“Twilight People”: A mad scientist creates hybrid “manimals” on a verdant Pacific Ocean island

By on December 28, 2018

Filipino director Eddie Romero‘s insane low-budget cult hit Twilight People (1972) — also known as The Island of the Twilight People — is fairly obviously an inverted adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, only instead of a diabolical mad scientist turning animals into humans through strange genetic engineering experiments, here we have island slaves being turned into hybrid human/animal aberrations (let’s just call them “manimals“).

Watch this gloriously green-hued slice of drive-in sleaze — part of our recently-added collection of New Cult Arrivals — on Night Flight Plus.

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Filipino exploitation film director Eddie Romero (Enrique Moreno) had already worked on one previous adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic and controversial 1896 anti-vivisectionist novel, producing 1959’s Terror Is a Man, released in the U.S. as Blood Creature, directed by his friend, Filipino actor-turned-director Gerardo de León.

1972’s Twilight People — which he co-wrote with Jerome Small (Small’s only credit as a writer) — doesn’t really spend much time trying to answer any big ethical questions posed in the novel (adapted for the screen numerous times).

Instead, Romero offers up a movie about crazy manimals making their escape from the evil doctor’s island laboratory.

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Twilight People — made for just $150,000 — begins with soldier of fortune “Matt Farrell” (John Ashley) being plucked from the Pacific ocean while he’s scuba diving.

He’s chloroformed and strait-jacketed by “Steinman” (Jan Merlin), a former SS executioner and Hitler-loving Nazi Aryan, and meets “Neva” (Pat Woodell), the comely daughter of the diabolical “Dr. Gordon” (Charles Macaulay).

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Farrell is escorted to a foreboding fortress on an incredibly verdant island nearby.

There, he learns the evil doctor has been experimenting on the native locals, cross-breeding them with animals in an attempt to create a race of superhumans capable of adapting to our ever-changing environment.

So far, these experiments have only created terrifying and hideous “guinea pig” creations like “Ayesa” the Panther Woman (Pam Grier), “Kuzma” the Antelope Man (Ken Metcalf), “Darmo” the Bat Man (Tony Gosalvez), “Primo” the Ape Man (Kim Ramos) and “Lupa” the Wolf Woman (Mona Morena).

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Neva doesn’t exactly agree her father’s hideous botched experiments are using science in the right way.

She can’t dissuade his future plans to use Farrell to create the best manimal of all, so she helps him escape, enlisting his aid to free the horrible test creatures from their cages.

Steinman, meanwhile, really enjoys hunting down humans, which results in the island becoming a bloodbath of revenge and bestial terror!

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Pam Grier briefly appeared (seriously, don’t blink — you’ll miss it) ‘in Russ Meyer’s 1970 cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls — read our previous post about it here — before appearing as Ayesa in Twilight People.

She also appeared in a couple more low-budget movies made in the Philippines around the same time for producer Roger Corman and director Jack HillThe Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972) — and later appeared in Romero’s girls-in-chains prison flick Black Mama, White Mama (1974).

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Grier is, of course, probably known best for her many breakout roles in a series of Blaxploitation classics, including her biggest box-office hit Coffy (1974), which was followed a few years later by starring turns in Sheba Baby (1975) and Friday Foster (1975).

Read more about Twilight People‘s John Ashley below.

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Leading man John Ashley (also credited as a producer on Twilight People) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1934, but he was raised in Oklahoma, getting a B.A. degree from Oklahoma State University in economics.

He got his start in the Hollywood film business while on vacation in Southern California, after a college friend of his got him an on-set pass to stand around and watch John Wayne acting in The Conqueror (1956).

It was Wayne, in fact, who got him his first acting job in TV the following year, in “Men of Annapolis.”

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In 1957, he was picking up his girlfriend from the offices of American International Pictures when a producer gave him a role in the movie she was auditioning for, Dragstrip Girl.

Thereafter, he began appearing in a series of late ’50s juvenile delinquent pictures, including 1957’s Motorcycle Gang, 1958’s Hot Rod Gang and 1960’s High School Caesar.

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His first horror movie appearance comes in How To Make a Monster (1958), and he would continue to act in horror flicks on-and-off throughout the rest of his career.

Ashley’s first major network TV series was “Straightaway” — he played a racing car designer — which led to multiple appearances in episodic primetime shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Wild, Wild West.”

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In 1963, he appeared onscreen in Hud with Paul Newman, before playing second leads — usually either Frankie Avalon’s best buddy or his rival — in several of AIP’s sand-and-surf beach party movies: Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965).

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Ashley’s producing career began when he paired with director Eddie Romeo to co-produce modestly-budgeted films like Beyond Atlantis (1973), Twilight People (1972) and Savage Sisters (1974).

He and Romero both had a hand in coordinating the production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), and Ashley then went on to produce eighteen Fililpino-shot exploitation films in the Philippines for his own production company.

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Back in the U.S., he partnered with Stephen J. Cannell and produced “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “The A-Team,” “The Quest,” and other American TV dramas. he also was the in-house producer for TriStar Television.

Ashley died in 1997, age 62.

Watch Twilight People and other weirdo cult movies (go here and here) on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.