Saturday, May 7, 2016

Brides of Blood (1968)

I first got interested in the cinematic history of the Philippines after watching the excellent documentary MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED.  One of the many marvelous things that documentary turned me on to was the Blood Island series of horror films from directors Eddie Romero and Geraldo de Leon.  Everything I read about these movies screamed blood, slime, sex and mutants, all the things we love best here at Radiation-Scarred Reviews.

Last spring at Cinema Wasteland, I decided instead of wandering the vendors' room aimlessly, I'd go in with a plan: I made a list of films I knew I especially wanted, and told myself I would hold myself to only buying films on that list.  I was fairly successful; of course, every film on the list was present at the show, just some were selling for more than I wanted to pay ("$35 for MARK OF THE DEVIL? I don't know...").  At the top of the list were the three films composing the Blood Island trilogy: BRIDES OF BLOOD, THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, and BEAST OF BLOOD.  I think I got all three for about $15 from the Monster Bash guys.  If I'm looking for something from the 1920s through the 1970s that isn't too sexually charged, they've usually got my back; the only time I've walked away from their tables empty-handed was when I was looking for the boxed set collecting the original FLY series from the '50s and '60s, and they were just out of stock.

But anyways, back to BRIDES OF BLOOD!

The film opens by introducing us to three Americans on their way to Blood Island, despite their ship captain's repeat warnings of the island being under a curse and reminding them that a ship - his - only stops on the island once every six months.  These three are: Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor, during the period of his career that would see him appearing in SATAN'S SADISTS and THE MIGHTY GORGA), a nuclear scientist visiting the island to test for radioactive contamination; his sexually-frustrated wife Carla (burlesque dancer Beverly Powers, aka Beverly Hills, who also showed up as a stripper in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS and an uncredited role in JAWS) who is coming to the island for some exotic dick, and baby-faced Jim Farrell (John Ashley, in the movie that began his long association with the Filipino film industry), a Peace Corps activist ready to teach the islanders how to better irrigate their crops and build schools.

They quickly learn that something strange is going on on Blood Island; their first sight upon arrival is a native funeral, in which a dismembered corpse is thrown into the sea.  Local elder Acario and doe-eyed wahine Alma tell the Americans they wish they hadn't come ashore, and that the people of Blood Island have shamefully reverted to "the Old Ways."

They then meet with the "big man" of the island, a Mr. Esteban, who lives in a big Spanish villa up on a hill with - I shit you not - a household staff comprised entirely of shirtless midgets! The only full-sized person working for Esteban is his bald overseer Goro, who is very quick with a whip when the little guys get out of line.  Esteban gives them a brief history of the island, and Carla starts aiming her heat-seeking vulva in his direction.  Hey, he's rich, handsome and young, all things her scientist husband is not.  Also, he's willing to pay attention to her, something Paul flatly isn't.

let's just say that married to Paul, that bedpost is looking mighty appealing to Carla right about now.
Radiation has definitely affected life on the island - the beaches crawl with mutant crabs, while banana plants sprout tentacles and trees try to eat people.  But only at night; at dawn, everything reverts to normal, only in darkness do they become monsters.  Radiation is also probably responsible for the creation of the "Evil One," a hulking, green-skin, shaggy-furred humanoid that terrorizes the islanders.  Placating the Evil One is the "old ways" that Alma's so ashamed of, because the Evil One demands human sacrifice!

Specifically, the Evil One wants sexy female sacrifices - two "lucky" girls a night are chosen via lottery, stripped naked and strapped to bamboo frames to await the coming of their new husband.  The Evil One comes loping out of the woods and throws himself on the girls, fucking them with such gusto that they literally fall apart in his claws! That's right, he fucks them to pieces! Once he's satisfied, he returns to the woods, leaving the village in peace until the next night.

O-face? More like "No-face" when he's done with her.
Stranded and terrified on this island of mutant horrors, Dr. Henderson and Jimmy decide they need to destroy the Evil One after finding Carla's fucked-to-death remains being eaten by banana trees.  But wait...if all the mutant plants and animals are normal by day...does that mean the Evil One has a human alter ego?

Let's watch the trailer:

Oh man, this movie is a treat.  So many of my favorite things on display here - man-eating plants, sinister drumming in the jungle, half-naked (and fully-naked) women, radioactive mutants...the only thing that could have made this movie better would have been replacing Beverly Hills with Uschi Digard, but that's a pretty standard response from me - hell, I see movies made now, and think "Uschi Digard would have been better in that role."

The horror genre in the Philippines was really still finding its sea legs at this point; other than a Dr. Moreau-knockoff called TERROR IS A MAN, there really weren't any locally-sourced horror films preceding this one, so Eddie Romero really blazed a trail here.  With the rich, saturated colors (evocative of Fulci, though developed independently) on display here I'd love to see cleaned up prints of these films released on Blu-Ray.  My DVDs from Alpha Video are all well and good but I'd love to see Shout! Factory or Synapse (or best of all, my favorite company, Mondo Macabro) take a crack at putting these out.

I thought the film did a great job throughout - the building sense of weirdness is extremely well handled, creating a mystery that grows in menace over the course of the film as Dr. Henderson encounters first the shell of a mutant crab, then sees tentacles on a banana tree, then has a run-in with bloodthirsty insects, all leading up the reveal of the Evil One.

The special effects aren't amazing, but for the time period and the budget do just fine, and keeping things shrouded in darkness hides a lot of the weakness.  The Evil One, for example, is only shown full body to us once, and he's back-lit during that scene so you can't really see any detail, just this hulking black shape covered in shaggy fur.  But when we see his face in close-up, it's a bit hard not to laugh.

Pussy destroyer.
The Americans were all veterans of both the big and small screen, and while nobody gives a bad performance, nobody poured their heart and soul into BRIDES OF BLOOD either.  Beverly Hills did a great job screaming her lungs out and shoving her tongue in men's mouths, but that's about it, and Kent Taylor was largely forgettable as the professor, having all the personality and libido of his counterpart on Gilligan's Island.  John Ashley was fine as the clean-cut boy scout-type, and I was very pleased to see him know how to use a flare gun.

This is a thing of mine.  Flare guns in monster movies - I never feel like they're used often enough.  Ashley used his to scare off the Evil One, to drive back angry villagers, and of course in the explosive climax of the film.  More movies can take the lesson of how valuable flare guns are from BRIDES OF BLOOD.

In short, if you see a monster, shoot a flare gun at it.

Alright, this review's starting to run long so I'm gonna start wrapping up - for this iteration of Radiation-Scarred Reviews I'd like to be a little less scholarly and a little more visceral; to review movies as much from the gut and balls as from the brain, and that's going to take some getting used to for me, so bear with me while I find my sea legs with this.  I really dug BRIDES OF BLOOD and I'm looking forward to watching the other films in the series, plus I have a film that some consider loosely related to the Blood Island films, BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT, to watch again sometime, and that has my greasy little homeboy Vic Diaz as Satan so you know it's good.  If you haven't seen BRIDES OF BLOOD, I definitely recommend doing so, and if you're so inclined the full movie is on YouTube, though you'll get better quality from a DVD.

Also, supposedly (I haven't been able to verify) some drive-ins gave out chintzy plastic rings as promotion for the film to female patrons, making them "brides" of the Evil One.  I haven't been able to find a picture of one of these (probably none still exist) and 1968 is surprisingly late for that kind of promotional gimmick, but I kinda love it.


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