Brides of Blood / Grave Desires
Gerardo de Leon / Eddie Romero
Philippines / USA, 1968
Review by David Carter
Posted on 12 October 2008
Source Regal Video VHS
Categories 31 Days of Horror V
A Marriage Made In Hell!
Brides of the Beast begins with a video graphic of the film’s title and the names of three cast members—blocky purple type on a black background. As words slowly grow to emulate the titles “flying” at the viewer, the now-outdated technology of the graphic becomes somewhat amusing; it was likely on the lower end of the spectrum even when it was first added to the print. I say “added” because it is evident that however quaintly antique the graphic appears today, it is a technology that would not appear for decades after the film’s 1966 release. I’m inclined to then question whether or not Brides of the Beast was the film’s original title or even if the roster of actors is genuine. Our decision to remove our film critic crutches – IMDB.com and the Michael Weldon Psychotronic Guides to name but two – for this round of the 31 Days of Horror has robbed me of my ability to identify home video curiosities with ease. I do hope that the salaciously named “Beverly Hills” is authentic, however; she adds a needed touch of panache to film.
Peace Corps worker Jim Farrell, Dr. Paul Henderson, and Paul’s wife Carla arrive on the ominously named Blood Island during a burial ritual performed by the island’s inhabitants. As the bodies are carried to the sea, a severed leg falls and rolls toward the horrified American visitors. Farrell and the Hendersons opt not to question anyone on the matter – displaying the determined disinterest that is one of the film’s recurring themes – and instead begin their respective work: Jim attempting to modernize the natives, and Paul researching the effects of the nearby atomic bomb testing. Paul and Carla soon relocate from their shanty in the village to the lush estate of Esteban Powers, a reclusive aristocrat who coincidentally has a keen interest in the effects of atomic radiation. Meanwhile, Jim finds that the villagers engage in a nightly selection ritual to decide which girl will be tied to a stake and raped to death by a hulking, green monster. The mysterious Powers is, of course, the monster, but Paul and Jim continue their inaction until the beast threatens their respective love interests.
Once you peel back the layers of this somewhat predictable B-movie, you’ll find a barbed – if possibly unintentional – critique of American detachment. It is never addressed explicitly, but the film makes it a point to illustrate Jim and the Hendersons’ complete lack of concern for the residents of Blood Island. From the moment of their arrival, the members of the group turn a blind eye towards the obvious dangers and opt to immerse themselves in their occupations. Ironically, were each man to truly conform to his vocation, the villagers and their safety would take precedence. As it is, Jim and Paul go about the execution of the superficial aspects of their work with no regard to its actual goals. Jim teaches crop rotation to the dwindling population, making plans for the future while ignoring the fact that the islanders may not have one. For his part, Paul is far more concerned with documenting the effects of the radiation than finding a cure for it. When faced with no fewer than three examples of the island’s danger, he continues to slowly gather samples and make notes, predicting that answers may only come in “years.”
Jim and Paul remain indifferent until the island begins to affect them personally. Paul ignores the island’s moving – and malevolent – trees on multiple occasions until one attacks Carla. Once she’s freed, he returns to his blasé attitude; more concerned about the science behind the tree’s actions than the fact that it tried to kill his wife. Paul’s apathy is further conveyed through his tacit acceptance of Carla’s constant infidelity. She reaches out to him at one point, offering a veiled apology for her actions. Paul neither accepts nor rejects his wife’s apology, instead choosing to ignore her in the interest of maintaining the status quo of their dysfunctional relationship. Jim shows more compassion to the plight of the villagers, but he’s only spurred into action when a village girl he cares for is put in danger. Even his rescue of her is a selfish act—he gives no thought to stopping the monster completely or the fact that she will now be outcast by her people. The most glaring example of their detachment comes when Powers relates the tragic story of the death of his wife; Carla is moved, but Jim and Paul immediately return to their own problems.
It is through the behavior of these chief characters that a metaphor for the United States’ actions in the Pacific both during and after World War II, in particular the atom bomb best on Bikini Atoll, begins to take form. In the film, such hazardous experimentation results in the creation of the titular beast. The Bikini tests are perceived as an example of putting ideals before living things, a crime manifested in the actions of both Jim and Paul. The men are additionally symbolic of aspects of post-War American neocolonialism. Jim, through his work with the Peace Corps, works to bring the artifice of modernization to the island yet offers nothing in the way of substantial help. Teaching English and establishing makeshift hospitals are tasks done in lieu of addressing the real threat in the form of the monster. Brides of the Beast sees Jim – and by association, the Peace Corps – as an agent of the American Empire rather than a force for positive change, echoing early criticisms of the group.
Brides of the Beast is most readily classified as a “nuclear terror” film, so the scientific community must be represented. Rather than serving as a voice of caution (Dr. Medford in Them!) or as the hero (Dr. Jackson in The Deadly Mantis), Dr. Henderson’s utility is solely to appear indifferent to the effects of science on humanity. His scientific curiosity ends before the human stage; he is content to scrape bark off of trees that mere hours before killed a village child. He speaks of “theories,” but refuses to believe that atomic energy could be in any way harmful, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The film makes him the fool; though he is the most educated character, he dies never deducing the obvious connection between Powers and the monster. His death and the death of Carla – her own engineered appearance and promiscuity juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the chaste natives – are two of the film’s only moments of cathartic release. Despite ostensibly being the main characters, their comeuppance is far more satisfying than that of the beast.
One could make the argument that the criticism of American post-War behavior is completely intentional. It would not be the only manner in which the film deviates from the pattern of its fellow mid- to late-sixties drive-in horrors. Brides of the Beast contains brief nudity at multiple points; judging from the quality of these scenes they likely would have been spliced in or out depending on in which market or time of day the film was playing. Severed body parts and the occasional spray of gore would have also been novelties, not to mention the transgressive premise of an atomic monster that rapes its victims to death. Powers has become a sympathetic figure by the climax, though, and ultimately it is not the Beast that terrorizes the island but the Americans who have come under the guise of help.
Brides of the Beast even ends with a highly symbolic “gotcha” moment. Rather than revealing that the Beast is still alive, it is suggested that Jim will be staying on the island with his native girlfriend. Over the course of the film, the natives go from losing their young girls to a hulking monster to losing them to an idealistic American with designs on changing their way of life. Brides of the Beast makes each scenario seem equally undesirable.
A marriage made in hell!
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