March 9, 2017


The premise is deliciously outlandish. A doctor attempts to cure his son's terminal leukemia through radical heart transplantation, replacing his son's heart with the heart of a gorilla. For a short time, the operation seems to have been successful. Unfortunately, there's a nasty side effect. The son soon transforms into an (wholly unconvincing) ape monster and goes rampaging through the city, leaving a trail of raped and mutilated bodies in his wake. Naturally, this bloody carnage attracts the attention of a stalwart police detective. Can the not-so-good doctor contain his son long enough for the side effects to go away or will the detective and his men continue to follow the trail of freshly torn bodies straight back to the doctor's secret laboratory?

I love love LOVE that premise. It's just the right mix of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Kurt Neumann's THE FLY and George Waggner's THE WOLF MAN. Alas, a premise alone is not enough to carry a film and it turns out, ironically I might add, that what sinks Rene Cardona's NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES is a total lack of heart.

The film begins at a wrestling match. It's here that we meet Lucy, a luchadora. During the match, Lucy tosses her opponent out of the ring, severely injuring her. For much of the first 20 or so minutes of the film, we think Lucy will be our main character. We see her visit the hospital, wracked with guilt. We see her lose her nerve in the ring after her opponent takes a nasty spill. We become invested in her. But Lucy's character development is little more than a bait and switch. Lucy is only featured in the film so we can meet her boyfriend, a police detective named Arturo. Compared to Lucy, Arturo is a personality vacuum. He's a necessary component, the copper chasing the criminal. Both his role and his characterization are perfunctory. His character exists because it has to exist. It's another one of the films great unintentional ironies. The character that needs to exist in the world of the film is dull and lifeless while the character that didn't need to be included in the film at all turns out to be the best character the film has to offer.

The film does earn a bit of sympathy though. Dr. Krallman may be responsible for creating an ape monster that loves to pluck out eyes and tear the clothes from nubile young women, but his plight is easy to sympathize with. He is a man willing to go though hell and back to save his son. It's laudable. Noble, even. But it becomes increasingly difficult to align yourself with the character as the film goes on. Not only does Krallman conceal the identity of the killer from the police, he even goes so far as to murder a young woman (the same woman Lucy injured at the start of the film), cutting out her heart and transplanting it into his son in an attempt to reverse his metamorphosis. At that point, all pathos goes straight out the window and we're back to having no one to care about.

Given that the film is largely patterned off the werewolf film (the son turns back into his human self several times as the film goes along), I wonder why no effort was put into giving the human son more of a presence in the narrative. Was he aware of what he was doing when he was in beast mode? The film never tells us. It never even gives us a scene of the son struggling to control himself. He just lays in bed the whole time. Plain and simple, Cardona was not interested in creating anything other than a monster flick.

And to be honest, that's perfectly fine. I love a good monster flick. I suppose my lukewarm reaction to NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES is a result of having seen simple monster flicks of this sort countless times in my life. I've seen this film done better. It's difficult to erase THE WOLF MAN from my memory. It's damn near impossible to watch this film and not hold it up against the dozens upon dozens of other films that play this exact same game. Overall, NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES simply doesn't compare well. It's missing the dramatic component that could have given the film some kind of weight. As it stands, it's just a gore fest.
And if a gore fest is all you're looking for, I would recommend giving this film a watch. It's surprisingly nasty at times (and laughably hokey at others), enough so that it earned a spot on the DPP Video Nasty list. Granted that probably had much more to do with the sexual violence and the inclusion of a few short minutes of authentic open heart surgery footage than it did the gooey scenes of the ape monster tearing off heads and scalps, but the fact remains that NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES scratches that itch for wanton violence and bared breasts just fine.

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