Tuesday, September 13, 2022

#2,815. Brides of Blood (1968) - The Films of Eddie Romero


Brides of Blood is the second entry in Filipino producer / director Eddie Romero’s Blood Island series (though not a direct sequel to its predecessor, 1959’s Terror is a Man, this movie is set on the same island as that earlier film). Featuring enough blood and skin to keep the drive-in crowds happy, Brides of Blood looks, on the surface, like a schlocky, exploitative monster movie. But it's more than that.

Three Americans - research scientist Dr. Henderson (Kent Taylor); his beautiful but neglected wife Carla (Beverly Powers, credited as “Beverly Hills”); and young Peace Corps volunteer Jim Farrell (John Ashley) - make their way to a secluded tropical island. Jim, who wants to help the locals improve their quality of life, hooks up with pretty villager Alma (Eva Darren), who, along with her grandfather Arcadio (Andres Centenera), is the only native who speaks English.

Dr. Henderson is there to study the effect that nearby atomic testing may have had on the indigenous flora and fauna. He finds more than he bargained for when, the moment the sun goes down, the trees seemingly spring to life! Invited to stay in the spacious mansion of Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro), a Spaniard who moved to the area years earlier with his now-deceased wife, the Hendersons come to realize there is more danger on this island than they ever realized.

As Dr. Henderson is busy collecting specimens, Jim makes a horrifying discovery: a fierce humanoid monster also calls the island home. The villagers, who are convinced this creature is a God, sacrifice young women to it in a bizarre nighttime ritual. When Alma is selected to be the monster’s next victim, Jim has no choice but to get involved.

A low-budget horror film (co-directors Romero and Gerardo de Leon shot the movie for about $75,000), the effects in Brides of Blood aren’t the best. The scenes where the trees come to life, grabbing at anyone who passes by, are sometimes more humorous than scary (the branches and roots are clearly controlled by strings), and the monster itself is bulky and awkward (though, in the final act, there is a damned impressive transformation scene).

When it comes to the “mystery” surrounding the monster, it isn’t much of a mystery at all. I had it figured out in the first half-hour. As for the blood (which even spurts from cut branches and vines) and boobs (the village sacrifices are stripped down, then tied to a post), it is at about the levels you’d expect from a movie of this ilk, and there’s even a native dance in the finale that’s as sexually suggestive as they come.

Yet, thanks to its well-developed characters, Brides of Blood rises above both its budgetary limitations and exploitative elements to deliver something much more substantial. Dr. Henderson and his wife Carla could have easily been your average, run-of-the-mill miserable couple; he the work-obsessed scientist who ignores his wife, she the sexually frustrated spouse who sleeps around. There’s even a troubling rape scene on board the ship, in which Carla tries to fend off an amorous crewman she had flirted with earlier in front of her husband (she happily succumb to the attack the moment this crewman gets rough with her). But Romero and de Leon, as well as writer Cesar Amigo, throw in a handful of intimate scenes between the Hendersons, where we see exactly why poor Carla acts out. At one point, she tries to seduce her husband, who is fast asleep next to her, and no matter how hard she tries, he will not wake up!.

Also well-handled is the romance that blossoms between Jim and Alma, and we even learn a little about Esteban, and why he ended up on the island. By rounding out its characters in such a way, aided in large part by exemplary performances, Brides of Blood pulls us in, then keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering how it's all going to play out.

And for a film that, going in, you assume will be nothing more than a schlocky monster movie, making us care as much as we do is an impressive feat.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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