Brides of Blood/Brides of Blood Island/Brides of the Beast/Brides of Death/Terror on Blood Island/Orgy of Blood/Island of the Living Horror/Grave Desires (1968) -**½
It’s hard to believe Brides of Blood was made by the same producer as the brooding and relatively low-key Terror Is a Man— or it would be were it not for the fact that there can’t have been all that many producers of horror films operating in the Philippines during the 50’s and 60’s. The missing piece that explains the whole puzzle is right there at the front of the opening credits, however: the Hemisphere Pictures and Independent-International production slates. Eddie Romero and Kane Lynn had little experience with the American movie market in 1959, when the inaugural Blood Island flick was released, and their original production company handled its overseas distribution on an ad-hoc, title-by-title basis. Nine years later, when Brides of Blood came along, Romero and Lynn had a new company, Hemisphere Pictures, and an exclusive distribution deal with the U.S.-based Independent-International. I-I’s Sam Sherman had been a founding member of Hemisphere himself, and was furthermore a man whose creative spirit was attuned to the drive-in. Some of his sensibility must have rubbed off on his Filipino colleagues, for even after he went his own way to launch Independent-International, the movies Hemisphere produced for distribution through his new company came to look more and more like something his own stable of filmmakers would have come up with. And so, when Romero revisited Blood Island at last, it was not with another somber, thought-provoking reinterpretation of one of the great, classic mad doctor tales, but with a defiantly lurid, vibrantly trashy, full-bore exploitation film, complete with as much sex and violence as he thought he could get away with during those uncertain and anarchic days between the final collapse of the Production Code and the introduction of the MPAA rating system.
Romero begins by reminding us of the most important point about Blood Island. As Captain Macbee (Terror Is a Man’s Oscar Keesee Jr.), the master of the ship transporting the rest of our central characters to its forbidding shores, tells his passengers, his ship is the only link between Blood Island and the outside world, and he makes the voyage only once every six months. Whatever unnatural horrors a person might encounter there (and what else would you expect in a place called Blood Island?), that person will just have to find a way to tackle them on their own. As for those passengers, Macbee has embarked a party of three. Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor, of The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and The Mighty Gorga) is a scientist who has come to look into the ecological health of the island— which could be much worse than it appears at first glance, given that Blood Island is situated just outside the estimated fallout area from the US military’s nuclear weapons experiments of the late 1940’s. Carla Henderson (Beverly Hills [oh, please…], from Invasion of the Bee Girls and The Power) is the doctor’s wife, a woman much too young for him to keep up with, who indulges her unsated appetites with just about every man whose eye she catches. Jeff Farrell (John Ashley, from The Eye Creatures and Woman Hunt) is an agent of the Peace Corps, whose business on Blood Island is of a humanitarian nature. All three will get much more than they bargained for once they reach their destination.
The first obstacle facing our heroes is the fact that only two of the natives speak any English at all— village headman Arcadio (Andrés Centenera, of Black Mamba and The Twilight People) and his granddaughter, Alma (Eva Darren). (Incidentally, John Ashley spends the entire movie calling her “Alam,” and nobody seems to have tried to correct him.) The second is hinted at by the first sight that confronts them upon their arrival. They get to the shoreline village just in time to witness a funeral, in which the bodies of two young women are cast out into the sea; what makes this incident so remarkable is that both of the deceased are literally in tattered pieces on their funerary litters! Alma cryptically explains that her people have returned to the ways of their ancestors— and are “none too proud about it.”
Actually, it turns out there’s a third English-speaking native on the island, though he does not live in the village down on the beach. Instead, Goro (Bruno Punzalan, from Moro Witch Doctor and Blood Thirst) lives in a big, European-style villa on a hill near the center of the island, separated from the beach by a broad expanse of dense jungle. This, presumably, is the same villa where Charles Gerard once defied the laws of nature by turning a panther into a man, but its current owner apparently has no such sinister hobbies. Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro, of Arnis: Sticks of Death) is no mad doctor, but rather a Spanish expatriate who moved to Blood Island to escape from the convulsions that seized Europe between the Spanish Civil War and the aftermath of World War II. His wife was with him when he first came there in the 1940’s, but she soon died of a mysterious illness. Now Powers lives only with Goro and a staff of servants which seems to consist of every dwarf and midget in the Philippines. He invites the Westerners to stay with him at the villa, but only the Hendersons take him up on the offer; after all, it would hardly be becoming of a Peace Corps representative to conduct his work from a great mansion insulated by jungle from the people he’s supposed to be leading into the modern age.
