in 1964 and started working seriously with Eddie Romero during the horror boom of the 60s. Brides of Blood is a pretty canny debut for that partnership – three American actors for the marquee value, to start with. John Ashley is coming off the Beach Party movies, and he liked the Phillippines so much he based the next phase of his career there. Kent Taylor had a long and solid career; if you don’t recognize his name, you’re certainly going to recognize his face. Ditto with Beverly Powers, who had enough movie and TV work under her belt that she actually manages to make Carla’s carnality work for the character, even if it is a stupid and exploitative character trait.

And this is the operative word here – “exploitative”. Sam Sherman, who was helping out in Hemisphere’s publicity department at the time, claims that Brides got out before the MPAA’s rating system went into full effect. Indeed, I seem to recall seeing Sherman’s well-worn trailer at a drive-in circa ’71 or ’72, probably for one of Hemisphere’s horror movie marathons. There was a surprising amount of skin in that trailer. There’s also some gore, and probably the worst decapitated head until the one that ended Kathy Griffin’s career.

So Brides of Blood is an entertaining enough if overly-windy piece of pulp. Unlike the later Eddie Romero movies, it stays firmly in horror movie territory, where Beast of Blood and Twilight People suddenly became action movies. Your enjoyment of it is going to depend on your tolerance for White Savior and/or Oversexed Blonde tropes.

Oh, look, here’s that trailer:

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B: Beast of Blood (1971)

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combo_beast_of_blood_poster_01So what we have here is the direct sequel to the 1968 Mad Doctor of Blood Island, so direct that it literally picks up where the original left off. Dr. Bill Foster (John Ashley, but of course) is returning home, but the monster, who stowed away in a lifeboat at the end of the first picture, can’t stand it anymore, reveals itself and starts killing people. Fuel gets spilled, and the boat blows up, with Foster and the monster the only survivors. Unconscious. Foster drifts on some debris; the monster is washed up on Blood Island and staggers into the jungle.

Fortunately, Beast of Blood loses that beyond-irritating abuse of the zoom lens every time the monster appeared in the first movie,, throbbing in and out with the monster’s heartbeat; unfortunately, it also loses the monster for most of the movie.

Beast of Blood1

It’s not human and it’s got an axe! …Wait. Wrong movie. Sorry.

Foster returns to Blood Island one year later, having heard rumors that the Green Men, experimental subjects of the Mad Dr. Lorca from the last movie, are still causing problems. His investigations are hindered by Myra, a journalist from Hawaii (the incredibly white Celeste Yarnall) and helped by the fierce native woman Laida (Liza Belmonte), who isn’t afraid to use her bolo knife on the Green Men (and is, incidentally, who pulled Foster from the drink and nursed him to health a year before). Lorca’s stronghold, sealed up since the last movie’s concluding fire and explosion, still has something going on inside; Foster and crew find a tunnel leading away from the compound into the jungle.

Myra gets kidnapped by a gang of toughs and taken into said jungle and up into the mountains, where the scarred Dr. Lorca (Eddie Garcia) is still plying his nutty trade. He has the monster, Ramon, too – though the beast is still homicidal, and Lorca had to cut his head off to calm him down – literally. The body and head are still alive, machinery pumping that weird green chlorophyll blood into both, while Lorca – for some rationale which is never explained – keeps trying to transplant heads from the contaminated Green Men he keeps in a cage onto the monster’s body.

Beast of Blood2John Ashley is usually a pretty serviceable leading man in these things, but I got really irked by his continually turning down Laida – who is pretty much the ass-kicking Pam Grier of Filipinas in this – for the incredibly vanilla Myra. Hell, she’d need flavor enhancers to even qualify as vanilla.

The major problem with Beast of Blood is the monster and mad science comprise perhaps a quarter of the movie – the rest is intrigue and action as Foster tracks the bandits in Lorca’s employ back to his new stronghold, then a commando force of sailors and natives attack and there’s a lot of orange blood slopped around.  It’s a problem shared with director Eddie Romero’s next movie, Twilight People, where the movie’s supposed main storyline, an Island of Dr. Moreau rip-off, is supplanted by a Most Dangerous Game rip-off.

Beast of Blood3Eddie Romero actually does make very entertaining movies, they’re just not always the movie you bought a ticket for. Beast of Blood can work as a double feature with its predecessor, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, but you also might have to pack an extra helping of patience to get through both.

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