CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart
Say what you want about Eddie Romero?s demented, bargain-basement Filipino-lensed ?Blood Island? series, but they were seldom boring. Loaded with as much sex and gore as could legally be crammed into exploitation films in the late '60s & early ?70s, they were lurid horror comics brought to life, and had a threadbare charm that B-movie buffs know all too well.
Part of that charm came from the very recognizable music, the best of which began with Mad Doctor Of Blood Island, the second in the series (following Brides Of Blood). Courtesy of award-winning Filipino director Tito Arevalo, the score was so good, the producers used it again often, instead of relying on library music as they had chiefly done up to that point. Hearing that music again, isolated from the films, I now realize why they loved it so much. Much like music collector and cult film aficionado Tim Ferrante, whose Elysee Productions are presenting this score in its first-ever official CD release.
Formed initially as a vehicle for this particular project, Elysee proclaim a simple philosophy of delivering ?Things That Entertain? ? specifically, genre musical oddities from films gone by, for which folks like myself hold a fond nostalgia. I haven't seen Mad Doctor in its entirety for over 25 years, and I barely remember it overall, but I do know it contained so many of the things an adolescent boy loves ? including a green-skinned, blood-spattered monster-man who ripped people's arms off, and a tasty buxom babe (sweeeeet Angelique Pettyjohn, Captain Kirk's sexiest one-night stand ever from the original Star Trek) who took her clothes off.
But enough of my hobbies... back to this CD, which is far more than just a hobby for Ferrante; it's clearly a labor of love. Taken from Arevalo's original mono session tapes (pictures of which are included in the 8-page liner notes to prove it), the source material is a bit rough around the edges, but the Elysee team has done wonders with material that fans had likely considered lost in soundtrack oblivion. Those masters had been in the possession of producer Sam Sherman until Ferrante discovered their existence in the late '80s, and it would be decades more before those tapes would finally receive the loving restoration he felt they richly deserved. The end product is an album that stands up well on its own as a discrete collection of weird, exotic and fast-paced tunes.
Though the expected gothic-flavored horror elements and shock cues are all here, Arevalo adds some intriguing, culturally-inspired exotic seasonings that really give the score its unique edge. The orchestra is understandably small due to the low budget, but the arrangements make maximum use of every instrumental group, and there is even a vocal section to accompany the primitive rhythms laid down by some nifty tribal percussion. My favorite component is the addition of electric guitar ? an instrument which appeared often in horror films of this period to provide a comic touch, but which Arevalo uses here to create an undercurrent of menace.
Due to the composer's rather loose approach to assigning cues, there are some odd idiosyncrasies to these tracks as they are arranged here. For starters, only five of the cues are given names, and very basic ones at that. The rest of them are simply numbered by the composer, likely according to their sync position in the film itself. Therefore, not only are most of these 34 cuts designated only by numbers only, but the numbers aren't in track order! Aside from arranging playlists on your computer, though, this naming convention isn't too distracting, and is a unique historical curiosity for soundtrack buffs.
Another interesting (if aesthetically jarring) quirk of this CD is the inclusion of some errors which apparently existed on the masters ? the most memorable of which is ?Number 26 (edited),? so named due to the final bars of the song being cut off for reasons known only to the editors, and replaced with a blank piece of leader!
By far my favorite aspect of this release is the inclusion of alternate and early takes of several of Arevalo's cues, as well as the opening and closing themes, the extensions of which actually include the sounds of the band warming up and chatting amongst themselves before Arevalo politely calls for everyone to be quiet! That's awesome stuff... it feels like the audio equivalent of watching a workprint from a ?lost? directors cut, and helps to give some personality to those anonymous stable musicians who have contributed their talents to all the ?throwaway? B-movie scores ? talents we can now appreciate anew. Hearing the music in this way allows me to continue my idealized memory of what is actually a pretty goofy film, and maybe that's better than seeing Mad Doctor now on DVD, which would probably be a letdown... except for the presence of Angelique, of course.
As of this writing, Ferrante and company are already at work on their next release, the title of which they have not yet disclosed ? other than the tantalizing hint that it will be either a hitherto unreleased '70s exploitation soundtrack, or the score to a cult action film which, according to Ferrante, ?had a vinyl soundtrack nearly 40 years ago.? Hopefully he'll give us the exclusive when they're ready to share it with the world... but until then, hop on over to his website Elysee Productions and find out more about this oddball gem. But remember, this release is a limited run of just 1000 pressings, so if you want one, order yours with the quickness.