Monday 27 June 2022

The Blood Drinkers

Marco The Vampire

The Blood Drinkers
aka Kulay dugo ang gabi
Directed by Gerardo de Leon
Philippines/USA 1964
Hemisphere Pictures/IIP/Severin
Blu Ray Zone A

Warning: Spoilers rising up from the darkness.

Dr. Marco the vampire (played by Ronald Remy) is upset because his vampire lover is dying. He keeps her alive each day with transfusions from his blood machine (in addition to letting his gal bite him) until he can get her twin sister Charito (played by Amalia Fuentes), living on a nearby house in the community, away from her parents so he can kill her and put her heart in his lover. So Charito’s 'real mother' makes herself known to her, after her surrogate parents are killed by vampires (and later have big stakes driven through them by the good guys). The plot is in motion... can Charito’s new friend, who happens to also be a special police investigator, stop the eventual.. when they get around to it... butchering of his new girlfriend for her heart. Well the local priest, who also narrates the movie and sets himself up around about a third of the way into the picture as this story’s equivalent of Van Helsing, certainly hopes so.

There. That’s my quick story synopsis out of the way so you get some idea of what this film is about.

The Blood Drinkers
is the second film housed in Severin’s nifty Hemisphere Horrors Blu Ray box set although, it’s actually a film made a year earlier by the same director as the first film in this set, Curse Of The Vampires (reviewed here). It’s also an even more entertaining movie and, after a brightly coloured opening credits section where blood is literally poured over the title card, we get a typical Hammer Horror style opening shot of a coach (a funeral coach in this case) being driven to through the woods to a destination... then followed by a modern automobile of the period. So it certainly invokes perhaps the spirit of the English studios but also immediately breaks away as something different.

Now, when Al Adamson’s producing partner Samuel M. Sherman, who distributed this picture through IIP, talked about this movie on one of the extras on the Curse Of The Vampires disc, he mentioned that Hemisphere had recently acquired colour film processing equipment but couldn’t afford to shoot a lot of things on expensive colour film stock... which gives rise to the curious but really most addictive quality of this movie. There are a few colour scenes scattered throughout, mostly the ones set in bright daylight. I’d say they total around 10% of the picture. The rest of the scenes such as the coach arriving from the forest trip at the start, are black and white film stock with colour tints, just like in the old silent movie days. I was trying to make sense of the colour changes as the film went through because, very occasionally you get a few seconds of purple tint in there but mostly it goes like this: The night time scenes are shot on black and white stock with a blue tint. The daylight scenes in colour. However, whenever a vampire (and there are many in the film) is shown on screen, the stock changes to a red tint on monochrome, regardless of whether it’s day or night. Later on, there are also a few colour shots of the vampires and shots of them in blue too so... I had to revise my understanding of the way colour works in this film about halfway through to... every time something ‘hostile and vampiric’ happens, it all goes red. I think. Either way, it’s a hugely entertaining use of colour and, I have to say, on the monochrome tint sections, the director manages to maintain a gothic atmosphere very well.

This is helped by a number of things but the shot compositions are similarly beautiful in this film and Severin have managed to preserve the 1:85 aspect ratio on this, really quite wonderful transfer. Throughout the director uses placement of people against cut out openings such as centre orientated open gateways with all the action taking place in the half open centre... or he’ll find other ways to create a lot of depth on screen. Such as using overlapping faces but at different sizes within a shot or use fixed sections of a shot to delineate different depths to it and have actors walking between the areas. It’s got some really great stuff in this film.

There’s no score credit but Tito Arevalo (who did Curse Of The Vampires) had a hand in this and the music is wildly enthusiastic again, like a Hollywood horror from a decade or two before. He gets really heavy handed with something that sounds a little like a high pitched theremin to denote whenever head vampire Dr. Marco is using his hypnotic mind control on people.

And Dr. Marco is great. I’d seen Ronald Remy before in one of the Blood Island pictures (reviewed here) and not really paid much attention to him but here his screen presence is quite astonishing. He really commands the screen, even when saying the corniest lines and he really looks the part too, with his bald head and dark glasses in certain shots. Some time he’s wearing a full on Dracula cape and at other times he looks more sporty in a jumper. The bald head is probably a contributing factor but, to me, he looked the dead spit of a young Telly Savalas in this.

Let me also point out Eva Montes in her role as Tanya the vampire. She is basically one of Dr. Marco’s assistants (along with a hunchback vampire and a dwarf vampire) and she doesn’t have a lot to say but she’s in a lot of scenes and she’s the epitome of a ‘tall, dark and gothic’ beauty. She really lights up the screen when she’s on, looking like a bride of either Fu Manchu or Dracula throughout the running time. She also has an interesting demise after Dr. Marco escapes to vamp again at the end but is forced to leave her behind... as she takes a lighted candle stick and stakes herself through the heart in an act of suicide. Well, technically she’s already dead so... vampicide?

Lovers of the ‘so bad it’s good’ school of film appreciation will also have a lot to love about the picture, including a cobbled together attempt at a Ken Strickfaden style machine to help the vampire blood transfusions which... well... it doesn’t come close. All in all, though, I have to say I found The Blood Drinkers to be a nicely made film which, yes, has its ridiculous moments but you can really see a lot of effort was being put into this one to make a tip top product for the Filipino audience. I’d definitely recommend it to people who like the old 1930s/1940s vampire movies and I could absolutely watch this one periodically, if I had the time. Splendid stuff.

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