The Twilight People (1972) Blu-ray Review: The Island of Dr. Romero

John Ashley and Pam Grier highlight this hilariously cheesy slice of Filipino rip-off cinema.
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When fans of sleazy exploitation movies get together to discuss their favorite contributions to bad filmmaking from the Philippines, Eddie Romero's name is rarely left out. In fact, the late B-movie guru from the same country that brought us national treasures like the films of Weng Weng is undoubtedly one of the "best" known directors to hail from the country, thanks to a series of mind-numbing mad scientist flicks from the late '60s and early '70s informally referred to as the Blood Island movies. Following the conclusion of the aforementioned series, the late Mr. Romero found himself cranking out a few more English-language films for stateside distribution.

One such production was 1972's delightfully lurid animal-human horror title, The Twilight People. Also released as Island of the Twilight People, the cheapo Filipino/American effort ‒ co-produced by Woolner Bros. co-founder Lawrence Woolner and B-movie legend Roger Corman ‒ is a thoroughly absurd (and completely uncredited) exploitative take on H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau with a healthy dose of Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game added. As to whether or not it was included to give Romero's flick additional flavor or thrown in to disguise the fact the silly little movie has absolutely no taste whatsoever is unknown.

But what we do know is that both source materials have been remade and ripped-off in the world of cinema more times than we may ever truly realize. So why should we hold that against Eddie Romero? Especially when there are bigger fish to fry in his general direction, such as the shockingly wasted casting of AIP's then-resident blaxploitation goddess Pam Grier in a silent supporting role as Ayesa, the Panther Woman. Even then, devoted fans of Filipino exploitation filmmaking still won't bear much of a grudge against the late Mr. Romero, as it's still hard to not get a good laugh out of this one, no matter how little there is of Ms. Grier to be found here.

Like many of Romero's English-language films (including Savage Sisters), The Twilight People stars cult fave John Ashley, who was in an illustrious middle period at this point, following his former life as an AIP contract player and future existence as producer of The A-Team. Amusingly enough, Ashley plays a soldier of fortune here, even if there is never any on-screen evidence to indicate such. Kidnapped whilst in the midst of deep-sea diving (which, in addition to being budget-conscious enough to hide the possibility it may be a stand-in diving for Mr. Ashley, is also goddamned preposterous), Ashley's Matt Farrell soon finds himself in a very freaky situation.

For reasons which ‒ again ‒ are never explained, Farrell (of course that's his name!) has been selected by the nutty Dr. Gordon (Charles Macaulay, who appeared as Count Dracula himself in AIP's Blacula that same year), whose mad mission in life is to make a super race of animal-human hybrids. Alas, Dr. Gordon's results have proven disappointing. In fact, his subjects appear to be little more than people wearing bad prosthetics. Assisting the doctor is his devoted daughter Neva (Pat Woodell), who soon begins to realize daddy's methods are questionable at best (although there are a lot of furries out there who would be down) when she falls for Ferrall.

Once Farrell discovers he is trapped on Gordon's island, he starts thinking up an escape plan (since he's also an established escape artist, too, apparently). But Dr. Gordon has taken his surprised guest's creativeness into consideration, hiring a bloodthirsty henchman named Steinman to roam and comb nearby jungles and beaches for escapees. A bleached-out Jan Merlin (The Slams, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre) portrays The Most Dangerous Game-type antagonist, who gives Ashley's character every pertinent scrap of information about the island he can in the hopes he will be able to hunt some truly "Ferrall" game.

Fortunately for audiences in good need of a bad movie, everyone gets their shot here, resulting in a laugh-inducing climax between gun-tottin' bad guys and a truly wild variety of creatures such as the aforementioned Pam Grier. Barely recognizable between the bad animal makeup and the fact any dialogue she uttered during filming was replaced with out-of-sync big cat noises, there's also an antelope man (Ken Metcalfe, Enter the Ninja), a wolf woman (Mona Morena), an ape man (Kim Ramos, who manages to photobomb every single shot he wanders into), and ‒ most notably of all ‒ a bat man, as played by Filipino actor Tony Gosalves.

Truly, the bat man is perhaps the film's most delightfully absurd creation: a guy covered with splotchy bits of fur sporting giant phony wings, but whose costume consists of nothing but khakis from the waist down. Flightless at first (but always hilarious), he proves to be one of the funniest characters in the film, especially once he finally figures out how to fly during the climax ‒ wherein he rips up the faces of just about all the bad guys in sight. Naturally, none of whom are able to shoot down a flying man with wings Indeed, the comically awesome bat man proved to be the highlight of The Twilight People's marvelously lurid domestic advertising campaign.

Originally set to be released in America by Corman's New World Pictures, the movie instead wound up being distributed by Woolner's Dimension Pictures (no relation to disgraced ex-Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's Dimension Films), usually landing in the bottom slot of a double (or triple) feature at drive-ins. Previously, Corman and New World backed and released Romero's The Woman Hunt. Released the same year as The Twilight People, it featured much of the same cast and crew (including stars Ashley and Woodell), it too was an uncredited remake of The Most Dangerous Game (only with lots of nudity).

A semi-regular home video staple of VCI Entertainment, The Twilight People has been released on just about every form of media by the outfit. According to VCI, this new Blu-ray/DVD Combo ‒ which marks the first widescreen release of the title ‒ has been mastered from the original 35mm negative. As to whether or not that is legit, I couldn't say, as several other recent Blu-ray titles from VCI such as Ruby and Satan's Cheerleaders made the same claim, but were clearly not the case. Additionally, many of VCI's newer High-Definition releases sported some funky encoding issues, none of which appear to mar the viewing experience of this title this time around.

That said, what we do get is one heck of a mixed bag. Heavily filtered in some places to the point where detail is often difficult to decipher, the otherwise clean 1.78:1 presentation sports a number of bizarre and inexplicable (and, above all, annoyingly inconsistent) anomalies, which one really has to look at in order to scratch their head over. Of course, there always seems to be at least one "WTF" thing about VCI's Blu-ray releases; in this case, the weird video transfer wins, hands down. Included with the less-than-perfect MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is an above-average English LPCM 2.0 soundtrack and ‒ rather surprisingly ‒ English (SDH) subtitles.

An audio commentary track by David Del Valle and David Decoteau finds two big fans of classic horror and fantasy films well equipped with information about the feature and its participants. Were that not enough, a vintage VHS interview with the late Eddie Romero himself is also on-hand here. Lastly, there's an "original trailer" and two "TV spots". Sadly, neither are 100% original: they're all recreations of New World's classic ads. While the hilariously alliterate charms of voiceover artist Ron Gans are still heard here, the video portions have been edited from the existing (weird) video transfer with phony video-generated credits added. Apparently, VCI thought we wouldn't notice.

Despite the less-than-stellar video transfer and flat-out stupid decision to re-create the original advertising materials rather than just present them in their original unaltered and well-worn form, VCI's Blu-ray release of The Twilight People still deserves a look-see. Whether you're an actual fan of classic Filipino exploitation cinema or someone who is mildly curious to learn about it, this isn't the worst place to start. It may not be the best transfer, obviously, and VCI should honestly look into hiring some contemporary (High-Def) professionals to work on their releases, but until a Blood Island Blu-ray box set washes ashore someday, this will more than suffice.

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