Saturday, June 26, 2010


“Six-Gun Music” director Nate Watt’s mediocre drugsploitation melodrama “Fiend of Dope Island” (** out of ****) amounts to little more than a tawdry, lowbrow, B-movie thriller toplining ex-“Tarzan” thespian Bruce Bennett and former Miss Yugoslavia Tania Velia. Mind you, “Fiend of Dope Island” lives up to its bizarre title. The protagonist is the eponymous fiend, and he believes that he is invincible. One sympathetic character notes in regard to Charlie that “there is a thin line between human and beast.” At another one, the same character observes in reference to Charlie: “If this guy is human, nature made a terrible boo-boo.” Just as there is a beast in “Fiend of Dope Island,” there is also a beauty. Miss Yugoslavia looks very sexy shaking goodies on the dance floor, especially when she undulates in a cute little black outfit. Late in the last quarter-hour, she appears nude from the waist up briefly when she emerges from the water with her breasts bared. No, “Fiend of Dope Island” doesn’t qualify as a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ movie because Watt helms it with some competence. Primarily, it constitutes a portrait of a lunatic who has jettisoned his sense of morality in an island climate where he lets his desires run rampant.

Basically, “Fiend” concerns a sleazy, sadistic landowner, Charlie Davis (Bruce Bennett of “Tarzan and the Green Goddess”), who has been ruling over an anonymous Caribbean island like an maniacal autocrat for five years. Charlie suffers from an acute anger management affliction. He relies on a bullwhip as his weapon of choice, and he loves to display his wizardry with its coils. If lashing harmless natives into submission with a bullwhip weren’t odious enough, Charlie grows not only marijuana, but he also participates in an arms smuggling racket. Predictably, Charlie is nobody’s friend, and the locals loathe his antics. As the film unfolds, he bullwhips a poor native without mercy. “Look,” he summarizes his philosophy, “nobody touches nothing on this island unless I say so. Everything here belongs to me. You got to understand that.” Charlie treats everybody like slaves. Charlie’s right hand man, David (Robert Bray of “A Gathering of Eagles”), supervises the laborers. Charlie tries to spice up his mundane existence by importing a dancer, Glory La Verne (Tania Velia of “Queen of Outer Space”), to perform for him. Glory took $500 from Charlie up front. No sooner has she arrived at the island than Glory finds fault with her surroundings. Moreover, she hates Charlie for luring her to the island under the false pretense that she would perform for a hundred of the most important individuals in America and Europe. Charlie tries to ameliorate Glory’s feelings by offering her cigarettes laced with marijuana, but she refuses to smoke them.

Eventually, David organizes the opposition against Charlie. First, he blows up an arms supply of mortars, machine guns, and rifles. Second, he disarms all of Charlie’s henchmen and turns the firearms over to the oppressed island natives. David and the natives keep Charlie holed up in his cantina. When he tries to venture outside, they shoot at him and drive him back inside the cantina. Later, their evil adversary strikes at David’s relief crew who were warned not to fall asleep. Charlie strangles one with a bullwhip and takes his rifle. Meanwhile, David explains to the doctor that Charlie is involved in something bigger than even he realizes. David elaborates that there are twenty other small islands like Charlie’s island where guns, ammunition, and explosives are being stockpiled. Remember, the Caribbean was a powder keg during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Consequently, scenarists Mark Carabel and Bruce Bennett appropriated the volatile attitude that surrounded the Caribbean with all the uprisings that occurred in that part of the world during the Cold War. Essentially, Charlie is a low-grade “Dr. No” type. Towards the end, Glory and David fall in love. A jealous Charlie sneaks up on in the jungle as they hold each other in their arms. He lashes out with his bullwhip, coils it around the defenseless couple, and forces them to dance while he discharges a high-powered rifle at their feet. By this point, Charlie has gone completely insane. David manages to remove the whip and the two men engage in close-quarters combat while Glory flees in terror.

Glory rushes back to the village and alerts them that Charlie is loose and trying to kill David. She sends out a native boy, Naru (Ralph A. Rodriguez of “Nightforce”), and he seizes Charlie’s whip when the villain has the hero in his clutches. Earlier, Naru was shown practicing with a fake whip. Now, Naru goes to work on Charlie with the whip, and Watt and editor James Gaffney cross-cut between Naru lashing Charlie to images of lightning crackling against the night skies and waves angrily crashing on the beach. This generates a modicum of suspense and terror. Our heroes subdue Charlie. When his accomplice, Captain Fred (Miguel Ángel Álvarez of “Counterplot”), arrives at the island the next day. Our heroes try to hand Charlie over to him. Captain Fred’s men brandish firearms, and David and Charlie fall into the water and tangle. Naru and others overpower disarm Captain Fred, but the latter escapes while Charlie and David thrash about in the water. Sharks cruise into the waters where they are fighting each other. The sharks look like they were lifted from a documentary, but these shots serve their purpose. David escapes their lethal jaws, but Charlie fares less fortunate in the end.

The biggest surprise in this gritty, 76-minute, black & white epic is the revelation in the last minute during an expository scene between two supporting characters that David holds the rank of Inspector with the Bureau of Narcotics. The performances are adequate, with former Warner Brothers’ contract player Bruce Bennett chewing the scenery a little when he isn’t doing his Lash La Rue imitation. Robert Bray is appropriately restrained as the taciturn hero. “Fiend of Dope Island” ends with Glory and David in each other’s arms on the beach as the natives sing the Ken Darby song "Forever Hold Me" that opened the picture.