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dwatts 05-06-2004 01:34 AM

Island of Death
 
**SPOILERS** **SPOILERS** **SPOILERS**

Island of Death is exploitation movie making at its most pure. The film was made with only one thing in mind, making money. It was that simple. Director Nico Mastorakis, inspired by seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, knew that the best way to do this was to fill it chock full of disgusting spectacle, perverse scenes, and violent acts.

In his quest to shock an audience, Mastorakis left no stone unturned. If a scene was disturbing enough, why not play it out more than once? The catalog of horrors portrayed in the film seems almost endless given the running time of around an hour and forty minutes. There are eleven deaths in the movie, which is around one every 9 minutes or so. This keeps the pacing swift, and before you can quite get over what you just saw, you're knee deep in something else.

Mastorakis knew what he was going for, and it's hard not to applaud his audacity. It's not, for me, a question of whether this is a good film or not, but rather whether he delivered upon his ultimate goal of making a shocking film that generated cash. In these terms, he clearly was successful.

What is the list of shocking scenes in the movie? Well, here goes a brief run down of what you're letting yourself in for, when you sit to watch this scorcher:

- Public, incestuous, consensual sex while the mother listens on the other end of a phone
- Bestiality
- Crucifixion
- Drowning with white paint
- A couple, masturbating to pictures of dead bodies
- Disemboweling
- Gun shot to the head
- Man urinating on a woman (don't worry, she likes it)
- Decapitation by bulldozer
- Hanging a man from the wing of a plane
- Harpoon to the chest
- Drowning in a toilet
- Overdosing on Heroin
- Burning a face with an aerosol can and lighter
- Scythe through the back
- Rape
- Attempted Rape
- Another rape
- Male on male rape
- Death by being thrown into a lime pit

That's quite a list for a film that had to be made with no name actors, a budget of $30,000, and from a Director who had at the time had made only one color film.

Of course, "Island of Death" has become exactly what the Director wanted, a cult smash. Cult movies don't have to measure up to any pre-conceived notion of quality dictated by big budget studios. Instead, Island of Death is remembered because it was able to achieve just exactly what it set out to do.

Story

Christopher and Celia are taking a vacation on the Greek island of Mykonos. Renting a room, at first they seem like happy newlyweds, enjoying time alone away from civilization. They make friends quickly, but things are quickly shown to not be as they seem, as Christopher, frustrated that his wife shuns his sexual advances early one morning, instead turns his attention to a goat tethered in the yard of their holiday home.

Christopher, it seems, is obsessed with wiping out what he sees as perversion. Allowing his "wife" to seduce strangers, or even doing so himself, they then take pleasure in murdering their victims, and taking pictures of the scene.

As the body count mounts, it is clear that no law on the island will be able to bring them to justice. Instead, their own obsessions will finally drive them to self-destruction, as they inevitably begin to see each other as nothing more than the perverts they had intended to kill.

Commentary

The film is set in a location that will seem strange to most people. Those that has experienced it are most likely to have done so through travelogues. Mykonos is a Greek island that is sleepy and traditional. Even with a whirlwind of murder and death, no-one seems to get awfully excited by what's going on. The Police are nowhere to be seen, making a fleeting appearance at the conclusion - but actually never capturing our couple. Even the friends of the victims don't seem overly bothered, taking death and murder, it seems, in their stride.

Other than the sick moral judgments of the central character, no-one in the film seems to want to judge anyone else. For such a small island, Mykonos has its share of homosexuals, lesbians, heroin addicts, and rapists - and that's before either of our central characters have arrived. It's not until the sickest of the lot of them arrive, that things become unbalanced.

Gore addicts looking for something to make the stomach churn might well think that this film must be the ultimate thrill. After all, the catalog of horrors mentioned earlier must surely mark this as one of the most extreme films in the genre. However, what strikes you when watching this film is how it is the idea of things that shocks most, rather than what you see. The film, amazingly, is almost bloodless. The worst case of bloodletting comes when Christopher, having had his way with the goat, realizes he must get rid of it. Slashing its throat, he throws into a well. This prepares an effective scene where the owner of the well fills her bucket from its depths early one morning, only to find it full of blood, which spills out across the white stones of the pathway.

