[EDITORIAL] TWIN TALES OF TAGALOG TERROR, 2020 EDITION

Kulay Dugo ang Gabi (1964)

Released as The Blood Drinkers (USA) or The Vampire People (USA)

Stars: Ronald Remy, Amalia Fuentes, Eddie Fernandez, Eva Montes
Producer: Cirio H. Santiago (Premiere Studios in Manila, distributed by Hemisphere Pictures in US)
Writers: Cesar Amigo (screenplay), Rico Bello Omagap (story)
Directors: Gerardo de Leon, Eddie Romero

Brides of Blood (1968)

Stars: Kent Taylor, Beverly Powers (as Beverly Hills), John Ashley, Eva Darren
Producer: Kane W. Lynn (Hemisphere Pictures)
Writer: Cesar Amigo
Directors: Gerardo de Leon, Eddie Romero

I am grateful to have a group of friends who love unusual movies. We often have movie nights where we watch some pretty far-out films like Liquid Sky, I Drink Your Blood, and recently, a Russ Meyer double feature: Faster PussyCat and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. One of my favorite movie nights, however, was a double bill of The Blood Drinkers (1964) and Brides of Blood (1969), two Filipino horror films we dubbed as TWIN TALES OF TAGALOG TERROR! These movies shown together tell a story about the influence of not just the political climate in the Philippine Islands in the 1960s but also how American filmmakers radically changed the industry in both countries. Together, they represent the calm before a giant typhoon that would sweep back across the Pacific Ocean to the drive-ins and grindhouse theaters of the United States. 

The history of American exploitation cinema and the Philippines is long and colorful. Mark Hartley’s 2010 documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! gives historical and cultural perspective on the decade-long partnership between the corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos and American, low-budget grindhouse filmmakers. Attracted to the welcoming Filipino government, Americans made the movies there that they couldn’t make at home. The archipelago became a fertile environment for filmmakers to let their imaginations run wild and make cheap, mindless, action-packed drive-in fair for distribution in the United States. The content of the films did not matter as long as the filmmakers kept coming back to make more films.

One effect in America was, due to lax controls over drive-in content, producers found they could push the boundaries to levels never before available to the general public. These films, based on The Three B’s of blood, boobs, and beasts became more and more outrageous with graphic depictions of violence, sex, and gore. Clearly, with a target audience of thrill-seeking teenagers in mind, having a story that made sense or fight scenes that didn’t descend into buffoonery was a secondary concern. Blood Drinkers was made before this cycle started, and Brides of Blood was a harbinger of what was to come as more American filmmakers came to the Philippines to see how far they could go.

The shape of things to come – Jack Hill’s women in prison opus was filmed in the Philippines.

I was first introduced to The Three Bs when I caught The Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1969), the sequel to Brides of Blood, as a kid on late night TV. Its sheer alienness fired up my “I need to see more!” reflex. The novelty of natives in colorful sarongs and loincloths battling mad scientist Dr. Lorca’s hideous green monsters and the giant, carnivorous plants never has never waned. It didn’t hurt that the film began with an exhortation to drink the psychedelic green blood of the creature for protection or that some of the nudity made it into the broadcast!

Color scene from The Blood Drinkers with Marco and Katerina (Ronald Remy and Amalia Fuentes).

The first picture of our Twin Tales double feature, and my favorite of the two, was Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero’s Kulay Dugo ang Gabi, released in America in 1966 as The Blood Drinkers. It was the first color horror picture produced in the Philippines. It is not even 100% color; much is filmed in black and white, with scenes tinted in cold, stark blue and glorious red.

The Blood Drinkers straddles the old, Gothic style vampire tale and the modern mad scientist creature feature. Scientist/Vampire Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy) appears both as a classic vampire, with fangs and cape, and as an urbane sophisticate with fashionable outfits, sporting wrap-around sunglasses on his bald head. Surrounded by his entourage of midgets, a hunchback, and his hot assistant Tanya (Eva Montes), his quest is to retrieve the heart of his dying lover’s twin sister (Amalia Fuentes). At odds with both God and the Devil, his presence literally drains the color from any room until his blood lust is aroused, causing everything to drip blood red. At times, Blood Drinkers delves deeply into the spiritual as the local priest gives lengthy homilies about the power of faith and light to combat evil. In the final conflict, Marco and his minions flee from the townspeople, who march to the cemetery in a religious processional, bearing holy relics and armed with crosses.  

