Night of the Bloody Apes Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: October 19, 2021
Audio: English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
Run Time: 83:46
Director: René Cardona & Jerald Intrator
Attempting to cure his son’s leukemia, a mad scientist named Dr. Krellman performs a heart transplant replacing his son’s heart with that of an ape. Post-op, the boy mutates into a deformed, man-ape hybrid, hell-bent for blood, attacking those in his path. (From VCI’s official synopsis)
Night of the Bloody Apes began its life as René Cardona’s La Horripilante bestia humana (English: The Horrible Man-Beast), a 1969 mixed remake of Fernando Méndez’ groundbreaking 1956 Mexican horror film Ladrón de Cadáveres and his own 1962 luchador/horror hybrid, Las Luchadoras contra el médico asesino (English: The Wrestling Women vs. the Killer Doctor; aka: Doctor of Doom), injected with plot elements from William Nigh’s The Ape (1940). Then, shlock-meister Jerald Intrator got his hands on the film, looked at the footage and the alternate nude sequences released under the title Horror y Sexo (Mexican films, much like Spanish ones around the same time, often shot nude scenes specifically for international distribution), and decided La Horripilante bestia humana still needed a bit more spice. Armed with a few extra bucks, Intrator shot a collection of gory inserts and edited them into Cardona’s film, alongside clips from an actual heart transplant (it’s not clear if it is a human or animal heart). He had done something similar with Emilio Vieyra’s La venganza del sexo (1969), which he re-released as the slightly more obscene The Curious Doctor Hump and was apparently famous for splicing nude scenes into Ingmar Bergman movies.
In a normal world, Night of the Bloody Apes would have had an afterlife as a so-bad-it’s-good oddity alongside other quickly-churned, low-budget luchador movies, destined to be shown at midnight matinees and pizza parties until the end of time. This was not to be, because knowledge of the use of real surgery footage persisted, haunting it and keeping it off reputable radars, like syndicated television, where other Mexican horror thrived into the ‘80s. Instead, it ended up living a less distinguished cult life after the US cut ended up on the Director of Public Prosecution’s list of banned films in the UK during the 1980s, aka: the Video Nasties. As is almost always the case, it is a mystery exactly why BBFC censors thought such a silly movie was worth banning in the first place. One assumes that the heart surgery scene pushed it over the edge, though plenty of other exploitation films have medical procedures spliced in for cheap shock value – George Schenck’s Superbeast (1972) also features heart surgery footage, for example – and, as far as I know, none were included on the DPP’s list (Tun-Fei Mou’s Man Behind the Sun includes the autopsy of a real child cadaver, but was released in 1988 after the Nasties had run their course). In their book, See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy (Critical Vision, 2000), David Kerkes & David Slater theorize that it was actually the bloody cover art that promised “This film contains scenes of extreme violence!” that put the film on the BBFC’s radar, not the actual content of the tape.
The surgery footage is, indeed, harrowing (it’s highly unlikely the recipient survived the hack ‘n slash operation), but the rest of the film is hardly shocking in 2021. It’s not even particularly groundbreaking when you consider that the Night of the Bloody Apes cut was really released in 1972, not 1969, well after graphic violence was an established element of mainstream horror. It’s amusing to imagine gore-starved 1984 UK video audiences popping an illegal bootleg into their VCRs, expecting the nihilistic shocks of a Cannibal Holocaust (1980), only to find a lumbering luchador horror movie that was originally made for children and was already outdated in its home country a decade prior. Ultimately, Night of the Bloody Apes’ appeal is in the fact that it is a haphazard combination of anachronous matinee silliness and cynical shock value. It’s an acquired taste, leaving gorehounds and pulp fans equally baffled, but worth the effort for a specific breed of exploitation fan.