Other than that, Mastorakis, saddled with no budget and homegrown effects, manages to keep things going along without a lot of SFX and gallons of the red stuff. Don't worry, the effect is not lost, as he does a fine job of making sure you know what is going on.

The other stalwart of exploitation, gratuitous nudity, is also on full display. However, let's not forget the intentions of Mastorakis, he wanted to shock. So along with the beautiful Jane Ryall playing the lead as "Celia", and another young woman playing a lesbian love interest, we also have a woman in her 50's getting it on with Christopher. It's as effective a scene as any of the other shocking elements.

Celia doesn't seem able to keep her clothes on for long stretches of time, and those looking for some soft core sex and nudity won't be disappointed. By the end of the film, she even finds time to have sex, multiple times, with a dumb Shepard who lives in a stone shack with a straw floor. It's all rather over the top and unnecessary, and that probably explains why it is there.

The acting really isn't that bad, which is not to say it's good. The two leads do a passable job. Robert Behling plays Christopher, you might know him from "Cujo". Sadly, he committed suicide by placing the tube from a propane tank down his throat! Jane Ryall was apparently the daughter of a manager of a major hardware vendor on the island at the time, and doesn't appear to have made any other films. Given the budget and intentions here, one can only wonder what she made of the whole experience.

By far the worse performance on the movie is a strange interlude with a novelist, who stands in for a detective figure in the film. Amazingly, it transpires that the Director himself had to step in and play this role, since he couldn't afford the $80 the original actor wanted. Bit parts were played by tourists visiting the island at the time - which explains a lot.

The DVD

The DVD viewed was put out by Image in R1. It's unrated, uncut, and runs for 104 minutes. The transfer is, to put it simply, amazing. The Director has gone back to the negative to give us a film that really does look like it made yesterday. The details are great, and the colors are rich. This really works for the film, because Mykonos is a beautiful place to behold. Green rolling hills give way to whitewashed buildings with bright blue windows and doors. The most prominent color seems to be yellow, which we see in fishing nets, books, buckets, bathrobes, scarves and blankets.

Special features include an excellent 25 minute interview with the Director, who makes no apologies for the film, and in fact, ultimately seems proud of it. He set out with pure intentions, and the film lived up to it. Along with that we?re promised "Music videos" which is not quite true. Instead we have three songs from the movie played out over a gallery from the film. The songs are, well, an acquired taste.

Along with that, a feeble four page booklet accompanies the DVD. In it we have stills from the film, and quotes from magazines and publishers. The funniest comes from Mark Engle of "Cultcuts", who writes "The films looks great in its proper screen ratio". Well, given that the ratio is 4:3, one has to wonder how else it's been presented in the past.

Conclusion

To say Island of Death is an acquired taste is putting it mildly. With its long list of atrocities, you might well think it's virtually unwatchable. However, something happens up there on the screen, and it's actually a pretty compelling little film. Without an overwrought soundtrack, the impact of the things you see are truly in the acts, and not simply in what the filmmaker is trying to make you feel. As such, it comes across as all rather tame, until you start to think about what it is you've just seen.

With an exotic location, mostly no name actors, and a simple cinematic style (the Director doubled as the cinematographer), Island of Death is worse than you imagine, but better than you'd think.

poorlogic 05-06-2004 01:43 AM

Quote:

By far the worse performance on the movie is a strange interlude with a novelist, who stands in for a detective figure in the film. Amazingly, it transpires that the Director himself had to step in and play this role, since he couldn't afford the $80 the original actor wanted. Bit parts were played by tourists visiting the island at the time - which explains a lot.
Possibly the worst acting ever captured on film, seriously.

I bought the region 2 DVD a while back, I figured it was going to look like shit (the cover looks like a bootleg worthy of eBay). I was wrong, amazing transfer - the colors are bold, the picture is sharp! Not the greatest film, but werid enough to hold your attention for 100 minutes.

dwatts 05-06-2004 01:51 AM

Yeah, I hear you :D

I also found this photo montage from the film - includes some nudity though!


