Archive for Gerardo DeLeon

Chlorophyllippino

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by dcairns

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.

THUNK! Not sure how this shot was achieved, but I can tell you what it LOOKS like: it looks like she just threw a knife into that poor slob’s chest. Which I think may be how the shot was achieved.

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.

The Blood Island Vacation (Brides of Blood / The Mad Doctor of Blood Island / Beast of Blood / Brain of Blood)

Green Fingers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2009 by dcairns

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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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