“All we need is a Neanderthal man or two to complete the picture.”
Horror of the Blood Monsters exists solely because of another film, Tagani (1965), which was brought back from the Philippines by Ewing “Lucky” Brown, who admired its production values. Brown believed it was as good, if not better, than anything Roger Corman had made, and showed it to director Al Adamson, who chopped up the prehistoric tribal epic, inserted some new science-fiction footage, and created an entirely new movie, also released as Vampire Men of the Lost Planet, and Space Mission to the Lost Planet. The garbled, mashed up movie challenges even the most dedicated bad movie afficionado, although producer Sam Sherman has claimed that Diane Keaton is a fan.
Adamson himself pops up in the film’s opening scenes, as a vampire, while a voice-over explains that a deadly virus has travelled across the galaxy, infecting humanity. A group of scientists, including a very elderly John Carradine, have been sent into space to discover a cure. Unfortunately, something has hit their spacecraft; the first twenty minutes is dedicated to discovering the cause of the accident (revealed to be lightning in outer space!) and ensuring, through constantly repeated dialogue, that the ground control base maintains contact with the ship. The astronauts land on a nearby planet – also, conveniently, the very one they were looking for – for emergency repairs and, from this point, the original plot is completely abandoned and replaced with assorted scenes from Tagani.
Problematically for Adamson, the Filipino movie was black and white, and his film is in colour. In an audacious move, he filters all the scenes on the planet, explaining the colour changes – pinks, blues, greens, yellows – as being the effect of “chromatic radiation.” Originally he had intended all these scenes to be red, but the colour was too painful and disorienting to watch in large portions. As well as blatantly trying to conceal the old footage within his own, he exploited it as a marketing tool, advertising the film as being made in “Spectrum-X!”
Once on the planet, the astronauts – three men and a token blonde, a woman called Vicky Volante whose face and brain are equally blank – discover wallowing dinosaurs, giant lizards (normal sized lizards fighting each other on miniature sets), crab monsters, and bat-monkeys. They also discover Lian Malian (Jennifer Bishop), a native who tells them about the ongoing war between her tribe, the Tagani, and a neighbouring tribe, the vampiric Tubatons. It is this dispute that comprises some thirty minutes of the film’s last hour – over a third of its overall running time. The virus plaguing the Earth is forgotten as the astronauts search for the sacred “fire-water” and watch a lot of battles involving suspiciously Filipino-looking men.
Despite the Spectrum-X, Tagani‘s footage is never seamlessly integrated. The narrative introduced in the opening half hour is abandoned, but the new plot involving the two tribes is so jarring and so clearly unrelated, that it severely damages the overall pacing. At eighty-five minutes, Horror of the Blood Monsters feels desperately slow; there is never a suggestion that the two separate narratives will unify in the end (and they don’t) and, consequently, both seem irrelevant. It is perhaps for this reason that Adamson’s film has been so derided – currently rated 2.2/10 on IMDB, Michael Weldon describes it as a “paste-up science-fiction atrocity” in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, while Michael Adams claims it is “direly, head-smashingly dull” in Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic’s Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made.
There are some moments of spectacle, however. Tagani may have been low-budget, but it does offer some interesting imagery, and it is easy to understand why “Lucky” Brown was reminded of Corman’s pictures. The battle scenes are grand in scale, though low in excitement; later, longer passages are dubbed (poorly) but still don’t make any sense, due to Adamson’s decision to retain the same plot as the Filipino movie, but to only include the battle sequences. Who cares about narrative coherence, when you can show someone being shot in the head with an arrow?
Adamson’s own footage is startlingly threadbare. The film is worth watching solely for the rocket landing; after some matte paintings of a rocket in space, the actual landing is clearly a miniature model being placed on a rock. As with Adamson’s other pictures, sets are sparse and basic but cinematography is crisp due to his collaboration with Vilmos Zsigmond, who later won an Oscar for Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1978. Meanwhile, the planet’s action is interrupted by a futuristic sex scene, of all things, featuring a precursor to Woody Allen’s orgasmatron machine in Sleeper (1973) – hey, perhaps Diane Keaton told the writer/director about Adamson’s movie!
Horror of the Blood Monsters is a bewildering movie; a pointless science-fiction film with no sense of resolution or conclusion. By the end, the astronauts leave the alien planet, after Carradine informs them that the remaining tribes will soon be wiped out by the harmful red radiation. There is no suggestion of a cure for Earth. It is a strangely bleak conclusion, but it’s really difficult to care.