Night of the Bloody Apes had some troubles on UK video tape, but it hasn’t ever been scarce in North America. Gorgon and Meteor Video both released it on VHS and it has made appearances on DVD from Image/Something Strange (double-feature with Emilio Vieyra’s Feast of Flesh ), BCI Eclipse (double-feature with Benito Alazraki’s Curse of the Doll People ), and various budget labels (apparently mostly VHS quality transfers). Nucleus Films released the first anamorphic version in the UK (curiously framed at 1.63:1) and Amazon lists a DVD from VCI that supposedly contains both the Night of the Bloody Apes and La Horripilante bestia humana cuts. This Blu-ray debut also comes from VCI and features a 1.78:1, 1080p transfer (it was designed to be 1.33:1, but the tighter framing isn’t really an issue). The box art claims a “new 4K uncut version,” but I have my doubts. VCI’s transfers are rarely up to the level of some of the other, bigger boutique labels with more money to throw at new remaster, but, even by their recent standards, this image quality is disappointing. Based on color quality, which is one of the transfer’s pluses, this is probably a new scan (I compared it to screen caps from the Nucleus PAL DVD and a rip on YouTube). The HD upgrade fixes some of the compression artifacts, but not some of the nude/gore inserts, which are still alias-y. Even if this wasn’t the case, the supposed 4K quality of the transfer is impossible to gauge, because the footage has been over-sharpened and heavily DNR’d. I’m not sure what step came first, but I’d guess that someone attempted to DNR away the grain and film artifacts, realized it didn’t look right, and tried to correct the issue by cranking up the sharpness. I still suspect this was truly a new scan, but, when it’s this overprocessed, I can’t be sure. In the end, I’m pretty sure most fans would agree that a dirty, gritty, warts-and-all transfer that looks like film is preferable to smoothed-over details and artificially hardened edges.
This disc also has weird new credits, featuring digital text superimposed over stills from the movie, instead of the classic dripping blood titles, for some reason. I should also note that the restoration is credited to a Floridian company called Olympusat, not VCI.
Because it contains only Night of the Bloody Apes and not La Horripilante bestia humana, this Blu-ray comes fitted with a lone English mono soundtrack. A Spanish language track might have been a fun addition, but this is a case where several sequences were only ever recorded in English. Besides, just about every fan of Night of the Bloody Apes is also a fan of the awkward dubbing and stock music. As is the case of every VCI Blu-ray I’m aware of, this is a lossy Dolby Digital track. It doesn’t make a huge difference, since I don’t think the muffled dialogue is an issue of compression, but it’s still another disappointment.
Commentary with Travis Crawford – The A/V quality might not be great and the credits are weird, but at least VCI isn’t stingy with the extras, beginning with this track from the filmmaker and contributing writer at Film Comment and The Calvert Journal. Crawford offers up a complete picture of the luchador and ‘60s/’70s Mexican horror traditions, three generations of Cardona family filmmaking, the process of turning La Horripilante bestia humana into Night of the Bloody Apes, and the differences between Night of the Bloody Apes and Doctor of Doom.
Doctor of Doom (1962) complete film – While it would have been neat to include the Mexican cut of Night of the Bloody Apes (as VCI did on DVD), it’s even neater to include English language release of Cardona’s original Las Luchadoras contra el médico asesino (English: The Wrestling Women vs. the Killer Doctor). Doctor of Doom only really resembles Night of the Bloody Apes in broad strokes and shared cast members, but it is a more stylish, fast-moving, and funny experience. The lack of gore and nudity is made up for with oodles of luchadora action. This is a less DNR’d transfer, but, once again, it features new digital credits and no lossless audio.
Night of the Bloody Apes video essay by Dr. David Wilt (34:48, HD) – The Professorial Lecturer in Film Studies at George Washington University walks us through the various versions of the film, VHS and DVD distribution, the Video Nasties, Jerald Intrator’s career as filmmaker and distributor, the surprising number of luchador movies that also feature ape body part transplants, the real-world history of simian-to-human heart transplants (including Doctor of Doom), and René Cardona’s other films, many of which starred René Cardona Jr..
Doctor of Doom video essay by Dr. David Wilt (23:29, HD) – Wilt returns for another twenty-plus minutes on the subject of Cardona’s older film, its production during an earlier era in Mexican filmmaking, and Cardona’s other female luchador movies. For the record, these are basically recorded lectures, not video essays as I’d define the term.
Photo & poster gallery
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