Green Fingers

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Arse! I watched a film by mistake.

MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, directed by Eddie Romero and Gerardo DeLeon, was my third experience of Philippine horror, after the rather classy TERROR IS A MAN, lent dignity by Francis Lederer (Jodie Foster’s drama teacher) in the mad scientist role, and THE BLOOD DRINKERS, a truly psychotronic mad-fest glazed with brain-searing colour.

I was watching MAD DOC as part of my See Reptilicus and Die quest, based on a gruesome fanged and mangled creature, sprawled on a beach,  illustrated on page 207 of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. But the monster in this movie, the chlorophyll man (it should really be called MAD DOCTOR OF CHLOROPHYLL ISLAND) never winds up on a beach. What gives?

DSCF1828Tasha the Siamese brushes up on her Philippines horror cinema.

Reading Gifford’s caption more carefully, I discover that what he’s actually saying is… what he actually is saying. “Opposite below: the chlorophyll man, a Philippino favourite, was all washed up in Mad Doctor of Blood Island (Hemisphere 1970) — but struck again in Blood Devils.” Which, with the talk of being “washed up,” sounds like he’s attributing the still to MAD DOC, but then it sounds like he isn’t. So now I have to see BLOOD DEVILS.

Still, MAD DOC isn’t all bad. The bald vampire with bad skin and sunglasses from BLOOD DRINKERS, Ronald Remy, here plays mad/bad scientists Dr. Lorca (since Romero and DeLeon are so fond of using BLOOD in their titles, I’m surprised and disappointed that Dr. Lorca did not return in BLOOD WEDDING) who has attempted to cure cancer with chlorophyll from a unique dancing shrub (we eventually see a sample in his lab, wiggling its branches to and fro in an eternal vegetative froug). Filling out the cast are stray jawbone John Ashley and local floozy Alicia Alonzo, who “became a whore for love,” according to Dr. L.

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Alicia is the film’s most interesting and non-generic element. She proudly tells how Ashley’s father first took her sexually at the age of 14, and how she’s never experienced a man like him. And not for want of trying. It’s a rather startling, adult, distasteful yet at least unusual bit of characterisation. Unfortunately, Ashley’s father, officially dead, is still roaming the jungle as a half-plant maniac, ripping innocent naked girls into gaily-coloured heaps of flesh and entrails. The movie has a real fascination with gory abjection, much more explicit than the same year’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and in colour, yet. The other point of comparison might be Herschell Gordon Lewis, with his BLOOD FEAST etc, but Romero and DeLeon (the latter apparently still working at 85) have made a film roughly 50,000 times more compelling than Lewis’s depressing squaloramas.

While TERROR IS A MAN deployed misty b&w for atmospheric Lewtonesque shadow-work, getting close to the beauty of Gabriel Figueroa’s photography except that here the lighting and diffusion changes randomly from shot to shot, and BLOOD DRINKERS has that hyper-intense gel-lit palette, the main technique in this one is the zoom — whenever the chlorophyll pedophile attacks his victims, cinematographer Justo Paulino masturbates his zoom bar, sending the lens pulsing frantically in and out, just a little, sending ripples across the viewer’s retina as the image jumps towards the eye, then away again, twice a second. I felt like my temporal lobes had been trampled by boys.

vlcsnap-72789Green on green.

The waterfalls and scenery are quite nice, the naked girls welcome, the gore is rather impressive and horrible, the acting has that same dreamy flatness (quite different from the nativity play mix of tension and ineptitude in HG Lewis) and as with the other Philippine horrors I’ve seen, there’s a nice feeling that the usual genre conventions may not apply, everything’s up for grabs. Now I need to find BLOOD DEVILS…

Help a brother out! Use this link to buy your BLOOD ISLAND BOX SET from Amazon, and support Shadowplay.
The Blood Island Vacation (Brides of Blood / The Mad Doctor of Blood Island / Beast of Blood / Brain of Blood)

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29 Responses to “Green Fingers”

  1. Just a little puzzled here by something. You mention Gabriel Figueroa as cameraman for this film, but IMDB lists Justo Paulino in that spot, is this a pseudonym? Figueroa’s name jumped out at me, toward the end of his career he was hired by John Huston to photograph UNDER THE VOLCANO, this was two decades after he’d worked for him shooting NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. Figueroa had an incredible pedigree. His first credited work is with Sergei Eisenstein on QUE VIVA MEXICO! Later he worked with Bunuel on LOS OLVIDADOS and SIMON OF THE DESERT. Huston actually took the time out to write a letter to Figueroa praising him for his work on UNDER THE VOLCANO, in which he wrote: “It’s been years since I enjoyed making a film as much as VOLCANO. It is surely one of the handsomest pictures ever made. The connoisseurs of fine photography will surely observe this.”

