Creatures ‘n’ cuckolds
The second of four posts about the bizarre Filipino horror films affectionately known as the “Blood Island Trilogy.” Read previous post
By Mark Voger, author, “Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972″
Blood Island has enough trouble — what with the tentacled plants, mutated bugs and a hyperventilating monster that demands not one, but two sacrificial virgins per ceremony.
So the last thing the natives need is a bunch of spoiled gringos descending on the island, with their romantic psychodrama and their big ideas for “advancement.”
Talk about fun couples. You won’t find many husbands less interested in sex, nor wives more wantonly promiscuous, than Dr. and Mrs. Henderson: Paul (Kent Taylor) and Carla (Beverly Hills).
Taylor has that weird look of a 1930s studio player who is desperately clinging to his leading-man looks; the face is still there, kind of, but it’s surrounded by shoe-polish hair dye, chicken neck and a mustache that went out with Errol Flynn. Hills struggles beneath a pile of bleached, Aqua Net-saturated hair.
Still, these two talented pros nail the vibe of distracted scientist and neglected wife.
The couple is accompanied by another American, Jim Farrell (John Ashley), a Peace Corps worker whose title — “instructor in community action” — sounds like something the GOP ridiculed Barack Obama for in 2008. Farrell comes to Blood Island to build a health center, a schoolhouse and an irrigation system. (When an islander apologizes for the primitive conditions, Farrell says: “We didn’t come here expecting to find laundromats and supermarkets.”)
The Americans aren’t on the island more than a few minutes before they witness an unfortunate mishap during the double-funeral of two young ladies: pallbearers drop the dismembered head and leg of one of the girls. The Americans are told the girls died in an “accident.”
And if you believe that, I have a DVD of “Brides of Blood” I’d like to sell you.
(Not really. I’m keeping it.)
The weird events escalate, as does the character count. Plants try to strangle passers-by … a small flying insect morphs into a mini-Mothra … island girls take part in some sort of lottery … there’s a loud, echo-y noise at night that sounds like an obscene-phone-caller approaching rapture.
Among the islanders are secretive village elder Arcadio (Andres Centenero); his full-lipped, sarong-and-lei-wearing granddaughter Alma (Eva Darren); plantation owner and frustrated pianist Esteban (Mario Montenegro); and his whip-wielding slave master Goro (Bruno Punzalan).
Esteban’s mansion is staffed by skittish dwarves in diapers. You can’t make this stuff up.
Finally, the Americans see something that can no longer be explained away with vague lies: Two virgins are tied to bamboo crosses positioned near a giant idol. To up their humiliation — onscreen and in real life, you fear — their bikini tops are torn off.
This is where “Brides of Blood” becomes a hard movie to love, or more precisely, a hard movie to embrace unconditionally.
The young ladies are then abandoned, and everyone hides while a monster — resembling a Buddha statue left in the pottery oven too long — has its way with the girls and then dismembers them.
I avoided using the “R” word, but — as Alma later explains it to Bill —that’s what’s going on here. Bill has an uphill battle convincing the island men to fight on behalf of their women.
Admittedly, this is fantasy, and Blood Island is a fictional place, and this movie is 47 years old. But a monster forcing itself on bound women? As entertainment, it feels wrong.
Back to the story: Paul has a theory on the monster’s origin that we’ve heard in any number of movies from “Gojira” to “Beginning of the End.” In the late 1940s, Blood Island was on the fringe of the atomic testing area, and Paul has found evidence of mutation in the local flora and fauna. “It seems some living organizations on this island are undergoing some drastic mutations,” says he, in cut-and-pasted dialogue.
Some of the suspense of “Brides of Blood” stems from the growing attraction between Jim and Alma — and the growing fear that Alma will become the next virgin to be sacrificed.
“Blood Island” movies — and most horror movies, in fact — have a way of killing off deserving parties, and allowing do-gooders to survive. Spoiler alert: Carla gets a comeuppance, but we’re not sure it’s deserved. Yeah, she’s turned Paul into a cuckold, but there are several scenes in which she tries to communicate with him — not least a bedroom scene in which Paul lays there like a corpse while Carla tries to get a rise out of him. (Paul is probably dreaming of flora and fauna.) Hills manages to inject vulnerability into an unsympathetic character.
It all ends with sexy boy-girl dancing and beat-driven music, not unlike something you’d see in one of those “beach party” movies Ashley was still making as recently as three years earlier — but Blood Island style, of course.
“Brides of Blood” is the first in the so-called “Blood Island Trilogy” of horror movies made in the Phillipines, starring Ashley, directed by Eddie Romero and released by Hemisphere Pictures. “Brides” was co-directed by Gerardo de Leon. According to Independent International co-founder Samuel M. Sherman, Romero specialized in character development, while de Leon concentrated on visuals.
If accurate, it explains the soap-opera components to the plot, and the many thoughtfully composed shots, in “Brides of Blood.”
Yes, the movie has a miniscule budget and was made under borderline-inhumane conditions. Yes, it is undeniably misogynistic. Yes, it’s kinda dumb.
But, contrary to logic, these minuses adds up to something strangely memorable, at least for ever-tolerant horror movie fans.
“Brides of Blood” draws you in. Maybe it’s the heavy breathing of that gloppy monster? Nah … it’s the hot island chicks.
Read next post: “Mad Doctor of Blood Island” (1969)