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Old 04-23-2007, 05:31 AM
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Scored: 6
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Default Island of the Fishmen / Fishmen and Their Queen, The (PAL)




Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: April 23, 2007

Released by: Marketing Film
Release date: 1/14/2003
MSRP: OOP
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes


While discussing this impending review with me, my colleague Rhett made the point that even though Sergio Martino, who directed both films on this double feature, is a skilled director when it comes to giallos, the rest of his output is very much a mixed bag. A brief look at his filmography shows just how much he jumped around, even within the horror and fantasy films genres. This double feature presents examples from two periods in Martino's career, the first from the late 1970's when he was still in his prime, and when the Italian film industry was still a sizable player in the world film market, and an example from the past decade with Martino now much older, and the Italian film business only a shadow of what it once was.

The Story

inline ImageThe Caribbean, 1891 - A lifeboat drifts aimlessly over the rolling seas, carrying in it the only survivors from the Catacayan, a French prison ship that has gone down in a storm. The only man amongst them who is not a convict is Lieutenant Claude DeRoss (Claudio Cassinelli), the ship's medical officer. DeRoss and the men squabble amongst themselves, but with the tropical sun blaring down on them and with no food or water they are too weak to do anything else. Night falls and a thick fog sets in. The boat hits something in the dark and sinks, and several men are attacked by something under the water that drags them into the depths. DeRoss passes out and wakes up the next morning on a desolate beach on some remote island. Exploring, he discovers that most of the convicts were also washed up on shore, but through various mishaps it doesn't take very long before the group is reduced to only DeRoss and two criminal lowlifes, Jose (Franco Iavarone) and Peter (Roberto Posse).

inline ImageThey encounter a beautiful young woman on horseback named Amanda (Barbara Bach), who warns them to leave the island, but instead of doing so they follow her and discover a mansion built in the midst of the jungle. The mansion belongs to Edmund Rackham (Richard Johnson), a white man who claims to be the island's owner. In his employ are various native strongmen and a black woman named Shakira (Beryl Cunningham) who may be a practitioner of the dark arts. Though Rackham is anti-social and admonishes the men for intruding upon his domain, he nonetheless treats them hospitably, especially DeRoss. It eventually becomes apparent why - Amanda's father is one Professor Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotten), a geneticist who supposedly died years earlier. Though Marvin is still alive, he is gravely ill and DeRoss' medical knowledge is needed to treat him. Rackham desperately needs him to be kept alive.

inline ImageAs all this is happening, other strange things begin to go on. Peter meets his doom when he follows Amanda as she rides through the swamps and attempts to rape her. Instead he is clawed to death by a strange fish-like creature, the same creature that attacks and injures DeRoss on another occasion. There is some form of aquatic life in the swamps and in the coastal waters, something that is part man and part fish. They are the lost inhabitants of Atlantis, now evolved from humans to amphibious creatures, and now with the help of Professor Marvin they are being used by Rackham for his own greedy purposes!

inline ImageIsland of the Fishmen is known to most American viewers as Screamers (not to be confused with a 1990's science fiction film of the same name). However, the film which they saw was actually quite a bit different than the one that Martino delivered to the Italian producers when the film was completed in 1979. New World Pictures, the film's North American distributor, started by cutting a fairly large swath of footage out. They then re-dubbed the voices of Claudio Cassinelli and the supporting cast (though the voices of Barbara Bach, Richard Johnson and Joseph Cotten, all of whom delivered their lines in English, remain the same in both versions). Then they filmed a new prologue featuring actors Mel Ferrer and Cameron Mitchell, as well as extra special effects footage that was inserted during the Italian produced part of the film (supposedly, additional footage of a man being turned inside out - something promised by the original ad campaign but not initially delivered - was later spliced into the theatrical prints, though this footage has never been present on any home video releases, legitimate or otherwise, that I know of). The version that is presented here is the original, unedited export cut.

inline ImageThe film's main disadvantage is that the script contains too much exposition, something which is exacerbated by Martino's slightly lethargic direction. Although it's more lively than his work on The Big Alligator River, a film that is often regarded as something of a companion piece to this one, it still doesn't look like Martino took a whole lot of interest in the production. Not surprisingly, in Island of the Fishmen he seems more interested in scenes of action or violence, particularly the climax where the obligatory fishman carnage ensues. These were nice, big, juicy scenes that Martino could really sink his directorial teeth into, and were likely more rewarding to shoot than scenes of Claudio Cassinelli arguing with Richard Johnson, something which the script features lots of.

