Editor's note: "Streaming Time Capsule” is a semi-regular feature on The TV Professor, looking at some of the unusual and maybe worthwhile, and maybe not worthwhile, TV show oddities that you can find online. Our latest installment? Bloodlust, starring Robert Reed, who would later become famous as Mike Brady, the patriarch of The Brady Bunch.
Bloodlust! is a low-budget schlock horror film that hit the big screens in 1961. (Yes, there is an exclamation title after the Bloodlust. I’ll probably only use it intermittently, though.) If you could turn the frights that this film delivers into microwavable energy, you couldn't even brown a marshmallow. And yet, I would argue it's worth checking out.
Granted, it’s somewhat cheating to refer to Bloodlust as a TV show oddity, since it was a movie, and it technically shouldn’t be discussed on a TV blog like The TV Professor. But c'mon -- it stars none other than Robert Reed, who would later play the iconic dad, Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch. It may have started out as a feature-film, but it's now a TV curiosity.
And I think it’d probably be extremely interesting and entertaining to watch for any hard core fan of The Brady Bunch (the rest of you, your mileage may vary).
It’s available for free on TubiTV.com, though I discovered the movie after it aired earlier this year on Turner Classic Movies. I read the description of the film and thought, “No way am I watching this.” And I wasn’t about to, but it came on, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it, and then suddenly I started looking at one of the actors and thought, “No… that can’t be…”
But it was. There was Mike Brady – I mean, Robert Reed – playing one of the young couples aboard a ship, a ship that had just come across a forbidding, sinister island.
So with that little introduction out of the way, let’s talk about Bloodlust! and The Brady Bunch.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
Bloodlust is based off a very famous short story
The “TV guide” that I found with my remote described a killer on an island who hunted teenagers for sport, which sounds repulsive and why I thought, “No thanks.”
Meanwhile, Turner Classic Movies’ website describes the four leads as “teenagers,” and maybe they are supposed to be, but other TV descriptions refer to them as two young couples, and certainly, the four lead actors look like they’re in their 20s – but, yes, it was common back then for Hollywood to film adults playing teenagers. Robert Reed, in fact, was 27 when he filmed Bloodlust in 1959 (and then it sat on a shelf for two years before it was finally released).
So that's 10 years before The Brady Bunch would air, for those wondering.
Anyway, a more accurate description would be to say that this is a movie that follows the travails of four young adults who wind up on an island where a sociopathic hunter lives. The hunter’s name is Dr. Balleau, and he enjoys hunting humans for sport.
If that storyline sounds vaguely familiar, the plot comes directly from Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which a big-game hunter from New York City falls off his yacht and swims to an abandoned island, only to be hunted by a Russian aristocrat.
Connell, who was born in 1893 and died in 1949, would have been gratified and impressed, I’m sure, to see just how much Hollywood embraced his plot. He stuck around long enough to see his short story turned into a movie in 1932 called The Most Dangerous Game – and Orson Welles gave it the radio treatment in a 1943 episode of Suspense on CBS Radio.
But his plot just kept morphing into new directions. There was the 1961 Bloodlust movie, of course, which removed most of the plot details of The Most Dangerous Game and expanded it into a hunter hunting humans, plural. Plenty of other movies have taken this plot and expanded upon it – The Purge movies are, in a sense, an extreme version of The Most Dangerous Game – and you could argue that The Hunger Games owes a great debt to Cornell’s story. But even if you disagree that The Purge and The Hunger Games are descendants of The Most Dangerous Game, there’s no doubt that his short story has really flourished on television.
Some of the many TV shows that have used The Most Dangerous Game as its plot include…
- Gilligan’s Island. You can’t blame the writers jumping on this one, given their island location. In this particular take on The Most Dangerous Game, a big-game hunter goes after Gilligan.
- Get Smart. Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 are trapped on an island with an insane KAOS killer named Hans Hunter.
- In The Wild Wild West, Jim West and a circus girl are trapped inside a wild animal park in Colorado and hunted down by a big game hunter played by Robert Loggia.
- The Simpsons has Mr. Burns hunting down a bunch of people for the fun of it.
- The Incredible Hulk. David Banner finds himself trapped on a private owner, who is really excited to try and kill not just a guy but a guy who turns into a giant green monster.
- The 1977 pilot episode of Fantasy Island has a big-game hunter being hunted down by a man.
There are more examples, but you get the idea, and we’re getting off track, anyway.
So what happens in Bloodlust?
While Bloodlust is a perfectly serviceable low-budget “horror” film, I admit that I can’t watch it without seeing Robert Reed's character as a young Mike Brady in the movie, the whole time. I imagine this as Mike Brady in a film with his first wife, although that doesn't explain why Reed's character's name is Johnny.
Of course, on the website IMDB, he’s listed as Johnny Randall. Well, maybe after the traumatic experience of being on this island, Johnny Randall decided to reinvent himself as Mike Brady.
Still, I’ll try to call Robert Reed’s character Johnny and not Mike Brady. I’ll give it a shot.
