The Fearless Vampire Colours
When Emma Thompson's dad, Eric, was given the job of translating a French kids' show for the BBC, he projected the films, without sound, on his kitchen door and made up his own stories to accompany the action, a rather loose approach to translation which nevertheless resulted in a children's classic, The Magic Roundabout.
It may seem like a leap from this to Kulay dugo ang gabi, AKA The Blood Drinkers, a 1964 vampire movie from the Philippines, directed by Gerardo de Leon, but I suspect that whoever dubbed it may have been using a similar technique, only with less skill. Whatever the method, the result is indeed psychotronic, with unhinged and disconnected blurts of non-synchronised dialogue floating like seaweed over phantasmagorically coloured images.
Speaking Ill With the Dead
"They were not your parents. Both of them are vampires: bodies without souls, possessed by the devil, and the feed on blood which they obtain from their former loved ones. I have studied these. Vampires are abroad in our parish," a priest tells the heroine, Charito.
"They really weren't your parents: they were vampires who came for your blood," elaborates a frowning young woman.
"Is that true?" the priest demands of the helpless heroine, which seems rather an unfair question, since it's what he just said.
Ten minutes later, our intrepid hero, Victor, finds vampire Doctor Macro and his girlfriend walking abroad in daylight, protected by sunglasses, and guests of a wealthy local lady. A strained bit of conversation ensues:
Doctor Marco: "And where are your friends, the police, with the handcuffs?"
Victor: "There is no time to be joking."
Dr. M: "Forgive me, it was a joke. You see, I know some of your friends. The provincial constabulary, you know. The arm of the law."
V: "I went to the police, doctor."
M: "Is that why you carry a gun? Right here. A .38 or a .45?"
V: "You're very observant."
M: "Take my advice. Don't depend on the police."
V: "I have to call the police. Because of some murders."
M: "I'm sorry."
Everything goes blue. Marco's girlfriend pounds the piano.
GF: "Excuse me."
V: "Don't be alarmed, Charito."
Charito: "I have the strangest feeling. Seems to me I've seen him before."
M: "Ah... I must congratulate you on the beauty of your sunsets."
Even written down, this is an odd set of exchanges, and it feels even odder when spoken aloud by a variety of out-of-synch actors with different accents. Something about the arrangement of lines seems off, in a dreamlike way. In fact, if you try reading the lines in reverse order, they make just as much sense, and some bits actually play better.
The Blood-Dimmed Rainbow
Fortunately, nothing else in this oneiric cascade of imagery makes obvious sense, so the audio and video tracks balance out nicely. And the imagery is fantastic. The Big Idea here is colour, served up in great monochrome slabs, with a readily graspable symbolic logic behind it: conventional daylight scenes are shot in a gaudy palette approximating normality; night scenes are completely blue, movie moonlight with the chroma turned way up (Warning: if you turn away from the screen during a night sequence and look at something yellow, it may punch a hole through your head); overtly supernatural activity is toned deepest blood-red; a few scenes are purple, suggesting a merging of the worlds of night and magic; a few scenes feature both colours at once:
I had formed a theory that maybe parts of the film were shot black-and-white, for economy, and then tinted, but these eye-popping, brain-melting stews of hues proves me wrong. It's a purely aesthetic choice. Not a subtle one, perhaps, but in the world of the Philippino horror movie, subtlety is for wimps.
Of Blood Island
The first De Leon movie I ever saw (and still the only other one, although I aim to correct that soon) was Terror is a Man, a misty monochrome mood piece which has justifiably been called Lewtonesque. Unable to aspire to Lewton's more literary heights via dialogue, it settles for his poetic melancholy, coupled with the startling and often unacknowledged unpleasantness that spikes through in moments of graphic violence in The Ghost Ship or The Leopard Man. Basically a Dr. Moreau spin-off, the movie introduced the locale of Blood Island which DeLeon would make his cinematic home in subsequent films, and benefits from a compelling mad scientist in the shape of Francis Lederer, and considerable Monster Pathos, provided by a bandage-swathed cat-man, tufts of fur protruding unpleasantly from between his gauzy wrappings.
There's little time for any of that nuance in The Blood Drinkers, but Dr. Marcos (a dead ringer for The Matrix's Morpheus in his shades) does undergo a bizarre fairytale redemption, miraculously cured of vampirism along with his lover -- for about a minute. The colour goes bright and smeary like a four-colour comic viewed through tears, and then God decides to kill the doc's girl because he loves her too much, and so the pair are vampires again and the plot can start once more.
This plot inspires the lengthiest vampire punch-up I can recall seeing. Victor slugs it out with Marcos's two henchmen, a hair-nosed subhuman and a dwarf (assailed by the thigh-high thug, Victor responds with the clear-headedness I hope we'd all show in such a trying circumstance, and simply throws the little fellow away), before the diabolical doctor (he can perform heart transplants so the title is far from honorary) appears and joins in. Each punch makes the sound of a giant farting through wet burlap: a bonus. DeLeon is a generous director. When Dr. Marcos orders his pet bat to give him some space, it flies off backwards.
Having read of wondrous things in Anthony Masters' Natural History of the Vampire (Malayan vampires with books for feet; vampires of Madagascar who eat nail-pairings) I was slightly disappointed that, their medical qualificatiosn apart, Philippines blood-suckers are quite conventional. But the seriousness with which the movie takes its religious imagery compensates for that: while Hammer films use the crucifix as a kind of James Bond gadget, the priest plays a central role here, and the religious iconography (of which there's a lot) is more than decoration. After a shambling mob of undead (prefiguring George Romero's zombie citizens) are dispatched in a cemetery, Marcos escapes.
"For how can you catch the devil?"
is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay