Rene Cardona Sr was a Cuban immigrant to Mexico who in the span of his 82 years on this planet directed somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 films, acted in almost as many and put his son (Rene Cardona Jr) and grandson (Rene Cardona III) to work in the business. Cardona’s film career, starting in 1925 and continuing until 1982, spanned countless genres but predominantly stayed in the realm of the fantastic. From pirates and terrorists to zombies and santa claus… Yep, that’s right. He made a film about Jolly Saint Nick throwing down against The Devil's minions with the help of Merlin the Magician. And what do you need for a film with that high concepts like that? Luchadores! Many, if not most, of Cardona’s output starred the superheroes of pre-modern Mexico, the stars of the famous Lucha Libre. NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES is no exception, except here there are no famous Lucha stars.
Originally, and more accurately, titled THE HORRIBLE HUMAN BEAST, this film is one of those jaw-dropping drive-in classics that many people like myself, stumbled across in the video store back in the ‘80s. It’s lurid, cartoonish cover screaming to be rented and promising things that presumably it would never deliver. You could look at the black and white pics on the back of the Gorgon box and think “it’s from the ‘60s, it’s gotta be tame”, and you would be wrong. Even H.G. Lewis had trouble one-upping Cardona’s classic with his subsequent gore efforts THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970) and THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972), and to be totally honest, I’d take Cardona’s flick over either of those two.
The film opens with a female Lucha match between a red outfitted Lucy (Norma Lazareno) and a blue-clad Elena (Noelia Noel). These girls can take some bumps, and after many punches, kicks and flips Lucy throws Elena out of the ring in front of her police lieutenant boyfriend Aurthur (Armando Silvestre). Arthur looks at the fallen wrestler and cries out “this woman has been hurt!”. Sure enough, Elena's got a skull fracture, which puts her under the care of a successful surgeon, Dr. Krallman (Jose Elias Moreno). In an ironic twist of fate, Dr. Krallman's son is bedridden with leukemia. Doe-eyed Julio (pronounced by the dubbers as “Joo-lee-oh”, Agustín Martínez Solares) is abandoned by the doctors who have given him not even days, but hours left to live. This just doesn’t sit well with pops who decides, with the aid of his not-very-hunch-backed assistant Goyo (Carlos López Moctezuma) to kidnap a gorilla from the local zoo to use for a heart transplant! The logic here being that a new heart is needed to pump new blood that is uncontaminated by leukemia. Sounds good on paper anyway! It should be noted that the film uses extremely graphic stock footage of a real heart transplant operation that is something of a stark contrast to the cheap, but effective gore effects used in the rest of the movie.
All goes according to plan except for the fact that once the operation is done Julio mutates from his prettyboy self into a stocky grappler with a face that looks like an ape... or rather he and Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four were separated at birth. One of the two, you decide. Naturally nobody that ugly could be a nice guy and our Ape Man promptly escapes to engage in (as the trailer cries) “an orgy of terror”! I don't know about any “orgies”, but holy crap is this dude pissed off about something and everyone is going to pay! Well... everyone except boys with groceries that cheerfully whistle. Other than that? It's on like Donkey Kong!
The movie wallows in drive-in exploitation and cobbles them together with elements from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” and even pays low-budget homage to KING KONG (1933) in the film’s final moments, with a strangely blasé child taking the place of Fay Wray. It all makes for a south of the border drive-in classic that even three generations of Cardona’s have never been able to top.