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.


Il pavone nero (1975)

... aka: Black Peacock, The
... aka: Pavo real negro
... aka: Voodoo Sexy

Directed by:
Osvaldo Civirani

Kluger (Franco Ressel), an engineer, has disappeared in Haiti while scouting areas to build a resort. Marco (Chris Avram) flies in to take his place. When he arrives, his wife Laura (Karin Schubert) is there waiting on him and the two - along with their guide Romero (Luigi Angelillo) - go to the small, isolated jungle shack where Kluger was staying before he vanished. Seeing how the tiny house has some primitive charm to it and it's closer to where Marco will be working, Laura insists they stay there instead of at the hotel back in the city. He reluctantly agrees, especially considering the rumors that there are practitioners of black magic living nearby and voodoo dolls are found in the house. The couple go to the beach so Laura can sunbathe topless and take photos and Marco can break in his spear gun. While snorkeling, she finds another voodoo doll underwater in a cloud of blood. Her flipper gets caught in some coral, but she's miraculously saved when a native man rescues her, pulls her ashore and then administers mouth to mouth. By the time her husband gets to her, the mysterious native has disappeared.

The rumors of voodoo turn out be accurate and the local sect don't want Marco nosing around and threatening their land. While out snapping photos, the cult's powerful high priest - Balaga (Don Powell) - makes his presence known by starting a fire. He's also able to superimpose his image in every photo Marco attempts to take to render them useless. Since Marco refuses to head back to Italy, Balaga then decides to hit him where it really hurts: by targeting his wife. Using voodoo dolls, he lures Laura into the jungle to one of their voodoo ceremonies where she watches from behind a tree as people have sex, a chicken's head gets cut off and everybody drinks its blood. One of the native girls gets her black flesh ripped off to reveal white Laura underneath and then Balaga has sex with her. Now under his spell, she has frequent dreams - either sexual in nature or ones of her running through the jungles tinted green, blue or with some swirl effect - and seems to be turning into a nymphomaniac. After she unsuccessfully tries to seduce their guide, Marco decides to try to break the curse. Well, after having sex with their voluptuous native maid Youma (Samantha Star) on the kitchen table first. Laura also gets a go at Youma herself to fill the obligatory lesbian scene.

Voodoo Sexy (filmed as Il pavone nero or "The Black Peacock") predates a handful of better-known but very similar titles made by Joe D'Amato by a number of years. That cycle included Erotic Night of the Living Dead, Orgasmo nero (aka Sex and Black Magic), Porno Holocaust, Voodoo Baby (all from 1980) and several others. These films weren't so much about their horror plots and utilizing their exotic filming locations so much as they were about insuring there'd be lots of interracial sex scenes. Many of them had slight voodoo themes simply because they probably didn't know what else to do, and that seems to be the case here. The plot is minimal and the voodoo cult pretty much just gyrate around and have sex a lot. Just like D'Amato's efforts this was also filmed in the Dominican Republic (though set in Haiti the "Dominicana" airplane is a dead giveaway) and the bulk of the time is set aside for various sex scenes. While it appears to have been shot as a soft-core, the version I watched had numerous hardcore inserts spliced in using obvious doubles. Schubert herself has a double for the more explicit stuff though she'd make the plunge into hardcore herself a decade later when she was well into her 40s.

I don't think this was ever released here in America and it's really all just dull. The full run-time of the version I watched was 87 minutes (though IMDb says 90).

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