Tanya (Eva Montes), Dr. Marco’s assistant in The Blood Drinkers.

The second feature of the night, Brides of Blood, traded the nuances of Blood Drinkers for a bizarre and graphic slaughter fest as the citizens of the Blood Island battle giant, carnivorous plants and a green-skinned, rapine-minded monster. Once the conflict ends, the islanders have an orgiastic dance ceremony. The TWIN TALES audience found it to be the more enjoyable film of the pair. Go figure.

Beginning with the arrival of Dr. Paul Henderson, his wife Carla (Kent Taylor and Beverly Hills), and Peace Corps volunteer Jim Farrell (John Ashley) on Blood Island, Brides of Blood jumps right into its gruesome story with the three Americans witnessing the grisly funeral service for two dismembered girls from the village, body parts spilling onto the beach in front of the horrified visitors. The Americans learn that, nightly, a hideous, green-skinned monster roams the island, looking for females to sate itself on. In the hopes of protecting themselves, the islanders have reverted to their ancient religious practices: sacrificing their virgin daughters on the altars in front of the island’s massive, stone idols.

Alma (Eva Darren) narrowly escapes becoming one of the Brides of Blood Island.

When Farrell rescues island girl Alma (Eva Darren) from the altar, the islanders attempt to kill him and return her to the altar. He seeks protection at the home of Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro), the plantation owner, not realizing that, due to exposure to radiation from atomic bomb tests, Esteban is the monster. After the Hendersons are killed, Farrell discovers Esteban’s secret, and he and Alma are able to rally the villagers to fight against Powers.

One of the first Americans to get involved in the Filipino movie industry was Kane W. Lynn. Lynn was an American fighter pilot who remained in the Philippines after World War II and founded Hemisphere Pictures to distribute low-budget Filipino movies in America. One of Hemisphere’s gimmicks to increase interest in their films (and make more viable for American audiences) was to import American actors. Brides of Blood was the first horror film to do this. Lynn procured three American stars: Kent Taylor, Beverly Powers (as Beverly Hills!), and John Ashley.

The Hendersons and Jim Farrell meet Esteban Powers (Beverly Hills, Kent Taylor, John Ashley, and Mario Montenegro).

Ashley himself was to become a big part of the Filipino/USA grindhouse partnership of the 1970s. He took the role in Brides of Blood to recover from his devastating divorce from Gidget actress Deborah Walley. He found the island nation so enchanting, he worked there for over 10 years, acting and producing many films. His last Philippine production role was as associate producer for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. 

A musical interlude before the terror starts in The Blood Drinkers

Even though The Blood Drinkers and The Brides of Blood shared the same directors and writers and were only a few years apart, they appear to be about two different worlds. The Blood Drinkers celebrates the best parts of Filipino society: modern yet connected to the past, grounded in a powerful Catholic faith. The people wear western clothes, drive Cadillacs, yet still might bring a water buffalo to a moonlight serenade for their sweethearts.

Brides of Blood takes a step away from most accouterments of modernity. The residents of Blood Island wear traditional sarongs and loincloths, arm themselves with primitive weapons and worship old gods on bloody altars. There is also the shocking contrast in the role of faith between the two films. In The Blood Drinkers, the people’s faith in God saves them from evil. They first go to the church to arm themselves with holy weapons to fight Dr. Marco. In Brides of Blood, the natives’ faith exacerbates the problem because the source isn’t supernatural. Their suffering is caused by a gross misuse of science and exploitation by the plantation owner. Attempting to appease the monsters of Blood Island with human sacrifices further subjugates them. They fear the green-skinned monster and the land owner’s whip, not realizing they’re the same.

Blood Islanders celebrate the death of the creature and plantation owner in front of the bloody sacrificial altars.

While both films had similar origins, their audiences were a world apart. This is evident not just in the graphic content but also in the different temperaments of each film. While the earlier film is a sentimental, Gothic story, the later film is both a glance back at a primitive and savage place and a door for future depredations. Here is where the seeds of change were planted to yield the fruit of the savage exploitation films to come. Movie goers gleefully drank the green blood to look at the monsters of the future. Did they escape contamination or did they go through a metamorphosis into something uglier, bloodier but also stronger and surprisingly resilient?