Pros: Graphic violence in 1959? SHOCKING!
Cons: Lack of suspense; timeline of narrative seems screwy; “those meddling kids…”
A cheapie adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game in which a sort of big-game hunter sets his sights on human prey, 1959’s Bloodlust! (unreleased until 1961) chronicles the efforts of a group of (meddling) kids to escape from a remote island ruled over by a pompous millionaire with a “private trophy room” full of preserved human victims. Apparently, this hunter named Balleau has enlisted the services of a local boat captain to provide him with humans to hunt down with his trusty crossbow, though the unannounced appearance of two pairs of young lovebirds (Johnny and Betty, Pete and Jeanne) throws his normal routine into chaos. When the kids inevitably discover the secret taxidermy room where various stiff-jointed assistants prepare rubbery-looking human bodies for display, it sets into motion a string of events that eventually finds Johnny and Pete themselves in Balleau’s cross hairs. Can these kids find a way off the island, or will they wind up as permanent mementos of Balleau’s past conquests?
Straight outta Scooby-Doo, it’s the pesky young adult characters. ‘Let’s have a clam bake,’ they said. ‘It’ll be fun,’ they said….
Clocking in at just 68 minutes in length, Bloodlust! benefits from the fact that writer/director Ralph Brooke’s script doesn’t waste much time in setting up its basic story. This film barrels along towards an ending that has an element of (cheesy) surprise to it, though I can’t altogether say that the script is all that consistent. I could almost be led to believe that this film originally was around 90 minutes long, with more capable development in terms of its narrative, but was unceremoniously hacked down to a little over an hour to fit in with theater scheduling as the second half of a double bill. The sense of a timeline in the film just seems off: as it stands in its final version, there are quite a few transitions that I would call “jumpy,” moving forward without much of an explanation or sense of purpose. Finally, the events in this film building up to the climax aren’t all that suspenseful, which is partly due to a jagged editing scheme and partly the fault of a music score by Michael Terr that is rather lifeless. Right when this film should be hooking an audience with a sense of tension, it feels lazy and dull. All these issues may simply be due to the fact that this was the first feature both written and directed by Brooke, who was known more as a bit player in movies from the mid 1940’s onward, but in the end, I’d have to say that this film is certainly watchable and more accomplished than some B-grade pictures of its day.
I’m not sure if the film exactly has a firm grasp on the taxidermy process, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Set design in the film is fairly well done, detailing both a limited number of interior locations (including the shadowy trophy room itself which is hidden in a cave) and the tropical jungle that surrounds Balleau’s estate. Generally, I thought the moody black and white photography of Richard E. Cunha was also pretty decent; no one is going to mistake this for a big-budget production, but it would nearly compare in terms of its look at feel to the surprisingly good genre pictures of the ‘40s made by the likes of Edgar G. Ulmer. Though the skeletons slung around the “Tree of Death” that exists in the middle of the jungle and assorted body parts in the taxidermy studio look very rubbery, Bloodlust! includes a few scenes of startlingly graphic violence which would have indeed been shocking in 1959. Arrows pierce human flesh, a face is dissolved with acid, and there’s even a sequence where a man is more or less crucified on a rack, replete with blood flow from his nailed-on hands. This level of gore wasn’t all that common during this period in cinema history, and even though it wouldn’t do much for today’s viewers used to the excesses of modern horror, I’d have to say that some theatergoers at the time would have probably been disgusted.
“Oh, you didn’t recognize me as the villain of this piece?”
The cast for Bloodlust! presents a mixed bag through and through: Wilton Graff (mainly known for smaller roles in bigger movies of the 1940s onward) capably plays Balleau as a man shattered by the second World War who takes up hunting human victims to satisfy his murderous desires. This character has both a very human side to him, and a cold, absolutely sinister one, and I thought Graff did a nice job of playing the role with an air of grandiloquence. The actors playing the young people on the other hand are by and large annoying. Robert Reed (“Mike Brady” on The Brady Bunch) plays Johnny, the character most clearly identified as the hero – though it’s difficult to accept him as such since he frequently seems like a bit of a jerk due to his tendency to pass all the dangerous tasks off on his friend Pete (played as a sort of lovable dork by Eugene Persson). Pete winds up being the more courageous character, and one can almost forgive Jeanne, the girlfriend character played by Joan Lora, for fawning over him (“Oh Pete…you’re wonderful!” UGH!).
DUN DUN! Balleau and his learning-disabled henchmen.
Unfortunately, a viewer quickly gets tired of listening to Jeanne screech and complain about any situation she finds herself in (“Can I say it just one more time: I’m scared!” – GROAN!). Her character seems like a ditz, and I really wished at a certain point that she would fall into one of the quicksand pits sprinkled around the island and disappear from the narrative. Johnny’s girlfriend Betty (played by June Kenney) is a bit more tolerable, mainly because she seems resourceful and level-headed, not just the obligatory female thrown in to prove that Johnny isn’t gay. Smaller roles in the film are occupied by Walter Brooke (as a drunken inhabitant of the island), Lilyan Chauvin (Balleau’s vaguely foreign wife, who’s involved in an illicit relationship with Brooke’s character), and Troy Patterson (as the pleasure boat captain leading voyagers to their doom on Balleau’s island), but Bill Coontz nearly (maybe?) steals the show as the “insane man in the woods” who shows up late in the going to foam at the mouth and scream nonsensically for what seems like an eternity. Lots of screaming during certain parts of this movie: be prepared to adjust your volume!
Coontz ARGGH! as the ARGGH! insane man in the ARGGH! woods ARGGH!
It’s somewhat odd that Bloodlust! would be marketed rather obviously as a horror picture. In spite of the sometimes graphic onscreen carnage, I’d probably be more inclined to call it an adventure film or maybe even a (generally ineffective) suspense thriller, and though it doesn’t hold a candle to the classic 1932 film adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game (released under that very title), it’s actually not that bad. Don’t get me wrong: the film has substantial problems, some of which are caused by its minimal budget – a scene where “judo expert” Betty is replaced onscreen by an obvious male stuntman had me cracking up, and the film also has an abundance of highly amusing, unintentionally (?) funny dialogue (“How do you get your kicks on a place like this?” “Kicks? Oh, I have my…diversions…“). Bloodlust! wouldn’t wind up on anyone’s list of the greatest films ever made, but surely it’s better than its reputation as pure trash cinema. If you catch this on TV (or have the desire to watch it for free online), it’s a worthwhile time-waster.
This public domain film has been released in a number of DVD packages (I might recommend one of the multi-film packs like Mill Creek’s 12-movie Cult Terror Cinema collection), and can be watched online for free .
4/10 : Brief glimpses of what in 1959 would have been rather graphic gore – and even some flowing blood!
0/10 : No profanity, but the subject matter may be a bit distressing for some.
1/10 : Fleeting reference to the fact that Balleau may have some rather despicable plans for the young ladies…
5/10 : Low-rent adaptation of a classic story; as such, it really ain’t all that bad.
“It amuses me now that I found it distasteful at first. And as time went by I adjusted my new activity. For what had been an unpleasant duty became a pleasure then it developed into a passion and then into a lust. A lust for blood! A lust that has grown with the years! And one that I spend my entire life trying to satisfy.”