Psychotronic Ketchup: Blood Creatures or Male Terrors?

Terror is a Man aka Blood Creature (1959)
Dir.: Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero
TC4P Rating: 5/9

Sure, a lot of very good work has been done in alerting everyone to the death and destruction that land mines, laid down from the wars of previous or even current generations, cause around the world. But, no one – I repeat, NO ONE – has lifted one finger (at least, one of those fingers that they have left) to rid the world of alternate video titles. 

There you are, clicking innocently on a title on your Netflix queue, happily zipping through your list and adding a title which you believe you have never seen before. Sure, it sounds familiar – exceedingly so – but you click on it anyway. When the DVD arrives, you pop it in your player, and when the opening credits splat up on the screen, you still don't know what you are about to see, because the title matches the one on the case (and the one on the website). And then, once the movie kicks in, the slow, creeping suspicion builds inside your mind that you have seen this shitty film before. And by the time the hot Filipino girl in the simply too tight, flowered sarong gets left behind by her fellow villagers (who have smartly taken to safety across the seas in their canoes, but have not too smartly left behind a hot Filipino girl in a simply too tight, flowered sarong), you realize that, yes, indeed, you have seen this before. Only the film had a completely different title the first time you saw it. And then you hit rewind to watch the hot Filipino in the simply too tight, flowered sarong again.

It's a horrid problem, and one that cannot be fixed without your help... and without the generous help of your cash, check, or money order to this address...

Actually, it's not that horrid a problem. I merely slipped a bit and didn't notice the alternate title line in my copy of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. The fake title in question is Blood Creature, and the title by which I know it (and one which I find far more poetic) is Terror Is a Man. Generally considered to be the first of the wave of increasingly atrocious horror films from the Philippine Islands through the 1960s and 1970s, though I have yet to seen any other than this film, Terror is a Man and/or Blood Creature is actually not too bad a film. In fact, I've actually seen this a handful of times in the past, and even had a copy recorded off Cinemax from years earlier. Seriously, if there is a problem that equals land mines in the horror movie world, then it is probably the proliferation of mad scientists on remote islands or in remote castles who experiment on animals, methodically switching their species from that of some already dangerous predator, like a tiger or bear, or in the case of this particular Dr. Moreau acolyte, a panther, into an even more dangerous predator: man.

Not just any panther, but a panther that, when wrapped in bandages, has two very cute little ears on top of his head, two adorable little fangs shooting down from his mouth, and, as George Carlin describes the whiskers on a cat, "a lot of crazy-looking shit sticking out of his face!" Aww, he's almost too, too adorable to be devouring people on the island. But he does, and with increasing regularity. Aww, wook at him! He's just so cute! Wook at his widdle eaws! Fuckin' ow! Little shit bit my finger off! 

While the film is no great shakes as entertainment, and is, in fact, quite boring going in, the last half hour is fairly effective, and what the film does well is invoke the memory of earlier, better Universal horrors, and then crossing it, probably unintentionally, with a little Tennessee Williams-like spousal drama. There are a number of well-composed shots, and the climax is particularly memorable. While the "heroine", the wife of the mad scientist, is quite voluptuous and allows the shadows of raindrops to drip over her nose most seductively, the "hero", a lost-at-sea (in more ways than one) muscular schmo, decides to focus on the married white girl instead of on the hot Filipino girl in the simply too tight, flowered sarong who has been left behind on the island. It's all about choices, Mac… you chose wrong. As for the film, while the film won't replace Island of Lost Souls in quality, or even the 1977 version of Island of Dr. Moreau, it is fleetingly effective, and not all that harmful to run into, even under an assumed name.

Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory (1961)
Dir.: Paolo Heusch
TC4P Rating: 3/9

A film that nobody is going to mistake for another more decent film is Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory, an Italian-Austrian co-production from 1961 that actually, looked at by its own merits, much like Terror Is A Man, isn’t all that bad overall. It’s just not good, nor very interesting. Halfway through it, I received a call on my cell from Jen, and I told her, “Just watching what is probably the worst werewolf movie I’ve seen since Underworld”. Which may or may not have been true (I had seen Cursed in this same period), but I should point out two things: 1) invoking Underworld was merely to give Jen an idea of the pain I was going through, since she would be quick to understand, and 2) by “worst,” I meant “most boring”, because at the point in which she called me, I was completing the taste of paint chips as a viable substitute to watching even another frame of this film.

It perked up a bit from that point, but the damage was done. Thing is, in a private school for wayward girls (all of whom seem to be refugees from a typing pool, most likely all chainsmokers and all between the ages of 23 to 28 years old), one would think it would be slightly more erotic than the dunderheaded murder mystery that it is. When I initially described the film to Jen, she thought I had rented myself some titty flick with a rampaging monster in it to disguise it from the porn it was. Then I told her it was from the early ‘60s. And she said “Ah…” and I heard the empathy in her voice. There is a rather fetching girl amongst the “young” ladies, who all sport either way too much makeup or not enough where they need it: the heroine, played by Barbara Lass, but her looks are dashed a smidgen by the fact that her head is weirdly big for her body. (Then again, as I said, I had just seen Cursed, and that had Christina Ricci in it. But then again and again, I love Christina Ricci and her abnormally large head…)

Barbara bobble-heads her way through woods which are not so much filled with killer wolves, but instead with an endless loop of howling that is meant to tell us the killer wolves are simply there. There is so much howling, in fact, that after a while I started to not consider the wolves any sort of threat – I sometimes go to Chivas USA soccer games where the muy loco fans sport long plastic tubes that they blow into as horns. The bull-like bellowing that emits from the far end is intensely annoying through the first half of the game; after a personal refreshment at half-time, the noise becomes like so much traffic: it’s there, it’s polluting your ears, but you have grown accustomed to it. You don’t notice it at all until you get home, and once it’s ringing goes away, you kind of miss it. So, too, went the howling of the wolves; I stopped paying attention to it, and once it was gone from my notice, I started to long for the threat that it once seemed in the film.

Because the film squarely needs any sort of threat, the lame excuse for a werewolf it does offer will not suffice in this instance. Even Teen Wolf was scarier than this ponce. He looks like Kevin McDonald playing Edward Tudor-Pole in a straight-to-video remake of Absolute Beginners. A decent lycanthrope might have turned the tide in the film’s favor. After all the boredom and creepy woman-girls and big-headed Nancy Drews inhabiting the film, a downright frightening wolfman might have still made for a worthwhile payoff. Instead, we only get some halfway decent stabs at atmosphere, a dislocated opening theme song titled A Ghoul In School that would seem kind of fun if it were actually in I Was A Teenage Werewolf instead, and a surprisingly listenable score. But then you feast your eyes on a werewolf that could be outdone by an six-year-old with a fistful of cat hair and a tube of airplane glue, and you shake your head.

I didn’t even mention the German shepherd dog that actually serves as the most interesting character in the film. And despite the assumed presence of wolves, he is clearly supposed to portray a dog.

But he goes by the name of "Wolf" in the film.

I am so confused now.

I don't know if this is an appellation that is only found in the translation, or if the filmmakers meant this, but once your film takes one too many turns in on its own logic like that... well, that's a landmine that you cannot avoid...

RTJ

[This review was edited and updated with new photos on 11/14/2016.]

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