  2. Great clip:

  3. I thought on a first viewing that Alicia called Dr Lorca “Dr Loco”. More apt, perhaps.

  4. I just re-read your post, I must have read it too hastily. You said Paulino gets close to the beauty of Figueroa’s work. My mistake.

  5. I think it’s a little unclear, but that’s what I meant, yes. Paulino unfortunately can’t match his lighting and diffusion from shot to shot, so although they all look nice, they clash violently. Figueroa’s stuff is not only gorgeous, it’s technically consistent.

    i have Under the Volcano but haven’t watched it yet… when IS the Day of the Dead?

    Dr Loco is a lovely idea for a character!

  6. November 2 is “Día de los Muertos”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Dead

  7. Under the Volcano is seriously underrated. It’s a fairly impossible niovle to adpat, but Huston mamanged to get the basic through-line of its anti-hero, and Finney gave it his all. Jackie Bissett is also teriffic in it. Plus it has a terrifyingly sinister score by the great Alex North.

  8. The Day of the Dead is soon, November 2nd… UNDER THE VOLCANO is good, very good. Not quite as engaging from a personal standpoint as WISE BLOOD, I like the quirkiness and dark humor of the latter, but it’s still an outstanding film. Albert Finney’s performance as The Consul is especially noteworthy, and the ending in the Mexican whorehouse (with real Mexican prostitutes, I’ve read they adored Huston) is dark, very disturbing. Finney plays an alcoholic with almost unparalleled conviction. The Criterion disc has a BBC documentary on author Malcolm Lowry which is also outstanding, wondering if you’ve got that or not. And there’s a midget pimp at the end who’s quite a scene-stealer. Yeah, you should check it out when you get the chance. Oh, and check out the Mexican poster for Freund’s MAD LOVE in the movie-house toward the beginning…

  9. I’ve never read and so have never seen the Huston film.

  10. david wingrove Says:

    I remember seeing the old Lowry documentary when it was first broadcast. So glad it’s been resurrected as a DVD extra!

    UNDER THE VOLCANO is one of my all-time favourite books, so it’s hard for me to be satisfied with a screen version – but the Huston does come close. Personally, though, I’ll take Bisset’s underacting over Finney’s overacting. He was, for me, the one seriously jarring note.

  11. What happened to Finney? I can enjoy his mugging, but it’s a real shame he’s never knowingly underplayed these days, given how good he was. Maybe he was never exactly subtle, but there was a greater sensitivity in his youth.

    OK, that’ll be my Day of the Dead special then. That and maybe Romero’s Day of the Dead. Or a proper Mexican movie.

  12. Under The Volcano is a great novel.

    One of my favourite Finney performances is in Paul Seed’s A Rather English Marriage, with Tom Courtenay and Joanna Lumley.

  13. Finney was chosen for the role of The Consul AFTER he’d played Daddy Warbucks, a comic strip character and the father of Little Orphan Annie and a role that no doubt called for more than a little mugging and deliberate lack of subtlety. ANNIE was the film Huston directed just prior to UNDER THE VOLCANO , so I’m sure he and Finney were likely attuned to one another once cameras began rolling for the Lowry adaptation. I haven’t seen many of Finney’s onscreen performances, so I haven’t the perspective to judge. I believe that Bisset’s performance is possibly one of her best, very understated, but she’s playing a character that is always sober, and Finney’s playing someone terminally alcoholic, the contrast between the two is meant to be jarring. I’m a self-professed film enthusiast first and foremost, and a bibliophile somewhere thereafter. I readily admit to not having read Lowry’s book, but I still find his life story and Huston’s film adaptation engaging. I once loaned Kubrick’s LOLITA to a friend to watch, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so. She’s a librarian, and had so much reverence for Nabokov’s book that she couldn’t bring herself to view the film. With all due respect toward her and those who share her stance, to deprive yourself of seeing what I consider to be one of the more enjoyable films in the history of cinema is something I find hard to fathom (and I have read Nabokov’s book, but many years ago).

