Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SEE Trees That Eat Human Flesh

After more than a decade of slogging through episodic television and second leads in schlock Hollywood movies, John Ashley, a deep-voiced actor with handsome looks and some charisma, headed to the Philippines to star in BRIDES OF BLOOD for Hemisphere Pictures. He ended up staying there for several years, starring in several more drive-in movies and eventually producing them too. When Ashley finally ditched his acting career in the late 1970s, he continued as a prolific producer of television series, including THE A-TEAM and WALKER, TEXAS RANGER.

BRIDES OF BLOOD moves much too slowly, but is just weird enough to be worth a glance. Ashley stars as Peace Corps volunteer (and crack shot!) Jim Farrell, who arrives on Blood Island, located in the South Pacific, via ship, along with scientist Paul Henderson (B-picture stalwart Kent Taylor) and his nympho wife Carla (Beverly Hills!), who despise one another. Henderson is there to investigate the effects of radiation from the atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll in the 1940s. What he finds are man-eating trees, a killer butterfly, mutated crabs, and a frightening man-sized creature the natives call “The Evil One.”

I don’t think drive-in audiences, who were used to monster movies being mere kiddie fare, were prepared for the excesses of BRIDES OF BLOOD. The natives placate the Evil One by tying up young virgins, stripping them, and offering them as sacrifice to be slaughtered and ripped to shreds. Created on the cusp of the MPAA ratings system, BRIDES OF BLOOD punctuates the terror with gore and nudity on top of the sexuality of former stripper Hills, who is perpetually horny and roams at night in daring black lingerie.

The silly makeup effects and colorful photography seem more apropos of a movie aimed at children, rather than this steamy jungle melodrama. The Evil One has often been described as looking like the Michelin Man, which is not an unfair comparison. Some parts are genuinely creepy, as when a carnivorous tree gets ahold of a child with its tentacles. Credit co-directors Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero. An attempt is made to humanize the Hendersons’ fractured marriage, which is also a storyline more appropriate for adults.

Mario Montenegro plays the island’s wealthy overseer, Esteban Powers, who lives with his mountainous manservant Goro and a posse of midgets, and the attractive Eva Darren is Alum, Farrell’s love interest who’s due to become an Evil One sacrifice. Hemisphere released BRIDES OF BLOOD in the U.S. on a double bill with BLOOD FIEND, a British horror film starring Christopher Lee, and gave away toy wedding rings to girls in the audience—another indication that studio head Kane Lynn didn’t know who this picture was for. Two more Blood Island features—both starring Ashley—soon followed.

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