Blood Drinkers, The (1966)

Directed By Gerry De Leon
Image Entertainment DVD

After 90 minutes of duotone dreamz, I’m certain of one thing: The Blood Drinkers is a vampire film like no other.

Director Gerry De Leon, a Hemisphere Pictures/Blood Island mainstay, steeps his fanged film in plenty of what you’d expect. We’ve got theremins, black cloaks, rubber bats, bloody necks, and lots of fog. But then, just as you’re pulled into the comfort zone of cheap monster shocks, you realize that there’s something more. It’s not just the abstract mix of duotone tints and color photography, not only the heavy and strange reliance on religious imagery. The Blood Drinkers juggles monster thrills, a unique method of photography, and a somewhat involved love story to yield a nearly perfect low budget horror film. Sort of.

Bald-headed vampire Marco and his motley gang of beasties take up shop in a small Filipino village. Marco’s true love, the vampire Christina, is on the threshold of death, in need of a heart transplant and plenty of the red stuff to survive. Christina’s twin sister Charita (still human) has the bodily goods that the vampires desire. Marco, his hunchbacked assistant Gordo, and a slinky female servant begin raising havoc and goose pimples in the village. Soon after, our hero Victor arrives in the neighborhood on vacation. He teams up with our narrator priest and begins to duke it out with Marco and the gang. All the while, we’re treated to a few subplots involving numerous extended family members, a lot of talk about Good (Catholics!) vs. Evil (Satan!) with accompanying imagery, and some bloody whip action from Marco. It all leads up to a visually stunning final battle, complete with a tug at your heartstrings.

While the plot showcases concepts that are both simple (Marco’s love for Christina) and complex (Charita’s bizarre backstory), the technical aspects of this film are the true breadwinners. De Leon melds duotone blues and reds with full color, often without cuts and seemingly as reactions to the film, both literally and figuratively. The changes in tint seem to be mostly arbitrary, but there are definite instances of intended change (the opening of undead eyes, a vampire’s appearance). The result is like the inking scheme of a comic book, but infinitely more elegant — exciting eye candy and smart compositions, regardless of any subtextual meaning. When you combine that style with post-dubbing, atmosphere drenched sets, and old fashioned Universal thrills, you get a mysterious film that’s hard to peg down, but always inviting.

The full frame print, newly restored and featuring a remastered “High Fidelity Magnetic Soundtrack,” looks and sounds fantastic. The colors hop off the screen and scratching is evident, but never distracting. The mono sound was crystal clear.

In addition to the supplements that appear on all of Image’s Blood Collection series (Blood Island still gallery, Eddie Romero interview, Blood Island trailers, perfect liner notes by Jim Arena), The Blood Drinkers contains a couple of doozies. First up, a 27 minute segment of silent scenes that were excised from the English version of the film. Apparently discovered by Independent-International’s Sam Sherman in a couple of random 35 mm film cans, the scenes look just as good as the feature and reveal some interesting plot embellishment. This footage is really nice to see.

Lastly, we’ve got Sam Sherman’s Blood Collection kick-off commentary. Sam’s tracks are always a pleasure, kind of like hanging out with the coolest Uncle you never had. Running around 61 minutes, Sam chats about the beginnings of Hemisphere Pictures, how he came into the fold, Blood Drinkers’s pairing with The Black Cat, and tons more. The information about this film’s technical restoration is particularly fascinating. Chalk up another winner.

Despite the somewhat convoluted storyline, The Blood Drinkers stands as a peerless, unique achievement in low budget 60s horror. It’s artsy, eerie, and self-involved, but not in a bad way. What’s not to love?