Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bloodtide (1982)

AKA Demon Island
Directed by Richard Jeffries
Starring James Earl Jones, Deborah Shelton, Lydia Cornell, Martin Kove
Rated R

"Get me a melon!"

There's probably a good backstory to this mish-mash of a movie. It lurches so radically from one genre to another that it positively reeks of studio tampering. My guess is that it was originally supposed to be directed by visionary Greek filmmaker Nico Mastorakis, writer/director of the legendarily misanthropic Island of Death (1975), but then James Earl Jones or somebody balked at the script - which was probably loaded with child sacrifice and goat-rape - and the studio quickly shuttled harmless TV movie everyman Richard Jeffries to clean up the ensuing holy mess. As it stands, Jeffries is credited at director and co-writer, but all the weirder bits look like the work of madman Nico. Too bad there's not more of them.

The patchwork story involves one Madeline Grice (Brunette stunner Deborah Shelton), an archeologist (?) of some stripe, who ventures to a tiny Greek island to study some religious artwork. The people of this tiny island community are a suspicious lot who routinely stage mock sacrifices to appease a vengeful undersea god, but Maddy manages to find an ally in a sympathetic nun, who helps her on her quest to find whatever artifacts she's looking for. When she finds the elusive religious icon painting she's been seeking, she notices that it's got another painting underneath it, and another under that, each successively alarming monster-on-girl image dating further and further back into the island's checkered past. So that's weird.

Equally weird is the presence of Frye (James Earl Jones), a belligerent, chauvinistic adventurer and treasure seeker, who is hoping to uncover a lost reservoir of gold. I think that's what he's doing there. At any rate, he spends most of his time eating melons, guzzling hooch, and banging his gorgeous blonde galpal/assistant, Barbara (Lydia Cornell, Too Close for Comfort). Madeline parties with them, but lately she's been getting increasingly spaced out.

Into this already unlikely mix wanders Maddy's brother Neil (blow-dried 80's beefcake (Martin Kove, Cagney and Lacey) and his wife Sherry (Mary Louise Weller, Animal House). Concerned about Madeline's silence, bro decides to pay his bookworm sister a visit to make sure she's ok. When he arrives, he finds her dazed and confused. When Sherry offers her a present of expensive perfume, she dumps the entire bottle out on her head, and she seems to have an unhealthy fixation with the strange multi-layered painting and it's undersea monster-sex implications.

Meanwhile, some of the locals have begun to go missing. The villagers suspect that all this outsider meddling has roused the island's ancient evil sea-demon, and now he's gleefully gobbling up whoever he can. Their fears are realized when a group of men - gathered to watch a topless Barbara jiggle on the beach - witness her being dragged under the water and viciously eviscerated.

If that's not bad enough, Madeline is determined to swim right into the clutches of the beast, presumably for mating purposes.

It's up to Neil and a constantly soused Frye to rescue Madeline, avenge Barbara, and rid this tiny island of the blood-mad monster. How will they do it? Dynamite, how else?

If you're wondering whether you actually get to see the monster or not, the answer is yeah, sort of.  In one shot, it looks like the cover of a Danzig record. In another, it's a fleshy underwater chicken. Clearly, it's only viewed briefly for a reason. Also, the fact that Frye neatly destroys the bird-frog-man-demon with one stick of TNT suggests that perhaps the villagers were just too lazy to do it themselves. I mean, this thing is no Creature from the Black Lagoon. It pretty much goes down without a fight.

Luckily, this movie isn't actually about the monster. If it was, we'd be in serious trouble. No, Bloodtide is mostly about hot chicks in bikinis and/or sweaty tank tops, booze, and James Earl Jones in a wet suit, acting like a complete fucking asshole. It's part monster flick, part thriller, part black comedy. It's senseless and messy and drags in places, but staring at Deb Shelton in full bloom is such is a treat that it's worth the odd moments of utter confusion and/or brain-draining boredom. As mentioned, if Nico was allowed to run riot with this one, we'd surely have another Island of Death on our hands - a film banned just about everywhere, and for good reason - but unfortunately, the end result is a skin n' gore-free romp with a 70's TV movie feel. Sensible types will find nothing of interest, but Bloodtide is well worth it for 80's b-queen oglers and anyone interested in poking at the skeletons in James Earl Jones' closet.

- Ken McIntyre

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