Thursday 6 December 2018

The Blood Island Collection


The Blood Island Collection
Severin Films Blu Ray Zone A
Comprising Terror Is A Man, Brides Of Blood,
Mad Doctor Of Blood Island and Beast Of Blood

Well, I have to admit I’d never heard of the Blood Island movies until Severin released this very limited boxed edition with restored prints and transfers. However, the fact that a series of films have been made all set on the titular location and, in the case of two of the films, sharing a character or two while featuring unbelievably silly monsters mixed with brief snatches of nudity, all of which were totally unknown for me... proved too much for my curiosity. When I saw that the third movie also included a soundtrack CD of the film which you couldn’t get anywhere else, well... that was the clincher. So, I found someone in the UK who was able to import it without having to shilly shally around with those completely ridiculous US/UK postage rates and got access to these things... well, relatively inexpensively.

To be honest, judging from the trailers I’d seen, I was expecting sheer stupidity and ‘so bad it’s good’ awfulness... the kind that gives you a warm, comfortable feeling in your tummy... but, as it turns out, I was in for a bit of a surprise when I put the first disc on...

Terror Is A Man
1959 Philippines/USA
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero

Okay, so Terror Is A Man is made almost ten years before the sequel (and I use the term sequel loosely here... I’ll reveal why later on) and it’s the only one shot in black and white. It started off absolutely up to my expectations for the first ten seconds or so by running a card before the movie which read thusly...

The picture you are about to see has a scene so shocking that it is necessary to forewarn you. We suggest that the squeamish and faint-hearted close their eyes at the sound of the bell and reopen them when the bell rings again.
The Management.

I love good showmanship and the silliness of this hoopla quickly brought a smile to my face. After this, the film starts off with a shot of a map showing the Isla De Sangre in relation to everywhere else and, as far as I can tell, this is the only time this map is seen throughout the four films. This is followed by a shot of a boat carrying an unconscious man pulling up to Blood Island. The guy is called William Fitzgerald, as played by Richard Derr. He is rescued by a small party of scientists on the island, including Dr. Charles Girard (played by Francis Lederer) and his wife Frances (played by Greta Thyssen) who seems to dominate the screen with prominent bosoms that threaten to pop out and endanger the rest of the cast at any moment. Indeed, when she goes to bed, she kind of sets a trend for all Blood Island women in future films... by kinda frolicking and moving in a bizarrely sexual way that suggests masturbation, even when she’s literally just trying to get to sleep. I don’t know who taught her how to do this but I must learn this trick some time.

This film is surprising in that it’s not only quite entertaining, in a story that finds Fitzgerald observing and helping out the doctor who has been operating on a panther and slowly turning it into a beast man over the years, but also quite well put together and realised a little more subtly than I was expecting. It’s quite obviously a remake/sideways adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau but I have to say, it’s actually pretty good and, easily, the best of the movies in this set. If this had been made just ten years earlier during the classic Hollywood era of films like the Universal Monsters movies and Val Lewton’s productions then this may still be celebrated as a classic to this day. It’s moody and interestingly lit and doesn’t look out of place among those other films I just mentioned.

Although sometimes it’s a little too well lit, it has to be said. There are a fair few ‘night for day’ shots which really do show up in the worst way.

That being said, musically the film is well ‘spotted’ in that it’s not wall to wall and scenes which don’t really require music are not over cooked. There’s also some skillful camera work here with some oddities such as a POV from the monster’s perspective suddenly transforming into a third person view when the creature pounces. I could, however, have done without the terrible dummy somebody suddenly transforms into when he is thrown over a cliff and ditto that bell when it finally rings to warn the audience at what is, literally, a one or two second shot of a scalpel bloodlessy attacking tissue during an operation. However, this is not a bad movie and I was surprised by the quality of this one.

Brides of Blood
1968 Philippines/USA
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero

Okay, nine years later we have a ‘sequel’, Brides of Blood, which is not really promoted as such and, indeed, never once refers to the previous movie. This one proves to be a totally unsubtle experience and absolutely what I was expecting from these movies, to be honest. And that’s not a bad thing either.

Opening with a small group of scientists on a ship en route to Blood Island, we have a fairly unsympathetic leading lady (one of two female protagonists) who is shunned by her husband, the main scientist, and engages in an activity on the boat going from non-consensual rape to fully consensual sexual activity in that strange way that only old movies seem to be able to pull off as something even approaching plausibility or acceptability.

This film includes some nicely gory moments as, for instance, the local natives are taking dismembered bodies away to be thrown into the sea... somebody drops a quite realistic looking leg. When the scientists arrive to study the effects of ‘atomic bomb tests’ near the island from years earlier, they become the guests of another ‘Western’ man in his mansion on the island. Of course, atomic radiation means the writers can get away with almost anything in this film and asides from the gratuitous ripping away of young, sacrificial maidens' bikini tops at regular intervals throughout the film, we have a forest consisting of deadly, groping tentacle trees, the marvellously ridiculous looking monster whom the said young maidens are being sacrificed to and a terrible looking butterfly which bites one of the scientists, even though you can clearly see the wires on it as it flaps about the set in a supposedly deadly fashion.

