Sunday, March 8, 2009

Beast Of The Yellow Night (1971)

1971 – Beast Of The Yellow Night (Four Associates Ltd/New World Pictures)

[also released on UK video as The Beast]

Director/Writer Eddie Romero Producers John Ashley, Eddie Romero Executive Producers Beverly Miller, David J. Cohen, [uncredited] Roger Corman Music Nestor Robles Cinematography Justo Paulino Editor Ben Barcelon

Cast John Ashley (Joseph Langdon), Mary Wilcox (Julia), Leopoldo Salcedo (Inspector Santos), Eddie Garcia (Det. Lt. Campo), Ken Metcalfe (Earl Rogers), Vic Diaz (Satan), Andres Centenera (Blind Man), Ruben Rustia, Don Lipman, José García, James Spencer, Carpi Asturias, Jose Roy Jr, Criselda, Joonee Gamboa, Peter Magurean, Nora Nunez, Johnny Long, [IMDB incorrectly lists John Carradine]

Review by Andrew Leavold

John Ashley, a fresh-faced B-star of the Fifties likened to a delinquent Texan version of Elvis, spent close to ten years of his career’s downhill slope in the Philippines, in a series of lurid drive-in exploitation films which gave new meaning to the term B Grade: B standing for “Blood”, “Breasts”, “Banana Trees” and “Box-Office Bonanza”. In The Beast Of The Yellow Night, Ashley attempts a more complex characterization than he’s used to and is, for the most part, successful. He plays Langdon, a lost soul who’s been around before and is doomed to return again and again. In modern day Manila (1971, that is) he wakes up on a mortuary slab in the body of American businessman Philip Rogers, mangled and believed killed in an industrial accident. Langdon inherits an unhappy wife Julia who is more interested in finding solace in the arms of his best friend Earl (the familiar Caucasian features of Ken Metcalfe).

Being ageless Evil itself, Langdon/Rogers can peer ino the blackest of hearts and smell the most impure of intentions, even in his “wife” who falls in love with the damaged moral paradox that no longer resembles her “husband”. His condemned soul must also go, for a reason never made clear, through a physical transformation into a wild beast, and here’s where the threadbare production values catch up with the film’s ambitious intentions. Ashley’s new look is laughable in a film without cheap laughs, and with his grey plaster features, old man’s eyebrows and black bouffant bouncing on his cowboy shirt, he resembles country singer Merle Haggard, only… well, more haggard.

The animalistic Langdon goes on the prowl through the back alleys of Manila, tearing his victims apart with his bare hands. Veteran Filipino actors Leopoldo Salcedo and an uncharacteristically non-villainous Eddie Garcia play two cops following the trail of dead bodies and spilled organs – not to mention the black bristles from Ashley’s Joan Jett hairstyle – back to the American businessman’s bungalow. Salcedo as Inspector Santos remembers Langdon from twenty five years earlier as a weak-willed US army deserter and Japanese collaborator, and the hunt is on. Or is it Langdon who is purposely giving himself away, wandering through the streets in his blood-caked cowboy shirt?

Some viewers find Eddie Romero’s Filipino horrors slow, preposterous or just plain old and clunky. I personally love his directorial style, which can only be described as classically lowbrow yet enjoyably pretentious. Romero’s literate dialogue has Ashley engage in endless philosophical debates about the nature of evil with the chubby countenance of Satan, played by Vic Diaz, at his greasy best shrouded in sulphur-yellow mist, who uses Langdon as his pawn to awaken the latent evil in others.

Following their hugely successful Blood Island trilogy, Ashley and Romero broke from Hemisphere Pictures to form their own ventures, and Beast… is the first, an equally successful picture for Roger Corman’s neophyte New World Pictures. Ashley and Romero followed Beast… with a series of drive-in films with diminishing returns: pure exploitation fare such as The Woman Hunt (1972) and Savage Sisters (1974), and bizarre science fiction-themed actioners like The Twilight People (1972) and Beyond Atlantis (1973). Once the filmic Gold Rush in the Philippines had passed, Ashley returned to States and worked mainly in production roles until he passed away from a heart attack in 1997.

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