Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Blood Drinkers (1964)

aka Kulay Dugo Ang Gabi

(I watched the dubbed-by-local-talent, re-cut version of the film made for the American market. Sense and nonsense of the original might be quite a bit different.)

A certain Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy as a proto-Telly Savalas) and his entourage come to a small Filipino country community. As he is wearing a cape and sunglasses and his people consist of the equally cape-wearing assistant Tanya (future Darna Eva Montes), a hunchbacked gentleman and a murderous little person, it is quite obvious these must be vampires.

They have come for a reason - Marco's great love Katrina (Amalia Fuentes with a blond wig) has some not closer defined illness and needs lots of blood and the heart of her lost twin sister Charito (Amalia Fuentes without the wig) to recover.

Their mother, who is now under the vampire's spell, had once given away Charito to a poor family for mysterious reasons that are never spelt out.

Now, most vampires would just abduct Charito and be done with it, but Dr. Marco sets a rather complicated plan in motion, beginning with the murder and vampirization of the young woman's foster-parents. Nothing about the plan does much good of course, and only alerts the local priest and the awesomely hairdo-ed city boy Victor de la Cruz (Eddie Fernandez) to the evil one's plans.

This is a weird one, and I feel quite lacking in context to put the film in its proper place.

The Blood Drinkers has a certain affinity with Mexican horror of the same time with its mixture of gothic horror tropes and aesthetics with a rural pop (look at the fashion) and pulp sensibility, but also adds quite a bit more Catholicism than the Mexican films do, leading to a splendid friction between disparate elements.

The Blood Drinkers was inevitably produced by Cirio H. Santiago and directed by Gerardo de Leon (both of Blood Island fame and infamy, well and dozens of other exploitation films), and both men keep to their either slap-dash or just cost-conscious approaches to their respective fields. Instead of silly little things like complicated camera-setups or framing (although that doesn't work out too bad here), the visual star of the film is the decision to film large parts of it in black and white that was later on tinted, mostly in quite striking red and blue tones. This lends the film a mood of unreality which fits its rather illogical plot-progression and jumpy editing perfectly, lending the air of a dream to flaws that were probably based on mere incompetence or lack of funds.

"Competence" isn't the word that comes to mind when talking about the movie's narrative either. It's not just that it doesn't make much sense, but also that the dramatic emphasis is put on the wrong scenes or on the shoulders of a frankly ridiculous looking rubber bat (supposedly a much beloved element of the American producers), it's also that parts of the narrative are just plain strange. For example, the characters seem to be able to see the tint their scenes are presented in (red of course being the colour of evil here) and comment on it. And why is the scene in there in which Marco and Katrina are shortly healed from their vampirism by a little prayer of the priest, only to be cursed again by the Christian god in a display of what I can only describe as pure asshattedness? I can't help but use the old "dream-logic" explanation again.

Among its other wonders, the film also features some rather surprising hints of SM in the relationship between Marco and Tanya, when we learn that she isn't just kinda sweet on her boss and jealous of his eternal beloved, but that some of the feelings seem to be reciprocated. At least he whips her and then sucks the resulting wounds in a very sexual way.

The only thing I found myself really disapproving about the film was the disappointingly weak ending that more or less consists of the vampire disappearing and the priest explaining that evil is eternal. It's rather shameful for a film promising a final confrontation between a horde of vampires, our young heroes, the police and a Catholic procession, but what can you do?

Now, is it a "good" film? Most probably not. However, it is one of the cases where all flaws of a film come together in such an interesting way that it becomes exactly the sort of dream-like experience I'm after in my movie-watching, while at the same time offering a valuable look at a Filipino horror film from the early 60s.



True said...

Cirio Santiago had nothing to do with the Blood Island movies.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

You're right, of course. Doesn't make his general approach to filmmaking much different, of course.