At any rate, while Robert Reed gets the fourth billing in Bloodlust, it’s his movie all the way. This is not a movie in which Robert Reed has some small role. Of the four young adults being “terrorized” in Bloodlust, Reed is in the film from start to finish. He’s also clearly the leader of the group – the “dad” of the group, if you will.
We open on a boat at sea. In the foreground is a couple, the man fishing, and in the background, a woman throws a bottle into an air, and the man – holding a rifle – shoots the bottle as target practice.
That man is Mike Brady.
I mean, Johnny. Gotta get used to saying that.
The boat shakes a bit, and Johnny says, “Hey, Tony, watch it, will ya? We wanna get back to port nice and dry.”
“Yeah,” the second young man, Johnny’s pal, says, “You trying to drown us or something?”
The second young man’s name is Pete. As in, short for Peter. See, maybe Mike “Johnny” Brady and future wife Betty (who somehow tragically dies before The Brady Bunch airs) named their middle child “Peter” after their old pal. Meanwhile, Peter’s girlfriend is Jeanne, who would later add an “i” to her name and become a genie for an astronaut. OK, maybe that’s taking my fan fiction ravings a little too far, though I will point out that the captain of the ship is named Tony.
And Tony is drunk, and also nothing like Major Tony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie.
“Don't worry, just don't worry. Get you all home safe and sound. I can navigate this tub with one hand,” Tony says.
Then Captain Tony takes a swig from his bottle and somehow manages to continue steering the boat, despite being blitzed.
Pete and Jeanne go back to trying to catch a fish, and Betty throws another bottle into the air, which Johnny easily shoots.
“Not bad,” Betty says. “Not bad at all.”
But not good for the environment.
So we’re just a few minutes into the film, and we’ve established that Johnny is handy with a gun, and some more quick character development comes into play. Johnny asks if Betty wants to try some target practice, and she is enthusiastic until she realizes that they are out of bottles.
Johnny suggests that there is another game that they could play, and he awkwardly tries to kiss Betty, who then expertly tosses her boyfriend onto the floor… the deck?... a boat expert, I am not.
Johnny climbs to his feet and delivers this groaner: “Of all the girls in the world, I had to get mixed up with the daughter of a judo expert."
It's a weird moment. Johnny and Betty are a young couple on a vacation – with another young couple on vacation. They all know each other pretty well. And Betty suddenly treats Johnny like he’s a creep at a bar.
But clearly the writer, producer and director, Ralph Brooke, wanted to work it into the script that Betty was not to be trifled with – and sure enough, much later in the movie, she gets to use her judo skills on an actual creep, tossing him into a vat of acid.
Turn on Bloodlust for Robert Reed, but stay for June Kenney and her portrayal of Betty Scott’s tough as nails persona.
So not long after this moment, Pete notices a mysterious island. We know it’s mysterious because of the mysterious music.
“There’s an island way over there that I don’t remember seeing before,” Pete says.
"Well, this is the brightest day we've had on our vacation," Johnny says. "Must've been hidden in the mist out there before."
"Oh, a mysterious hidden island," Jeanne says.
OK, well, that's another reason we know it's mysterious.
"Let's go ashore," Jeanne says, excited.
How Bloodlust Works as a Prequel to The Brady Bunch
Well, I’ve already mentioned some ways I could see it as a movie about a young Mike Brady who winds up on this mysterious island with his first wife, and his best friend Pete and his girlfriend Jeanne.
But there are definitely other moments throughout this film, due to Reed's familiar mannerisms and simply how the character is written, where you do feel like this could be a movie about Mike Brady trying to keep himself and his friends from being killed by an evil villain.
Tony, the captain, passes out, drunk, and Betty, Pete and Jeanne want to go to the island and explore it. Johnny’s not convinced that that’s a great idea, but Tony is passed out, and there are no more bottles for target practice, and the fish aren’t biting.
Johnny says to his friends: “Well, I know I can get this boat close enough to the island to get the anchor down, but I'm not sure I can get us back to the main island. So I guess our little treasure hunt's the best thing to do until our navigator sobers up.”
The four friends get into a dinghy and row towards shore. Tony wakes up, just long enough to see them rowing away. He shouts, “Come back, come back you fools. Don't land there! Come back!”
Then, overpowered by all he has had to drink, and by some really bad acting, he faints.
Foreshadowing the Brady Bunch Hawaii episode and Gilligan’s Island. So the four young adults run up to the beach, happy as can be, unaware of the trouble that lie ahead.
Somebody wonders if the island is inhabited, and Johnny says, in what feels like a line that could have worked well in a Gilligan’s Island episode or maybe when the Bradys visited Hawaii: “Oh, no, chance. If there'd have been any natives on this island, they'd have spotted the boat before now and been down here trying to sell us hand-painted coconuts.”
Johnny Randall/Mike Brady is a planner. I’m really not overstating it when I say that it feels like Robert Reed liked his Johnny Randall persona so much that he used it for The Brady Bunch. And Johnny definitely was the leader or, again, parent of the group. Pete, Betty and Jeanne explore one part of the beach, and Johnny goes off on his own, at one point shouting, “Hey, gang, c’mere!”
