The Mad Doctor of Blood Island/Blood Doctor/Tomb of the Living Dead (1969) -***
The third of Eddie Romero’s Blood Island movies is frequently described as a remake of the first one. That isn’t quite accurate. There are indeed parallels between The Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Terror Is a Man, in that both concern a monster-making scientist whose creation breaks loose from the lab and prowls the jungles of an isolated island doing terrible things to the natives, and The Mad Doctor of Blood Island even features one short scene that was lifted more or less directly from the earlier film. That’s as far as the similarities extend, however. The nature of the two monsters is completely different, as are the personalities of the two scientists, their relationships to the natives of Blood Island, and the means by which the two outsider heroes find their way into the story in the first place. Most fundamentally, Terror Is a Man could legitimately be described as a very loose remake of Island of Lost Souls, whereas there is only the faintest whiff of Dr. Moreau in The Mad Doctor of Blood Island.
This is one movie that knows how to make a strong first impression. After a deliriously silly prologue tying into the William Castle-like gimmick that accompanied the initial release (which, understandably, is missing from the later television and reissue prints), we cut to a comely, nude island girl fleeing through the jungle from a fanged, humanoid monster whose flesh looks to be slowly dissolving into rivulets of green blood. The creature catches up to its prey beside a stony-bedded brook, and rips her to pieces with its shaggy, matted talons.
Meanwhile, on the far side of the opening credits from this preliminary slaughter, a freighter plies the Pacific, ferrying two men and a woman to the mysterious Blood Island. One of the men is an island expatriate named Carlos Lopez (Ronaldo Valdez), who is on his way home in the hope of talking his mother (Tita Muñoz, of Stardoom and The Kill) into joining him on the Philippine mainland to build a new life for herself. The other is medical researcher Dr. Bill Foster (John Ashley, from Beyond Atlantis and Beast of the Yellow Night), who has come to study the health of the natives. The woman is Sheila Willard (Angelique Pettyjohn, of Biohazard and Takin’ It Off), another person with family on the island, who conveniently enough is also Dr. Foster’s new girlfriend. As the ship nears its destination, the captain (Edward D. Murphy) mentions to Carlos that Blood Island is supposed to be cursed, and that from what he’s seen, he believes it. One time, his ship picked up an islander whose boat had been wrecked, but when they got the man onboard, he went so berserk that the captain had to shoot him dead to protect his crewmen. The strangest part? The slain islander’s blood was green.
Now that I think about it, there’s something else The Mad Doctor of Blood Island has in common with Terror Is a Man. Both movies are extremely long on mystery and innuendo, and a little short on action until the final act. We figure out pretty quickly that Sheila’s dad (Tony Edmunds) is a drunk and a great, big loser, and much effort is expended to make us view him with suspicion. We also learn early on that Mrs. Lopez has some sort of secret that accounts for her not wanting to leave Blood Island, and that whatever her secret is, it probably has something to do with her son’s childhood friend, Marla (Alicia Alonzo), and with Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy, of The Blood Drinkers), the scientist who lives in the villa deep in the jungle. It’s also a safe bet that Lorca is tied in somehow or other with the creature that keeps popping up to dismember sexy young girls from the village where Sheila and Dr. Foster are staying— to say nothing of the green-skinned, green-blooded villager whom the doctor diagnoses as suffering from “chlorophyll poisoning.” But it’s going to be a good, long while before the exact nature of all those half-glimpsed dirty secrets comes out.
