Saturday, December 29, 2012

Terror Is a Man (1959)

... aka: Blood Creature
... aka: Creature from Blood Island
... aka: Island of Terror

Directed by:
Gerry (Gerardo) de Leon

With Terror Is a Man came a template that would become popular in The Philippines over the next few decades; most notably in the popular sex 'n' gore "Blood Island" trilogy that began with 1968's BRIDES OF BLOOD. Terror came almost a decade before any of those and was made during a time where nudity was a no-no and graphic violence had to be limited, but it still laid down a tried-and-true foundation for the later films. The plots of many of these were almost exactly the same; a handful of characters are on an secluded tropical island that's difficult - if not impossible - to escape from and have to contend with some kind of monster or mutant that's usually the result of a scientific experiment. There was also a familiarity with the casting and characters. The producers would draft a couple of Caucasian actors to play lead roles so the film would sell internationally (American actor John Ashley would corner the market on these parts starting in the late 60s) but fill the supporting roster with unknown locals. The character archetypes here would remain the same, as well: at least one oblivious person who travels or becomes shipwrecked on the island, a sometimes well-meaning, other times evil doctor / scientist living there, his frustrated and often neglected wife (who usually is drawn into the arms of the outsider), a young native beauty, etc., etc. Terror Is a Man is certainly not very original (it's pretty much an uncredited version of The Island of Dr. Moreau), but it's still influential as far as Filipino genre cinema is concerned.

Richard Derr, who'd starred in the big budget end-of-the-world classic WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) just eight years earlier, stars as our unlucky hero William Fitzgerald. Not only did the freighter ship he was on explode, killing everyone else on board, but his little dingy has floated to an uncharted island a thousand miles from civilization. Unconscious, he's fished out of the ocean and brought back to a house, where he briefly meets the Dr. Charles Gerard (Francis Lederer), one of the only white inhabitants of the island. Others include Gerard's voluptuous blonde bombshell wife Frances (Miss Denmark 1952, Greta Thysson) and his assistant Walter Herrera (Oscar Keesee). There are around 75 native islanders there as well, but they don't stick around very long once the obligatory monster escapes one too many times and kills a few villagers each time it does. The only two stragglers are pretty island girl Selina (Lilia Duran) and her kid brother Tiago (Peyton Keesee), who both work as servants for the doctor.

Several years earlier, Dr. Gerard and his wife (who's a nurse) had traveled there so they'd have privacy and isolation to conduct their experiments on a black panther. Fifty-some experiments later, the panther has taken on almost human form. Its body is now shaped liked a humans, it walks on two legs and is getting close to actually being able to talk. Gerard has been toying around with some kind of glandular hormone that he injects directly into the animal's brain which has sped up the evolutionary process. It hasn't, however, completely tamed the being's animal instincts. Walter, who's something of a sadist, not only beats on poor Selina and forces her to have sex with him, but has also been secretly beating on the animal when the doctor isn't looking; keeping it volatile and on edge. Frances has taken a liking to the creature, pities it and has gotten to the point where she refuses to assist her husband. Because she's also being neglected by Charles, she also finds herself starting to fall for William and vice versa.

Much time is spent dealing with the heated love triangle that unfolds (which is done in a surprisingly mature way) and it's rather lightweight for a creature feature, with minimal action and violence, but I still quite enjoyed this one. The monster doesn't really get to do much of what we expect it to and spends most of its time strapped to an operating table. It's also barely ever shown and, when it is, the lighting is so dark we can't really make out much detail on its face. However, the writing insures it's an interesting enough creation and this actually does a good job making us feel sorry for the poor thing. The three lead actors are also good enough to keep us interested in the non-creature-oriented drama.

Opening the film is a warning from "the management" about "... a scene so shocking that it is necessary to forewarn you." The sound of a bell (which actually sounds like a telephone ringing) is inserted before the scene to warn squeamish viewers to shut their eyes and is then sounded again once the "shocking" scene is over so viewers can open them again. Hilariously, the big ballyhoo is over a bloodless shot of a scalpel slicing open skin! Of course, this early gory moment is nothing compared to what we're used to seeing these days.

De Leon also directed THE BLOOD DRINKERS (1964; aka The Vampire People), CREATURES OF EVIL (1966) and co-directed both the first (the aforementioned Brides of Blood) and second (1969's MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND) entries in the "Blood Island" trilogy with Eddie Romero (another key Filipino director of the 60s and 70s).


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