The Twilight People directed by Eddie Romero
The 1959 film Terror Is a Man was the very first horror picture to be made in the country of the Philippines. A very well done but uncredited reiteration of H. G. Wells‘ classic 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, the film was gorgeously shot in B&W, featured stylish direction by Geraldo de Leon and (again, an uncredited) Eddie Romero, as well as an intelligent script that was punctuated by interesting speculations on the nature of man and beast. Over the next 10 years, Romero worked at a fairly furious pace, eventually carving out for himself a place in the world’s pantheon of great horror directors by coming out with his legendary Blood Island trilogy: Brides of Blood (1968), The Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1969) and Beast of Blood (1970), all starring American actor John Ashley. The team would come out with one more picture, the truly bewildering Beast of the Yellow Night, in ’71, before deciding on their next project. As it turned out, that project would be still another remake of the famous Wells story, but this time, Romero would direct by himself and the film would be shot in full color. The results, sadly, are nowhere what the original Filipino horror film had been. Whereas Terror Is a Man is a surprisingly artfully done film that shows restraint in its use of shock scares, their new endeavor, the meaninglessly titled The Twilight People, was quite the opposite. Released in April ’72, the film was a modest success at the box office, and one that Ashley would go on to speak of fondly. Today, one can only wonder why.
To be fair, the picture does open quite promisingly, with lovely underwater photography and cool lounge jazz as the opening credits are displayed. We then see Ashley’s character, world-roving adventurer Matt Farrell (a relation, perhaps, to his Jim Farrell character in Brides of Blood?), kidnapped while scuba diving and brought via ship to an unknown island 300 miles from nowhere. It is a pretty interesting opening, to be sure, while the viewer, as well as Matt, wonders just what the hell is going on. As it turns out, he has been brought to the island home of a scientist named Dr. Gordon (Charles Macaulay, who, I eventually realized, looked familiar to me by dint of his having played the character of Landru on the classic Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons”!), who has decided that human beings must be adapted biologically to meet the ever-changing needs of an increasingly dangerous world. To the film’s detriment, this mad doctor does not reveal any further details of the work that he is engaged in, but the viewer does get to see the results: Half-human/half-animal hybrids have been successfully created by Gordon and are now being kept in cages in an underground cavern.
Thus, there is Ayesa the Panther Woman (the great Pam Grier, unrecognizable here behind her fangs, although one could never miss that bodacious body of hers; Grier, it will be remembered, was appearing in any number of films made in the Philippines at that time, including such marvelous entertainments as The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage and Black Mama, White Mama), Darmo the Bat Man (Tony Gosalvez), Kuzma the Antelope Man (Ken Metcalfe, who had also appeared in Beast of the Yellow Night), Lupa the Wolf Woman (Mona Morena; actually, if it weren’t for the credits, I would not have known what kind of an animal she was supposed to be) and Primo the Ape Man (Kim Ramos). Gordon has decided that Matt is the perfect human subject for his further experiments, a revelation that naturally makes the stunned American think only of fleeing. And he does indeed effect an escape from Gordon’s fortresslike compound, aided by the mad doctor’s pretty daughter Neva (Pat Woodell, who also appeared in The Big Doll House, but whom most viewers will recall as Bobbi Jo on TV’s Petticoat Junction) and those five newly liberated, hybrid creations. And in the film’s second half, things take a decided turn into The Most Dangerous Game territory, as Gordon’s lieutenant, the blond, possibly gay and decidedly homicidal Steinman (Jan Merlin), along with a band of cutthroat Filipinos, hunts the fleeing party down…
The Twilight People is fun to watch in a pulpy, Saturday-afternoon-at-the-movies kind of way, but objectively speaking, and by any legitimate and honest yardstick, really is objectively bad. Besides its lazy script by Jerome Small and Romero, which does not even make reference to the doctor’s human/animal experiments once — not once — it features makeups (by one Antonio Artieda) for its quintet of creatures that look like something a 4th grader might have concocted for a Halloween trick-or-treat outing. The budget for this film was reportedly somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000, and I’m guessing that makeup accounted for very little of it. Indeed, the five creations of Dr. Gordon will most likely elicit laughs rather than chills in most viewers. Ashley is appealing as always here, but seems rather dour and humorless; granted, the situation that his character finds himself in does not lend itself to chuckles. Romero’s direction is rather spiritless and distinctly unstylish, with some confusing jump cuts and poorly thought-out action scenes.
Happily, the film does feature some lovely scenery, having been shot in the middle of some Philippines location of great verdant beauty; it never ceases to amaze me how GREEN the jungles in that country can be. And speaking of vivid colors, viewers of the Blood Island trilogy will perhaps not be surprised to learn that this film does not shy away from showing blood and gore in its violent set pieces, but the gore on display here always looks patently phony. (When will filmmakers realize that blood does not look bright cherry red in color, or the glistening orange of, say, Heinz ketchup … both of which are used prodigiously here?) Again, several scenes try hard but wind up only causing the viewer to chuckle. My favorite: the one in which Primo the Ape Man tries to rape Neva and is beaten off by Antelope Man, after which Bat Man attempts to fly to her aid but falls flat on his face after an unsuccessful launch from a nearby tree. And, oh … that final confrontation between Matt and Steinman, which the film seemed to have been building up to, is decidedly anticlimactic, at best.
Bottom line: A fun but distinctly slapdash effort, perhaps best suited for watching with your favorite 8-year-old nephew on the couch. Other viewers would best be advised to stick with that earlier 1959 Filipino version, or even better, the 1932 film from Paramount, Island of Lost Souls. Kathleen Burke as the Panther Woman in that film might not be nearly as bodacious as Pam Grier, but she sure is a LOT more convincing!