The three join Johnny, and he shows them what looks like some sort of big crab or lobster. Betty asks what it is, and Johnny says, “Some the best eating in these waters. A lot of clams around here, too.”
And that’s when Pete suggests something that truly feels like something out of The Brady Bunch, at least if you remember the luau in one of the Hawaii episodes. Pete suggests they have a clam bake.
Johnny is all in on that idea. “Let's have it tropical style.”
“So how do you mean?” Betty asks.
“Well, Pete and I will go into the jungle, and we'll find some banana leaves. We'll wrap the clams in 'em and bake 'em in a hole in the sand. You girls stay here and dig for supper.”
It sounds a little like the time the Bradys went on that camping trip, and Mike and the kids went fishing while Carol and Alice stayed put at the tents. But Betty will have none of that. She insists that they’re going to find the banana leaves together, and they’ll dig the hole together and bake them together. Johnny agrees, and the four explore the island.
What we the audience know, and they don’t, is that a bad guy has already made away with their boat, and that the odds of them actually having a clam bake are very low.
Johnny Randall has that “Mike Brady” sensibility. So to speed the plot up, let’s race on ahead: They search for banana leaves, find a clue that there may be humans on the island, and Johnny falls into a trap, a deep pit set up to catch animals. Or people?
Betty – seriously, no shrinking violet who always needs to be saved – lowers herself into the pit and ties some vines around Johnny's waist (he is unconscious), so that Pete can pull Johnny up. But before that happens, they are stopped by Dr. Albert Balleau, sort of a madman hunter evil villain type. He has henchman. He’s kind of a low-rate James Bond villain, at a time before there were James Bond movies.
It actually is sort of an ominous moment when you first see Balleau.
But, anyway, here are just a few exchanges Johnny Randall has, and tell me that you couldn’t imagine Mike Brady saying the same thing on The Brady Bunch.
- After Pete says that the big guy who took them to their room wasn’t very friendly, Johnny says, “Well, I've got a feeling that this isn't as friendly a place as that Mr. Balleau tries to make out.”
- When Betty wonders why this is all happening, Johnny says, “Well, it’s a cinch nobody’s going to tell us. So we’ll just have to find out for ourselves.”
- After Balleau explains his plan to hunt Johnny and Pete down, Johnny says: “Listen, Mister Balleau, fun's fun. But if you think we're gonna be the clay pigeons in your shooting gallery, you're just a little far out.”
Is Bloodlust Worth Watching?
Absolutely, if you’re a fan of The Brady Bunch – or if you like schlocky horror movies. Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured Bloodlust in a 1994 episode, and it’s easy to see why. Svengoolie, the show that pokes fun at horror and science-fiction movies, which is on MeTV on Saturday nights, amazingly apparently has not yet, but I’m sure it will one of these days.
I hate to make too much fun of Bloodlust, in a way. It was written, directed and filmed by Ralph Brooke, who may well have eventually created a masterpiece someday if he hadn't died from a heart attack at the age of 43, in 1963. Bloodlust was his first time directing.
Still, there are a lot of eye-rolling moments, and if you don't want any more spoilers, well, you may want to go elsewhere in this blog -- or come back, watch it and read this later.
- At one point, a woman imprisoned in Balleau’s lair urges Johnny and Betty to go back to their guest room (they had snuck out) to hear her and another man out and discuss how to escape. Johnny is uncertain whether to trust them, and she says, “Please, there is death all around us."
- There is quicksand. But Johnny saves Pete so quickly you almost wonder why the director bothered with it.
- You get to hear Robert Reed utter lines like the one he says to Pete: “I don't like the way those goons of his kept looking at the girls.”
As I guess is clear, this is a movie more fun to make fun of than one to watch for actual scares. Some people in the movie do die (when Captain Tony emerges midway in the movie, you know he’s going to have a short shelf life). And true, Balleau is a calm but crazed lunatic who displays his victims as trophies. Still, the movie nonetheless ends as you would hope.
In other words, as you would want in a movie that could almost serve as a surreal prequel to The Brady Bunch, the heroes triumph. Balleau, however, does not. One of his goons, a guy named Jondor, turns on him, and kills the crazed game hunter.
"I guess Balleau never thought he'd be the prize exhibit in his own museum,” Johnny says, near the end, as he and his friends cast a horrified look at the villain's corpse.
At this point, The Brady Bunch actually feels closer than ever. Sure, there has been death and destruction, but by now, Johnny practically is Mr. Brady, with the look of a chagrined parent trying to impart a lesson about the dangers of being a homicidal maniac to his three young friends and to the villain, who is no longer around to hear it. If only Balleau had had a father like Mike Brady, he might have turned out much differently.
Where you can watch this movie (at the time of this writing): Bloodlust! can be found on TubiTV.com, a free streaming TV service. The entire series of The Brady Bunch can be found on ParamountPlus.com.
The previous "TV streaming capsule: The 1973 cartoon Jeannie.