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Sunday, November 11, 2018

THE BLOOD ISLAND COLLECTION (Severin Films) -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

"THE BLOOD ISLAND COLLECTION" is a Blu-ray box set from Severin Films which contains the following titles: Terror Is a Man/ Brides of Blood/ Mad Doctor of Blood Island/ Beast of Blood.  Here are our collected reviews of each separate title.

TERROR IS A MAN -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Being as it's the prelude film to what is known as the "Blood Island Trilogy", I watched TERROR IS A MAN (Severin Films, 1959) expecting something cheap and lurid--in a "so bad, it's good" sort of way--and was delighted to find that it's a terrific film, well-made, with a fine cast, and all the flavor of the best horror/sci-fi thrillers of the 50s.

It's a modest production, to be sure, but its budget is well-used and the sets and locations--a reclusive scientist's island home and laboratory, and the surrounding jungle--more than adequate.

Expertly and stylishly directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero, the film is photographed in crisp, atmospheric black-and-white (this 4k restoration from a recently-discoverd fine grain print looks great in Blu-ray) that's noirish and often gorgeous to look at. It also boasts a robust musical score.

Sort of a cross between "The Island of Dr. Moreau", "The Most Dangerous Game", and "The Creature Walks Among Us", the story begins when a lifeboat containing one William Fitzgerald (Richard Derr) washes ashore on a secluded island in the Philippines, where Dr. Charles Gerard (Frances Lederer) lives with his wife Frances (Greta Thyssen), sadistic animal wrangler Walter (Oscar Peesee), and a native boy and girl who are their servants.

It doesn't take long for Fitzgerald to discover that Gerard is involved in some pretty unethical experiments in evolution--namely, attempting to surgically transform a panther into a human being.

Fortunately for us, this has resulted in a horrific but very cool monster that tends to escape pretty often and go on murderous rampages which have already driven the island's terrified native population to flee in boats.

Naturally, Gerard's wife Frances is a beautiful woman who hates her husband's work and is strongly attracted to the handsome stranger, an attraction that he reciprocates in record time.  Before long, they plan to escape the increasingly-unbalanced Gerard and leave the island together, but before this can happen the panther-man breaks loose again and his current rampage will result in catastrophic death and destruction for several of those involved.

For those who love vintage 50s horror films, this one should fit the bill quite nicely--at times it even has shades of the old Universals in a slightly low-rent sort of way, with a tragic, tortured (but adequately frightening) monster who evokes sympathy even as it strikes out in bloody violence against those who have caused it pain.

The cast is fine, starting with Frances Lederer who was so effective in the title role of THE RETURN OF DRACULA and the gorgeous Greta Thyssen, best known as the leading lady in the Three Stooges' final Columbia shorts such as "Sappy Bullfighters."  Richard Derr, a veteran of such films as FIREFOX and AMERICAN GIGOLO and a two-time Admiral on "Star Trek" ("The Alternative Factor", "The Mark of Gideon") gives a solid performance as well.

Giving it a touch of the old William Castle bally-hoo is the announcement in the film's foreword of a warning bell intended to give the squeamish time to close their eyes when something ghastly is about to happen. It's only used once, and the scene isn't all that ghastly, but it's the sort of touch that makes movies like this just a bit more fun.

Severin Films' Blu-ray comes with the usual array of fun bonus material, including:

Man Becomes Creature: Interview with Hemisphere Marketing Consultant Samuel M. Sherman
Dawn of Blood Island: Interview with Co-Director Eddie Romero
Terror Creature: Interview with Pete Tombs, Co-Author of “Immoral Tales”
When the Bell Rings: Interview with Critic Mark Holcomb
Poster & Still Gallery
Reversible BLOOD CREATURE Cover

(NOTE: Something I didn't notice the first time I watched the Severin Blu-ray disc is an annoying buzzing noise that begins somewhere near the middle of the film and lasts for several minutes. Others have reported hearing this on their copies as well. I checked an earlier posting of the film on YouTube and this noise was not there.)

As the film that kicked off the "Blood Island Trilogy" of American/Filipino horror productions, TERROR IS A MAN is an old-school monster lover's delight that's just pure fun to watch.

