We are all interested in 35mm film, drive-in theaters, and the Philippines… for those are the things that will soon be covered in green blood. Yes, you heard me right, GREEN BLOOD! You are interested in the hot, the humid, and the mosquito infested—that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of some of the worst movies ever made. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable soul who survived a screening. I am that miserable soul. The papier-mâché special effects, the identical plotlines, the endless jungle chases, the exploding grass-roofed huts—my friend, we cannot keep these a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. Remember, my friends: terrible movies such as these will affect you in the future!
Massacre Gun introduced me to the string of Japanese Crime Films produced by Nikkatsu Studios in the 1960s starring their stable of “Diamond Guys” leading men. That was delightful. Being introduced to the series of Blood Island films recently was… less than delightful. Still, I can’t say I didn’t have fun.
I can’t say that.
In the wake of WWII, Filipino film industry wunderkinds Gerry de Leon and Eddie Romero made a series of war films that were not financial successes. An American distributor suggested they make horror films tailored for the growing drive-in theater market instead. Their first effort in 1959, Terror is a Man—a loose rewrite of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau—was a big success. This eventually led the pair to team up with American actor John Ashley to make a string of low budget drive-in hits, which came to be known as the Blood Island series because of their shared fictitious location.
The Plots in Brief: All four films follow roughly the same narrative: An American arrives at Blood Island by boat. He is immediately whisked into danger and intrigue involving scared, powerless villagers; a sympathetic local woman clad in a colorful sarong; a crazed scientist performing inhumane experiments and possessing a private army; a comely American girl with whom he quickly falls in love; and (best of all) some sort of low-budget monster. This generic plotline is established with Terror is a Man and then slavishly followed in the later films. I guess de Leon, Romero, and Ashley did not want to mess with success.
Beast of Blood features what is arguably the best monster in the series: a dismembered head that looks like it has been kicked around an asphalt parking lot for a few hours, being kept alive with blood transfusions and applied electricity. Every twenty minutes or so, it awakens to shout, “Dr. Lorca! The time is coming, Dr. Lorca!”
I’m not making any of this up.
Goldfinger!) the beautiful female love interest, and the inevitable destruction of the villain’s lair during the films’ climaxes. This leads me to think the producers either said to themselves, “What if we made a film like James Bond—but with a big monster in it!” or “What if James Bond films starred Elvis Presley?” You see, the final three films in this series feature American John Ashley, who looks, sounds, and acts a lot like The King.
Speaking of John Ashley… Just when you are thinking, “JB, these Philippines-lensed, drive-in quickies couldn’t POSSIBLY have a connection with Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam masterpiece Apocalypse Now, right?” I am here to tell you that THEY DO. Please follow along:
Ashley had appeared as star Frankie Avalon’s friend and sidekick in the popular series of Beach Party films produced by American International in the early 1960s. He even had a brief musical career and recorded a few singles and an album. He was married to Gidget star Deborah Wally, but the marriage ended in divorce. Looking to get away from LA, he chose to produce and star in a series of low-budget drive-in movies filmed in Manila; he fell in love with the island and made his second home there. When Francis Ford Coppola chose the Philippines as the location for Apocalypse Now, Ashley served as an associate producer, helping Coppola scout locations and securing the use of real Huey helicopters from the local government. Taking a break from acting and producing, Ashley then ran a small drive-in theater chain in Oklahoma for a few years. He eventually moved back to Los Angeles and produced three seasons of the popular television action series The A-Team. What a career this man had!
Many of the most interesting extras are the interviews with the cast and crew originally filmed for Mark Hartley’s 2010’s documentary, Machete Maidens Unleashed! Severin Films’ Blu-ray of Mad Doctor of Blood Island even comes complete with a CD of the movie’s soundtrack music, which I have been listening to on repeat as I write this column to get me in the proper mood.
“Dr. Lorca! The time is coming, Dr. Lorca!”
Well, the severed head on my desk is calling loudly and seems to have mistaken me for Dr. Lorca. I must go and do battle with this bloody head, lest he use his latent brainpower to reanimate his own headless body, order it to attack me, subdue me, and crush my skull under a heavy machine. Ouch. My wife, who is a sympathetic native of these parts, will have to come save me!
And what’s sarong with that?