Monday, March 3, 2008

20th April 2007: Hispanic Horror double!

Blood Creature

Philippines 1959 b&w

aka Terror Is A Man, Creature From Blood Island, Island Of Terror (working title), The Gory Creatures

Director Gerardo de Leon Writer Harry Paul Harber Producers Kane W. Lynn, Eddie Romero

Cast Francis Lederer (Dr Charles Girard), Greta Thyssen (Frances Girard), Richard Derr (William Fitzgerald), Oscar Keesee Jr (Walter Perrera)

Long before drive-in audiences were used to seeing the Philippines double as Vietnam or South America in literally thousands of Z-grade sleazefests, there were two men in Manila, the cineaste Gerardo de Leon and his younger protoge Eddie Romero, who had incredible success amongst audiences and critics alike making populist yet artistic movies for the local Philippines market. Not surprisingly, no-one outside the Philippines had heard of their films.

That was until an enterprising American producer Kane Lynn teamed up with Eddie and Gerry to produce a bizarre variation of Island Of Dr Moreau. Forming a production company called Hemisphere based in the Philippines but selling its product to the rest of the world, the three men starting producing what is kindly known as “B-grade trash” for the seemingly insatiable drive-in market. Soon the cultured, critically acclaimed duo, who are enshrined in the Philippines Film Museum as national film artists, were the unwitting Kings of Philippines Horror.

Hemisphere’s greatest successes were the so-called “Blood Island” films: Brides Of Blood (1968), Mad Doctor Of Blood Island (1969) and its semi-sequel Beast Of Blood (1970), a trio of gore-soaked canvases dotted with palm trees and jungle-bound sleaze, all starring former AIP drive-in star John Ashley and a variety of oozing ghouls. Gerry de Leon made two solo pictures for Hemisphere, the bona fide vampire classics The Blood Drinkers (1964) and Curse Of The Vampires (1966) featuring a crazed mix of Hammer horror motifs and the Philippines’ uniquely histronic brand of Catholicism.

This deluge of horrors, ridiculous science fiction and women-in-prison features ushered in the country’s Golden Age of Exploitation. Meanwhile, both de Leon and Romero had turned their backs on the export market they had virtually created for Filipino B-films, and from 1975 onwards made smaller, more personal “art” films in the local dialect Tagalog.

But to their first film together from 1959 - de Leon directed, with Romero and Lynn as producers, Terror Is A Man, rereleased in 1968 by Hemisphere as Blood Creature. Its plot is fantastically simple and compact - an American adventurer William Fitzgerald washes up on a Pacific beach on Blood Island (and where else could it be but part of the Philippines?), and stumbles on the clandestine operations of the very European Dr Girard (Francis Lederer) and his platinum blonde hussy of a wife Frances (played by a very flat - performance-wise - Greta Thyssen). Girard, it seems, wants Fitzgerald to witness him playing God, attempting to speed up evolution by transforming a panther into a human being. His scared wife on the other hand has a combination of cabin fever and hormonal overload, and spends most of the monsoon season flapping her impossibly heavy eyelashes at Fitzgerald.

When not killing villagers off-camera, Girard’s creature is kept under wraps - literally - for most of the film, and its final appearance as a strange whiskered thing more like a shrew than a panther man, is so much more effective than it should be thanks to de Leon’s careful camera placements and use of light and shade. In short, a great B-film made by A-grade artists.

Romero later teamed up with Ashley and the king of the US drive-in market, Roger Corman, to mastermind the werewolf film The Beast Of The Yellow Night (1971), prime drive-in nonsense Beyond Atlantis (1973), The Big Doll House (1971), and The Twilight People with Pam Grier as a pantherwoman, in yet another virtual remake of Blood Creature.

During its 1968 cinema rerelease, theatres installed a warning bell due to go off at the first appearance of the creature. In its absence, please set your mobile alarms for 70 minutes from now, as we witness the birth of Philippines horror, the 1959 Terror Is A Man or Blood Creature.

Cry Of The Bewitched

Mexico/Cuba 1957 b&w

aka Yumbao, Young And Evil, Priestess Of Passion

Director Alfredo B. Crevenna Writer Julio Alejandro

Cast Ninón Sevilla (Yambao), Ramón Gay (Jorge), Rosa Elena Durgel (Béatriz), Xiomara Alfaro

We haven’t spent much time South of the Border since screening the Mexican version of Santa Claus. So tonight we intend to right that wrong by taking a look at a movie by masked wrestling horror specialist Alfredo B. Crevenna who, along with Santo Versus The Martian Invasion and Neutron Battles The Karate Assassins in his 150-plus filmography, made a steamy voodoo love triangle set on a Cuban sugar plantation in the 1850s, Cry Of The Bewitched.

In Yumbao, its original Mexican title, the relative calm of slave life is shattered by the sudden appearance of the young native girl Yumbao, a walking fertility goddess oozing primal sexuality, who is being used a vehicle for revenge by her supposedly dead witch grandmother Carridad. Meanwhile the plague ravages the local population, and the eyes of all decent, God-fearing folk (in other words - assholes) turn to Yumboa. With shades of Salem’s witch trials, she’s burnt at the stake but rescued just before she’s crispy by the plantation owner, and she carries out a steamy affair with the man her grandmother wants her to kill, much to the horror of his pregnant wife, and Yumbao’s would-be slave suitor Lassero.

More a firey Latino melodrama than a horror film, Cry Of The Bewitched is still an intriguing movie due to its incredible recreations of pagan rituals, and soundtrack of slave chants and native drums. Of course it’s dubbed in English, but so are the mouth movements, suggesting it was a film created for the international market. Subtelty, however, is not its strong point, and no more so than in the performance of Ninon Sevilla as Yumbao - pouty, panty, and more full-lipped than a pair a dinghies strapped together, she doesn’t just smoulder, she literally sets her hotpants on fire.

If you look up a Chinese dictionary, you’ll see “Yumbow” means “tasty bitch”. At Schlock Treatment it translates to “aye carrumba” as we explore the ooooold ways South of the Border in Cry Of The Bewitched.

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