Monday, October 7, 2013

La isla de la muerte (1967)

... aka: Bloodsuckers, The
... aka: Death Island
... aka: Island of Dr. Death, The
... aka: Island of the Dead
... aka: Island of the Doomed
... aka: Maneater of Hydra

Directed by:
Mel Welles

One of the genre titles on the back end of prolific star Cameron Mitchell's horrorography, this doesn't have much of a reputation (and was impossible to find for a number of year) but it's actually pretty fun. At a popular hot spot somewhere in Europe, tour guide Alfredo ("Richard" / Ricardo Valle , who'd previously played Morpho in Jess Franco's The Awful Dr. Orloff) promises potential customers a "most unique tour" of a botanical wonderland during a weekend trip. He's able to get six people to come along, takes them to a secluded island via boat and then drives everyone inland toward their destination. As soon as they arrive at the large villa owned by famous botanist Baron von Weser (Mitchell), they're greeted by a delirious man running out in front of them. Colliding with the car, the man keels over dead. Tour over? Hardly. The Baron soon makes his presence known and informs everyone that the guy they hit was his cook and he was going to die anyway from a "rare tropical disease." In other words, no big deal - Let's start the tour of the botanical gardens, anyway! Afterward, Von Weser brings the guests indoors where they'll be staying.

Snoopy University of Michigan botanist Prof. Julian Demerist (Herman "Nelson" / Nehlsen) is among the guests, and he finds it odd that so many exotic plant species - some unknown to even him - grow there when they don't have the right kind of climate. The other guests are handsome architect David Moss (George Martin), pretty, wide-eyed sweetheart Beth Christiansen (Elisa Montés), obnoxious photographer Myrtle Callahan (Matilde Muñoz Sampedro), lascivious gold digger Cora Robinson (Kai Fischer) and her much-older husband  Jim ("Ralph Naukoff" / Rolf von Nauckhoff). Cora flirts with Alfredo right in front of her frustrated hubby, calls him a worm and gets drunk and starts  to strip off her clothes in front of everyone just to piss him off. Over dinner, the Baron - a vegetarian - serves them a meal consisting of cucumber that tastes exactly like beef. It's just one of many plant mutations he's been working on. By "eradicating the germ plasm with ultraviolet light" he's been able to cross-breed all kinds of different plants, including carnivorous ones which eat mice. Not surprisingly, lots of freaky things start to happen.

Everyone's startled when the guy who died right outside when they arrived pops up during dinner bringing in a bottle of wine. Never fear, it's just the dead guy's mute, "abnormally strong" twin brother Baldi (Mike Brendel)... or is it? Alfredo (who doesn't last long) is attacked and killed by something outside. And then whatever did that sneaks into Cora's bedroom and kills her too. Both victims are found with puncture wounds on their cheeks, which coincides with the island's vampire legend. Apparently too many bloodless corpses starting turning up, so all of the native islanders moved away, aside from The Baron, of course. So what's keeping him there? And what's been killing off the guests? If you guessed that the mad Baron has created a giant bloodsucking vampire tree then you would be correct!

Things start out rather slowly, but thankfully even the slow parts have their charm thanks to some amusing dialogue. It seems the people who did the English dubbing were in on the joke, as they've even given the older lady character the grating voice of an annoying, overbearing Jewish mama! During another hilarious scene, Cora goes to touch some of the flowers and is pulled away by the Baron. She starts kissing him and he pushes her off; saying, "But you were about to touch my giant... gardenias." Ha! Maneater of Hydra also gets credit for a surprisingly gruesome final ten minutes. The tree acquires its blood through a hollow tube it sticks into victims' faces, a head gets chopped up, an eyeball gets gouged and the tree starts spewing blood all over the place when our hero finally has enough and starts laying into it with an axe.

Co-produced between Orbita Films in Madrid, Spain and Tefi Films in Munich, Germany, this one used to be on regular rotation on television throughout the 70s and 80s. The only print currently in circulation (including the current DVD release from Shout! Factory hosted by Elvira) is one that used to play on TV and has frequent fade outs to black about every ten minutes. It's a heavily damaged print, but that's the best that's currently available. It's enjoyable.


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