Plot: After he is caught in a scandalous affair with a married woman that has tragic consequences, Jonathan (Kerwin Matthews) is sentenced to fifteen years in a harsh, isolated penal colony. As if such a strict punishment wasn’t bad enough, it was his own father Jason (Andrew Keir) who handed down the decree. So he is carted off to the island’s prison and begins his extensive tenure, but of course, he has no plans to serve out his unfair sentence. He is able to escape into some nearby swampland, but is soon captured, though not by the prison officials. A sophisticated pirate named Capt. LaRoche (Christopher Lee) discovers him and takes him prisoner, with the hope Jonathan can lead him to a local treasure. The locals refuse to cooperate with the pirates and hand over the loot, which leads to violence and constant battles. Will the pirates make off with the island’s precious treasure or can the locals stand their ground?
Entertainment Value: A pirate movie with Christopher Lee as a cultured, one armed captain dressed in black leather is one I have to see, let alone if Hammer and some of their regulars are involved. The Pirates of Blood River isn’t a high sea, swashbuckling type pirate adventure, but one that tracks some scalawags as they try to pillage an island town for loot. This premise is likely familiar if you watch a lot of pirate movies, as it allows for some pirate inspired action, but saves the production immense costs, since filming on the high seas can be expensive. There’s still adventure to be had however, with swords, guns, and pirate hijinks, including a wild blindfolded sword duel that is a bright spot. There’s also a fun sequence where a woman is devoured by piranhas, while billows of crimson swirl in the water. The action is light, but decently staged and the visuals are impressive, from the capable cinematography to the solid production design elements. So while the budget limitations hamper the scope of the movie, it still looks good and never feels cheap or rushed.
Christopher Lee is the one of the best parts of the movie, lack of sail blading aside, in a role that is all pirate, but has a unique feel as well. He sports a French accent, withered arm, and all black ensemble that is quite memorable. I love his boots and leather pants, but his eye patch is also spot on pirate fun, though his wistful approach to the role isn’t likely what people expect from a cruel sea captain. He is mean, but has a sadness to his performance and surprisingly, it works. The other pirates are your more typical boorish and over the top louts, which is a lot of fun. Kerwin Matthews is a passable hero, but is outshined at all turns by Lee and his pirate crew. The cast also includes Oliver Reed, Glenn Corbett, Andrew Keir, Peter Arne, and Michael Ripper. The pace here is brisk and never feels drawn out, which is good given the rather thin narrative involved. I do wish we could have gotten Lee gliding down the sail by knife, but The Pirates of Blood River is a solid pirate romp.
The Disc: Twilight Time offers the movie in a lush new HD treatment, one that looks super clean and much better than the old DVD release. The image has some softness, but also sports impressive detail and as I said, the print looks quite clean. An English mono soundtrack is provided, as well as English subtitles. As for extras, an audio commentary with writer Jimmy Sangster and art director Don Mingaye is here, as well as an isolated effects & music track, and the film’s theatrical trailer.