B&W, 1959, 90 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero
Starring Francis Lederer, Greta Thyssen, Richard Derr, Oscar Keesee, Jr., Lilio Duran

Color, 1968, 96 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero
Starring Kent Taylor, Beverly Hills, John Ashley, Eva Darren, Mario Montenegro, Oscar Keesee

Color, 1968, 89 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero
Starring John Ashley, Angelique Pettyjohn, Ronald Remy, Alicia Alonzo, Ronaldo Valdez

Color, 1970, 92 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Eddie Romero
Starring John Ashley, Celeste Yarnall, Eddie Garcia, Liza Belmonte
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

The Terror Is a ManPhilippines isn't exactly known to Terror Is a Manmodern viewers for its booming horror film industry, but for a period through the 1960s and '70s), producer-director Eddie Romero and director Gerardo "Gerry" de Leon put the country on the exploitation map by shooting exotic low budget gore epics and releasing them under campy titles guaranteed to have parents dragging their kids to church services for penance. Their horror careers got off to a roaring start with the Hemisphere Pictures production Terror Is a Man, later a hit under the title Blood Creature, and either together or separately they continued the string of creature features with films like The Twilight People and the outrageous "Blood Island" trilogy for which they are still best remembered.

Almost everyone familiar with Terror Is a Man has noted its extreme similarity to H.G. Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau (or more likely its first film adaptation, Island of Lost Souls). Poor William Fitzgerald (Derr) finds himself on the island of Dr. Charles Girard (Lederer) and his wife, Frances (Thyssen). It seems the doctor is convinced he can develop human beings through the genetic components of animals - and of course, he's trying it out on a leopard, with disastrous results. The leopard creature (basically a bandaged man with pointy ears) is quite a sight - not one of the screen's greatest monsters, but definitely one of the oddest.

The opening credits warn that a warning bell (actually the sound of a telephone) will sound and alert the audience Brides of Bloodof a particularly Terror Is a Manhorrifying sequence, which basically consists of a few seconds of Lederer slicing along a patch of skin with a scalpel. Pretty nasty for 1959, but the face-grafting in the same year's Eyes without a Face leaves it in the dust. Generally this is much better than your average drive-in monster fare and deserves the attention it has garnered from dedicated late night TV viewers. The beginning is a bit talky, but once things get in gear, this is a lot of fun.

Nine years later, the Blood Island series proper began with star John Ashley, a former teen heartthrob (and former husband of Deborah Walley) who would star in the trilogy and produced numerous Filipino productions as well. Brides of Blood begins with three Americans -- Dr. Henderson (Taylor), wife Carla (Hills), and Peace Corps rep Jim (Ashley) -- arriving at the so-called Blood Island while researching the effects of atomic bomb detonations in the area. Things seem odd right from the outset when they see dismembered bodies being given a funeral, but that's nothing compared to what's in store as radioactivity has turned the plant and animal life into a constant predatory menace, with Brides of Bloodeverything from tree branches to butterflies posing a threat. Add to that a rampaging monster in the shadows, maiden sacrifices, and an improbably young scientist named Esteban (Montenegro) all figure in a grotesque mystery from which they will not all escape alive.

Colorful and fast Brides of Bloodpaced, this grafts in several plot elements from Terror Is a Man (the noir-ish blonde wife, the suspicious scientist, etc.) but puts them in a pulpy, outlandish new context completely different from the classic horror-inspired approach of that prior film. Here you get a much higher body count, plentiful body parts, quick flashes of titillating semi-nudity, and lots of colorful coverage of the lush, humid setting. The monster itself is far from convincing and isn't much of a step up above the infamous From Hell It Came, but that just adds to the charm.

Released later the same year is the most famous of the three films and the biggest box office hit, Mad Doctor of Blood Island. Here the sex and blood both get pushed to new extremes right from the opening moments, at least after a fantastic prologue with a bunch of necking college students taking the "Oath of Green Blood" by swigging down vials of green Kool-Aid. This time Blood Island is the hunting ground for a monster with Mad Doctor of Blood Islanddripping green chlorophyll blood, which doesn't bode well for the newly arrived Americans including pathologist Bill Foster (Ashley) and Sheila (Pettyjohn), who's looking for her father. All signs point to the secretive Dr. Lorca (Remy), who seems to be covering up something about the death of a local whose son, Carlos (Valdez), wants to get his mother away from the area as soon as possible. As the body count mounts, Bill and Sheila try to figure out the background of the grisly creature before they end up next on its list. Mad Doctor of Blood Island

