‘Padre, my sister is a living corpse and she feeds on blood.’
Based on a Filippino comic strip and influenced by Universal horror films (especially Son of Dracula), Gerardo de Leon’s bizarrely-hued effort (aka The Vampire People) mixes many distinctive ideas and national quirks with familiar vampire plotting. The flamboyant villain is Dr Marco (Ronald Remy), a bald vampire who looks like a slimmed-down Colonel Kurtz (or maybe Peter Lorre’s Dr Gogol in Mad Love) and switches between a traditional Dracula cape-and-tailcoat ensemble and mod outfits (wraparound shades, black polo-necks, a funky kimono). At the end, the villain gets away clean – suggesting sequels were planned (maybe the comic was still running?) but Marco sadly didn’t return in the same team’s thematically-similar 1970 effort Blood of the Vampires.
Dr Marco arrives in a small, jungle-bounded community, accompanied by a doting vampire girl/masochist lover (he whips her and drinks from the weal raised on her arm), a snaggle-toothed hunchback minion (unusually, the good guy priest also has a deformed sidekick), a nasty dwarf, and Basra the glowing-eyed bat (to whom he addresses several speeches). Marco wants to revive his comatose blonde beloved Katrina (Amalia Fuentes) and needs the heart of her dark-haired sister Cherito (also Fuentes) to manage the trick (sources vary as to the spelling and pronounciation of the girls’ names). An all-purpose horror film baddie, Marco is at once a vampire and a mad surgeon, and his revivification scheme seems to involve up-to-the-moment transplant surgery as well as the supernatural.
While working on his grand scheme, enlisting the aid of the twins’ anguished mother (Mary Walter), Marco is responsible for the usual vampire depradations, which stirs handsome good guy Victor (Eddie Fernandez) and a wise elderly priest-narrator to take countermeasures. Mixing ancient and modern – Marco’s two-vehicle cortege consists of a horse-drawn hearse and a sleek automobile – the film stresses the religious angle with a great deal of cross-wielding and praying but takes odd detours into science as Marco uses a whirring, flashing-light-studded blood transfusion machine to keep Katrina alive and the heroes employ flare-guns to harry the light-phobic vampires.
Perhaps too slowly-paced, with absurdities that tend to stay too long on screen like that bloody bobbing plastic bat, The Blood Drinkers remains a fascinating, eerie, romantic and perverse effort. Its most unusual gambit, prompted by budgetary and film stock access limitations, is mixing lovely pastel-coloured footage with monochrome sequences that mostly use a rich blue or a cherry-crimson tint but sometimes blend. Full colour represents daylight normality or evening idyll (as when the heroine is being serenaded) and even Marco’s bucolic fantasy of normal life with his revived sweetie at a point when prayer effects a temporary cure for his vampirism (a few years before a similar plot development on Dark Shadows). The tints stand for various nighttime moods: blue when the vampires are offscreen or quiescent; red when they are attacking or impassioned. For a cash-saving measure, it’s carefully thought-out.
Twenty-five minutes of trims, outtakes, deleted scenes and alternate footage are included on some releases: evidently, the original intention was to make more of the jealousy of Tanya (Eva Montes), Marco’s long-suffering minion-lover, to the extent of having her try to stake Katrina, a set-up for her suicide when abandoned in the finished film.