AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD
RUNNING TIME: 87 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Jonathon Standing is sent to a penal colony by his own father for his adulterous affair with the young wife of a Huguenot alderman. Following a narrow escape, he’s found by the pirate Captain LaRoche. He wants Standing to lead them to his people’s settlement– fugitive Huguenots who have established themselves in French Guiana – because he believes them to be in possession of a fortune, even if Standing tells the pirates that there’s no such thing. The buccaneers take over the village and start to exterminate the citizens in twos for the length of time that the location of the treasure isn’t divulged….
The first of either two or three landlocked pirate movies [depending on what you call a pirate movie] made by Hammer, The Pirates Of Blood River is a solid adventure which was shot as an ‘X’ rated film, then cut to an ‘A’, then to a ‘U’, where, double billed in the UK with Mysterious Island, it did huge business, proving that, after years of trying, Hammer could be a major commercial force even when the film wasn’t horror. The ‘A’ rated cut was shown in the US and that’s what appears to be on the Region 1 DVD, with two pretty gory deaths by unseen piranhas near the beginning and the end and a bit of blood and attempted rape here and there. It was shot at Bray, that familiar Egham sandpit and Black Park, where the fording of a filthy river resulting in Michael Ripper nearly drowning, Oliver Reed being hospitalised because of an eye and ear infection, and Lee being unable to walk up stairs for nearly six months. It doesn’t really feel like your typical pirate film because of the total absence, aside from an opening stock shot, of a ship. This means that you don’t get many of the typical things you might expect, but it gets into the action immediately with a really fast and event-filled opening 30 minutes including quite a stylish section set in a penal colony where director John Gilling uses mainly shots dissolving into each other, until things settle down for a more measured pace, with rather too much of the action consisting of the pirates at each others’s throats, though the sight of two men dueling with blindfolds is novel.
Despite being the villains, the screenplay gets us to want the pirates to succeed in their plans, and they’re such a fun, colourful bunch [Ripper, again, almost steals the show]. Gilling does manage to stage some decent gun play and keeps the tension boiling enough so that one almost forgets the screenplay’s many absurdities, like a persecuted religious colony [and come to think of it, where on earth is the story supposed to be set? The Caribbean? French Guiana?] which owns such a large amount of gold, the ease with which it’s carried, and Marie Devereaux and Maria Landi wearing clothes hardly appropriate for a religious sect. Lee, in the first of several roles where he would have an eye patch, is good as a rather cultured, though still ruthless, pirate leader, if sporting a slightly odd French accent, as does Reed. Kerwin Matthews is as much a pleasant, if rather bland, lead as he was in films like The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, though the actor playing his father, Andrew Keir, is actually three months younger than him. Helped immensely by a vivid score by Gary Hughes, with an especially catchy swashbuckling title theme which, due to the nature of the tale is rarely repeated, The Pirates Of Blood River is good fun, if not especially notable, though with a tighter midsection and more attention paid to some of the details, it could have been a minor classic of its type.