inline ImageMartino’s seeming disinterest in the film is echoed by his leads. Barbara Bach, who had been a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me just a few years before, goes through the motions like a pro, but it’s doubtful she had any special interest in shooting a movie about fish monsters. Claudio Cassinelli fares somewhat better as the lead, although the indifferent dubbing of his voice makes it difficult to evaluate his performance, and in addition, it is also something that eliminates whatever screen chemistry he and Bach might have had together. Richard Johnson overplays the part of Rackham, with his delivery of dialogue almost descending into levels of villainy that would be more appropriate for a cartoon badguy. But it’s poor old Joseph Cotton who suffers the most in the few scenes in which he appears. He plays a character that is supposed to look weak, sick and tired, but considering his age at the time of filming, it seems likely that little acting was necessary on his part to pull off the effect.

In the end, Island of the Fishmen works best as a fantasy film rather than a horror piece. The original European version is not without its violent moments, but what horror elements are there simply don’t fit the overall tone of the movie. They feel out of place, and the movie suffers for it.

inline ImageThe Fishmen and Their Queen opens in the year 2042 in the nuclear devastated ruins of New York City. We are introduced to Tom and Sam, two homeless pre-teens who live in the sewers. Ever since the city was wrecked in the atomic holocaust the contaminated survivors have taken refuge underground in order to hide from the Warriors, a force of mounted cavalry that hunts and exterminates the contaminated while blocking all escape from the city. After several harrowing escapades, the two boys are, through a stroke of luck, able to escape from the city, taking with them a strange book entitled "Destiny" that they found while in the sewers.

inline ImageAt a beach outside the city limits, they encounter a crazy old man named Socrates who, upon seeing the book, realizes that the boys have come across something very, very valuable, and tells them about an island somewhere in the ocean where they must all travel. He brews a potion using a formula from the book, and the three of them set sail in a makeshift raft.

inline ImageThe raft reaches the island, but Socrates dies en route. The boys bury him on the beach and then set off to explore. They meet a lovely young girl named Sampa, but soon learn some horrible secrets about the island paradise. It is ruled over by a beautiful yet icy queen (Ramona Badescu) with magical powers. Using her abilities, she has turned many of the island's inhabitants into horrible fish monsters. She is also hunting Pegaso, the island's prince who was turned into a mutant midget by her, but managed to escape and is in hiding. Banding together, Sam, Tom and Sampa must defeat the evil queen, undo the curse put on Pegaso and escape the island.

inline ImageNever before in my life have I seen a movie quite like The Fishmen and Their Queen. It is so bizarre, so ridiculous and so obscure that the mind boggles. I am absolutely dumbfounded as to how a production like this actually came into being. In many ways, the quality of the film itself is irrelevant. The direction, acting, editing and music are all sub par at best, but even if they were first rate it would matter little. What the movie does is overshadowed by what the movie is. It is one of the strangest, weirdest, most inane mixtures of elements that I have ever seen. The story arc crosses genres twice. During the early scenes it is a clear-cut science fiction story with all sorts of post-apocalyptic nonsense. But as soon as the characters get to the island, it abruptly switches to outright fantasy, only to take another abrupt turn back into science fiction during the last five minutes of the film. Along the way we are treated to flying vehicles, lasers, magical potions and enchantments, curses, spear-wielding Amazons, spaceships, a fatal demolition derby, the lost city of Atlantis and all sorts of other nonsense.

inline ImageThere is a depressingly large amount of stock footage not only from Island of the Fishmen, but also from Martino's 2019: After the Fall of New York. In order to give the impression that the fishmen exist in great numbers, he lifts several shots from the earlier film that show them in large groups. He also lifts a good number of underwater shots showing the creatures in their natural habitat. The amount of "original" fishmen footage is negligible, as is the importance of the creatures to the storyline. They are neither menacing, nor sympathetic. They are simply there on the screen, existing as just another point of distraction before the script throws something else ridiculous at you.

inline ImageThe Fishmen and Their Queen remains frustratingly - if understandably - obscure. For such a recent production, there is little information available about it. Although a full cast list is included in the credits, the only performer that is identified with a character is Ramona Badescu. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find any information on what other characters were played by what actors, even the two protagonists. Even the website run by the film's Italian rights holder had scant few details. This obscurity actually seems fitting for a movie like this. The story itself is filled with mysteries that ultimately go unanswered. But it's the film's obscurity that prevents us from answering the biggest mystery of them all: why the hell this movie even exists in the first place.

Image Quality

inline ImageIsland of the Fishmen is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the 16x9 enhanced PAL transfer looks great. Colors are vivid and fully saturated, and the image features a superior level of clarity and detail. This is actually the fourth copy of the movie that I have owned, and when I first got this disc in 2003 I was blown away by how it improved on past home video versions.

Of course, the transfer isn't perfect, and there are several flaws worth mentioning. Flesh tones have a tendency to look overly pinkish or orange, and there are more splices and specks present than I would like, but still, this is a very respectable presentation for an older Italian genre film.

inline ImageThe Fishmen and Their Queen is given in a 16x9 enhanced, 1.78:1 presentation, not 1.85:1, as the cover indicates. As befitting a newer movie (it was released in 1995), the transfer looks darn good for the most part. Colors are bold and deep and the level of clarity and sharpness is very good. The new footage contains some occasional specks and scratches, though these are minor. The biggest problems that the transfer has come during the beginning scenes, where all the stock footage from 2019: After the Fall of New York occurs. These scenes have a rather dupey look to them, and suffer from a noticeably higher number of scratches and specks. The stock footage from Island of the Fishmen looks better, but is still not up to par with the new footage.

Sound

The English 2.0 Mono soundtrack for Island of the Fishmen does a very good job of reproducing the music and sound effects, and a slightly poorer job of reproducing dialog, some of which can be difficult to make out at times. There are no significant issues with background noise or distortion.

inline ImageOther soundtrack options include the film's original Italian language soundtrack in 2.0 Mono, and German soundtracks in 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround. Unfortunately this is a German release, and there were a number of scenes in the film which were never dubbed into German. As a result, the German soundtracks will occasionally revert to English. Unfortunately, these segements also come with forced German subtitles, which can't be removed even when selecting the English or Italian tracks. This happens most frequently during the first third of the movie.

The Fishmen and Their Queen is presented with three audio options: two German language tracks, one in 5.1 Surround, the other in 2.0 Stereo, and an English language track that's also in 2.0 Stereo. The track is robust and clear, though there is some surprising background noise detectable from time to time.

Supplemental Material

Extras are minor to the point where they don't even warrant a grade. We get a slideshow for each film, and some filmographies for Sergio Martino and the principal cast members.

Final Thoughts

The two movies on this release are, to put it politely, a mixed bag. Island of the Fishmen is worth watching for spaghetti horror completists, or viewers who are fans of the talented lead performers. In contrast, The Fishmen and Their Queen is a mind-numbing exercise in cinematic insanity. Although the audio and visual quality of this release is quite good, it is now out-of-print and not easy to find. Since NoShame's Italian branch has now released their own DVD of the movie (which is reportedly in 16x9 enhanced 2.35:1 and with English audio), the only real reason to seek this disc out is if you (god forbid) have some desperate desire to see the otherwise unavailable Fishmen and Their Queen. Martino can and has done much better on many other occasions.

Rating

Island of the Fishmen
Movie – C+
Image Quality – B+
Sound - B-

The Fishmen and Their Queen
Movie – ?
Image Quality – B+
Sound - B+

Supplements – N/A

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - Island of the Fishmen - 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Running Time - The Fishmen and Their Queen - 1 hour 33 minutes
  • Color
  • Chapter Stops
  • German 5.1 Surround
  • German 2.0 Stereo
  • English 2.0 Stereo
  • English 2.0 Mono
  • Italian 2.0 Mono
  • Unremovable German subtitles (select scenes from Island of the Fishmen)
  • Rated 12 (German ratings system)
  • 1 Disc

Supplements
  • Still galleries
  • Filmographies

Other Pictures

 

 

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