Half beast, half man, all wild entertainment – the oddest of the video nasties is an experience to savour.
Perhaps the most ludicrous entry on the official British Video Nasties list (other candidates are available), Night of the Bloody Apes was made in 1968 and must have aroused the interest of the plod in the early 1980s purely by luck. The UK VHS cover was an exercise in restraint, notably lacking in bloody apes and now stands as one of the oddest bits of promotional artwork associated with the film. Poor old Iver Film Services just couldn’t win – as the nasties hysteria took hold, they deliberately downplayed the lurid excesses of their newly acquired splatter movies (the cover for the Bigfoot gore-snore movie Night of the Demon is even more restrained than this, consisting of nothing but a night sky) but it seems the coppers already had their number and by now were scooping up anything and everything. While only the most humourlessly paranoid moralist could seriously believe that a film about a man scientist creating an apeman who tangles with a masked female wrestler could deprave and corrupt anyone, the film had enough outrageous gore – including actual transplant footage (something that becomes less sensational when you remember that BBC surgical show Your Life in Their Hands was then being shown as part of the daytime schedule and featured much the same sort of imagery) – to ensure that it was a surefire addition to the list. As with many of the more obscure and eccentric releases that made the cut (The Werewolf and the Yeti, Forest of Fear, Axe) it’s uncertain that anyone had actually watched the film or that it had ever been convicted by a jury – many of these films became legally obscene thanks to guilty pleas by shop owners looking to avoid a trial. It’s hard to imagine a jury sitting through this with a straight face and then delivering a guilty verdict – but the 1980s was a weird decade.
This is one of the films that escaped me during the original nasties era and the first time I encountered any part of it was on the seminal, never-bettered trailer collection Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell, a marvellously curated collection of excessive previews where the Night of the Bloody Apes trailer effectively closed the show – and rightly so as it is one of the wildest and most breathlessly deranged ‘coming attractions’ trailer you’ll ever see – nothing but wild gore, mad action and bellowed narration that assures us that the beast will be half man, half beast and ALL HORROR! For a long time, I assumed that there would be no way for the actual film to live up to this. But I was wrong. Night of the Bloody Apes is every bit as mad as the trailer suggests – even more so perhaps, as the prevue barely hinted at the mad dialogue that the English-language dub features.
Directed by Rene Cardona Sr – patriarch of the Rene Cardona filmmaking clan and the inventor of the Mexican horror wrestling film thanks to work with the legendary El Santo – this is a delirious mix of old-fashioned mad doctor horror, lively wrestling and – thanks to some post-production additions by American distributor Jerald Intrator – delirious moments of ultra gore that were certainly ‘lively’ for the time. The combined result is a film so utterly deranged that it’s irresistible, a work of genuine outsider art – albeit one made by established film producers – that you have to see.
You’d think that by 1968, mad doctors would’ve got the message that messing about with gorilla transplants never ends well, but Dr Kraymann (Jose Elias Moreno) clearly didn’t get the memo and when his son is diagnosed with terminal ‘looseemia’, he does what any devoted father would do and breaks into the world’s least secure zoo, shoots a gorilla with a tranquilliser and gets his crippled assistant Goyo (you have to admire the mad scientist determination to equal opportunities employment as all their assistants seem to have one disability or another) to help him carry the beast back to his basement lab. There, he performs a heart transplant – this is where the real, gory transplant footage is spliced in – giving his son the gorilla’s organ. Why a gorilla heart rather than a human one, which must have been easier to obtain even by nefarious means? As with many aspects of the film, this will remain a mystery. Predictably, the operation goes badly wrong, and his son is somehow transformed into a ferocious half-man, half-beast (and yes, all horror) who – of course – escapes the lab and breaks into a woman’s apartment to ravage her in a mix of coy fumbling and graphic blood ‘n’ boobs insert shots. Gorillas, it seems, possess an almost supernaturally high sex drive despite what naturalists might tell you. The doctor and Goyo recapture him, but foolishly leave him in a lab that has been secured with flimsy wooden boards over the window he had wrecked earlier, so it’s no surprise that he’s soon on the loose again, tearing the clothes off women and the body parts off men in a flurry of scenes that are gory and frantic enough that you almost don’t notice the amateurishness of the effects. At one point, a throat tearing is shown by having a bloody hand rubbing someone’s neck, which certainly seems an economical way of avoiding costly prosthetics.
Meanwhile, the cop in charge of the case (Armando Silvestre) is trying to juggle police work with keeping his masked wrestler girlfriend Norma Lazareno happy – a difficult task, as her opponent from an earlier match has been hospitalised after a bad fall from the ring. It’s a good job they don’t know the doc has kidnapped her from her hospital bed in order to transplant her heart into his ape-son in a futile effort to cure him. The police inspector finally figures out what is going on, but his theory of a beast-man on the rampage is (understandably) mocked by his superiors with what is possibly the greatest line of dialogue ever delivered on film:
“I’ll say it’s absurd. The proofs are insubstantial. It’s more probable of late that more and more you’ve been watching on your television many of those pictures of terror”.
Commit this line to memory and bring it up whenever a purist tells you that dubbed films are terrible and everything should be subtitled. Would subtitles ever provide such a marvellously garbled bit of dialogue? I doubt it.
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