20 August 2012

Night of the Bloody Apes

Mexico - 1972
Director - Rene Cardona
Something Weird Video, 2002, DVD
Run Time - 1 hour, 24 minutes

Hollywood is so prolific, churning out such a tremendous volume of visual distraction that it’s impossible to keep up. Even less so to follow foreign cinema. Hence it may come as a surprise to many United Statesians to discover that Mexico also has a film industry. Actually they have for quite some time. Many other countries do, but the American Academy only acknowledges one a year and those have been overwhelmingly European. But it’s true, Mexico has a film industry, and like its contemporaries, Mexican cinema has its own genre conventions. They have their classy commercial films and their grimy low budget exploitationers, both of which may or may not make the treacherous journey north. If the metaphor serves for what types of Mexicana are acceptable in Gringolandia then it should come as no surprise that the latter circulates somewhat under the radar. My own introduction to Cine Mexicano was not gentle. I was cast bodily into a grimy pit of vice from the get go, and while my experience remains limited (less and less so), it is forever colored by my first Night of the Bloody Apes.

Coming just under a decade after Blood Feast uncorked the gore-film upon unsuspecting Gringos, Night of the Bloody Apes went further and faster, taking cues from the then current European Mondo fad and mixing it up with a generous dose of nudity and Mexicana. The story concerns the distraught Doctor Krallman (a suitably ‘German’ name*) whose son Julio is dying of Leukemia. In an attempt to save him, the good doctor and his lurching, half-blind henchman replace the son’s heart with that of a gorilla. This gives ample opportunity for the showcase gross-out scene in the film; footage of an actual open heart surgery complete with squirting blood and still beating organ.

But what curative medical procedure ever works in horror? It is around this very failed operation that our film is also given a lease on life. The heart proves “too strong” for poor Julio, unleashing his deep animalistic urges during spells of apparent catatonia. When Julio passes out, the inner ape stirs and smashes his way onto the streets of Mexico City in search of men to kill and women whose clothes are easily torn off.

In a pursuit one would be hard-pressed to call ‘hot’, follows police Lt. Martinez. Still, his enthusiasm lies predominantly in chasing something that is; Lucy, a sturdy Luchadora who dresses in a red-devil costume before kicking ass. If it wasn’t for Lucy’s overzealousness in the ring, Lt. Martinez might not have been trying to solve the Ape-man murders at all. During a bout Lucy severely injures her opponent who ends up in the same hospital where Krallman works. A second grisly operation using the heart of Lucy’s comatose opponent coincides neatly with another violent-disrobing right across the street from Krallman’s home/basement-laboratory and the jig is up for his erstwhile eugenics project.

While its debt to H.G. Lewis et al. is evident, Cardona is also in some ways the Mexican version of Italy’s Mario Bava. After working on his father’s films (they co-wrote this one) Rene Cardona Jr. went on to direct his own low (and not so low) budget horror films, some of which, Beaks and Tintorera, we’ve covered here at LVA. I hate to make apple/orange comparisons that rob films of their individuality. If doing so will make the Cardona legacy and Mexican Cinema tangible and hopefully more accessible however, then the overgeneralization is worth it. Night of the Bloody Apes is among my favorite monster/splatter films. It is a beautiful example of the ‘serious’ exploitation filmmaking that is all but impossible in our current age of post-Scream meta-irony. Loaded with budgetary shibboleths and logic loopholes, it plows earnestly ahead with little more than coincidental interest in "art."

 This sleeve comes courtesy of Itsonlyamovie.co.uk

This one from Lars Jacobsson

A poster from Radio Magma

*Mexican movies of this and earlier eras (see LVA's coverage of the Aztec Mummy) loved to give the bad-guys European names. This was part of a larger project to establish a distinctly Mexican national identity as separate from European or American influence which then, as now, was often considered more ‘pure’ and important because it was whiter. Night of the Bloody Apes (a remake of Cardona’s own 1962 film Doctor of Doom) would seem to suggest that these dangerous foreign influences are just going to fuck Mexico up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The detective has his girlfriend come to the park alone to see him while he's on stakeout trying to catch the apeman who's been murdering women in the park.

I was disappointed she didn't use her wrestling skills against the bloody ape.