While its predecessors were shot in a fairly traditional manner, Mad Doctor of Blood Island goes completely nuts with a throbbing zoom lens effect during its scare scenes and gives its two stars a hot and heavy sex scene that ensured this one wouldn't play to kiddie crowds. On top of that it features a striking original score by Tito Arevalo, a welcome change from the usual stock music and a future source of frequent library tracks for later Filipino horrors. The violence level is ratcheted up with plenty of blood (either red or green) spilled throughout, though the film really steps over the line with a gratuitous nocturnal ritual involving actual animal slaughter that's easily as repellent as anything in an Italian cannibal film. That caveat aside, it's a brisk and lovably ridiculous jungle chiller with an understandably big cult following.

Mad Doctor of Blood IslandThe last official Blood Island film, Beast of Blood, arrived two years later in 1970 and functions as a direct sequel to Mad Doctor. Ashley returns as Bill, who's the only survivor after an explosion wipes out every single other survivor from the prior film! (Top that, Alien 3.) After recuperating in a hospital, Beast of BloodBill decides to head back to Blood Island because otherwise there wouldn't be a movie. En route he meets up with Myra Russell (The Velvet Vampire's Yarnall), an intrepid reporter trying to get to the bottom of the recent mayhem on and around Blood Island. As it turns out, Dr. Lorca (Garcia this time) is in a much more monstrous state than the previous film and has managed to keep the severed head of the island's monster alive in his laboratory, which will soon become another bloody battleground.

Though still featuring the requisite sex and violence as well as a great decomposed severed head worthy of The Brain That Wouldn't Die, this one also ramps up the action sequences as it turns into a sort of rescue-siege yarn with Ashley and company in action more than trying to unravel a mystery this time. Always fun to watch, Yarnall is a major asset here with her savvy presence making her far more interesting than the usual damsel in distress of the era; Ashley's about the same as always, updating his trademark pompadour look with even bigger sideburns to keep up with the hairstyle trends at the time. Though this concluded the series itself, the makers would go on to numerous subsequent jungle horror outings; several imitations would also pop up, most notoriously with Al Adamson's Brain of Blood, produced by Hemisphere's American marketing rep and Independent International head Sam Sherman (who would inherit the rights to all of the films in this series as well).

Mad Doctor of Blood IslandThe film with the most consistent history of the bunch on home video, Terror Is a Man debuted on DVD and VHS from Image Entertainment in 1999 in Beast of Blooda transfer that was quite good for the time but looks understandably dark, murky and faded by today's standards. The 2018 Severin release is taken from a 4K scan of a fine-grain print at the UCLA Film Archive, and it's a real beauty with superb contrast, fine film grain, and much more clarity in darker scenes. Like the rest of the films in the box, it features a DTS-HD MA English mono track (fine for what it is) with optional English SDH subtitles. The film and its Blood Island successors are available in multiple configurations including standalone Blu-ray or DVD editions (of Terror Is a Man, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, and Brides of Blood) and The Blood Island Collection boxed set exclusively containing Beast of Blood, available by itself or as part of The Blood Oath Bundle (with an enamel pin, Beast of Blood swizzle stick and coasters, Blood Island treasure map, and Blood Oath recipe card). An extravagant Dr. Lorca's Head Bundle was also released but limited to 45 units. Culled from a session for Mark Hartley's Machete Maidens Unleashed, "Man Becomes Creature" (5m50s) with Hemisphere marketing consultant Samuel M. Sherman covers his entry into the company while working at Famous Monsters of Filmland and explains the genesis of this whole "blood' title thing. "Dawn of Blood Island" (5m12s) with Romero is a brief recollection of his admiration for de Leon's work process and his own lack of thought put into his target audience, while "Terror Creature" (2m23s) with Immoral Tales co-author Pete Tombs lays out this film's importance in the international horror scene and "When the Bell Rings" (2m15s) with critic Mark Holcomb lauds the film's often overlooked subtlety and clever uncredited Terror Is a Manadaptation approach. The theatrical trailer is also included (in excellent quality) Mad Doctor of Blood Islandalong with a gallery of posters and stills, while the reversible cover art features both Terror Is a Man and Blood Creature options.

