Studio: Film Chest Media Group
Director: Ralph Brooke
Writer: Ralph Brooke
Producer: Ralph Brooke
Stars: Wilton Graff, June Kenney, Walter Brooke, Robert Reed, Gene Persson, Joan Lora, Troy Patterson, Lilyan Chauvin, Bobby Hall, Bill Coontz
Two young couples discover a mysterious island where they become the latest targets of a madman hunting human prey for sport.
Call it a shameless shadow of “The Most Dangerous Game,” tease it for being mocked once upon a time as an MST3K feature, or guffaw at the drive-in era sheen of its B-movie theatrics. But “Bloodlust!” delivers satisfying late night chiller charm that is surprisingly daring for an overlooked sixties schlocker unjustly derided as a campy disappointment if it is even remembered at all.
Wilton Graff is hunter of humans Dr. Albert Balleau. Graff delivers an understated madman with subtler swaths of Vincent Price-like tonal inflections and only slightly more physical imposition. In fact, had it been Vincent Price embodying the starring role, “Bloodlust” would no doubt be revered today as an underappreciated almost-was in the same vein as “The Tingler” and would certainly be ranked ahead of something like “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” in Price’s filmography.
His villa hidden away on a remote island, Dr. Balleau whiles away boredom as only a rich psychopath can, by surrounding himself with striped-shirted henchmen straight from Adam West’s “Batman” and sending subjects into the jungle while he trails in casual pursuit with a crossbow. Balleau actually has a loose moral system in place, at first content to hunt only kidnapped convicts who escaped from nearby penal colonies. That is until Balleau’s wife decides to abscond with her lover at the same time as four nosy teenagers stumble upon his villain’s lair.
Sporting a Charles Atlas barrel chest, “The Brady Bunch” patriarch Robert Reed leads his three friends in gathering banana leaves for an impromptu clambake. Unfortunately for them, Elvis Presley and Bill Bixby are nowhere in sight, although screaming lunatics, mute brutes, quicksand traps, and something called “The Tree of Death” are much easier to find.
As fun as it is to see a young Robert Reed playing a role other than Mike Brady, there is a reason he is listed fourth in the credits and co-star June Kenney is billed second, even if her name is misspelled (as June Kenny). “Bloodlust” is unusually ahead of its time for a 1961 movie in depicting damsels in distress perfectly capable of fending for themselves. As a matter of fact, they are far more capable than their boyfriends.
This being a movie from a period when such clichés were commonplace, I thought for sure that one of the girls would give herself away while cowering in the shadows as Bloodlust’s version of Igor boils severed body parts in an acid bath. Usually this is the cue for the helpless female to cover her mouth in horror before finally relenting to an unable-to-be-stifled shriek. She does squirm and she does wiggle, but she actually keeps it together and goes on to actively participate in her own escape instead of lying in wait for the boys to come and rescue her.
The two women do much better than the two men in their respective travails. While Robert Reed and his eyeglasses-wearing buddy fall in quicksand and find themselves duped by a drunkard, the ladies stay composed in crafting distractions to fool the guards and save their own skins. Reed’s friend is knocked over by one limp-armed swing from a frail island lunatic while Kenney goes toe-to-toe with a thug twice her size in a dual strangulation contest that she handily wins.
There is no doubting that victory either, as Kenney judo flips her assailant into a conveniently placed trough of formaldehyde for a suitably gruesome swim. The other area where “Bloodlust” does not hold back is in gore that is on the bleeding edge during the twilight years of atom age B-movies when peers were busied with giant bugs and rubber monsters. The melting faces and bloody impalings of “Bloodlust” are unmatched by many of its contemporaries in the graphic horror department.
Although the movie is far below even cult classic status, it is far above Ed Wood standards as well. Like any economical assembly line production from the early 60’s, “Bloodlust” takes either a blind eye to oversee or an excited willingness to lap up the cave walls that look like giant black sheets of crumpled construction paper, dun-dun-dun music stings announcing onscreen character arrivals, and gaping plot holes about why four agile teens don’t just club the old man while he sips brandy or long-windedly details the particulars of their planned demises. “Bloodlust” is a product of its time, but it also demands giving the remote a rest and settling in for retro appeal if it ever appears during post-midnight channel surfing.
Review Score: 75