Thursday, June 23, 2022


Manuel, a Filipino fisherman, visits an island every couple of months where the beautiful but mysterious Syrene (Leigh Christian) trades pearls for supplies. When he takes one of the pearls to local pimp East Eddie (Sid Haig), Eddie recognizes it as a very rare and precious Tuscarawa pearl and he arranges a trip to the island with his sleazy buddy Logan (John Ashley) whose primary income seems to come from betting on cockfights. In turn, Logan gets clean-cut fisherman Mathias (Patrick Wayne) to pilot the expedition, saying they will split their haul three ways. Overhearing their conversation in a bar, Katherine (Lenore Stevens), a local anthropologist, wants to come along to test her theory about a lost tribe. Despite tensions between all four, they take off for the isolated island. They are cautiously welcomed by the islanders, goggle-eyed mutants who can stay underwater indefinitely, which is also where they prefer to have sex in the form of mini-water ballets. But Syrene and her father Nereus (George Nader), the ruler of the island, are not mutants, and we discover that Syrene is being pressured to mate with one of the guests in order to perpetuate their race. People dive and pearls are found and tensions keep growing. Eventually the handsome Mathias is more or less forced into an underwater mating with Syrene, but, as in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, greed rears its ugly head and threatens to tear our group apart and even destroy the islanders.

Most of the notorious 1970s B-movies shot in the Philippines mix elements of horror and exploitation, but this has a different mix. It's not horror as much as fantasy adventure, and the sex is toned down quite a bit; when Ashley, who produced the film, and director Eddie Romero hired Wayne (son of legend John Wayne), Wayne insisted on a PG-rated movie so there is no nudity or sex, except for the little water ballets and the mating with Syrene during which Mathias' diving suit stays on. The fantasy element comes from the islanders whom Katherine theorizes are descendants of a tribe of natives from the legendary sunken island Atlantis who eventually migrated to the area. She thinks the eyes may have been due to inbreeding ("Incest?!" says a shocked Mathias). The script is not strong. The film opens with a brief scene of the islanders putting to death a man who accidently came upon the island, but if they needed a non-mutant for Syrene, why not keep him alive and use him? Or maybe even the sailor Manuel? Granted neither one was as good-looking as Patrick Wayne, but still, any port in a storm would seem to apply here. Very little happens to our little group after, in an early scene, Eddie falls into a pit filled with attacking crabs, which are more a nuisance than a threat. It's never explained why the sexy blond Syrene and her Caucasian father, in a toga and with a beard that looks like the kind you see on Ancient Greek statues, escaped the goggle eyes, though it is established that Syrene can spend a long time underwater. I do like the satisfying ending which is somewhat like the ending of Sierra Madre except it's played more or less for laughs.

Sid Haig probably gives the best and most consistent performance as a rather likable bad guy. Ashley, with bad hair and scuzzy sideburns, is losing his looks—appropriate for the role, I suppose—and his villainy is a bit on the whiny side. Wayne is OK as the hero, though he never finds a suitable groove for the character; sometimes he's strong and confident, sometimes surprisingly passive. Leigh Christian is sexy and solid as Syrene, and Lenore Stevens is believable as a beautiful scientist. George Nader, in his last movie role before becoming a novelist, has little to do. Vic Diaz, a regular in Eddie Romero's films, is effective as Manuel, who plays an important role in the finale. The middle of the movie is mostly padding as pearls are gathered and relationships mostly remain static. The natives eye makeup is usually derided by critics, but I thought it worked OK, partly because we never see them in close-up—in one dialogue scene, we only see the speaking native from the back. Not a great movie, but I'm not sorry I watched it; if nothing else, it’s another John Ashley flick under my belt. Pictured at top right are Wayne and Ashley; at left are Stevens and Wayne. [YouTube]


dfordoom said...

I'm tempted to get this one but the Blu-Ray is eye-wateringly expensive.

Michael said...

Do not splurge for the Blu-ray--visually, it's a rather ugly movie. Stick with YouTube.