BRIDES OF BLOOD -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

As the first film in the "Blood Island" trilogy, which was kicked off nine years earlier by its unofficial prequel "Terror Is a Man", the American-Filipino co-production BRIDES OF BLOOD (Severin Films, 1968) gets this particular horror cycle off to a lively, lurid, and very colorful start that's nothing if not wildly frenetic and fun.

This time the island is inhabited by a tribe of natives who are regularly attacked by a terrifying jungle monster that is only appeased when they sacrifice their lovely young maidens to it two at a time.  Lashed to poles and stripped, the unfortunate lasses await the toothy, snarling beast who then has its horrible way with them before ripping them to pieces.

None of which sets well with idealistic young Peace Corps worker Jim Farrell (John Ashley), who arrives at the island to oversee various work projects and promptly falls in love with native girl Alma (Eva Darren), who, naturally, promptly becomes one of the next women chosen as a sacrifice to the jungle monster.

Also getting involved are seasoned research scientist Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor) and his neglected, sex-starved, and rather voluptuous wife Carla (exotic dancer-turned-actress Beverly Hills).  Dr. Henderson is interested in gauging the effects of nuclear tests on the islands in the area.

The three outsiders soon meet Estaban Powers (Mario Montenegro), a wealthy gentleman who invites them into his nearby mansion which is stocked with all manner of odd servants including the ogre-like Goro.  He seems nice and hospitable enough, but there's something off about him that won't become blindingly obvious until later.

Meanwhile, Powers shows the astonished outsiders some of the surrounding jungle's bizarre features, which include snakelike vines and tree tentacles which are alive and very carnivorous (all due, of course, to those nuclear tests and their radiation).  When these puppet-like tentacles get riled up, they give the living forest in THE EVIL DEAD a real run for its money.

With such a set-up, it doesn't take long for BRIDES OF BLOOD to become a free-for-all of mutated flora and fauna attacks (even the butterflies and cockroaches get into the act) along with a deadly conflict between Jim Farrell and the natives when he rescues his love Alma from the jungle monster's hungry clutches and both must flee for their lives.

Meanwhile, the mansion serves as a backdrop for sexual tension with poor Carla wandering around looking for love after trying in vain to arouse her husband and continuously throwing herself at Mr. Powers.  This works out nicely for the viewer since the generously-endowed Beverly Hills (aka Beverly Powers) is very easy on the eyes.

Some long, talky sequences soon give way to lots of action, especially when the slavering, comically-outlandish jungle monster is ready for its closeups.  This thing has to be seen to be believed--it's like a big, mutant escapee from a deranged Sid and Marty Krofft series and is constantly bellowing for victims to ravage and rend asunder.

Production values are pretty good although not as polished as those of its predecessor, "Terror Is a Man."  In color this time, the film is loaded with action that's vividly staged and fast-moving.  Graphic violence consists mainly of quick glimpses of body parts and such.  Nudity is also brief and seen mainly from a distance.

Kent Taylor played in lots of prestigious films in his career but I think of him most fondly in stuff like THE CRAWLING HAND, THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH, and this.  Beverly Hills, who lent her talent and looks to a wide array of films such as SPEEDWAY and I'LL TAKE SWEDEN, is ideal as the sexy wife.

Best of all is the great John Ashley, former teen idol and star of such classics as FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, and the legendary "Beach Party" series.

The Blu-ray from Severin Films features a 4k scan from a recently discovered 35mm interpositive and is presented absolutely uncut for the first time ever.  The usual bundle of bonus features includes:

Audio Commentary with Hemisphere Marketing Consultant Samuel M. Sherman
Jungle Fury: Archival Interview with Co-Director Eddie Romero
Here Comes the Bride: Interview with Hemisphere Marketing Consultant Samuel M. Sherman
Beverly Hills on Blood Island: Interview with Actress Beverly Powers a.k.a. Beverly Hills
Alternate BRIDES OF BLOOD ISLAND Title Sequence and JUNGLE FURY Title Card
Teaser Trailer
Poster & Still Gallery

Not quite a top-drawer production, BRIDES OF BLOOD is still technically far superior to the gore-drenched jungle exploitation dreck we'd start to see in the coming decades.  Thanks largely to its great cast and freewheeling style, it's a barrel of fun from start to finish.

MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

The middle entry in the American-Filipino "Blood Island Trilogy" that started with "Brides of Blood" (and its sort-of prequel "Terror Is a Man"), MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (Severin Films, 1969) moves the dial much closer to eleven with more blood (much of it green), more gore and severed limbs, more grotesque monsters, and, last but not least, more sex and nudity.  In other words, more exploitation for our twisted viewing pleasure.

This time the boat to the island carries Dr. Bill Foster (John Ashley of "Brides of Blood" again), investigating reports of a green-blooded maniac on the island; Sheila Willard (Angelique Pettyjohn), a woman searching for her long-missing father; and a young man named Carlos (Ronaldo Valdez) returning to his old village in hopes of persuading his widowed mother to return to civilization with him.

What all of these people have in common is Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy, THE LONGEST HUNDRED MILES, FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW), a research scientist who may or may not be an insane crackpot performing horrifying experiments on anyone he or his henchman Razak can get their hands on. The local natives provide a steady supply of subjects, several of whom now roam the jungle as hideous chlorophyll plant-monsters attacking people and disemboweling them.

These scenes are way more graphic than in previous entries in the series, as we're treated to bloody severed limbs and heads flying about while copious amounts of actual animal entrails ooze from a procession of hapless victims.  The gore effects are crude but plentiful, while the grotesque monster makeup, especially on the main chlorophyll creature, makes them look as though they're wearing spinach and asparagus pizzas on their faces.

The steamy melodrama within Dr. Lorca's mansion takes up much screen time, providing not only heaps of interpersonal conflict (along with some amusingly biting dialogue) but also a much larger sex and nudity quotient than before.

This is especially true for Carlos when he's reunited with a young village girl from his past who seduces him while still carrying a torch for his dead father, and for Dr. Foster and Sheila who are destined to go at it eventually.  Various village girls scamper around nude in the jungle as well before coming face-to-face with Chlorophyll Man.

As in the previous film, John Ashley ends up on the run with his girlfriend from a group of hostile villagers who think he's brought misfortune to their island.  Meanwhile, we get to see a tomb opened up, a graphic monster attack inside Dr. Lorca's own home, some eyebrow-raising plot twists, and, finally, an explosive finish that takes place within a subterranean laboratory of horror.

Production values are considerably less polished this time although the beautiful natural settings are a huge asset.  There's an odd stylistic affectation that grows tiresome real quick--whenever a monster is present, the camera lens zooms in and out in jittery fashion.  Before long I was wishing I could get my hands on the cameraman's zoom lens and smash it to pieces.

There's also a disturbing element of needless, sadistic animal cruelty in one scene that puts a damper on the entire film.  It's a really nasty scene, and I couldn't view anything else that followed without repeatedly going back to it in my mind.  This is the sort of thing that would also ruin my enjoyment of other jungle exploitation films to come.

The great John Ashley once again lends his considerable presence to the proceedings, this time accompanied by the equally noteworthy Angelique Pettyjohn.  "Star Trek" fans will remember her as the warrior woman with the Jiffy-Pop bra and silver hair in "The Gamesters of Triskelion" as well as numerous cult pics like "The Last Empire" and "Repo Man."

The Blu-ray from Severin Films is scanned in 4k from a recently discovered camera negative and presented totally uncut for the first time ever, including the legendary “Oath of Green Blood” prologue.  Extras include:

Audio Commentary with Horror Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger
Audio Commentary with Hemisphere Marketing Consultant Samuel M. Sherman
Tombs of the Living Dead: Interview with Pete Tombs, Co-Author of “Immoral Tales”
A Taste of Blood: Interview with Critic Mark Holcomb
The Mad Doctor of Blood Island: Archival Interview with Co-Director Eddie Romero
Poster & Still Gallery
Bonus Disc: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD (in box set only)

As a continuation of the "Blood Island" series, MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND ups the exploitation ante on all counts and comes through for anyone who likes their monster/horror action cheap, lurid, and drenched with sex and gore.  The animal cruelty element is indefensible--for some, it will even be a deal-breaker--but otherwise this is down and dirty monster fun. 

