Deep in the heart of darkness, or at least in some secluded lair in a Philippine jungle, mad scientist Dr. Gordon, with his blank faced and slightly daft but beautiful daughter Neva, is preparing a mutant race of “super-beings,” creatures genetically modified to survive the coming ecological apocalypse. He really believes this.
In the meantime, deadpan hotshot, and all around white guy, Matt Farrell is kidnapped while scuba diving in the pristine waters near Dr. Gordon’s hideaway. Apparently, Farrell’s DNA is of superior quality, and is just what the doctor needs to bring his plan of a man/animal (manimal, if you will) hybrid super-race to successful fruition. Naturally, hilarity ensues as Dr. Gordon, Matt Farrell, and Steinman, an ambiguously sexual one-named Neo-Nazi throwback with unreliable hair, match wits for dominance in this New Zoological Eden.
The Twilight People begins innocently enough amid glimpses of the island paradise that lured Dr. Gordon away from the horrors of civilization. Leisurely underwater shots of coral reefs and exotic aquatic life sway before us as the soundtrack, which rocks with a cool 1970’s action hero Charlie’s Angels sci-fi/horror vibe, lulls us into a state of tropical splendor. That should come as no surprise though, because between 1934 and 1983, Tito Arevalo and Ariston Avelino composed 210 film scores between them, so they obviously knew what they were doing.
The music takes a dramatic turn for the terrifying and we lose whatever false sense of ease we may have initially enjoyed. There is a jump cut camera zoom to a fishing boat on the bay where evil henchman Steinman, and his crew, are up to something undoubtedly nefarious. We are then plunged back into the water for a couple minutes of gratuitous stingray sighting and the kidnapping of our protagonist Matt Farrell.
As a superhero, Matt Farrell is sort of a rural James Bond type, someone who doesn’t use very big words (“You go to Hell!”--- to which Dr. Gordon measuredly replies, “Quite”), or display any emotion or register any surprise. Despite salacious advances from his murderous captor Steinman (“Wanna stretch your legs?”), or the doctor’s perpetually impassive daughter (“Dr. Gordon wants your eyes checked immediately. He needs the results by tomorrow morning. We can do it here. Would you mind lying down, please…on your back”), Farrell maintains his cool and sense of bemusement throughout his strange captivity.
Farrell, referred to by Steinman as “The Last Renaissance Man,” does not seem especially concerned when he stumbles upon Dr. Gordon’s underground menagerie of experimental half-beings; Panther Woman and Wolf Woman, Antelope Man and something inexplicable that somewhat resembles Zippy the Pinhead. Matt Farrell contrasts sharply with the secret agents of the time, like James Bond, by not being cool and sophisticated, or witty and charming, or by dressing particularly stylishly, but by seeming to have just fixed your plumbing or carburetor immediately before being forced to confront the evils of world domination.
Neva informs Farrell that her father is “One of the greatest, most dedicated scientific minds in the world,” and the doctor pronounces that Farrell is “to participate in the single most important scientific event in the history of like on this planet.” That’s a pretty tall order, and writer/director/producer Eddie Romero does not let us down…except for the bat wings. Like, what happened there? Did the budget somehow run out when they realized they didn’t have wings for the Bat Man? As we find out later, the Bat Man is the whole reason we are on this island in the first place, and they forgot to buy him a costume! Dang.
The Twilight People production also seemed to borrow sets and props from some abandoned 1950’s black and white sci-fi epic, as well as from one of those great 1960’s Roger Corman Edgar Allen Poe movies from American International. For such an evil genius, Gordon sure skimps on extravagance. Aside for the long descending stair case with which to make an “entrance,” his office and laboratory are pretty non-descript; a lamp, some books, a desk, some brains under glass, entrails in jars, and a spare face---nothing too elaborate. One wonders about his expertise, though, when considering that he thought was it advantageous to graft the DNA of an antelope into that of a man. I mean, the panther we can understand, and a man/wolf, sure. Even a half man/half bat thing might almost make a little sense, you know, with vampires and caped crusaders and stuff… but an antelope? I mean…huh?
And that is just the peculiar genius of legendary filmmaker and Filipino cultural icon Eddie Romero. Romero, as a teen writer, caught the attention of young Filipino filmmaker Gerry de Leon and was hired to write his first screenplay in 1941. Between 1941 and 2007, Romero penned 37 screenplays, and between 1947 and 2008 (when he was 83-years-old), he directed 51 films. Although his home country recognizes his artistry through his Filipino historical dramas and love stories. Romero is best known in America as the auteur of such 1970’s drive-in fare as Mad Doctor of Blood Island, The Brides of Blood, and The Twilight People, among others. He was also an associate producer on Apocalypse Now, helping with logistics and merchandising in the Philippines, and worked with Roger Corman, who was an uncredited executive producer on The Twilight People.
Romero also worked closely with The Twilight People star John Ashley for a number of years after directing him in Beast of the Yellow Night in 1971. Ashley and Romero produced a number of films together, including Pam Grier’s second film, the women-in-prison Roger Corman co-production Big Doll House, as well as other drive-in classics, like Black Mama White Mama (also with Pam Grier), Savage Sisters (with Cheri Caffaro of Ginger fame), and, of course, The Twilight People. Before making his mark as the uncomplicated Matt Farrell, Ashley was a 1950’s teen idol, with such screen credits to his name as Dragstrip Girl, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. Ashley was also known as Frankie Avalon’s sidekick in the insanely popular “Beach Party” movies. Later he went on to produce and narrate television’s The A Team and produce Walker, Texas Ranger.
Pam Grier, of course, is Pam Grier. She will kick your ass and take your name. Even if she is only Ayesa the Panther Woman in The Twilight People, she is a damn good Panther Woman.
The original theatrical poster for The Twilight People says it all, but then again, it says so much. “Animal Desires…Human Lusts” it warns us, but also “Test Tube Terrors…Half Beast…All Animal,” and “Evolved From Evil.” This film has everything!
For a movie that doesn’t really make any sense, and starts slow and mutates into, literally, batshit crazy, everything sort of makes sense. Maybe Dr. Gordon wasn’t so mad after all.
Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.