Richard Connell’s suspenseful short story The Hounds of Zaroff reached the big screen as the marvellous The Most Dangerous Game (1932), which in turn spawned numerous remakes and uncredited imitators, from A Game of Death (1945) to John Woo’s first Hollywood movie Hard Target (1993), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Ranking among the trashier adaptations is Bloodlust!, a drive-in quickie that proved the sole outing for writer-producer-director Ralph Brooke, who passed away just two years later. Here a group of fresh-faced holidaymakers including square-jawed Johnny (Robert Reed), girlfriend Betty (June Kenney), bespectacled Pete (Eugene Persson) and his gal Jeanne (Joan Lora) arrive on an uncharted island somewhere in the tropics. Wealthy recluse Dr. Albert Balleau (Wilton Graff) seems hospitable at first, but through his companion Dean Gerrard (Walter Brooke) the gang discover he has been hunting and killing anyone that trespasses on his island, for sport. Dean is having an affair with Balleau’s wife, Sandra (Lilyan Chauvin), and offers to help the newcomers escape provided they can tag along too. But the escape attempt ends in disaster leaving the crazed Balleau stalking his human prey through the dangerous jungle.
With a setup that anticipates every slasher movie made since and a cultured degenerate villain who arguably set the template for most of the Bond villains that followed, Connell’s immensely influential short story has served exploitation filmmakers well for many years. Only a truly inept director could ever mess it up. Ralph Brooke is not inept, but neither does he possess the ingenuity to make Bloodlust! anything more than amiable nonsense, notably solely for the presence of future Brady Bunch patriarch Robert Reed in a rare horror role. About the most interesting thing about this version of the oft-told tale is the presentation of gutsy feminist Betty. Clever and resourceful, she judo flips one villainous henchman into an acid bath. Brooke could have made a lot more out of her clash with suave misogynist Balleau, but Betty dishearteningly conforms to shrieking stereotype throughout the lacklustre finale.
Brooke opts for flat, almost TV-conventional staging more like The Munsters than the atmospheric original, but his lack of subtlety during the shock moments results in some memorably gruesome images: a woman’s body floating in a fishtank, Pete covered with bloodsucking leeches, a hunchbacked minion (Bobby Hall) whimpering as he sinks into the quicksand, and the surprisingly bloody climax which finds one character impaled and shrieking over the end credits. For all its garish grue, the film is surprisingly low on menace, as indeed is Wilton Graff. A prolific television actor and movie bit-part player, Graff nails Balleau’s sneering sophisticate veneer, but cuts a less than intimidating figure in his safari suit. Although some of the supporting cast are somewhat O.T.T. (chief offender: Troy Patterson as a drunken sea captain), the key players are solid and engaging, in spite of their paper thin characters. While the film is not a patch on The Most Dangerous Game, it moves fairly briskly and is far more competently executed than many low-budget equivalents found nowadays.