BEAST OF BLOOD -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Like many horror fans, my first look at the "Chlorophyll Man" was in Dennis Gifford's celebrated book, "Pictorial History of Horror Movies."  Now, with Severin Films' Blu-ray release of BEAST OF BLOOD (1970), we get to see the movie behind that picture in all its gruesome, exploitative glory.

The finale of the "Blood Island Trilogy", which includes "Brides of Blood" and "Mad Doctor of Blood Island" (along with the 1959 prequel, "Terror Is a Man"), this lurid shocker is pure grindhouse goodness for horror lovers who enjoy wandering the dark territory of the grotesque and bizarre.

The story picks up right where "Mad Doctor of Blood Island" left off, with Dr. Bill Foster (the great John Ashley) leaving Blood Island on a boat which, unbeknownst to him, contains a stowaway--none other than the dreaded Chlorophyll Man himself.  When this creature attacks in a frantically-staged scene, the ship ends up sinking and Foster is the only survivor.

He returns to the island some time later to investigate brand new sightings of the "green men" created by evil Dr. Lorca, and discovers that the doctor has also survived the previous film albeit with some severe facial burns and a renewed interest in creating green-blooded chlorophyll monsters using the local island inhabitants as his guinea pigs.

Foster and a hardy crew of local men set off through the jungle to Dr. Lorca's remote subterranean lair, accompanied by plucky lady reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnall, LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE, "Star Trek: The Apple") and even pluckier island girl Laida (Liza Belmonte) who is as handy with a machete as she is beautiful.

Much of the first half of the film covers their trek through the jungle, which tends to drag a bit until finally we rejoin Dr. Lorca in all his mad-doctor glory. "Beast of Blood" kicks into fun-gear at this point, thanks mainly to the fact that Chlorophyll Man's decapitated head is being kept alive while his headless body is strapped to a lab table, also alive.

Lorca's laboratory set and its surrounding cave tunnels look like something out of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and give the movie a pleasantly low-rent science fiction vibe. But it's the horror of that really hideous animated head leering back at Lorca and baring its fangs, biding its time for a chance to get revenge, that gives these scenes a satisfying shudder.

As usual, Lorca keeps a fresh stock of native captives caged for his ghastly experiments, with the goriest scenes consisting of some actual animal entrails being sliced and diced by the mad doctor's scalpel under the camera's loving gaze.

The film's sex quotient is filled early on when Foster and Myra have a steamy sex scene containing quite a bit of nudity.  Soon after, Myra is kidnapped by Lorca's men and serves mainly as a damsel in distress, giving Foster and crew added incentive to descend on Lorca's compound bearing spears and guns in the film's delightfully action-packed battle royale.

The machete-wielding Laida is especially fine during this sequence, and even Myra gets a chance to impale a bad guy or two.  John Ashley fans will enjoy seeing him in James Bond/Indiana Jones mode as well.  But the best part is when Chlorophyll Man takes telepathic control of his headless body (in a finale reminiscent of "The Brain That Wouldn't Die") and goes after Dr. Lorca while the laboratory crumbles around them.

Visually, this Severin Films Blu-ray (available only as part of the "Blood Island Collection") is less refined and restored than the rest of the trilogy, but it's a look that I find deeply appealing in a nostalgic way.  Extras consist of the following:

Audio Commentary with Hemisphere Marketing Consultant Samuel M. Sherman
Celeste and the Beast: An Interview with Celeste Yarnall
Dr. Lorca’s Blood Devils: Interview with Actor Eddie Garcia
Super 8 Digest Version (approx. 15 minutes)
Poster & Still Gallery

With no arthouse pretensions whatsoever, BEAST OF BLOOD simply wants to shock, appall, and exploit our basest entertainment needs, which it does in shameless earnest.  It's prime, joyfully perverse drive-in fodder, and I'd rather watch it than whatever they threw Academy Awards at this year.  

"Terror Is a Man", "Brides of Blood", and "Mad Doctor of Blood Island" can be ordered separately. "Beast of Blood" is available only as part of "The Blood Island Collection."  


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