Color, 1971, 74m.
Directed by Newt Arnold
Starring Robert Winston, Katherine Henryk, Yvonne Nielson, Vic Diaz, Vic Silayan
THE THIRSTY DEAD
Color, 1974, 87m.
Directed by Terry Becker
Starring Jennifer Billingsley, John Considine, Judith McConnell, Tani Guthrie, Vic Diaz
Vinegar Syndrome (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Something Weird (US R1 NTSC)
Two Filipino films very familiar to schlock video collectors finally pair up together on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome in this mind-warping double feature. Both have been video mainstays for years (including separate double feature billings from Something Weird), but the improved presentations should make them more appetizing for horror fans even if the quality gap between them remains amusingly vast.
First up is Blood Thirst, an American/Philippines production shot in the mid-1960s but held off from release until 1971, when it was placed on the bottom of a Chevron Pictures double bill with the British shocker Bloodsuckers (an experience later recreated on the Something Weird DVD). Since this film was shot in black and white, no footage from it appeared in that combo trailer; in fact, there's no question from the moment it starts that this is nowhere close to a 1970s production at all. It's a moody, gothic blend of police procedural and sadistic horror, with the latter finally taking over completely the lively final ten minutes; it would actually play more comfortably alongside any of the '60s Edgar Wallace films or something like The Embalmer.
The mayhem starts with female employees of a local nightclub getting snatched off the streets at night, only to turn up later with their blood drained. The investigating officer, Miguel (Diaz), calls in his New York crime-fighting buddy Adam (Winston) to help track down the perpetrator, with the American posing as a writer to scope out the staff and denizens of the club. He winds up interrogating two different women, the sweet and innocent Sylvia (Henryk) and a Peruvian exotic dancer, Serena (Nielson), whose act is one of the film's highlights. Threats are soon made on Adam's life, but it isn't long before he finds out the secret behind the murders involving a lumpy-faced monster and an ancient cult of sun worshippers.
Exactly the kind of pulpy chiller made to fill space on afternoon TV, Blood Thirst isn't particularly graphic but does have enough eccentric personality to make it stand out from the pack, particularly thanks to a script packed with far more witticisms than usual. In keeping with its influences, the film is also very chatty and may be slow going for modern viewers; however, the payoff is pretty wild when the monster antics finally kick into gear.
Sporting very good photography and production values (especially for such a relatively early entry in the U.S./Filipino drive-in cycle, Blood Thirst has always looked very good on video including the previous open matte DVD (with a couple of iffy budget releases recycling what appears to be that same master). However, the anamorphic presentation from Vinegar Syndrome is the best to date with the matting restoring some much-needed focus to the film's compositions. The print looks pretty immaculate, too, with beautiful, deep black levels. (For a comparison, here's a frame grab from the Vinegar Syndrome disc compared to this one from the Something Weird disc.) A nice, moody little treat.
On the other hand, few drive-in patrons or video collectors have done cartwheels over The Thirsty Dead, the sole theatrical film directed by TV actor Terry Becker (who played Sharkey on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea for three years). Not surprisingly, this feels like a TV episode of something like Land of the Lost juiced up with a little cheesecake and violence, then dragged out to feature length. Seriously, you'll expect a Sleestak to stumble in front of the makeshift cave sets at any minute.
Once again we have maidens being abducted to sap out their blood for eternal youth, with another TV vet, John Considine, starring as Baru, one of the leaders of a sect getting its plasma supply from the female residents of Manila. Two of their latest acquisitions are Claire (The Doll Squad's McConnell), a club dancer first seem shimmying inside a big cage, and fluffy-haired stewardess Laura (Billingsley), neither of whom are too thrilled to find out they're being trotted out (along with two other women) to be held captive by Baru and his female counterpart, Ranu (Guthrie). When they aren't busy worshipping their original leader's head inside a big red cube atop an altar, the cultists derive blood from neck wounds on their captives which are then healed with mystical plants. Laura gets singled out for possible initiation due to her physical resemblance to one of their long gone founders, but of course, things like this never go smoothly.
Very likely inspired by the previous year's ill-fated remake of Lost Horizon (right down to the gaudy, pastel-heavy costumes), The Thirsty Dead is an odd one indeed, often treading more into fantasy territory with just a tiny handful of scenes (most involving the wizened old women kept in cages) that would qualify it for the horror genre. It's an oddball little curio though and actually fun if you keep your expectations in check; just don't expect any scares or heavy sleaze here. The female leads are actually pretty good, while Considine and Guthrie manage to avoid looking too humiliated doing various rituals in their funky outfits.
The previous Something Weird release paired this up with the astonishing and far grislier Swamp of the Ravens, featuring a passable letterboxed (non-anamorphic) transfer with a peculiar aqua tint. The Vinegar Syndrome leaps up several notches thanks to an anamorphic transfer, a cleaner print, and far more accurate colors including improved flesh tones. To get an idea, check out this shot from the SW disc and this one from the Vinegar Syndrome. The audio is also exceptionally clear and much more impressive than past releases (especially the muddy VHS ones). No extras, though considering standalone trailers for these haven't been floating around since the VHS era, it's not surprising. Pour a Bloody Mary and enjoy.
Reviewed on September 2, 2013.