Thursday, September 15, 2022

#2,816. The Twilight People (1972) - The Films of Eddie Romero


The Twilight People is Romero’s take on The Island of Dr. Moreau. What’s more, it’s a great version of that story, ranking alongside 1932’s Island of Lost Souls as one of my favorite interpretations of H.G. Wells’ classic novel.

While scuba diving off the coast of a tropical island, Matt Farrell (John Ashley) is kidnapped by Steinman (Jan Merlin), the chief henchman of scientist Dr. Gordon (Charles Macauley). For years, Dr. Gordon has been conducting a series of bizarre experiments, crossing humans with animals in an effort to create a “super race”.

Gordon intends to use Farrell as his next experiment, but when Gordon's daughter / assistant Neva (Pat Woodell) falls in love with the prisoner, she and Farrell team up to free the good doctor's “specimens” and, with them in tow, try to make their way off the island.

Despite its meager budget and reputation as a grindhouse classic, The Twilight People offers more than simple exploitative goodness. For one, as mentioned above, it’s a damn fine take on Wells’ novel, and director Romero dedicates a fair portion of screen time to building the personalities and relationships of his characters. Whether it's Farrell’s love affair with Neva or his mano-et-mano showdowns with the dangerous Steinman, we get to know our heroes (and villains) well enough to be completely invested in what happens to them.

Then there are Dr. Gordon’s “experiments”, the part human – part animal hybrids that join Matt and Neva on their journey to freedom. Primo the Ape Man (Kim Ramos), Kuzman the Antelope Man (Ken Metcalf) and Lupa the Wolf Woman (Mona Moreno) all get a chance to shine, but Ayessa the Panther Woman, played by the always amazing Pam Grier, is a definite highlight. Never uttering a word save some growls, Grier does a fine job making us both fear and admire her character, and though she appeared in The Twilight People a year before her star-making turn as the title character in Jack Hill’s Coffy, Grier’s screen presence is strong.

That said, nobody… not even the great Pam Grier… can top Darmo the Bat Man, played by Tony Gosalvez. Sporting wings that don’t look very impressive, Darmo spends the early moments of the escape perched in a tree, acting as lookout. The more I saw Darmo, the more I wanted to see him fly. Or at least try to fly. Then, towards the end of the film, I got my wish, and I was blown the hell away! Not that Darmo’s flights are particularly convincing; the effects are shoddy at best. But that doesn’t make these sequences any less awesome, and the final shot of the movie is one I guarantee you will never forget

A lot happens in The Twilight People, not the least of which is Eddie Romero solidifying his reputation as a first-rate storyteller. But it’s Darmo the Bat Man who steals the whole damn show!
Rating: 8 out of 10

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