THE BLOOD DRINKERS
B&W, 1964, 86 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by Gerardo de Leon
Starring Ronald Remy, Amalia Fuentes, Eddie Fernandez, Eva Montes
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES
Color, 1966, 82 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Gerardo de Leon
Starring Amalia Fuentes, Romeo Vasquez, Eddie Garcia, Rosario de Pilar, Johnny Montiero, Mary Walter
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

BRAIN OF BLOOD
Color, 1971, 86 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Al Adamson
Starring Grant Williams, Kent Taylor, John Bloom, Regina Carroll, Angelo Rossitto, Zandor Yokov
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

THE BLACK CAT
B&W, 1966, 72 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by Harold Hoffman
Starring Robert Frost, Robyn Baker, Sadie French
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR.SADISM
Color, 1967, 83 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Harald Reinl
Starring Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Christopher Lee, Carl Lange, Christiane Rücker
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)


Hot The Blood Drinkerson the heels of its stellar Blood Island Collection The Blood Drinkers(and Curse of the Vampiresthe individual releases of three of its four films), Severin Films returns with another compact exploitation history lesson in a box with Hemisphere Horrors, a four-disc collection (with five films). Essentially a grab bag of notable non-Blood Island features from the same distribution company that also served as an early springboard for Independent-International's Sam Sherman, it contains the first two color Filipino horror films they released as well as three oddities that made the drive-circuit for years.

First up is The Blood Drinkers, which splurged on a bit of color film stock for a few scenes and tinted the rest of its black-and-white footage with vibrant shades of blue and red. It's a vampire film, of course, this time with a semi-sympathetic bloodsucker in the form of bald Dr. Marco (Remy), who's desperate to save the life of his dying lover, Katrina (Fuentes). He decides the only salvation lies in Charito (also Fuentes), his beloved's sister, who's brought to town and becomes entangled in the sinister plot that also involves the doctor's striking evil assistant, Tania (Montes). The local religious forces and requisite good guy Victor (Fernandez) decide to put a stop to the plot, which involves much skulking around in the fog at night. Loaded with Gothic imagery despite being set in the present day (including lots of candelabra and diaphanous gowns), The Blood Drinkers is a fascinating attempt to meld ideas from Bram Stoker into a different geographical area with a much heavier emphasis on Christian imagery than its predecessors; the frequent imagery of idols and religious processions gives the film a unique flavor, not to mention unexpected touches like a nocturnal cowboy serenade. Remy is the film's real standout, using his expressive eyes to steal all of his scenes and of course providing the film with its sparing but effective attack sequences, one of which provided a still that seemed to populate The Blood Drinkersevery monster book and magazine well into the mid-'70s. The Blood Drinkers

Like the next two films in this set, The Blood Drinkers turned up on DVD from Image Entertainment licensed from Sam Sherman in 2002 as part of a wave of Hemisphere/Independent-International releases. That disc (like its companion discs) contains a partial Sherman audio commentary laying out the history of Hemisphere and the process of tweaking this film for U.S. audiences, plus a batch of eight trailers (the three official Blood Island films, Brain of Blood, Curse of the Vampires, The Blood Drinkers, Raiders of the Living Dead, and Horror of the Blood Monsters), a House of Horrors promo, and still gallery. Most interesting is the inclusion of a reel of deleted scenes (26m42s), basically footage cut from the film before the English version was made. There's no surviving audio but it's still nice to see how many scenes were extended and some characters were given far more screen time in the original cut. The open matte transfer was one of the better ones of the series, apart from some overly boosted, harsh white levels. As usual it featured the somewhat reworked American edition of the film, dubbed into English. That remains the only complete version that exists on film, which is also the source for the 2019 Blu-ray (complete with the Tagalog opening titles) now matted to 1.78:1 but with the compositions carrying over just fine. This is definitely an "it is what it is" transfer, subject to the conditions of the sometimes soft source but satisfying enough given its history. Like the others in the set, it features a DTS-HD MA English mono track that's as good as the surviving elements will allow, with English subtitles provided. Ported over are the Sherman commentary, trailer, and deleted scenes, while you also get an alternate Curse of the Vampirestrailer as The Curse of the VampiresVampire People, a radio spot, an audio commentary by yours truly and Howard S. Berger (which obviously can't be evaluated here), and two new featurettes. The rather poignant "Manong of the Philippines" (12m19s) features script supervisor and assistant director Dik Trofeo talking about director Gerardo "Gerry" de Leon, a major player on the Filipino horror scene starting with Terror Is a Man, and his production process as a kind of professional father figure, while director David DeCoteau offers his own appreciation for Hemisphere (4m25s) as a reliable source of grindhouse entertainment.

