During the seventeenth century, the Huguenots fled persecution, and a colony of them have settled on Devon Island in the Caribbean, but ironically their adherence to strict religious principles has resulted in a community every bit as restrictive as the one they left behind. So it is that Jonathon Standing (Kerwin Mathews) has been arrested by the island's leaders for adultery, an action which saw the unhappily married woman he was in love with flee into a nearby river and devoured by piranha. They pronounce her demise as God's judgement - and now they must judge Jonathon for Him.
How do you make a pirate movie that doesn't take place on the high seas? Take a look at Hammer's The Pirates of Blood River, and as the title suggested the script placed them inland rather than on the ocean wave, though as they were nevertheless on an island perhaps the producers didn't think the audience would grumble too much. Certainly the main attraction was the action, and with the Hammer brand they could expect plenty of that as with their non-horror adventures they liked to include a bloodthirsty mood to the proceedings which naturally led them into problems with the censors.
Now you can see this with all the violence intact you may wonder if those censors were not being oversensitive, not to mention spoilsports as the way the film opens with the apparent female lead (uncredited Marie Devereux) escaping into the shoal of flesheaters and disappearing beneath a flood of crimson water was one of the most arresting introductions to any of the Hammer historicals. Thereafter we followed the trials and tribulations of Jonathon for whom things looked bleak when he was sent to a penal colony for fifteen years' hard labour as punishment for adultery, offering Kerwin's fans of a fetishistic bent the chance to see him tied up and tortured. Luckily for our hero, he manages to get away.
Straight into the hands of the pirates, who are led somewhat inevitably by Christopher Lee, playing the black-clad Captain LaRouche who in spite of not having the ability to move his left arm and an eye hidden under a patch still commands a small navy of buccaneers, including the equally inevitable Michael Ripper and Peter Arne as Mr Hench - you'll be able to easily identify the latter as his name is repeated about a billion times for some reason. They offer to help Jonathon, but there's a catch: they want whatever treasure is on the island, treasure which he protests does not exist but his saviours insist does and is in the possession of the Huguenots. There follows a battle of wills between the two sides.
Not only a battle of wills, but a battle of bullets, swords and concealed mantraps as both groups of rivals are whittled down by the scheming of the other. Jonathon does his best to save the innocents caught in the middle, but each time one side gains the upper hand someone else is killed, which leaves damn few people to survive by the end of the movie. There was an intriguing theme of insurgency here as Jonathon tries to overthrow the hardline conservatives and LaRouche's men, among them a typically boisterous Oliver Reed who doesn't get half as much screen time as you feel he should have, plan a mutiny when they don't like how domineering he is growing. Both these acts of subversion result in pandemonium, and throw in a great number of ghastly deaths and a search for treasure which seems to have been inspired by the Oak Island Money Pit mystery (if only that had been solved so easily) you had a rollicking hubbub where the skilled Mathews and Lee treated us to a proper, old-fashioned swordfight. Music by Gary Hughes.