The key to the mystery turns out to be the inscription on the crypt where Carlos’s father was buried. The inscription gives the date of Don Ramón Lopez’s death as December of 1961, but Carlos has in his possession a letter from Dad— unmistakably in his handwriting— dated February 22nd, 1962. When Carlos comes to Foster with this curious inconsistency, the doctor takes him and Willard back to the crypt with a set of crowbars, intent on opening up the tomb to make sure Don Lopez really is inside it. He isn’t. And that, unless I miss my guess, means we know the secret identity of Dr. Lorca’s monster. Turns out Don Lopez was a patient of Lorca’s, who came to him in the last stages of leukemia. Lorca had already been tinkering with the potential medical uses of chlorophyll (?!?!), and he discovered on Blood Island a species of plant (apparently one of the freaky irradiated ones that caused so much trouble in Brides of Blood) whose chlorophyll was capable of bonding with human red blood cells in such a way as to protect them against the ravages of Ramón’s affliction, and even to restore a longtime sufferer to full health. The side effects were a bitch, though. The more strongly the mutated chlorophyll took root in the don’s system, the more profoundly it changed him. Eventually, the stuff got into the man’s brain, and rendered him hopelessly, homicidally insane. Rather than admit to the world that he had turned Lopez into a monster, Lorca talked his patient’s wife into engineering a phony burial. Meanwhile, Lorca redoubled his efforts to find a way to change Lopez back to normal, pressing men from the village into service as experimental subjects in his secret lab below the villa’s basement. Of course, none of that really answers Foster’s main question, which is how long he and Sheila can hope to survive with a killer mutant loose on the island.
I’m absolutely amazed that The Mad Doctor of Blood Island was ever shown on TV. This movie is heaped as high with sex and violence as anything Herschell Gordon Lewis ever made, while the extremely extensive and extremely explicit gore is handled in exactly the same was as it was in Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!, both of which were shunned even by most cable channels. Hardly any of the actresses manage to escape from the film without either taking off their clothes for the camera or shooting a scene which ends with them lying in a heap of offal and stage blood— and in most cases, the one is followed directly by the other. It was awfully intense for the 60’s, and is nothing to scoff at even today. Consequently, if you judge a drive-in movie by its power to shock and offend, The Mad Doctor of Blood Island deserves high marks indeed.
Of course, even a drive-in movie might justly be judged by other standards, and by most of them, The Mad Doctor of Blood Island wouldn’t fare nearly as well. John Ashley’s acting hasn’t improved any since Brides of Blood, and this time, we get to see what a hilarious hash he makes of a fight scene. The various Filipino players, meanwhile, give new meaning to the word “stilted,” and Ronald Remy in particular is a sorry excuse for a mad scientist. Not even a hugely exaggerated limp and a pair of goofy-ass sunglasses like the ones Kim Jong Il favors can bring much life to his performance! As for Angelique Pettyjohn, let’s just say that the one featured female who managed to avoid not just the nudity, but the offal too, really could have used some of both.
We mustn’t forget the screenplay, either. I mean, chlorophyll poisoning?! What the hell was Reuben Conway thinking? Dr. Lorca’s big “how I did it” speech is, in its way, an even worse idea, in that it stops the movie dead in its tracks for most of ten minutes while it goes about piling on the stupidity. The best one can say is that the speech in question is of a piece with the rest of the dialogue, which seems to display the influence of Eddie Romero’s Independent-International partner in slime, Al Adamson. Other highlights include the confrontation between Marla and the mad doctor, which is sure to leave you laughing out loud, rolling your eyes, and scratching your head, all at the same time.
Then there’s the monster suit. Surely you didn’t think I was going to let this movie get away without a couple of potshots taken at the monster suit? The monsterfied Ramón Lopez is nowhere near the travesty that Brides of Blood’s Evil One was, but let’s face it— that isn’t saying a whole hell of a lot. Actually, there was hope for the chlorophyll monster, with its skull-like face and its wolfish teeth and its hairy, gelatinous flesh slowly melting off of its bones, but Romero and co-director Geraldo DeLeon made the terrible, fatal mistake of filming the thing in broad daylight, so that we in the audience can get a good, clear look at everything about it that doesn’t quite work. Then, on top of that, Romero and DeLeon did something else that raises the status of the monster from the merely risible to the sublimely ridiculous: they filmed all of its scenes through what I can only describe as a throbbing zoom lens. Whenever the monster is onscreen— or even just hiding behind foliage that’s onscreen— the frame rhythmically zooms in and out and in and out and in and out until the viewer’s eyes are apt to give up and forget all about trying to keep the picture in focus. You almost have to admire the sheer artlessness of it all. Almost, I said.