September 28, 2017
Out of all of the elements of the polarizing mother! to be controversial, one wouldn’t expect the title to be one of them, but the awkward non-capitalization at the beginning coupled with the exclamation point at the end has been playing hell with the auto-correct of critics everywhere (including my own). But mother! is hardly the first movie to feature strange characters in its name; from Airplane! to Land Ho!, movie titles have gotten creative with their punctuation. Because this is Cinema Fearité, we’re going to take a gander at a horror movie with an exclamation – 1961’s Bloodlust!
Bloodlust! is about four youngsters - Johnny (Robert Reed, better known as Mike Brady on “The Brady Bunch”), Betty (Attack of the Puppet People’s June Kenney), Pete (The Spider’s Gene Persson), and Jeanne (Joan Lora from Lure of the Swamp) – who are on a boating trip. Their captain gets drunk, so to kill time while he sobers up, the quartet decides to explore a nearby island. When they get stranded there, they discover that it is inhabited by an eccentric millionaire named Dr. Albert Balleau (Wilton Graff from Valley of the Zombies and Just Before Dawn) who lures people to his island in order to hunt them down for sport – and the group of kids are his next prey.
That plot probably sounds familiar, especially to loyal and longtime Cinema Fearité readers. Bloodlust! was adapted by writer/director Ralph Brooke (The Right Hand of the Devil, Giant from the Unknown) from the same (uncredited) Richard Connell short story that was made into The Most Dangerous Game in 1932. Bloodlust! is more exploitative than The Most Dangerous Game, playing the material as melodrama instead of high art, so it’s not as serious and, thus, an American literature staple is turned into a classic of B-movie greatness.
One of the reasons why Bloodlust! is so much fun is the performance of Wilton Graff as the demented Dr. Balleau. Graff does his best Vincent Price impression, twisting his moustache and overexplaining his diabolical plot in a Bond Villain-esque way. Graff pulls out all the stops, using his powerful presence and evil-sounding accent to remove all doubt about his character’s nefarious motives and schemes. He’s a great villain who all but carries the film.
For every villain, however, there needs to be a hero, and the dashing, suave leader of the hunted kids is played by a young Robert Reed. Reed is the anti-Graff in Bloodlust!, the shining armor, sparkling smile protagonist who defends the ladies and leads the guys in their struggles against Balleau. He’s not exactly action hero material, but he is charismatic and charming, so the audience does root for him, particularly against the especially nasty Dr. Balleau. He’s a long way from being Mr. Brady, but Robert Reed deftly handles the good-guy side of Bloodlust!
The music in Bloodlust! is just as melodramatic as the rest of the movie. The score was composed by Michael Terr (AKA Manuel Francisco/Mischa Terr, who also scored The Devil’s Hand and Anatomy of a Psycho), and it sounds, in a nutshell, like stock music. And that fits Bloodlust! perfectly fine, as it is full of shouting horns and stinging strings that emphasize the campy moments while accenting the suspenseful ones. When a blind is pulled up on a water tank to reveal one of Dr. Balleau’s previous victims being prepared for taxidermy, the audience is slapped with an orchestral stab to make sure that they feel the full impact of the image. Corny, yes, but the whole movie has that silly B-movie vibe, so it works.
The exclamation point in the title of Bloodlust! is there for a reason. With a movie this unsubtle, you don’t just say the title, you shout it loud.