Saturday, February 1, 1975 (Midnight): Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968) / Superargo Vs. Diabolicus (1968)

Synopsis: A freighter in the South Pacific approaches fabled Blood Island, with three passengers aboard. The island has a reputation for being a place where terrible things happen, the ship’s captain avers. Returning native Carlos Lopez (Ronaldo Valdez) is hoping to bring his mother home with him to the Philippine mainland, where he’s established a new life for himself. Dr. Bill Foster (John Ashley) is there to study the health of the island’s natives; and his girlfriend Sheila Willard (Angelique Pettyjohn) also has relations there.

On the island Carlos is reacquainted with childhood friend Marla (Alicia Alonzo) and it is clear she is all grown up, and she brazenly comes on to him in front of his mother. Foster and Sheila meet Dr. Lorca, an educated man who is trying to make sense of the strange cases of “chlorophyll poisoning” on the island. Meanwhile, a number of the beautiful young women in the village have been disappearing, horribly killed by a monstrous green humanoid creature that stalks the jungle nearby.

Carlos is troubled when he realizes that the date etched on his father’s grave — December 1961 — doesn’t synch with the last letter he received from dear old dad, which was sometime in 1962. He and Lorca dig up the grave, only to discover that Lopez pere isn’t there.

But Lopez soon discovers that Lorca had been experimenting on his father, and that the monster running loose in the jungle is none other than his own dad. Not only that, Dr. Lorca has an underground laboratory where he experiments on island natives, hoping to successfully recreate the experiment that had gone so wrong with Carlos’s father…..

Comments: Well, tonight we have another Blood Island movie, and I can’t say they are growing on me. If you think there’s no possible way a movie full of boobs and violence could be dull, you haven’t yet seen a Hemisphere picture. Despite quite a lot of nudity (a necessary element to drive-in fare at the time) and a lot of spurting blood, the movie seems interminable. And with the blood and boobs no doubt struck from TV prints, one can only imagine how tedious it was on a late-night television viewing.

Like a lot of movies made by people long on enthusiasm but short on experience, this one has no real feel for plot or pacing, and so it meanders about with very little happening most of the time. And the chlorophyll monster just skulks around the edge of the jungle until it sees a scantily-clad young woman for it to attack. Just cover up, ladies, you’ll be fine.

The plot is so ramshackle it was difficult for me to even sketch out what was going on; and while I will give the movie points for some really lovely shooting locations in the Phillipines, the movies itself just doesn’t hold together.

Like Brides of Blood, this one stars expat American actor John Ashley as the square-jawed hero. He does well enough for our purposes here, and he is one of only a handful of professional actors on hand. Angelique Pettyjohn is probably best-known for her turn on the original Star Trek series (she played Shahna, the gladiator trainer in “The Gamesters of Triskelion”).

Superargo vs. Diabolicus

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Synopsis: In a crowded bar people gather around a TV to watch a highly-anticipated wrestling match, billed as one of the greatest sporting events in recent memory: undefeated wrestler El Tigre squares off against the masked world champion Superargo.

At first, the match goes in favor of El Tigre, with Superargo unable to fend off the challenger in tiger-striped trunks. But slowly the tide turns toward Superargo, who manages to flip and throw his opponent a number of times. But unexpectedly, one of Superargo’s throws sends El Tigre over the top rope, down onto the cement floor below. El Tigre is killed in the fall.

Despondent over having caused the death of El Tigre, Superargo tells his girfriend Lidia (Monica Randall) that he will never wrestle again. She suggests that Col. Alex Kenton (Josep Castillo Escanola), a friend of his since the war, might be able to offer some guidance, but Superargo rejects the notion. “Just because I may have saved his life once doesn’t mean I should go running to him whenever I have a problem,” he tells her.

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Lidia goes to see Kenton on her own, and he agrees with her that something must be done. The death of El Tigre has sapped Superargo’s confidence, he tells her. There must be some way for him to regain it.

The solution soon arrives when supervillain Diabolicus begins hijacking ships in the Gulf of Mexico. All the ships are carrying cargoes of uranium and mercury.

Kenton demonstrates to his dubious colleagues that the masked wrestler is the perfect agent to go after Diabolicus. Superargo, it turns out, has superhuman abilities: he is immensely strong, recovers from stab wounds almost instantly, and can hold his breath for up to seven minutes. His only weakness appears to be electricity: while he cannot be electrocuted, receiving electrical shocks that would kill an ordinary man do cause him a lot of pain.

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The go-ahead is finally given to send Superargo to the island lair of Diabolicus. Kenton gives him a number of high-tech gadgets that will assist him, including a bullet-proof wrestling suit (identical to the ones he’s already been wearing) and a geiger counter disguised as a cocktail olive.

Superargo is easily able to infiltrate the island of Diabolicus, thanks in part to his ability to hold his breath for extended periods of time. But he is soon captured, and electricity is used to torture him. But Diabolicus’ girlfriend has secretly grown tired of the life of a supervillain’s main squeeze, and she might be willing to give the muscular spy a little help in thwarting the plans of Diabolicus….

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Comments: Superargo vs. Diabolicus was the first of two Italian / Spanish films (the second being Superargo and the Faceless Giants) that borrowed heavily from both the lucha libre genre of masked wrestler movies and the countless gadget-happy spy movies of the 1960s, which were derivative of the James Bond films.

I wouldn’t say this film “works”, in the generally accepted sense of the word, but like many Italian sci-fi and fantasy films of the era, it’s adorably zany, eager to please and unapologetically juvenile.

It’s never explained how or why Superargo possesses his superpowers; he just does. Nor is it explained why a military veteran with superhuman prowess would choose a career as a pro wrestler, or why no one can ever know his real name or see his face, or why his former commanding officer would recruit him into the secret service essentially just to cheer him up. Or, for that matter, why he insists on wearing his wrestling tights while fighting international spies.

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Asking those questions will just make you unhappy. Just take what you see at face value, and try to enjoy the proceedings, you mope. It’s fun, okay? Why do you hate fun?

Ken Wood was the Americanized name of Italian stuntman Giovanni Cianfriglia, who’d served as a Steve Reeves body double in the Hercules movies, and who appeared in a number of spaghetti westerns. A voice actor was used to fill in his dialogue in both Superargo films, so we have to assume he wasn’t much of an actor. American audiences, of course, knew nothing of this, as all the voice parts were dubbed.

Loredana Nusciak is probably best known for her role opposite Franco Nero in Django (1966). She doesn’t make much of an impression here but it’s really not her fault; she’s wasted in a very dull part.

The same could be said for the German actor Gerhard Tichy as Diabolicus. The character has a name and a resume like that of a Bond villain, but when we meet him, Diabolicus is absurdly mild-mannered. He might as well be an accountant, for all the sinister intent he brings to the role. I think the screenplay is to blame here, not Tichy himself. He was a real utility player in European cinema of the 1960s, appearing in Dr. Zhivago (1965), King of Kings (1964) and many more.

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