Even the Hendersons can’t stay this first night, though, for all their stuff is still down at the village. To say that their walk back through the jungle after dark is a harrowing experience would be putting it lightly. All the way down the hill to the beach, the travelers are attacked by a succession of deadly plant monsters— trees with barbed tentacles growing from their root systems, triffid-like flowers that spray choking clouds of noxious pollen, others that are not so easy to describe. Then, when they are finally within reach of the village, they pass by a strange procession led by Arcadio, which culminates with a pair of teenage girls being bound, naked, to bamboo racks at the foot of a rather tacky stone altar and left there to face some awful fate. The awful fate in question can be heard all the way down in the village some hours later, when the screams of the sacrifices are mingled with a horrible, inhuman grunting and bellowing. Looks like we know what ancestral ways the people of Blood Island have returned to, huh?
After that, Jeff spends as much time lobbying against these rituals of sacrifice to “the Evil One” as he does showing the islanders how to build an irrigation system for their fields. Meanwhile, Henderson has come to the conclusion that Blood Island has been contaminated by radiation after all, but that for some strange reason, the resulting mutations are temporary, reversible, and manifested only at night. That would explain why there was no sign of any murderous flora when Farrell and the Hendersons made the trek up to the villa shortly before dusk. At first he can’t figure out why the islanders themselves are not affected, but then Powers informs him that they were all brought in from other spots in the South Pacific, as part of the US government’s resettlement program for peoples displaced by A-bomb test-firings. But consider this: The Evil One is active only by night, suggesting that it is one of Blood Island’s characteristic lycanthropic mutants. Beyond that, the fact that the villagers’ program for appeasing it involves leaving pairs of virgins out to be raped to death and dismembered suggests that the monster’s daytime form is that of a man. After all, what animal, no matter how mutated, would take a sadistic sexual interest in human women? Finally, remember that there is indeed one man who was living on Blood Island while the navy and air force were playing around with atom bombs in the ocean off to the north— Esteban Powers. Alma had better hope that Henderson, Farrell, or somebody is making those connections too, though, because the sacrifices to the Evil One are chosen by lot, and she’s just picked the winning number.
Once again, I think I’ve gone and made a movie sound much more gripping and effective than is actually the case. Brides of Blood does have the occasional gripping and effective moment, including a couple of chase scenes through the man-eating jungle which combine surprisingly good day-for-night cinematography with some really ingenious matte effects, but mostly it’s just extremely silly. Some of the blame belongs to John Ashley. His boyish, matinee-idol looks seem woefully out of place, his acting is as miserable as it was when he was working for Larry Buchanan, and in general, the movie would have been much better off without him. A lot more of it has to do with the utterly ludicrous pseudo-science that threatens to gobble up every line of dialogue that does not directly concern either Farrell’s perfunctory romance with Alma or Carla’s rather more zesty efforts to get all and sundry into bed with her. Henderson’s frequent interjections purporting to explain the weird goings-on on Blood Island are priceless. Then, of course, there’s the monster suit. Paul Blaisdell would have been proud. The Evil One is fit to stand among the greats of non-greatness: the She-Creature, the Carrot that Conquered the World, Tabonga— even the truly worthless monster suits from AIP’s mid-60’s television productions. If Grimace from the old 70’s and 80’s McDonald’s commercials were bitten by a werewolf, he’d turn into something very much like the Evil One on nights of the full moon. And if you can keep a straight face while thinking about Grimace going all Larry Talbot and moonlighting as a sex-murderer, then you have far more self control than I do, no two ways about it. I can see why Brides of Blood was such a hit on the drive-in circuit, though. It would have been more than sleazy enough to get its intended audience’s attention, its stretches of dead time are of the perfect size and shape to allow for between-shocks making out, and hell— it has Lycangrimace. What else can honestly say it has Lycangrimace?