We also have some scenes of midget whipping and a sexed up lady who must have studied at the same school of seduction that the lead actress in the first film did, as she sexily fondles the vertical pole of her four poster bed. And, alas, some more terrible ‘day for night’ shots in the film and, much worse, the impression that characters are wandering from one place to another at different times of day as they go somewhere and five minutes later it’s night and then day again and then back to night, as the cameraman presumably forgets to put his filter on during some sequences. Time certainly flies on this island, that’s for sure.

The film is silly, terribly made fun and finishes with a native dance ritual which, in terms of enthusiasm and length, is not unlike the one seen near the beginning of Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (reviewed here). This is an interesting ritual in which lady dancers attempt to attract a mate and then take them back into the forest to a place which I can only assume is an area called The Snogging Trees.

Mad Doctor of Blood Island
1968 Philippines/USA
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero

Next we have another sequel, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, which in no way refers to the prior film in that it takes place the very next year in the same location but has an entirely different set of natives and absolutely no stories about the scientists who were staying there the year before.

In another burst of showmanship, audience members are invited to drink a vile looking green liquid and recite the ‘green blood oath’ before the opening credits so they come to no harm during the film.
Also before the credits we see a naked lady being chased by a blood island monster and, whenever it’s in the vicinity, the audience does indeed get harmed by some awfully rapid zooms in and out of random frames. And, unfortunately, this is the modus operandi of the cameraman throughout the majority of the movie... this one really made me dizzy, it has to be said.

Once the credits are done, we once again have a vessel containing strangers to the place approaching the island. This film is all about Dr. Bill Foster (played by John Ashley), Shelia Willard (played by Angelique Pettyjohn) and their acquaintances as they try and thwart the scientific curiosity of the titular ‘mad doctor’, who is once more involved with unleashing beasts on the island. In his lab he even has some of the ‘moving forest’ in what is pretty much the only echo of the former film.... although there is also another ritualistic dancing scene that could almost have been lifted from Brides Of Bloood, including ritualistic snogging, once more.

This film is... well it’s not very good and even the fear of radio signals which the creature in this one seems to demonstrate as some kind of sonically allergic reaction appears to have no real function in the final narrative. I was glad when the ‘mad doctor’ was finally burned to death in his scientific compound, to be honest. And that brings us nicely into...

Beast Of Blood
1970 Philippines/USA
Directed by Eddie Romero

The fourth film starts off with the boat carrying Dr. Foster and co away from the island in the previous movie. Yes that’s right... this is the only one of the Blood Island movies which is actually up front about being some kind of sequel to the prior movie. On the boat, a random creature who stowed away at the end of the previous adventure... and I’ve still no idea where this monster at the end of the last movie came from, by the way... attacks the crew and passengers leaving Dr. Foster, again played by John Ashley, the sole survivor. When he goes back to the island a number of months later, he has a troublesome reporter in tow by the name of Myra J. Russell, played here by Celeste Yarnall.

With some friends and acquaintances, they go on a boring but deadly chase across the island to find the location of the mad scientist from the former film, who turns out to have not burned to death after all. Indeed, the experience seems to do wonders for his health. For instance, he has a beard, some terrible scarring down half his face and an eye patch but, miraculously, he also seems to be a lot thinner and a much different age from the scientist we saw previously. I guess that the actor bearing no resemblance to the previous guy playing the role can only be a good thing then.

Although this is the least interesting or fun film in the series, it does have its moments. For instance, when Dr, Foster and a group of people are exploring the previous ‘Mad Doctor’s Lair’, things look mighty dangerous and possibly booby trapped, so he tells everyone to “Stay close”. This is apparently a call to arms for Celeste Yarnall to back away from the group completely, get as far away from them as she possibly can without even trying... and then spring a trap door. This woman has no common sense. There’s also a nice moment when the mad scientist is talking to a severed monster head he is keeping alive in a dish while he operates on its body, when he tells him, “Believe me, I know how difficult this must be for you.”

All in all, though, Beast Of Blood is the least watchable of the series, which has lots of long cat and mouse sequences where various parties are stalking each other through the forest... which makes it all seem a little like an extended 1970s Tarzan or Planet Of The Apes TV episode for a while. Just not very fun.

That being said, the whole bunch of prints from Severin are amazingly restored here (yeah, these look like they were only shot the other week) and have various extras accompanying these excellent transfers. I’m really glad that I bit the bullet on this one and picked it up because the first two movies, at least, have some replay value and I’ll probably end up rewatching all of these at some point. I haven’t listened to the soundtrack yet but The Blood Island Collection is a truly nicely put together package of some films which might have died a death had not Severin stepped in to restore them. I guess it must have paid out for them too since the box was a total sell out. Much as I hate this new business model everyone seems to be latching onto at the moment... where everything is a limited edition so you’d better get one quick... I have to say that this one was definitely worth the price of admission. Give this one a watch if you get the opportunity.

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