Wednesday, June 25, 2014
The Maneater of Hydra
Now and again, I get one of those mighty cravings to catch a moldy oldie horror movie or several, and I expect it's no surprise to anyone who visits here that I have a fair number of them at my disposal. The most recent was The Maneater of Hydra (a.k.a. Island of the Doomed, a.k.a. The Blood Suckers [UK]), a movie I caught at least once in the very early 70s and which has lingered in my memory quite vividly over the decades. It's a 1967 English-dubbed, Spanish-German co-production, directed by Mel Welles, who is perhaps best known for his role as flower shop owner Gravis Mushnik in Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors from 1960. Welles also wrote and oversaw the film's English dubbing (as he did the US release of the Japanese TV series Spectreman, so the dubbed voices may sound familiar to fans of that particular serial). Aptly, The Maneater of Hydra features a vampire plant, this one bred by a reclusive mad scientist — one Baron von Wester, played by well-known actor Cameron Mitchell — who lives on an isolated, unnamed island, which, according to local legend, is haunted by a vampire. Ostensibly to pay his exorbitant research bills, the baron has opened his sprawling island villa to tourists, and one particular party of six suffers a rather traumatic time during their stay.
The party consists of All-American Hero David Moss (George Martin); the too-sweet-to-be-real Beth Christansen (Elisa Montes); wealthy retiree James Robinson (Rolf von Nauckhoff); his promiscuous wife, Cora (Kai Fischer); the obnoxiously noisy Myrtle Callahan (Matilde Sampedro); and the amiable if overly enthusiastic botanist Julius Demerest (Herman Nelsen). Things go wrong right from the start, for upon their arrival on the island, their car runs over an old fellow who seems to be fleeing from something. A very polite Baron von Wester greets them, assuring them that the dead man was suffering from a fatal disease and had lost his mind, thus the accident was actually a blessing in disguise. But to the group's shock, a man who appears to be the accident victim appears to serve them dinner. The baron tells them the servant, named Baldi (Mike Brendel), is actually the dead man's twin brother.
The baron is a geneticist of no small ability and has bred all sorts of exotic plants, which excites the interest of Mr. Demerest. He proudly shows off one plant that is similar to a Venus flytrap, only much larger, as it devours a mouse. It isn't long, though, before some grisly human deaths follow. The driver of the car that killed Baldi's brother is found dead inside his car, his body drained of blood. The highly irritating and very slutty Mrs. Robinson meets a mysterious if well-deserved end, her body also bloodless. Loudmouth Myrtle buys it while walking around the villa's grounds in the dark. The victims' bodies all bear strange puncture wounds, a fact that incites the survivors to start talking anew about the local vampire legend. Unfortunately, the only escape from the island — at least until the return of their ferry in a couple of days — is a small boat that has been conveniently scuttled by party or parties unknown.
Mr. Demerest, meantime, discovers on the estate a huge, tentacled, monster plant that sucks the blood from animals. He excitedly reports the thing's existence to the baron, stating he believes it is the result of one of the baron's experiments inadvertently gone wrong. However, the baron informs Demerest that the plant is not a failed experiment but a successful one, and he kills Demerest by forcing him into a knife that emerges from a statue of the Hindu god Shiva the Destroyer. Mr. Robinson is next, ax-murdered by the highly irate baron when he discovers the truth about his wife's death.
To hero David and now-girlfriend Beth, the baron feigns innocence, blaming the murders on his servant, Baldi. They pursue Baldi to his death, but David discovers the monster plant and hacks it with an ax. The baron, grief-stricken over the mortal wounding of his beloved "baby," sacrifices himself in a vain attempt to restore the plant with his blood. Presumably, David and Beth wait around for the ferry and eventually go off to live happily ever after.
For its limited budget, The Maneater of Hydra displays some pretty effective gore effects, the vampire plant appearing reasonably convincing in design and execution. The story follows the classic whodunit mystery format, with a group of people stranded in a remote location with no hope of escape. Cameron Mitchell plays the twisted but well-mannered baron with reserve, at least until the end, when everything goes well over the top. In general, the rest of the characters are dull or irritating — particularly our good lady Myrtle, whose ever-grating voice is dubbed by well-known American actress Anne Meara, and who never really shuts the hell up. Poor Mr. Demerest, the botanist, is the most agreeable of the lot; even the baron, after murdering him, instructs Baldi to show some care disposing of the body, for Demerest was a "nice man."
The musical score, by Antón García Abril and José Muñoz Molleda, is pure 1960s European pop-jazz, with a main theme that at times sounds remarkably like Ennio Morricone's score to Svegliati e Uccidi (Wake Up and Die). It's often loud and frenetic, and quite perfect for rattling your nerves just a bit.
Unfortunately, The Maneater of Hydra has never received a decent US DVD release. As far as I know, it is available only as half of an Elvira's Movie Macabre double-feature set, paired with The House That Screamed. The video is pan-and-scanned, and taken from what appears to be a poor VHS copy of a TV broadcast. Regardless, the movie is a very 1960s, very European horror hoot that, for me, brings back some very fond memories from the past. You could hardly ask for a more entertaining bit of cheese to accompany some decent Tempranillo.