Bloodlust! (1959) Bloodlust! (1959/1961) **½

     In The Psychotronic Video Guide, trash film savant Michael Weldon nominates The Most Dangerous Game as the most widely copied movie ever made. It’s a very difficult call to make, admittedly, but that movie certainly has a better claim to the title than most. With Bloodlust!, we’re looking at a turn-of-the-60’s (shot in 1959, but not released until ‘61) drive-in take on the story, complete with 30-year-old “teenage” protagonists and as much graphic violence as it was possible to get away with in those days. And while it did put in an appearance on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” I suspect that had more to do with its public domain status than with its inherent quality, for though it is by no means the equal of the movie it rips off, Bloodlust! is still a surprisingly good film.

     Since we’re doing “The Hounds of Zaroff” here, we’re going to need two things: a human-hunting madman with a secret island stronghold, and a boat full of unwary travelers who are doomed to fall into his clutches. The travelers are the upstanding, Eagle Scout-ish Johnny (Rocket Attack, U.S.A.’s Robert Reed, best remembered as the father on “The Brady Bunch”); his judo-mistress girlfriend, Betty (June Kenney, from Attack of the Puppet People and The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent); their pomaded, bespectacled nerd buddy, Pete (Eugene Persson, of Earth vs. the Spider); and Pete’s high-strung paramour, Jeanne (Joan Lora). The foursome have a hired hard-drinking boat captain named Tony (Troy Patterson, who was also in both Attack of the Puppet People and Earth vs. the Spider) to take them on an extended cruise. The weather has been uncooperative for most of the trip, but the mist finally lifts on their last day out, and Jeanne spots something that they had hitherto failed to notice in all the fog. There’s an island in the stretch of sea they’d been sailing, and since Tony is currently passed out drunk on the conning tower, the kids figure they may as well drop anchor, hop in the dinghy, and go exploring. This is not one of the smarter things they’ve ever done— or at least, I hope for their sakes that it isn’t.

     While blundering around in the forest that covers most of the island, our heroes discover that they are not alone. Johnny walks right into a cleverly concealed pit trap, and while his companions are trying to rescue him, they are interrupted by the island’s owner (and presumably the trap’s as well), Dr. Alex Balleau (Wilton Graff, from Valley of the Zombies and Pillow of Death). Balleau was out hunting with a couple of his retainers, and he has his men extricate Johnny from the trap. Then he leads the kids back to his mansion, where he insists— a bit too stridently, while we’re on the subject— that they stay the night. That alone would be enough to indicate that this Balleau guy is probably trouble, but he starts looking even more suspicious when we get a look at the way his wife, Sandra (Lilyan Chauvin, later of Predator 2 and Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings), and long-term houseguest, Dean Gerard (Walter Brooke, from Conquest of Space and The Return of Count Yorga), act around him. To all appearances, both are terrified of the doctor. They have good reason to be, too, as the new guests will learn when they go snooping around the house; Gerard and Sandra are in the process of explaining to Johnny and Betty that their host hunts humans for a hobby at the very same moment that Pete and Jeanne are stumbling upon the laboratory in which Balleau’s thugs taxidermize his victims for later installation in his subterranean trophy room. And as if their situation weren’t already dire enough, Dean further informs the kids that Tony, too, has certainly been captured by now, and his boat towed away to a hidden cove on the other side of the island.

     Gerard and Sandra haven’t merely come forward with Balleau’s secret out of the goodness of their hearts. Gerard has a plan for escaping from the island, but he has been unable to use it up to now, because it requires more than the two people he previously had available to him. What he proposes is for Johnny and his friends to keep Balleau occupied throughout the following night, giving him and Sandra (both of them excellent swimmers) a chance to sneak out to the secret cove, commandeer one of the boats which is concealed there, and sail to the mainland for help. Gerard is asking the newcomers to accept an awful lot on faith here, but the way he sees it, they don’t have a whole lot of other options. Johnny and the gang reluctantly agree, and Gerard puts the plan into motion. Evidently he hasn’t kept his secrets very well, though, for Balleau is waiting for him and Sandra with a rifle when they make their break for freedom.

     Johnny and Pete get their turn the next day, along with Captain Tony. Tony, it turns out, had been in Balleau’s employ all along, ferrying the unsuspecting into the manhunter’s clutches, but his increasing carelessness has decided the doctor against retaining him any longer. Balleau provides his quarry with an empty revolver and directions to a huge old tree at the center of the island. There they will find ammunition for the gun, and it is from there also that the hunt will commence after Balleau has given his prey a suitable head start. As for himself, he will pursue armed with a high-powered crossbow, but with only three quarrels in his quiver— one shot each for Johnny, Pete, and Tony. Awfully sporting of him, no? The girls, meanwhile, will be locked up in the mansion under guard; now that Sandra is stuffed and mounted in the subbasement, Balleau is in the market for some new feminine companions, and he is confident that Betty and Jeanne will come to appreciate his charms soon enough. The hunt itself proves to be a very close-fought affair. Commensurate with the restrictions Balleau has placed upon himself, the cache of ammo hidden by the tree proves to contain but a single bullet, and Tony gets himself killed almost immediately after seizing said bullet and splitting off from his two companions. Balleau leaves one of his retainers to die in a quicksand pit, and chaos seizes the mansion when the girls use a combination of guile and martial arts to escape from their keepers and flee into the woods. In the end, it seems that Balleau will triumph after all, but he is undone by his failure to return the loyalty of his men.

     Bloodlust! is no big deal, really, but it is reasonably well made for a quickie drive-in horror film, and it should reward those who come to it with a forgiving attitude. Wilton Graff does a respectable job as the villain, and in particular makes the most of the speech in which he tells how a stint as a sniper during World War II left him addicted to the thrill of hunting humans. Robert Reed makes for a rather dull hero, but he is counterbalanced to some extent by June Kenney’s Betty, who is atypically strong and resourceful for a B-movie heroine of this vintage. Watch especially for the scene in which she uses her judo skills to toss one of Balleau’s men into a vat of acid— not only is it an unexpected show of force, but it leads to a very hard-hitting gore effect by contemporary standards. There are much better takes on this premise to be seen, of course, but there are a lot that are much worse, too.



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