You’ll have to excuse me. Lately I’ve been gravitating towards a particular corner of the genre room, one in which a lot of films clamor for space and I don’t always recognize the labels. Brides of Blood (1968) is in that corner, one in which Filipino exploitation meets old fashioned horror tropes to the advantage of both.
Released at the end of May stateside by the Philippines' own Hemisphere Pictures, Brides of Blood did well for the company in drive-ins everywhere - well enough that two more sequels followed, Mad Doctor of Blood Island (also ‘68) and Beast of Blood (1970). But Brides is actually the second in what came to be known as the Blood Island series; this was preceded by Terror is a Man (1959) almost ten years prior.
Rudimentary knowledge for some, no doubt; but I’m a Blood Island virgin you see, and my late arrival to toe-dipping seems to coincide with a lot of eyes being opened while throats are being ripped out. (Thank the deity of your choice for boutique labels.) This world of Filipino sleazoid filmmaking is new to me (horror that is - I’ve seen a few women in cages, ya know), and between the jungle setting, buxom damsels, and bulbous tree monster in Brides of Blood, I may hang around these parts for a spell.
We could start with the story, which is pro forma ‘50s paranoiaganda: Did you hear the one about the scientist, his wife, and some guy from the Peace Corps? Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor - The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues), his wife Carla (Beverly Powers - The Power), and Jim Farrell (John Ashley - Mad Doctor of Blood Island) arrive on a tropical island to study the effects - if any - on the island and its inhabitants. Well, Paul is; Jim is there to teach the locals how to farm and build a schoolhouse (which seems presumptuous as their thatch homes are better constructed than most summer cottages), while the much younger Carla is looking to have her needs met by anyone but her older beau.
Our trio arrive just as a burial procession takes place; apparently being greeted by the recently dead wrapped in formerly white linen was not on the itinerary, and the gang is relatively shook. They are taken in by Arcadio (Andres Centenera - Beyond Atlantis), the elder of the tribe, and his granddaughter Alma (Eva Darren - Crossfire), who welcome them and show off the village; what they fail to mention to our visitors is that they’ve resorted to their old ways, and are sacrificing the women to a mysterious, bug-eyed, paper mache creature.
Off they go to the village’s mayor/hermit/hell if I know, Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro - Sticks of Death), for advice in dealing with the natives. Esteban offers to help, but little do they know that his assistance comes at a great price…
First off, Brides of Blood is noticeably a pretty professional looking production; this isn’t a slag, I was just expecting a lot less polish for a reported $75,000 U.S. dollars. It’s a good looking film, with the exception of the wires noticeably dancing a carnivorous butterfly or those same wires conspicuously working the grabby tree branches in the jungle. And sure, the occasional shot is a little out of focus. But these are small prices to pay for finding a new cinematic oasis to drink from, a pool where ludicrous and affectionate are swirled into a refreshing stream.
The ludicrous is easy to discern; from the very phony flora frightmare to the rituals and decor of the locals, which seem to be inspired by Gilligan’s Island. Yes, Brides of Blood is littered with ludicrous. It’s that darn affectionate that will sweep you along.
The film is clearly modeled plot wise after the ‘50s wave of mushroom cloud movies that blew through theatres and drive-ins and captured the imagination of millions, not to mention amping atomic paranoia around the globe. (Or at least in those who could get a sitter.) Ten years after the appeal had waned, Brides of Blood brings back the pursuit of immorality while sometimes forgetting its manners, interjecting abject nudity and mossy strangulation as if itself appeasing the filmic gods. That’s a big part of why it works - the exploitation was normalized as part of the B zeitgeist, so the storyline feels fresh, or at least out of its time.
Co-directors Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero (handling the last three of the Blood Island series, with de Leon skipping out on Beast of Blood) have a keen sense of what works, and a humble attitude to what doesn’t; regardless of how it looks, they grant their pitiful creature the same fanfare as Karloff’s, without the intrusion of quality. But it plays, because it’s bathed in a sincerity that’s hard to fake.
Brides of Blood is the kind of film that encourages the viewer to head back to that dusty corner and see what they can find; remember that even if the label is old and faded, pop it in the player anyway. You may be surprised by what you see.
Brides of Blood is available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THE EXTERMINATOR [Class of 1980]