The other three films turned up in 2002 from Image as part of Sherman's "The Blood Collection" line, which put them under the same umbrella as other Hemisphere productions like The Blood Drinkers. All of them feature Sherman audio commentaries, which are far more focused on the history behind the films and their promotion than a scene specific analysis. The Brides DVD (which was taken from an edited Independent International reissue print and ran 96m35s, including a new 30s company tag at the beginning) also contained a Beverly Hills pin-up gallery, a standard stills gallery, an archival Romero interview (17m11s) from the Tombs sessions later reconfigured for these Blu-rays, an essay by Christopher William Koenig, and a wedding ring giveaway promo, plus the usual barrage of trailers and Sherman's House of Terror live horror show promo found on most of his other DVDs. The Blu-ray looks considerably better than the DVD courtesy of a 4K scan of a 35mm interpositive, completely uncut and again faring especially well during the night scenes that were all but unwatchable before. As with the subsequent two titles, the Sherman commentary has been ported over here. "Jungle Fury" (13m47s) with Romero picks up where the prior featurette left off, getting back into his de Leon partnership, his Terror Is a Mantenure in London, and the writing process that was complicated by multiple language issues. Sherman returns for " Here Comes the Bride" (21m45s), moving into the more entrenched Philippines production he was involved in with this film as well as the ramped-up marketing efforts to lure in horror-loving patrons. He's also full of praise for Romero, who brought an additional level of sophistication to the productions. The very enjoyable "Beverly Hills on Blood Island" (7m9s) Brides of Bloodfeatures the star, now Beverly Powers, cheerfully recalling the production, her first time out of California and an eye-opening experience during which she subsisted on ketchup sandwiches. An alternate Brides of Blood Island title sequence is also included along with a Jungle Fury title card, a "teaser trailer" (the wedding ring giveaway promo found on the earlier DVD), the theatrical trailer (with new HD-scanned footage slugged in where possible), and a gallery of posters and stills; the cover art features a reversible option as Island of Living Horror.

Transfer-wise the biggest news of all here is Mad Doctor of Blood Island, which has been transferred in 4K from the recently uncovered original camera negative and looks absolutely spectacular here. Anyone who suffered through the very drab prior releases will be gobsmacked at the radical increase in quality here with everything from clothing to foliage now looking absolutely crisp and very vivid; it truly looks like it could have been shot yesterday. Again there's also quite a bit of extra image info on the edges, and the film is completely uncut with its frontal nudity and gore intact. In addition to the Sherman commentary you get one featuring this writer and Howard S. Berger, so that obviously can't be appraised here but will hopefully prove enjoyable. Tombs returns for "Tombs of the Living Dead" (8m40s), elaborating further on Romero's cinematic legacy as he progressed from a ringleader of sorts to an influential artist and a major player in handling productions in the area. Next up it's more Holcomb with "A Taste of Blood" (12m11s), a sketch of the history of Hemisphere with much additional info about de Leon in particular. The archival Romero interview spree continues with "The Mad Director of Blood Island" (6m38s), focusing on his increasing focus on the American market and the other Brides of Bloodgenres Mad Doctor of Blood Islandhe dabbled in such as war films. Be warned, the volume on this one is loud. The incredible theatrical trailer (narrated by Brother Theodore!) is included here in all its glory, a combo Chiller Carnival of Blood trailer (along with Beast of Blood, Brides of Blood, and Blood Demon) and a poster and stills gallery. In the box set only, you also get a soundtrack CD for Mad Doctor to blast out of your car on long commutes.

Finally, Beast of Blood ports over the Sherman commentary but adds some nice new goodies as well. "Celeste and the Beast" (12m25s), also taken from the Hartley interviews, features Yarnall vividly recalling her experience on the film including a facial injury during the quicksand sand, her pregnancy at the time, lunches on the ground with the local crew, the tension of acting opposite cobras, and the general "guerrilla warfare" atmosphere of the shoot. The very quick "Dr. Lorca’s Blood Devils" (3m8s) with Garcia touches on the foreign influx of producers courtesy of Romero, while other extras include the theatrical trailer, a Super 8 condensed version (15m35s) as Blood Devils, two radio spots, and a poster and stills gallery. This one clocks in much longer than the previous DVD and other editions (which ran 90m30s), and the image quality may be the least impressive of the bunch (taken from the best element around, a 16mm CRI) but it's still a big upgrade with much more image info visible (the old transfer was very cropped) and a welcome boost in detail levels and color accuracy.

TERROR IS A MAN (Severin Blu-ray)

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BRIDES OF BLOOD (Severin Blu-ray)

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BEAST OF BLOOD (Severin Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on November 9, 2018