Bloodlust (1959/1961) – By Philip Smolen

My mother wouldn’t let me go see “Bloodlust” when it was released to theaters. You see she happened to catch a tawdry TV promo for it one Saturday night while watching “Chiller Theater” with my sister and me and she was convinced that I would have nightmares. The promo emphasized the grotesqueries that would be shown in the film. So unfortunately, I had to wait several years until it made its way to late night TV before I could satisfy my curiosity. Did the film scare me? Of course not, but I found myself loving the cheap, sleazy atmosphere that the movie successfully created.

“Bloodlust” was writer/director’s Ralph Brooke’s magnum opus. Much like Todd Graeff, who’s now only remembered for the infamous “Teenagers from Outer Space” (1959), Brooke was the sole driving force behind “Bloodlust” and he poured his heart and soul into the film’s production. But despite his grandiose ideas for the film, it was quickly forgotten by the movie public and sold off to TV. It was only later, after star Robert Reed became famous for a certain TV role, did interest in “Bloodlust” pick up again. It was even lampooned on “MST3K” back in the 1990s.

“Bloodlust” is basically a filmed adaptation of Richard Connell’s famous short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” In the film, four vacationing teens (Robert Reed [practical hero], June Kenney [brave girl], Joan Lora [scared girl] and Eugene Persson [nerd alert]) drop anchor at a tropical island and become prisoners of Dr. Albert Balleau (Wilton Graff), a madman who loves to hunt human prey. He’s decided that Reed and Persson would make perfect new trophies. He also hints around that Kenney and Lora would make good companions for him after he’s disposed of the boys!

The film is routine (even for 1961), and there is a lot of boring sneaking around and sneaking back as our intrepid heroes try to initially figure out what’s going on. There’s also quite a bit of clunky dialogue. But the film’s raison d’être are the gruesome deaths sprinkled throughout the movie’s brief 68 minutes. There’s death by leeches, crossbow, quicksand, boiling oil and even a bloody impaling. “Bloodlust is gorier than most Hammer films of the day and far more sadistic. Director Brooke gleefully films all manner of grotesqueness in vivid black and white close-ups. In one scene, Kenney judo throws one of Balleau’s henchmen into a vat of boiling oil. Brooke cuts to the agony of the unfortunate man three times and each time more and more of the man’s face bubbles and oozes away. He knew what the drive-in audience of the day were looking for and he delivered.

Film Chest Media Group has mastered a beautiful version of “Bloodlust” for DVD. It’s been restored in full HD from original 35mm film elements and looks and sounds better than it ever did. There are still a few frames that have some noise and lines, but these are brief and don’t ruin the fondue that’s on display.

So if slick cinematic cheese is your thing (and it’s definitely mine!), seek out this restored version of “Bloodlust.” It’s one of those low budget howlers that you’ll come back to.

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