Next, things switch over to full color for de Leon's Curse of the Vampires, which was retitled Blood of the Vampires for its earlier DVD release. This time the screen is frequently blasted with intense red lighting that wouldn't be equaled until Jean Rollin's Shiver of the Vampires, picking up on the intense color coding of the prior film and using it as a symbol of the vampires' presence on the screen. Fuentes returns here as the Poe-tically named Leonore, part of the esteemed and wealthy Escudero clan in the late 1800s that also includes her brother, Eduardo (Mad Doctor of Blood Island's Garcia). During a large family reunion also attended by Eduardo's fiancée, Christina (del Pilar), we learn that the family patriarch, Don Enrique Curse of the Vampires(Monteiro), Curse of the Vampiresis less than thrilled about Leonore's romance with Daniel (Vasquez) due to the family's propensity for vampirism. In fact, that affliction has struck the sibling's mother (Walter), who turns into a blood-craving monster at night and wastes no time infecting her son. Things go from bad to worse as Eduardo's monstrous side comes out in more ways than once, threatening to drown the family's legacy in blood forever. Essentially an evocative refinement of The Blood Drinkers, this one focuses more heavily on the idea of a contaminated family but still shot through with a heavy dose of Catholic influence, not to mention a strong Gothic strain with its variation on the madwoman in the attic.

Similar in presentation here, the Blu-ray carries over Sherman's commentary (basically a chronological sequel about the history of Hemisphere around this time) along with the trailer and the fairly innocuous silent footage (8m42s) cut from the film before its English version was prepared. A superb new audio commentary by Andrew Leavold (The Search for Weng Weng) is loaded with info about the many players on the film, the context of Filipino horror at the time, the production process, and plenty more. He's very enthusiastic about the film, and it really helps the viewer appreciate Brain of Bloodit even more. A video interview with Garcia, "The Cursed Vampire" (4m43s), is a quick sketch of his pre-acting life in the military and his memories of the film, especially the "very dedicated" Brain of BloodWalter and the much-admired de Leon. Then Sherman appears for "The Market of Hemisphere" (18m), an overview of the company's growth from a small office in Manhattan through a thriving supplier of everything from war films to creature features thanks to savvy promotions and apt double features. Finally the disc closes out for a combo radio spot for this film and Beast of Blood. The transfer itself is a significant improvement compared to the DVD, which was very heavily boosted with whites pushed far too hot and colors suffering in the process. Here the original dark, rich look is restored, all for the better.

Frequently mistaken for one of the Filipino productions (as was intended), Brain of Blood actually came from Sherman's frequent creative partner, the late Al Adamson. A particularly outrageous contribution to the hoary line of brain transplant movies, this one enlists The Incredible Shrinking Man star Grant Williams for what amounted to a rushed competitor to the non-Hemisphere Beast of the Yellow Night. When the beloved leader (voiceover artist Reed Hadley) of a religion called Kalid is on his deathbed, his followers Mohammed (Dracula vs. Frankenstein's Vorkov) and physician Bob (Williams) arrange to have him sent in a preserved state to the care of Dr. Trenton (Taylor), a mad scientist who throws the whole benevolent plan upside down by plopping Amir's brain into the body of lumbering Gor (Bloom), who was disfigured by battery acid Brain of Bloodbullying as a child. Amir's wicked girlfriend, Tracy (Adamson's wife and frequent star Carroll), and cackling assistant Dorro (the wonderful Rossitto) get in on Brain of Bloodthe action as well with the evil doc controlling his new creation on a dangerous rampage.

