Beyond Atlantis (1973)

Beyond Atlantis (1973)‘Well, my ass is sacred to me, so the temple blows up!’

A down on his luck adventurer teams up with a local crime lord when they get a line on some valuable pearls. Recruiting an expert diver, they charter his boat and head out to a remote South Sea island, where the locals seem friendly, but have their own agenda.

Actor and Producer John Ashley and director Eddie Romero are best remembered these days for a string of exploitation horror flicks filmed in the Philippines in the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s. Although unconnected by a common story, or characters, they are generally known as the ‘Blood Island’ series, and their mixture of sleaze and gore was a commercial success on the drive-in circuit. By 1973, however, it was time to take a step toward the mainstream and this exotic adventure film was the result.

We open with mysterious blonde Leigh Christian paying a local fisherman (Vic Diaz) a handful of pearls for a ride to a seemingly deserted beach. However, once he’s shoved off, she’s greeted by a whole tribe of natives with ridiculous ping-pong ball eyes, and ends up at the court of her royal father, played by George Nader, who is busy dishing out some justice with the point of a spear. Back on the mainland, waterfront pimp Sid Haig (always good value) gets hold of the pearls and realising there’s more where they came from, recruits ne’er do well Ashley and hot shot diver Patrick (son of John) Wayne to mount an expedition to find them. Along for the ride is nosey scientist Lenore Stevens, who overhears Ashley and Wayne in a bar, and realises the pearls may point the way to a lost tribe of local legend.

This isn’t a bad set up and, although the first act of the film isn’t exactly exciting, it’s certainly has some potential. Unfortunately, once our mismatched heroes reach the island paradise, things start to unravel in more ways than one. It’s not long before Stevens tumbles to the fact that the locals are the descendants of the population of the lost continent of Atlantis, a conjecture proved conclusively by a couple of stone idols and an outdoor temple. Their bug-eyes are the result of generations of in-breeding, although Nader and Christian have escaped this particular affliction. This is quite handy because the only time we get close to one of these strange mutations, all we see is the back of the actor’s head! Yes, the makeup is that good.

The locals are most obliging, even guiding the expedition to the pearl beds, which proves unfortunate for the audience as it leads to far too many damp and dreary underwater sequences, which bring the film to a virtual standstill. Nader is not to be trusted, though, planning to mate his daughter with Wayne to carry on the royal line. Although he’s already fallen for Stevens, Wayne obliges underwater (in a net!) but, in his defence, remembers nothing about it afterwards. At least that’s what he tells Stevens. Eventually, the King sets the expedition’s boat adrift, prompting a dangerous chase across the island to reach alternative transportation conveniently supplied by Diaz who just happens to turn up at the right moment with his boat.

Beyond Atlantis (1973)

‘These Hollywood parties get stranger all the time…’

If this all sounds like a decent recipe for a guilty pleasure then it is, but the more outlandish aspects of the story are quickly overwhelmed by the lengthy aquatic sequences, the limited story development, and a lot of dialogue scenes about not very much at all. There are echoes of ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948) in the dynamics of the Wayne-Ashley-Haig business relationship, but, before that can go anywhere, we’re back underwater again for some more slow motion action.

Wayne never came close to his father’s stardom, most notably encountering ‘The People That Time Forgot’ (1977) and appearing once as Sinbad the Sailor. Ashley quit acting and became a full-time producer, initially in the exploitation field, then hitting the big time with his involvement in ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979). From there, he sidestepped to TV and brought the world ‘The A Team’, also providing the iconic opening narration on the show. This was Nader’s final appearance in a long career, but he’s likely only to be remembered for his involvement in the notoriously awful ‘Robot Monster’ (1953); yes, the movie where the alien is a man in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on his head.

A damp squib of an enterprise that starts off reasonably enough, but soon has audiences checking their watches.

Brides of Blood (1968)

Brides_of_Blood_(1968)‘It’ll be a lot easier to practice crop rotation with this new irrigation system.’

Blood Island in the South Pacific was on the edge of the nuclear bomb testing area in the 1950s and was the recipient of reallocated natives from the more affected regions. Ten years later, a research scientist and his party arrive to check for the possible effects of residual radiation and find the flora and fauna prone to strange mutations. The natives are also sacrificing their women to a sex-starved monster.

Trashy exploitation horror from the Philippines that launched a brief cycle of films and provided a second career for American actor John Ashley, who looks a bit like Elvis and had starred in ’Dragstrip Girl’ (1957) for American-International Pictures. Here he’s working for the peace corps, hitching a ride with stoic scientist Kent Taylor and his buxom wife Beverley Powers (brilliantly billed as ‘Beverley Hills’.) For reasons never explained, Taylor is completely indifferent to his wife’s obvious physical charms, preferring instead to collect cockroaches and other bugs. Frustrated, she enjoys rough sex with one of the crew on the boat, and isn’t exactly subtle about trying it on with the local landlord, played by Mario Montenegro. Ashley falls for island girl Eve Darren, and isn’t best pleased when she’s strung up topless to face the randy attentions of the mysterious jungle beast. Killing isn’t the creature’s main priority; basically it’s just a side product of his rather aggressive bedroom manner.

It was probably by chance that the producers hit on this cheerful winning formula of ‘nudity and blood’. They were probably not the first to do so; American director Herschell Gordon Lewis had certainly brought the gore, and Hammer Films and other Euro-Horrors had certainly mixed the elements, but much of it had been left to the imagination. Not that either element is particularly excessive here (although I suspect the version I saw was probably cut), but sex motivates all the action. This is never more obvious than at the end of the film when, rather than run the credits after the villagers go all ‘Frankenstein’ with flaming torches, instead we get another five minutes featuring a horny tribal dance. This is seemingly just so that two of the leading characters can finally get it on.


Oh dear…

In terms of execution, the results are rather patchy, verging on the inept. The jungle monster resembles a man swathed in foam rubber painted by a 5-year old and is about as frightening as a large muppet. The cast keep straight faces when wrestling with trees (just why are they attacking people?) and facing a large, hungry moth on wires; although it’s always possible that this not-so special effect was filmed separately.

Tatty it may be, but the film was successful enough to start a series; beginning with ‘The Mad Doctor of Blood Island’ (1969), although it was not a direct sequel. Ashley became both the star and the producer, and it was in the latter role that he enjoyed the biggest success of his career. lf you could find him, maybe you could hire him. Yes, he produced TV’s ‘The A-Team’ and also delivered the iconic opening narration.

Location filming may have given female lead Beverley Powers the taste for island life, as her last known location was Hawaii. Her job? An ordained minister. Wonder if her previous career comes up in conversation at church socials?