Island of Death

Nemesis 05-06-2004 04:01 AM

great review dwatts. I agree about the scenes with the writer/detective... very poor acting and writing in my book.. made no sense and was the low point of the film. Other than that the film was great fun

Katatonia 05-06-2004 08:36 AM

Nico Mastorakis films are always cheesy yet fun. Very nice guy in person too. Island Of Death is actually my least favorite Mastorakis film, but it was also his very first film.

dwatts 05-06-2004 11:12 AM

Actually, although IMDB quotes this as his first film, the DVD interview contradicts that, and shows a clip from another film. If I recall the title was something like "Death had four eyes" of something like that. I'd need to watch the interview again (IMDB lists "Death has Blue Eyes" as his second film.)

Of course, he'd been making TV shows and commercials before this, but only in black and white and on 16mm.

Thanks people, it says a lot that the film forced me to write something about it, it was way better than I thought it was going to be. The film has a reputation, so I wasn't expecting a film with repeat play potential.

Katatonia 05-06-2004 02:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dwatts
Actually, although IMDB quotes this as his first film, the DVD interview contradicts that, and shows a clip from another film. If I recall the title was something like "Death had four eyes" of something like that. I'd need to watch the interview again (IMDB lists "Death has Blue Eyes" as his second film.)

Of course, he'd been making TV shows and commercials before this, but only in black and white and on 16mm.

Thanks people, it says a lot that the film forced me to write something about it, it was way better than I thought it was going to be. The film has a reputation, so I wasn't expecting a film with repeat play potential.

You're right, "Death Has Blue Eyes" was indeed his first film. It's such a rarely seen movie that I'd almost completely forgotten about it. I think it was gone into further in the lengthy four-part Mastorakis featurette series on his DVD re-releases.

A few Nico Interviews:
http://www.horrorview.com/NICOINTERVIEW.htm
http://www.fangoria.com/fearful_feature.php?id=813

Here's his official bio from the Omega pictures site: http://www.omegapic.com/man.htm

dwatts 05-06-2004 02:56 PM

Amazingly, they show a clip from "Death Has Blue Eyes" on the Island of Death DVD, and it looks nearly as good as the main feature! I think the Director somehow managed to maintain the rights to these films, and the negatives have been well cared for (thank goodness).

We'll chalk this one up to IMDB being wrong ;)

The Chaostar 05-07-2004 04:35 AM

The funny thing is that Mastorakis claims that the greek dictatorshipm (junta) of the 70's tied him down.
Being greek, I simply know some facts first hand.
Nicos Mastorakis is very famour here. Not as a director but as a journalist. An interviewer and a reporter.
During the junta militarist "goverement", he actually convinced a bunch of students (who were anti-establishment which back in those bleak years was equal to 'resistance') to appear in his talk show and lay down their demands. He, of course, told them that nothing could happen to them.
Outside the studios, of course, cops were waiting. Later, after democracy rosed, it was revealed that Mastorakis knew that all along. He sold these kids to the military junta for ratings.
This is modern history for Greeks.

However, he is a gifted director.
The Next One, Blind Date & The Wind are really well made films which I love (especially The Next One).

dwatts 05-07-2004 04:40 AM

Ouch! Thanks for that! If true, it's not very nice, is it.

shift 05-07-2004 07:48 PM

Sounds like a movie getting drunk off of :D

Thanks for the cool review. Have to see this one soon.

speanroc 05-07-2004 09:53 PM

i love the film, but i wish the dvd kept the original credits

dwatts 05-08-2004 12:35 PM

In the attrocity list, I forgot to mention a scene where a guy is beaten to the ground, and his attacker lifts a leg, and passes wind over his body. Heinous :D

--i love the film, but i wish the dvd kept the original credits--

The Director himself put this one together from the original negative, so that's what he had, presumably.

KR~! 05-01-2005 02:29 AM

Cool, I was thinking about picking this little gem up.
Great review!

Criswell 05-01-2005 09:15 AM

It's sick and gross, but stangely I found it quite dull........


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