‘Now…drink your sample of green blood,
and it is guaranteed that you can never turn into
a green blooded monster.’
The world needs more John Ashleys. The star of Tomb of the Living Dead (better known as Mad Doctor of Blood Island) started his career making beach party musicals for American Interational Pictures and ended it supplying the opening voiceover for The A-Team. That would be enough for most people, but John Ashley was a man who followed his dreams, and if those dreams took him to the Philippines in the late 60s to make low budget trash, then so be it.
What else you gonna do – not follow your dreams?
Which brings us to Tomb of the Living Dead, the second part of the Blood Island series that Ashley and Eddie Romero made together. Incidentally, what were the chances of 1968 giving us two completely different films from directors named Romero about the dead coming back to life? I’d say the odds were slim, but I don’t really understand betting so we’ll just move on.
Tomb of the Living Dead opens with a naked lady being chased through a jungle by a green slime monster, and if that doesn’t make you want to see the film then there’s no hope. We’re then introduced to John Ashley and future porn actress Angelique Pettyjohn, who are heading towards an island to find her father, a plot device that will pop up again in one of the finest Nasties, Zombie Flesh-Eaters. Also along for the ride is Carlos, played by director De Leon’s son-in-law, though I’m sure there was no nepotism in the casting.
On the island, Carlos goes to visit his mother and meets his childhood friend Marla, who’s grown into quite a babe. The two of them flirt outrageously right in front of Carlos’ mother, in a scene guaranteed to have you curling your toes and squirming.
‘Oh wonderful, then I’ll see a lot more of you.’
‘As much as you like, little Carlos…if not more!’
Guys, cool it – his mum is standing right there!
The dialogue throughout is pretty terrific, sometimes even intentionally. I particularly enjoyed, ‘He’s a shrewd judge of character…I hate him already.’ In fact, the whole film is surprisingly good. Tomb has a reputation as being Z-grade schlock, usually only enjoyed as a so-bad-it’s-good movie. Ignoring the fact I don’t believe in so-bad-it’s-good as a concept, this is actually a fast paced and action packed story full of crazy splatter, frequent nudity, mad doctors, slime monsters, atmospheric locations – the works! The entertainment is non-stop, and really puts Blood Feast and its ilk to shame. Just because your film is low budget, doesn’t mean it has to look like shit and have no ambition.
The gore is infrequent, but when it does come it’s nicely done. The horror sequences are shot in a ludicrous manner, with the zoom lens throbbing in and out like a trombone playing Flight of the Bumblebee, which is initially irritating but really aids the special effects shots, particularly a nasty beheading towards the end that made me think of a similar scene from Cannibal Holocaust thanks to the shaky hand held filming style. Sadly, there are also a couple of animals killed for the production as part of a tribal ceremony, which may be the reason that this film ended up on the Section 3 list (liable to seizure but not prosecution).
It’s sad that HG Lewis and Blood Feast are so fondly remembered, whilst Eddie Romero, Gerardo De Leon and John Ashley’s Blood Island series is forgotten by all but the most devout psychotronic fiends. Tomb of the Living Dead is a delirious gem that deserves to be seen, and I’m sad that we’ll probably never get a fancy-schmancy Blu-Ray release of it. So sad, in fact, that I’m going to leave you with a quote from Carlos’ mother, who is a real Debbie Downer.
‘I don’t know what friendship is like anymore, or love or joy.
They’re like some old dolls, discovered in some musty attic,
rotting travesties of innocence, now strangled by life.’
That shit is poetry, man.