I think I’ve seen every screen adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and while the 1932 version with Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, Island of Lost Souls, still stands as the pinnacle, 1972’s Twilight People has a lot to recommend it. First and foremost, the Philippines-shot movie from director Eddie Romero has a soupcon of weirdness by casting John Ashley as the rough and ready tough guy, Matt Farrell.
Ashley was the co-star and best buddy to Frankie Avalon in three of American International Pictures’ Beach Party movies, which lends a bit of a chuckle to his first appearance, diving along a coral reef. He’s then picked up –- literally -– and brought to the island of Dr. Gordon, which sounds less like a place of danger and more akin to a place where you might get your gums cleaned or possibly your eyes checked.
Anyhow, Gordon’s a mad scientist, he has an army on the island, there are experimental man-beast hybrids in the caves beneath his house/lab/fortress, and of course his daughter is being trained as his eventual successor. Does she fall in love with Farrell? Of course! But so does Gordon’s head of security, Steinman — kind of.
It’s certainly implied, and really lends an element to the picture that rounds things out in the early portions of the movie. It lends Gordon’s daughter, Neva, something to throw at Steinman later on as a distraction, but is never really explored in any detail. The implications are there in so many other films, wherein the head of security or chief enforcer engages in banter with our hero, but Romero takes it just a little further here, although it’s never really explored in any detail. A pity, too, because it might’ve given Twilight People a stronger leg to stand on.
That said, the first half of the film is Dr. Moreau, and the second half has a certain element of the oddest adaptation of The Incredible Journey, mixed with a hint of The Most Dangerous Game as everyone attempts to avoid being killed in the wilds of the island jungle after Farrell and Neva escape and free all of the hybrids.
Really, though, the main reason to watch Twilight People is for the hybrids. First and foremost, you’ve got Pam Grier making the first of many appearances on a Filipino film set, playing a version of the Panther Woman role made famous by Kathleen Burke in Island of Lost Souls. She’s overdubbed with cat growls and snarls and it’s amazing. There’s also a guy with horns who falls in love with a dog woman, and there’s even a bat man.
The bat man is maybe the greatest part of Twilight People. He hops around and climbs trees, and you think he’s a total failure, because for the vast majority of the film, it looks like he can’t fly. It’s not until the mad doctor’s men catch up with the escapees that we see that he can fly, and of course, soars through the air, swooping in for repeated kills. It’s exhilarating.
Granted, the film is not without its issues. It looks pretty good, but the makeup is pretty rough, and there are a lot -– like, a lot a lot –- of odd cuts where you think maybe they just chopped something out and you’re not quite sure why you’re all of sudden watching a new scene. VCI has made a new 2K scan from the 35mm negative, but the color is a little washed out at times, giving the entirety of Twilight People a bit of a dreamlike haze.
However, the commentary tracks on VCI’s horror Blu-rays are rapidly becoming the highlight of these releases. Once again, film historian and journalist David Del Valle teams up with director David DeCoteau to comment. While the commentary can range from discussion of drive-in films to the budgetary concerns of Filipino film shoots to the aforementioned beach movies, it’s such a fantastic conversation that you don’t need them to constantly point out aspects of the movie itself. I’d watched the movie first, since I was previously unfamiliar, but it took a lot of self-control to not immediately watch it with Del Valle and DeCoteau’s chat.
If you’re a fan of weird horror or monster flicks, Twilight People is definitely entertaining, and the commentary track makes this a worthy purchase for those on the fence. It’s currently available from Diabolik DVD.