VCI Blu-ray Review: The Twilight People (1972)

Written by Eddie Romero, Jerome Small
Directed by Eddie Romero
Starring John Ashley, Pat Woodell, Jan Merlin, Charles Maculay, Pam Grier
Released June, 1972
RT 81 min.
Home Video VCI Entertainment (Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)

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Can a home video release magically transform a bad movie into a good one? Maybe not, but it can certainly elevate a nearly unwatchable one into one that’s quite enjoyable. (Besides, to misquote Jessica Rabbit, “There are no bad movies; they’re just made that way.”)  In any case, VCI Entertainment has taken The Twilight People, a movie I’ve only been able to see in dark, grainy prints, and produced a great-looking, clean print that makes the movie look like it exceeds its almost certain low budget.

In this uncredited adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, writer-director Eddie Romero demonstrates non-stop fearlessness in telling his story. The Twilight People moves at a quick pace for most of its 81 minutes, with the action rarely pausing after its bare bones plot has been established. Dr. Gordon (Charles Macauley), “one of the greatest, most scientific minds in the world,” has been working on an experiment to make a super being by creating human/animal hybrids. He’s the bad guy.

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His henchmen abduct Matt Farrell (John Ashley) while he’s scuba diving. Farrell was supposedly chosen by Gordon from “a list of candidates” to participate in his “world-changing experiment.” Farrell’s the good guy. He escapes and releases the experiments (Panther Woman, Pam Grier; Antelope Man, Ken Metcalfe; Bat Man, Tony Gosalvez; Ape Man, Kim Ramos; and Wolf Woman, Mona Morena), while falling in love with Gordon’s daughter, Neva (Pat Woodell), who’s conflicted about her relationship with her father.

For most of the movie, Gordon’s main ally, Steinman (Jan Merlin), and his unrealistically blonde hair, chase the lovebirds and the “twilight people” around the island. There are twists and turns here and there as different combinations of good guys and bad guys are formed, and smaller sub-missions occur for our heroes to both get off the island, as well as stop, capture, and/or kill the villains that are pursuing them. While not particularly well staged or creatively filmed, it’s all nonetheless a lot of fun.

In only her fifth movie, one of four made in the Philippines, Pam Grier shines as Ayesa, the Panther Woman. I can’t imagine she’s proud of a movie like The Twilight People, but the feral energy of her performance hints at an actor prepared to hit the big time. Beach party movie veteran John Ashley, who established a business relationship in the Philippines with Eddie Romero when he starred in Brides of Blood (1968), pales in comparison, but still offers some of his teen idol charm at 38-years old.

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On the Blu-ray commentary track, David Del Valle and David DeCoteau spend a good deal of time talking about Ashley, Romero and the Philippines. They spend precious little time, though, talking about The Twilight People. If you want to hear stories about its production, or even a little insight into the cinematic accomplishments of the film, you’ll be disappointed. My one takeaway was a witty comment about all you need to make a movie like this: “an island, lots of water, and a mad doctor.”

With the “twilight people,” though, you get much more. The make-up is primitive and crude, but you somehow get a sense that the creatures are real. Grier’s performance helps, but it’s Darmo, the Bat Man, who’s the star of the show. In a couple comical scenes, he tries unsuccessfully (and painfully) to fly. The moment he finally takes off, it’s exhilarating to see him zip through the air in the jungle. That’s how you know The Twilight People isn’t really a bad movie… when you believe a bat-man can fly.

Bonus Materials:

  • Full commentary by film historian, David Del Valle and filmmaker David DeCoteau
  • Video Interview with the director, Eddie Romero
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

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