The Camp On Blood Island (1958 United Kingdom)

Camp-on-Blood-Island-hammer-horror-films-830817_501_383Dig the poster above. Back in the days when they were worth looking at. I love this film. Its really sweet in an old-fashioned, British way. By that I also mean to warn any future viewer to not expect to see Japanese actors actually playing the Japanese roles. This was Hammer Studios after all and their budgets barely even allowed for toilet paper on the set.

Moving on… The film takes place on a small island – which is being used as a prison camp by the occupying Japanese forces – off the coast of Malaya, as it then was, in August 1945. Brutal and unrelenting by the standards of the time, it does not pull any punches in its depiction of Japanese atrocities against British prisoners and, as such, it was criticized for being gratuitously violent when it was released. The film was allegedly based on a real incident. The film stars André Morell, the studio’s best leading man after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, in an excellent performance as the senior officer Colonel Lambert.

He is a strong disciplinarian who does not suffer fools gladly and refuses to allow standards to slip in spite of the fact that he and his men have been imprisoned for more than three years. While he is not the “father to his men” type of commanding officer, he is deeply concerned about the well – being of his fellow prisoners. The reason that Lambert is so keen to maintain discipline is that he believes that it gives the men a structure in their lives which helps them to survive and I think that he has a point there. Lambert is obstinately authoritarian, but these character traits serve him well and ultimately, they serve the other prisoners as well.

Having ordered a campaign of sabotage against the Japanese equipment, their captors’ radios are not working. Consequently, they are unaware that the Japanese surrender was announced several days earlier, something which is helped by their isolation from the mainland. However, Lambert and Piet van Elst were able to hear a report on the surrender before they knocked out all of the radios. As the sadistic Commander Yamamitsu has pledged to execute every man, woman and child in the two prison camps on the island when Japan loses the war, Lambert is understandably desperate to keep the news from him.

The film benefits from having Hammer’s very best leading lady Barbara Shelley in the cast as Kate Keiller, the doctor in the women and children’s camp who must deal with dreadful sanitary conditions and a cholera outbreak. She is a resourceful woman with a great deal of inner strength to draw upon, but she has been pushed to the limit of her endurance after three years of captivity, as have many other male and female prisoners. After her recaptured husband Robert is killed in front of her, Kate tells a Japanese officer exactly what she thinks of him and the way in which the prisoners are treated, which makes for a great scene.

For a film that was condemned on release for its ‘orgy of atrocities’, “The Camp on Blood Island” is actually quite restrained in what is implied, let alone shown on screen: the horrors and Japanese ‘bestiality’ are as much psychological, based on petty humiliation and anticipation as anything else. Some critics in 1958 felt this film was hypocritical because British forces must have committed atrocities too, so why showcase Japanese brutality? Funny how the same critics could wholeheartedly applaud a thousand films portraying Germans as barbaric. Political correctness was beginning to seep into the West even then.

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