  14. I haven’t read the Lowry either. (“I’m not mad, I’ve just read different books,” ~ Ken Campbell). Maybe there’s time before Nov 2nd! Just picked up a collection of three WR Burnett novels, though, which look tempting. And first I have to finish Eric Ambler’s State of Seige. I’m such a wretched middlebrow! It’s the worst thing to be, feels like.

    Annie is probably the least defensible entry in the whole Huston canon — but I’ll gladly watch it as soon as I get my hands on a widescreen copy. As long as I don’t have to pay for it.

  15. I’m quite fond of Adrian Lyne’s film adaptation of Lolita, with Jeremy Irons as Humbert.

  16. I still haven’t forced myself to watch that. I know some people who admire it immensely. The interviews with Irons and Lyne at the time rather put me off — they seemed so SERIOUS. And the book is not straightforwardly straightfaced.

    I haven’t liked much Lyne, but I do enjoy being freaked out by Jacob’s Ladder, and I’ve heard Unfaithful praised highly too.

  17. I actually prefer the Lyne version to the Kubrick. Frank Langella is far more convincing than Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty. I saw the Lyne film at the cinema.

  18. It depends if you think Quilty ought to be convincing — I think it can work both ways. Sellers clearly isn’t aiming for conviction in any normal sense.

  19. For me, Peter Seller’s best performance was in Ashby’s Being There.

  20. Christopher Says:

    My favorite Blood Island film…This is the one I reccommend if you’re only going to see just one of the blood islanders..

  21. I’m very keen of Terror is a Man, but this one was good. As can be seen in that clip, it has that peculiar, concussed quality also seen in The Blood Drinkers, which is the weirdest of the lot. I must needs investigate further!

  22. I like the alternative title, “Grave Desires”.

  23. Christopher Says:

    Brides of Blood is pretty good..It showcases those cool color effects(as in Mad Doctor and Blood Drinkers) to good advantage..heavier on atmosphere than the others..

  24. I like the sound of The Beast of Yellow Night also — it’s generally described as “incomprehensible.” Most of these films seem like the less comprehensible, the better.

  25. david wingrove Says:

    Glad I’m not the only person who prefers the Lyne version of LOLITA. It captures the obsessive erotic passion in the book, which Kubrick is far too cold and clinical a film-maker to do.

    The Kubrick LOLITA goes downhill rapidly once Shelley Winters dies, and James Mason is just too suave and dapper to convey what a twisted and pitiable character Humbert is. As for Jeremy Irons…well, ‘twisted’ and ‘pitiable’ are probably his two middle names.

    As for UNFAITHFUL, I’m going to sound like a total heretical philistine here, but I think it’s an infinitely better movie than Claude Chabrol’s original LA FEMME INFIDELE. The characters in Chabrol are so cold and remote that it’s difficult (if not impossible) to empathise with them, while UNFAITHFUL makes even Richard Gere compelling (!)

    It all depends, finally, if you prefer ‘hot’ movies or ‘cold’ movies. Lyne is in the first category, Kubrick and Chabrol in the second. I’m still hoping he’ll pull off his long-delayed project about Lana Turner and her gangster lover Johnny Stompanato (although, please, not with Catherine Zeta-Jones, who’s totally wrong!) Now there’s a ‘hot’ subject for you…

  26. Mason is utterly pitiable in the hospital scene where he’s pinned to the floor. I don’t totally buy the “cold and clinical” line on Kubrick — there are clear moments when he breaks from that, and it’s all the more powerful.

    Actually, while Winters is stupendous in Lolita, a lot of my favourite scenes come after she’s dead.

    Chabrol doing Turner-Stompanato is very appealing. At any rate, somebody certainly ought to do it. It’s a story which could benefit from a trashy handling just as much as from a classy one.

  27. david wingrove Says:

    Stompanato has been Adrian Lyne’s pet project for some years – and his vision of it would, I feel, be both classy AND trashy.

    However, I do live in terror of Cathy Z-J playing Lana. Apparently, the lady herself voiced a desire that Sharon Stone should play her in any posthumous biopic…and that I can totally see! Such a brilliant idea, in fact, that it probably won’t happen.

  28. That would be my choice. The film of Lana in the witness box is pure Shazza.

  29. […] OF BLOOD ISLAND, so I duly tracked that down, having come to full manhood in the meantime, and watched it with something approaching delight. Then I realised that confusing wording had made me watch THE […]

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