The Chlorophyll Man! “Phyll” for short. This is the picture from Dennis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies which first introduced me to this handsome specimen of homo vegetabilis. I recall, as a boy, being told I could show the book to my little friend Rebecca, but that I should protect her from the more horrific images. This, the gory neck-wound from THE BLOOD DRINKERS (also a Philippines production involving Eddie Romero) and the axed blonde from Texan reimagining of THE BLACK CAT, were the images I chose to suppress. But Rebecca insisted, and I weakly complied and showed her the forbidden photos, and she pronounced solemnly in each case, “That’s not scary.”
In his photo caption, Gifford gave the title THE MAD DOCTOR 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 WRONG FILM — Gifford’s still comes from what he calls BLOOD DEVILS, but is available today as BEAST OF BLOOD, the sequel to TMDOBI. But since BOB follows directly on from the events of TMDOBI, it made sense to ground myself in the first movie.
Bones protruding through flesh — an original, nasty touch.
There’s a Blood Island box set, by the way, including TERROR IS A MAN, the very first Blood Island jaunt, a Dr Moreauesque affair in moody black-and-white with the great Francis Lederer doing the mad science. It’s misty and atmospheric and practically classy compared to the movies that came after. Nevertheless, with its crazy doctor, who adds to the standard Moreau template a hint of Nazi atrocities, and its genuinely unsettling unpleasantness (the cat-man-monster is a bandage-swathed wretch in constant pain, tufts of fur and whiskers protruding from his gauzy coils), the first film does establish some of the qualities which distinguish the follow-ups.
I like it that this series is held together solely by an island.
BRIDES OF BLOOD uses the Blood Island location for an adventure involving radioactive killer plants, giant moths, and a rapist monster. Haven’t seen it. John Ashley plays a different character from the one he plays in MAD DOCTOR and BEAST. Or rather, he plays an identical character with a different name. Ashley, a lantern-jawed point-of-sale device, is distinguished only by his incredibly deep voice: the sound of waves of testosterone breaking on basalt rocks. You know that awkward quality that actors like Shatner would have when they took their shirts off and had to stand with their gut sucked in? Ashley achieves this with his shirt on. I grew to like him. Plus, if I read one scene correctly (and it’s so blankly performed that’s not easy) he appears to suffer from erectile dysfunction, so one’s heart goes out.
BEAST OF BLOOD deals with crazy cardboard-eared Dr. Lorca (Eddie Garcia, magnificently rigid, replacing sinister baldy Ronald Remy from the first film) and his cholorophyll men, who drink blood like the vegetable alien in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Established, and killed, in the first movie, they’re brought back to life by narrative sleight-of-hand and disposed of all over again in this fresh outing.
Some useful facts about Blood Island —
1) Principle export: blunt instrument trauma.
2) It’s called Blood Island because of a large rock in its centre, shaped like a corpuscle.
3) It’s part of an archipelago also containing Bile Island, Saliva Island and Synovial Fluid Island.
4) Mad doctors can stay there tax-free.
Sadly, Chlorophyll 2 doesn’t use the zoomtastic spasms of the first film, which feel like the filmmakers are taking a pneumatic drill to your temporal lobes. Perhaps that was the idea of the respected Gerardo de Leon, the movie’s co-director. For this one, Eddie Romero is going solo: style is limited to nice tight closeup compositions, and some fast tracking through forests during the numerous chases. There’s also a distinctive editing pattern, which emphasizes the distinctive performances. Since none of the actors are “good” in the conventional sense of being able to act, a cunning editor might attempt to disguise this from us by deft intercutting, flashing to the listener during dull speeches, creating a delicate sense of emotional interplay. But Ben Barcelon, the editor of BEAST OF BLOOD is more cunning still. Holding on each character after they’ve finished speaking, he creates a vivid sense of air escaping from the film as from a poorly-knotted balloon. When he uses two-shots, he manages to emphasise the fact that the actor not engaged in speech is in no way listening to or paying any attention to the actor speaking. They’re simply waiting for their turn to deliver some lines. In this way he creates the disturbing, yet hilarious, sense of a world populated by autistic puppets, automatically running through the predetermined movements laid down by some duff celestial screenwriter.
The film’s liveliest actor.
BUT — once we get to mad Doc Lorca’s hideout, there’s actually some surprisingly thoughtful dialogue.
“If I’m caught before I’ve completed my experiments, or after I’ve completed them and failed, I shall be regarded as a conscienceless, sadistic mass murderer, and be dealt with accordingly. If I succeed, I shall be a selfless, dedicated hero of humanity, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Whichever way it goes, there will be a solid body of evidence to support either judgement.”
In between writing those crazy plays and poems, Lorca has been busy. He’s now got a pen full of green-tinged victims, plus his original chlorophyll man, whom he’s subdued by the simple measure of cutting his head off and strapping the still-flapping torso to a slab. We get bloody glimpses of some deranged head transplant operation he’s attempting, but never really learn what it’s all for. In a wanton plunge into the abject, the filmmakers shoot ECU scalpel penetration of what is clearly a real throat, though I don’t know if it’s a shaved goat or a handy human cadaver. (This last seems all too possible: while shooting APOCALYPSE NOW in the Philippines, production designer Dean Tavoularis obtained a stack of real corpses to decorate Kurtz’s compound, under the impression that his supplier was a legitimate source who serviced the local medical school. Turns out the guy was a plain graverobber. The bodies were returned, unfilmed.)
After much running about in the jungle, our staunch (very staunch: practically coagulated) hero locates Lorca. “Well, doctor. Frankly I was hoping you’d retired,” he says, sounding like Elvis belching. The dialogue is getting positively pithy.
“So you’ve gone back to experimenting with human beings again?” asks Ashley, more in sorrow than in anger.
“Oh yes. Your original judgement has been thoroughly vindicated: I’m madder than ever!”
What a very great film this is. The hero’s islander friends stage a spirited attack on Lorca’s base camp, and the machete-hurling Liza Belmonte makes a strong impression as a kick-ass female character. As that other great Romero, George, observed, if you’re making a cheapjack exploiter, there’s no reason not to have strong female and ethnic characters, because the audience doesn’t care who’s IN it.
In a climax not far removed from a Universal horror of the forties, Lorca is attacked by the headless cholorophyll man as his lab goes up in flames and the severed head watches sardonically from its life-support system of green fluid-filled coffee makers. One of the advantages of this kind of subtextless gorefest is that it’s over as soon as the monster/mad scientist is incinerated — no hanging about with the protagonist while he explores his issues.
Will John Ashley choose the frigid blonde reporter or the machete-hurling she-devil? Will he get over his impotence? Will the Blood Island Tourist Board get the budget increase they’re asking for? Will Dr. Lorca rise again, in time to write The House of Bernarda Alba? We await the next sequel with fetid breath.