Sunday, August 23, 2020

BLOODLUST! (1961) DVD Review

Bloodlust! (1961) d. Ralph Brooke (USA) (68 min)

A foursome of young outdoor enthusiasts (strapping Robert Reed, blonde June Kenney, bespectacled Gene Persson, brunette Joan Lora) are ferried about on the ocean waves for a few days by a hard-drinking sea captain (Troy Patterson), although it’s mostly a bust due to the overcast weather. On the final afternoon, however, the mist lifts, allowing them to spy an island with sandy beaches. Clambakes dancing in their heads, they leave their soused guide behind and sail ashore in the dinghy; upon their arrival, one of them promptly falls into a pit trap. Luckily, its owner, Dr. Balleau (Wilton Graff), is not far behind, helps pull him out and invites the party back to his stately cottage for some rest and refreshment. While showing off his array of mounted trophies, Balleau explains that he has traveled the globe hunting the world’s most ferocious quarry, and now has his game brought to him to stock his secluded island paradise. (Cue sinister music.) Yes, folks, it seems the good doctor’s preferred prey is of the bipedal humanoid nature, specifically the menfolk, with the women kept prisoner to suit his other, ahem, passions.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, occasional background player Brooke’s one and only feature-length offering is an adaptation of Richard Connell’s classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” first brought to the screen in 1932 starring Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong (both of whom would show up the following year in King Kong), with Joel McCrea as our heroic hunter-turned-hunted. Its theme has since been endlessly recycled and riffed upon, with results as varied as Game of Death (1945), Turkey Shoot (1982), Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987), the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Hard Target (1993), Surviving the Game (1994) with Ice-T, Rutger Hauer. Gary Busey, F. Murray Abraham, John C. McGinley, Jeff Corey, and Charles Dutton (hmmmmm, looking at this cast, I need to put that on the to-watch list pronto), and many, many others.

While hardly a Hollywood masterpiece, Bloodlust! (gotta love that exclamation point!) is a thoroughly enjoyable potboiler with plenty of chase scenes, expendable bad guys, and random victims plucked out of the woodwork to add to the body count. What puts it over the top is the magic equation of gee-whiz, teen-pleasing cornball characters/scenarios combined with a surprising amount of graphic nastiness.

There are boiled severed heads that are subsequently “skinned” (barely disguised rubber Halloween masks), a vat of acid that dissolves a baddie’s face, quicksand drownings, impalings, arrows to the gut, and leeches! Pretty strong stuff for 1959. You’ve also got Richard Cunha, director of such distinguished Turkeys as Missile to the Moon, Frankenstein’s Daughter, and She Demons, handling cinematography chores.

Shot in 1959 (but not released until 1961), Brooke served as writer, producer, and director of his passion project, and one might get the impression that he was a big fan of Bert I. Gordon’s Earth vs. the Spider (1958), since three of his principal cast members (Kenney, Persson, Patterson) were alumnus. Of course, the main attraction for pop-culture fans is seeing Reed, everyone’s favorite TV dad from The Brady Bunch, being chased around by a crossbow-toting psychopath, played with elegantly manicured glee by veteran character actor Graff (over 100 different episodic television appearances).

While it’s easy to speculate what icons such as Vincent Price or Peter Cushing might have done with the villainous role, Graff acquits himself admirably enough for the task at hand, as do his younger screen cohorts. It’s actually quite nice to see Kenney as an empowered female (she’s the daughter of a judo instructor, you see!), capably holding her own against any number of threats.

"I just want to say one word to you. Just one word...."
Two other supporting performances deserve mention: Lilyan Chauvin, as the most recent iteration of Mrs. Balleau (at least until he tires of her and has her stuffed for his trophy room), is best known to horror fans as the vicious Mother Superior in Silent Night, Deadly Night. Meanwhile, her onscreen lover Dean is played by none other than busy TV actor Walter Brooke who, along with supporting appearances in Tora! Tora! Tora!, Jagged Edge, The Return of Count Yorga, and Black Sunday, made cinema history in 1967 with his famous “Plastics” line from The Graduate.

Bloodlust! is available now on DVD on a number of Mill Creek public domain box sets and Mystery Science Theater 3000 collections, as well as from Sinister Cinema where it can be ordered singly HERE:


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