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Blu-ray Review: TERROR IS A MAN

Severin unearths the 1959 Filipino horror classic

“More horrifying than FRANKENSTEIN! More Terrifying Than DRACULA! “

To my everlasting shame as a cult film connoisseur I must admit to having watched little to nothing of Eddie Romero’s output.As a producer and director, Romero was responsible for such classics as BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT, TWILIGHT PEOPLE, BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA. THE WOMAN HUNT and BEYOND ATLANTIS but its his “Blood Island trilogy” that stands out in the hearts of horror aficionados.

TERROR IS A MAN is the first of this very loose trilogy and one of the Philippines’ first Horror films to be shot in English. Directed in 1959 by Gérard de Leon but only picked up for North American distribution by Hemisphere 10 years later,  TERROR’s basic theme is taken from HG Welles’ Island of Dr Moreau. When William Fitzgerald  (Richard Derr) is washed ashore on an island, the only survivor of a shipwreck, he’s found by Dr. Girard (Francis Lederer) a park Avenue surgeon and (apparently) genetic scientist who has isolated himself to pursue his experiments free from distractions (and ethical constraints) and assisted by his wife Francis (Greta Thyssen) and his assistant Walter (Oscars Keesee).Quickly, we learn that the island has no means of leaving and no means of communicating with the outside world.  Fitzgerald is told that any return to civilization will have to wait until the supply ship returns in several months. Plenty of time for him to explore the island, the native culture of the indigenous people, stumble into the mysterious experiments and get to know the disenfranchised wife a bit better.

Actually…a lot better!

Fitzgerald, obviously curious as to the nature of the doctor’s work (especially when he learns of the villagers’ fear of it, which you can’t blame them; the creature occasionally breaks free and attacks them) explores the compound and stumbles upon the doctor administering one of his procedures.  It seems as though, in Moreauian fashion, the doctor has been attempting to artificially speed up a panthers’ evolutionary state. To turn BEAST into MAN. The progress has resulted in creating a man/panther – the creature pictured on the cover which, on first impression, looks pretty goofy but truthfully really grows on you and almost has a Universal Monsters feel to it. – but his work isn’t done until he’s achieved a full evolutionary change through painful operations on the poor beast. The only person that shows any compassion to the monster is Francis and while being again tortured it escapes and takes her with him and is hunted by the doctor and our hero.

Cornered on a cliff the panther/man *** spoiler ahead ***  manages to hurl the doctor to his death before being shot by William and plunging down to the beach as well.  By the time William and Francis make their way down the creature is gone, having been helped onto a boat by a native boy and floated off to..?

Budgetary limitations aside, the film is shot really interestingly, at times in an expressionistic, film noir style of shadows and movement that really high tens the mystery of the story.  I love the shot where William wanders the hallway and stumbles upon the operating room but he, and we, can only see a sliver of what’s going on; instead the sounds are tantalizingly haunting, mysterious, and confusing. Incidentally, this is where the famous bell cue was inserted to warn of impeding ‘gore’.

The poster read: THE BELL TELLS-ARE YOU CHICKEN? CAN YOU LOOK AT BLOOD CREATURES WITHOUT CLOSING YOUR EYES WHEN THE BELL RINGS.

Turns out it was only a scalpel cutting into pig flesh.

TERROR IS A MAN has a surprisingly sophisticated script.  Exploring ideas of genetic engineering and the ethics of animal experimentation. Aside from the trope of the mean, torturing assistant in Walter, the film interestingly has no other obvious villain.  Instead we have the doctor who is more of an ethical black hole in his scientific pursuit to the point that he isn’t even terribly concerned in his marriage’s collapse. And like mentioned before, the creature is pretty darn cool.  How could a were- panther wrapped in mummy gauze NOT be totally cool?  And much like many of Universals monsters it is more victim than predator. It’s only crime is following it’s nature and getting a bit of payback to the ones that tortured it – seem s fair to me.

The Severin Films print used for this Blu-ray is in gorgeous black and white in 1080 HD.  The special features packed into the back-end are quite good:MAN BECOMES A CREATURE and DAWN OF BLOOD ISLAND are two short interviews.  The first with Samuel M. Sherman and the second with Co-Director Eddie Romero.  Both men are interesting and have some interesting stories about both the production and the release of the film. TERROR CREATURE, an interview with Pete Tombs (Co-author of Immoral Tales is cool but quite short, as is WHEN THE BELL RINGS with critic Mark Halcomb). The disc also contains a trailer and poster and still gallery.

Highly recommended!

 

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