The village paths run … green!
By Mark Voger, author, “Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972″
The third of four posts about the bizarre Filipino horror films affectionately known as the “Blood Island Trilogy.” Read previous post.
“The Mad Doctor of Blood Island” is like “The Magnificent Ambersons” with blood. Green blood.
For a cheap little indie made in the Philippines, “Doc” has more than its share of character development — and soap opera-like secrets. Characters withhold information from the audience, exchanging meaningful glances that imply: We have history. Bad history.
Like its predecessor “Brides of Blood” (1968), “Doc” opens with a boat chugging toward Blood Island, carrying white people who apparently haven’t heard about their destination’s abnormally high monster count.
Bill Foster (John Ashley) is a medical researcher sent to investigate reports of a troubling denizen of the island: a murderous lunatic who bleeds green. In an unrelated matter, Shiela Willard (Angelique Pettyjohn) wants to check up on her father (Tony Edmunds), an émigré who hasn’t been answering her communications.
This time, however, there’s a returning Blood Island native on board. Carlos Lopez (Ronaldo Valdez) knows that bad things happen on this island, and aims to extricate his widowed mother (Tita Munoz) from this dangerous place.
The voyagers land and the fun begins; that’s what Blood Island movies do. Characters are introduced, questions are raised, monsters are riled.
We meet Mrs. Lopez, who is still very lovely for her age. In fact, there seems to be some slight Oedipal thing going on between she and Carlos.
This is interrupted by a character that practically steals the movie: Marla (Alicia Alonzo) is a diminutive wildcat who looks 16, but watch out. Marla immediately inserts herself between Carlos and his mom — Mrs. Lopez’s annoyance is palpable — taunting the young man by calling him “little Carlos.” (They knew each other as children.) Marla dresses like a post card model — sarong, lei, a flower in her hair — and doesn’t walk so much as prowl. When Carlos says he’ll see her around, she deadpans, “As much as you want, little Carlos, and maybe more.” This girl is trouble. Sexy trouble.
Into the picture limps Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy, who played the shaved-head vampire in “The Blood Drinkers”). The enigmatic Lorca speaks in calculated vagueries, and exudes creepy charm. He walks with a cane, wears one glove, and exerts a Svengali-like control over his staff. His first-in-command is Razak (Bruno Punzalan), a mute brute who smiles like an uncle when he first spots the returning Carlos. (The character will never be this nice again.) There’s also village chieftain Ramu (Alfonso Carvajal), who silently observes the goings-on.
Shiela’s father turns out to be a sullen drunk. Even worse, he’s a peeping Tom; Willard spies on Marla as she skinny-dips by a waterfall, in a fairly gratuitous sequence. (Not a complaint.)
When Marla finally decides to have her way with Carlos, she is in complete charge. She walks into his room without knocking, disrobes without a word and climbs on top of him without ceremony. When Carlos tries to kiss Marla, she stops him, and kisses him instead.
Afterwards, Marla collects herself and saunters toward the door. “What’s wrong?” asks Carlos, who obviously was hoping for a little post-coital spooning. “I’m finished,” Marla says. “Aren’t you?”
There is a monster — “Doc” isn’t just a soap opera — and when it appears, the cameraman does something you’ve never seen in any other movie. He wiggles the zoom lens — in and out and in and out — incessantly. You could call it Nausea-Vision. It’s disorienting and unintentionally funny, but again, “Doc” does what it wants to do.
Adding to the mayhem, natives begin to turn green and ooze pus. The diagnosis? Too much chlorophyll. (So you can overdo it on the vegetables.)
This plot point inspired promotional ballyhoo in the form of free “green blood” offered to moviegoers. This was actually a sweet green solution in glorified ketchup packets, according to Independent International co-founder Samuel M. Sherman, in his commentary for Alpha Video’s DVD edition.
Unfortunately, “Doc” has a sequence that ruins the fun — that makes it so you cannot unconditionally embrace this cool and quirky horror film. (Come to think of it, something like this happened with “Brides of Blood” also.)
The visitors observe a native ritual which begins with suggestive dancing and ends with animal sacrifice. (This is what Blood Island is all about: sex and death.) The problem: real animals are really slaughtered. I won’t elaborate, except to say that it’s a black mark on this movie. I am against the censorship of movie anachronisms that are retroactively deemed politically incorrect, but I would gladly make an exception here.
I still dig “The Mad Doctor of Blood Island,” but I must take a “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance. And move on.
Stay tuned for next post: “Beast of Blood” (1971)