Thursday, 17 March 2011

AFED #76: La Horripilante bestia humana [aka Night of the Bloody Apes] (Mexico, 1969); Dir. René Cardona

Horror movies tend to treat all science as quackery, it just so happens that all quackery is valid. Transplant surgery, in one form or another, has been the subject of the wildest fantasies ever since Frankenstein; from the many adaptations of the Shelley story, to The Hands of Orlac, to aberrations like the previously mentioned The Man Without a Body (AFED #61).

So even when Christiaan Barnard conducted the first successful human heart transplant in 1967 it was never likely to dampen the zeal for the original Body Horror. Sure enough Night of the Bloody Apes, made not long after, presents a grim reminder of what could go tragically wrong... if only science was a bit less rational.


It's your typical mad scientist yarn, albeit with a distinctly Mexican spin. Dr Krellman (José Elías Moreno) decides to conduct the world's ape-to-human heart transplant, in a desperate bid to save the life of his son Julio, who's dying of leukemia. After kidnapping an ape from the local zoo and uttering (to his Igor-lite sidekick Goyo) the immortal words "Prepare the gorilla!" we're treated to some actual stock footage of open heart surgery.

You'd think under the circumstances perhaps a bone marrow transplant might have been more appropriate. Either way the procedure has some unexpected consequences, such as transforming Julio into a grotesque were-ape who embarks on a rampage through the city, helpfully ripping the clothes of every woman he encounters to ensure plenty of nudity. The doctor manages to capture him again and there's a thwarted attempt to reverse the mutation, but it predictably it backfires and ends in tragedy.

It's totally ridiculous and for the main part pretty good, gaudy fun. The ape prosthetics, in fact all the special effects, are completely hopless, yet the low budget dictates some sparse production design that lends an appropriately comic book appearance. You might be forgiven for thinking that comic was Love and Rockets, because there's a truly bizarre subplot in which a pretty masked luchadora (female wrestler) named Lucy nearly kills one of her opponents in an accident, then grapples with the guilt and loss of confidence.

Yet aside from being the girlfriend of the cop who investigates the were-ape's killing spree Lucy's story has absolutely no relevance to the rest of the film! There are a few scenes from her wrestling bouts (with a body double who's distinctly heftier in build) and one supposes that, given the popularity of Lucha movies in Mexico, it was felt that a bit of wrestling action might sell a few more tickets. I rather enjoyed the incongruous nature of it, but after featuring very prominently in the first half of the film Lucy sadly and inexplicably becomes a peripheral figure.

Like many cult films, it's a little too mediocre to really hit the spot. It was actually banned as a video nasty over here (making it the third such film I've covered this year), but aside from the sensationalist title and the aforementioned heart surgery footage you'd be hard pressed to explain why.

Reflecting upon it later it struck me how the basic conceit of the film was a lot like J.G. Frazer's definition of 'sympathetic magic' in The Golden Bough, and there's probably a whole treatise to be written along those lines if you've a mind to.

1 comment:

  1. Ah what a film..it's got everything, but, to misquote Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. I loved the scene in the park where a police car (unintentionally) careers into the extras cos the driver forgets to stop. I loved every eye gouging, throat ripping, scalping and clothes shredding minute of it. It took two generations of Cardona to bring this to us. Priceless.

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