The Blood Drinkers (Blood Is the Color of Night) directed by Gerardo de Leon
Though he had started his career as a medical doctor, Gerardo de Leon went on to become not only a movie director, but the most awarded director in the history of the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (seven awards, in all). He helmed film projects in many different genres, but this viewer had, until recently, only been familiar with three of his pictures, all in the horror category. His 1959 effort Terror Is a Man, generally cited as being the first Filipino horror film, was an excellently done reworking of H.G. Wells‘ The Island of Dr. Moreau, while the two films he directed with Eddie Romero in 1968, Brides of Blood and The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, had been fun, pulpy schlock exercises. (Romero would go on to direct Beast of Blood, the third part of the trilogy, in 1971, by himself.) But perhaps the most impressive of all the films that I have seen by de Leon is 1966’s The Blood Drinkers, originally released under its Tagalog title Kulay Dugo Ang Gabi (Blood Is the Color of Night a more artful and fitting title, I feel), when its director was 53. One of the most unusual vampire pictures that this viewer has ever seen, the film amply demonstrates (as did the 1967 Pakistani picture Zinda Laash) that the vampire scourge truly is international in scope.
In the film, which is narrated by the uncredited but unmistakable Filipino mainstay Vic Diaz, playing a country priest, the viewer makes the acquaintance of Marco, a bald, caped, pockmarked vampire who wears wrap-around junkie shades and who is portrayed by Ronald Remy (viewers may remember Remy as the villainous Dr. Lorca in The Mad Doctor of Blood Island). When we first encounter Marco, he and his retinue — which includes a hunchback, a hideous-looking little person, a brunette hottie named Tanya, his dead bride (Amalia Fuentes) and his mother-in-law — are gathering in a crypt, using modern-day scientific equipment to bring the deceased, Katrina, back to life. The procedure is successful, but Katrina’s hold on life is a tenuous one, and so Marco decides that her twin sister, Charito (Fuentes again), must be found, and that her healthy heart must be placed into the body of his beloved! (The viewer will recall that Dr. Christiaan Barnard only performed the world’s first successful heart transplant in 1967, making Marco — who proposes to perform the operation himself — not only a pioneer, but some kind of bona fide medical genius, as well!)
The Blood Drinkers / Blood Is the Color of Night is a remarkable film in many ways. Perhaps most memorable is the look of the picture itself. While prosaic shots were shot in standard color, many of the vampire attack sequences were seemingly filmed in B&W and tinted bright orange; nighttime scenes were tinted blue; some scenes begin in color but switch to tinted halfway through, or vice versa; while other scenes, depending on the action on screen, will change tints correspondingly. The effect can be extremely artful; just witness the sight of the vampires strolling at night through a billowing orange mist, or the blue shadows of lace curtains on Charito’s pretty face. The setting of the film — the jungles of the Filipino countryside — is an unusual one for a vampire outing, too, and the picture does not shrink from the occasional gross-out moment (such as the sight of a jagged, bloody neck bite).
Several scenes cannot fail to impress. In one, Charito’s elderly guardians, now turned into zombified vampires, stalk her at night (orange tinted during their attack; blue tinted after Marco whips them off). In another, Charito’s boyfriend dukes it out with that hunchback and little person, as well as with Marco himself, who keeps vanishing and reappearing unexpectedly. The film makes good use of that creepiest-sounding of all musical instruments, the Theremin (especially during hypnosis sequences) and takes especial pains to mention how important prayer and a belief in Jesus Christ are during times of peril (no surprise, as the Philippines remains largely Roman Catholic to this day). Indeed, not only are Jesus and prayer referenced, but at one point, Charito is exorcised of her hypnotic state by dint of holy water, and the mere prayers of that country priest seem to release Marco and Katrina from vampirism … for a short while, anyway. Another touching element: the depth of Marco’s love for Katrina; he even allows her to suck his own neck for sustenance!
The picture includes the most ingenious use of a flare gun in the history of the vampire film and, unfortunately, the fakest-looking bat (Basra, Marco’s helper) in the history of the vampire film, as well. Also interesting to note: Although Marco’s entire entourage is eliminated by the film’s end, the main vampire himself (slight spoiler ahead; if you want to read it, highlight here) manages to survive and escape the wrath of the angry villagers. Offhand, I cannot recall another picture in which the diabolical neck nosher lives to suck another day; yet another element that makes Blood Is the Color of Night such a unique viewing experience. Is it possible that a never-too-be-realized Marco sequel was being contemplated? [end spoiler]
Further good news regarding Blood Is the Color of Night is that it is available today on a great-looking Image DVD. Among the many fine “extras” on this disc is an interesting commentary by film preserver Sam Sherman; a modern-day interview with Eddie Romero himself (good luck understanding his English!); and 25 minutes’ worth of (silent) lost footage, which would have seemingly steered the film in an interesting direction, playing up Tanya’s jealousy of Katrina, even to the point of attempted murder. That vampiric love triangle was sadly left on the editing room floor, but what remains is quite fascinating enough, and surely worth the time of any jaded horror fan who is seeking out something different…