The 1960s were, internationally, the greatest decade for Gothic horror films. Starting with Hammer Studio’s Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 and Roger Corman’s House of Usher in 1960, ever-increasing numbers of films were produced in the genre, and not just from the companies that began the boom. While Hollywood, English and Italian companies accounted for the most films, the genre was truly international, eventually coming to countries far from the European environment that inspired them. Kulay Dugo Ang Gabi aka The Blood Drinkers is one of these films, transplanting European vampire conventions to the (then) modern-day Filipino countryside.
Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy) is a (bald, wrap around shades wearing) vampire. He’s also something of a mad scientist, seeking to bring his lost love Katrina (Amalia Fuentes) back from the dead through blood infusions and a new heart. He plan to take the heart Katrina needs from her twin sister Charito (also Fuentes), who was separated from Katrina at birth. Katrina’s mother, who hopes that Marco can restore her to normal life, aides Marco, along with vampire Tanya (Eva Montes), a hunchback, and an acrobatic dwarf. Once Marco turns Charito’s parents into vampires and Charito goes to live with Katrina’s mother, only Charito’s boyfriend Victor (Eddie Fernandez) and a strange priest who knows of the ways of vampires stands in the way of Marco and his allies.
The plot is essentially that of Dracula, with a few other Universal monster movie touches (such as the hunchback and Marco’s mad science) thrown in for good measure. The priest is the film’s Van Helsing, Victor is the Harker, and Marco is Dracula, pining for his long lost love and her living doppelganger (not present in the novel, but present in many film versions). The details are where The Blood Drinkers shows its roots. In addition to the dwarf, a common feature of Filipino films, there are the dead parents returning for their daughter, very reminiscent of the folk tales of vampires (and which are where modern eyes see evidence that the vampire tales are a way of explaining disease). The use of a Catholic priest as the Van Helsing figure gives the film a more local flavor, and the film is a very Catholic take on the vampire mythos, with many references to the religion and Satan, and even a scene where the vampires are (briefly) prayed back to normal. There is no attempt to disguise or explain away the fact that the film’s locations and cast are not European, and European-style vampires roaming the tropical terrain is certainly an unusual sight to see.
Director Gerado de Leon would continue to direct genre films that aimed not only at the local audience but for export, including, late in his career, the wretched Women-in-Prison film Women in Cages for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. Here Leon gives us a much more local, and at times hauntingly dreamlike film, which manages, to turn its limited resources into an asset. There wasn’t enough color film stock in the area to shoot the entire film, so Leon uses tinted black and white stock, giving us scenes in red, green and blue hues, recalling, intentionally or not, the use of tinting in the silent era and contributing to the atmosphere. While there are some telling moments (the terrible bat effect, which was apparently included multiple times only in the American cut because the distributor loved it, for example), Leon delivers a unique and beautiful looking vampire tale. It is a shame that the script is too meandering for the film to completely hold the viewer’s attention. As a unique mood piece combining 1960s Gothic horror, local color, and low-budget ingenuity, The Blood Drinkers is worth a look under whatever title you find it, though viewers expecting a compelling narrative or solid production values and acting should stay away.
The full film at Hulu.com: