From among the Video Nasties

I'm not sure whether what is most impressive about Night of the Bloody Apes is a positive (there's so much wacky bullshit going on here that it saves the film from that meanest of fates, being boring) or a negative (it's so boring that I lost interest halfway through even despite all of the wacky bullshit). Either way, the main point is the same: there is a whole lot of movie going on here. And also it's insanely fucking boring.

Let us tarry a moment before talking about the film, in order to talk about what the film is. To start, it was a simple exploitation picture directed by René Cardona the Elder, surely best-known in the anglosphere for his 1959 Mystery Science Theater 3000 subject Santa Claus, in which Santa fights the Devil to save Christmas. That's just one out of an enormous number of films he directed during his career as one of Mexico's most prolific exploitation genre film directors, though, and 1969's La horripilante bestia humana ("The horrifying human beast") is not, that I can tell, anything unusual for his career; in fact, it was a remake of his own six-year old The Luchadores vs. the Killer Doctor (released in the U.S. under the far less sexy Doctor of Doom).

As was common for Mexican exploitation films of the day (as I understand it), the film was shot in two versions, one for the conservative domestic market, one for export to countries with looser standards on sex and violence. This film, titled Horror y sexo, was the same film only with bare breasts, in effect, but that still wasn't enough for Jerand Film Distributors, who snagged the movie for its second U.S. release in 1972, hiring director Jerald Intrator to add even more sex and violence, as well as two somewhat lengthy passages of documentary footage of heart transplants; at the same time, he snipped out as many of the clear indications that this all takes place in Mexico that could be managed. Which is very few, given that the very first character that we meet is a luchadora, but we'll get there. The point is that Jerand Film's Night of the Bloody Apes has remained the version of the film best-known ever since, and the version which specifically got in trouble with the British Director of Public Prosecutions in the 1980s, when it was one of the 39 "Video Nasties" banned from release due to its depraved content. It's well understood that the surgery footage was the big problem here, so credit to Intrator: if he hadn't included that footage, the film would have never become notorious, and I would certainly not be sitting here now telling you all about it.

But back to that banning: what the actual fuck. Night of the Bloody Apes isn't the least-offensive film I've seen among the 72 that caught the eye of the DPP, but I have an extremely hard time figuring out how anybody could find something so good-natured about its own constant ineptitude to be even a little bit offensive. And I do mean constant ineptitude. Where exactly Cardona's failures as a filmmaker end and Intrator's begin, I cannot say, but in the end it doesn't completely matter: Night of the Bloody Apes is a real loopy, real bad movie.

It's hard to decide where exactly to start, because the main subplot is also a fake-out (in Night of the Bloody Apes, at least; it seems to have been otherwise in La horripilante bestia humana). Lucy Osorio (Norma Lazareno) is a professional wrestler, and she's getting tired of the life. Her cop boyfriend, Lt. Arturo Martinez (Armando Silvestre) gives her the encouragement she needs to go into the ring, and this is where her misgivings bear fruit: she throws her opponent Elena (Anna Levine) out of the ring, cracking the other woman's skull and putting her into a coma. This shatters Lucy's composure altogether, and the film keeps returning to check in with her emotional recovery, despite there being nothing in the future that she has to contribute to the story. She's there pretty much for the sole reason that lucha libre was enjoying popularity in the 1960s, and movies starring heroic luchadores had become their own genre, and so goddamit, there will be wrestling matches in Night of the Bloody Apes whether it needs them or not.

How about we turn back over the actual plot, then? Dr. Krallman (José Elías Moreno) is sad because his son Julio (Agustin Martinez Solares) has a terrible case of leukemia. But the boy's circulatory system is very weak, too weak to fight. So Krallman hits upon an ingenious, desperate idea: abduct a gorilla from the local zoo with the help of his Igor-like lackey Goyo (Carlos López Moctezuma) and replace Julio's heart with the great ape's. This works, though as we learn later on, the power of the gorilla heart sends so much blood coursing through Julio's body that it bursts his brain, leading him to transform into a mud-faced hulking ape man with pectoral muscles that are themselves the size of Sick Julio's entire body (the were-ape Julio is played by wrestler-stuntman-actor Gerardo Zepeda). And thus begins a reign of terror, as the bloody ape Julio tears across town, murdering and raping. In a desperate attempt to save his son a second time, Krallman decides to pull the heart from his patient, the comatose Elena, who's going to die anyway. This is the most salient way in which the two halves of the film ever interact.

It's '50s mad science boilerplate, then, dressed up only in that the gore and topless women and the general sense of greasy sleaze are much younger than the narrative tropes the film is indulging in. That's something, I guess, though when one's best defense of a movie is "in addition to being dumb, it is vile", I can see how it's not very compelling.

So let's try this on for size: in addition to being dumb and vile, Night of the Bloody Apes is hilariously inept. Much of this comes down to the extreme gore that got under the British censors' skin: take away the actual footage of actual heart surgery (which is, certainly very shocking and gross; why else would Intrator have included it), and we have here some breathtakingly awful make-up effects. The most famous, and deservedly so, is the scene where the were-ape gouges out a victim's eye, and it looks very much like squeezing a crushed ping-pong ball and several cups of overcooked oatmeal out of a pastry bag. But there's also a very special moment where the ape "rips" out a man's "throat", by massaging red dye into his neck and then pulling off a bandage (you can clearly see the glue sticking - a charitable viewer might call it "skin and sinew", but I am nowhere remotely near that level of charity). And later, the ape scalps a victim, and if it weren't already clear enough that the actor was just wearing a hairpiece on top of some red paint, we can clearly see the tube feeding that paint as the scalp is torn off.

But it's not only bad effects work: the whole film is a litany of crappy filmmaking mistakes. At one point, an orangtan transforms into a man in a gorilla suit, right before our eyes. During the surgery scenes, we see more stock-footage surgeons than there are characters in the scenes. The opening credits occur against a backdrop of "blood spatters" that are plainly just paint being squirted out of a bottle, though at least it looks extremely dramatic, all bright red and jet black.

The film's truest and greatest triumph, though, is certainly the disorientingly bad English dub used to get us to Night of the Bloody Apes from La horripilante bestia humana. The dialogue was all translated literally from Spanish, and then delivered with a monomaniacal focus on lip movement at the expense of speaking rhythm, and it is amazing. The literal translation, in particular, results in some of the most incredible bad dialogue of the 1960s: the one that everybody always quotes is "It's more probable that of late, more and more you're watching on your television many of those pictures of terror", but how can that not be your favorite? Even in the face of stiff competition, hearing that spoken by human beings is euphoric. But let us not overlook such gems as "Come! Help me to drag the cadaver of the gorilla over to the incinerator", "All of the doctors have definitely agreed with me that your infection has been detained", "You know what riders do when they get thrown from a horse? They remount in the act!", and the beautiful, iconic, "Aooow, a dead man, a dead man, a dead man!" Every last one of them delivered with stentorian gravity. The cumulative effect is positively giddy, enough to make the film hilariously kitschy even in the face of how achingly long the film's 83 minutes go by: this is one of those films where every step across a room is depicted in real time, and conversations are full of meandering filler, in addition to the dead end of the Lucy plotline.  It's a crushingly boring film when it's not being hilarious; fortunately, it's hilarious often enough to justify its existence, if only by the barest of margins.

Body count: 10, ignoring a couple people who survive but still suffer from pretty violent, gore-heavy attacks.

Nastiness Rating: 1/5, not at all Nasty. By all means, the surgery footage is gross, but it's also patently clinical, and the violence in the film is so thoroughly fake-looking that it's more funny than upsetting. The rape scene isn't what got it on the list, though it's by far the most disturbing thing in the film.