Somehow escaping with a GP rating despite a ridiculously protracted and bloody brain operation sequence, this one has haunted theaters and home video shelves for many, many years. Since it was shot in L.A. (doing its best to stand in for the Philippines), the elements have been kept in much better shape over the years and the official Image DVD looked pretty great. The Blu-ray does one better by adding more image info on the sides and featuring a bump in detail, but in terms of color and overall appearance it's about as expected (and thankfully left intact at 1.33:1). Sherman's partial commentary is here from the DVD (and runs longer than usual at 71 minutes), while the new, entertaining "Memories of Blood" (7m29s) is an assemblage of interview footage from the upcoming documentary The Life & Death of Al Adamson with Adamson, Sherman, Fred Olen Ray, Vorkov, actor Sean Graver, and associate producer J.P. Spohn. Graver in particular has the best moment, recalling how his big chase scene The Black Catas a child was tough to pull off given the silliness of Bloom's makeup. The Black CatThe trailer and a radio spot are also included.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray set (the three films covered are available separately as Blu-rays and DVDs) is a bonus Blu-ray containing two more Hemisphere films starting off with 1966's Texas-shot The Black Cat, which played on a double bill with The Blood Drinkers and earned its place in the history books as the first American feature of that title to actually follow the Edgar Allan Poe story. (The previous two Universal films had nothing to do with it at all, while a humorous segment in Tales of Terror fused elements of it with "The Cask of Amontillado.") The mentally unstable Lou (Frost) is married to Diana (Baker), who gives him a black cat as a present. Their domestic life soon takes a downturn as he develops a strong love/hate relationship with the feline and starts hitting the bars to enjoy some great local garage rock. Eventually he decides to take out one of the cat's eyes, which sends him down a homicidal spiral that readers of the source novel know all too well.

Though not all that widely seen, this film is very well remembered among a certain generation of monster kids for its infamous shocking publicity still of a young woman's head gushing The Black Catblood from an ax wound. That H.G. Lewis-worthy moment also packs a punch in the film itself, which is otherwise not The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadismall that explicit and more focused on the general atmosphere of escalating madness. It's quite enjoyable as a scrappy indie effort from the period, with a few genuinely Poe-worthy moments of spiraling insanity in the second half. This one turned up on DVD from Something Weird via Image Entertainment on a great kitty-themed double feature with The Fat Black Pussycat (plus a ton of cat-themed trailers), though the flat widescreen transfer looks impenetrably dark at times and hasn't held up too well. The Blu-ray version is from the only know surviving print and looks much, much better, not to mention brighter. The opening lakeside recitation prologue no longer exists on film (along with a couple of other fleeting bits) and had to be taken from Something Weird's watermarked master, but it's a minor distraction that doesn't last long.

Sharing space on the disc is former VHS staple The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, a well-remembered 1960s slice of German Gothic horror with a few Poe flourishes of its own including a Pit and the Pendulum-inspired climax. Also released as The Blood Demon, the film follows the perilous The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadismjourney of a baroness named Lillian (You Only Live Twice's Dor) and her lawyer, Roger (Barker), when they decide to visit a notorious castle she's inherited. The estate was once the The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadismdomain of the dreaded Count Regula (Lee), who was about to complete his plan for immortality by slaying thirteen young virgins before he was executed. They find the region filled with horrific surprises including a forest of corpses and a plan to bring the Count back to life, with Lillian playing a vital role. Numerous PD labels have issued this one over the years (with running times bouncing all over the place), and relatively speaking, the Blu-ray betters them with a fresh scan culled from combining two 16mm prints. The color has faded severely to a pale shadow of its former self, but until someone decides to undertake a full restoration from the elements in Germany, this will do. Extras include the trailers for both films, newly transferred and the one for Sadism bearing the Blood Demon title.

 

THE BLOOD DRINKERS (Severin Blu-ray)

The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers

THE BLOOD DRINKERS (Image DVD)

The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers The Blood Drinkers

CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES (Severin Blu-ray)

Brides of Blood Brides of Blood Brides of Blood Brides of Blood Brides of Blood

CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES (Image DVD)

Brides of Blood Brides of Blood Brides of Blood Brides of Blood Brides of Blood

BRAIN OF BLOOD (Severin Blu-ray)

Brain of Blood Brain of Blood Brain of Blood Brain of Blood Brain of Blood

BRAIN OF BLOOD (Image DVD)

Brain of Blood Brain of Blood Brain of Blood Brain of Blood Brain of Blood

THE BLACK CAT (Severin Blu-ray)

The Black Cat The Black Cat The Black Cat The Black Cat The Black Cat

THE BLACK CAT (Image DVD)

The Black Cat The Black Cat The Black Cat The Black Cat The Black Cat

 

Reviewed on April 13, 2018