For all the pirate films that include the word “blood” in the title, at least this one delivers. Any film that opens with a cute girl being torn apart my piranhas is a winner in my book. This week, I’m taking a look at THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, directed by John Gilling, produced by Hammer Films in 1962.
The film opens with a display of forbidden love, our protagonist, Jonathon (KERWIN MATTHEWS) has fallen for the pretty, young wife of one of the town’s elders. During their escape, the poor woman flops into the river to try and get away and is munched into a bloody pulp by the local piranhas. I must say, the clicking sounds of them violently wiggling in the water towards their prey is oddly satisfying. Jonathon (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) was born to a colony of Huguenots that began their own community after escaping persecution. Sadly, the town elders have become corrupt and use their power and faith to instill fear into those around them, ruling the law with the 10 commandments.
Due to Jonathon committing adultery, he’s sent to a penal colony as punishment by his own father, who governs the town. As luck would have it, pirates invade the penal colony and take Jonathon captive. At this point the true star of the film is revealed, Captain LaRoche (CHRISTOPHER LEE) is a sleek, dashing pirate, who even manages to make a gimp hand a fashionable accessory. Captain LaRoche is so fabulous he could actually be Coco Chanel’s back-alley abortion, but I digress.
Captain LaRoche and Jonathan strike a deal; LaRoche is after a treasure in the village and Jonathan wants his help to restore true justice to his home. However, pirates being pirates, LaRoche has zero fucks to give about Jonathan or his justice and would really just like the gold. Things escalate as expected, which forces Jonathon to be the hero and defend his town, but this is where the film gets interesting, conceptually.
Jonathon, being the only truly reasonable person, is the only character that can be considered the “good guy,” with the exception of some townspeople. The town subscribes to a theocracy, which has proven to send many innocent men to their deaths, and the pirates are… well… they only care about bitches and gold. So the side the viewer should be cheering for is ambiguous. Being biased, I would’ve wanted Jonathan to figuratively (or literally) flip the bird at his townspeople and join the pirates, but that’s not how it plays out, unfortunately.
The pirates find the hidden treasure and attempt an escape, Jonathon and his friends chasing them all the way to the river to get the gold back. Not that they ever needed the gold, or planned to use it, but are trying to win it back on principle? But that’s cool because the dreaded river scene wouldn’t have been as fun if people weren’t looking on in horror. Our beautiful Captain Chanel and his men frolic into the water, thinking they’ve won, but again there’s the lovely clicking sound.. I’m sure you can figure out what happens next.
The piranha-infested river was so fun that I wish the film would’ve delved into it’s geographical location and history a bit more. Why is it that the piranha only inhabit that part of the river? Are there many people that get thrown in there? Is that actually a place of execution? Is that were the town executes their criminals? Those questions will have to remain unanswered. One thing that we can take away from THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER is that when human beings are left to their own devices, corruption is a guarantee and nobody wins.