Reviewer's note: This review is based on a promotional screener (sans box or artwork), not a final, shelf-ready disc. Therefore, as is the policy here at DVDTalk, audio or video elements won't be rated until we receive a finished product. The review will be amended at that time.
Well...at least Anna Palk gets boned. Scorpion Releasing (so many fun, campy titles), through their Katarina's Nightmare Theater line, has released Tower of Evil (known here in the States as either Horror on Snape Island or Beyond the Fog), the 1972 U.K. slasher opus written and directed by Jim O'Connolly, and starring Bryant Haliday, Jill Haworth, Anna Palk, Anthony Valentine, Jack Watson, Robin Askwith, George Coulouris, Candace Glendenning, Derek Fowlds, William Lucas, and Dennis Price. Now considered a minor cult item among some history-minded slasher enthusiasts, Tower of Evil looks pretty ordinary today, unfortunately, because of countless subsequent imitators. However, anyone into 70s U.K. horror, or slasher films in general--particularly if one is looking for some gratuitous nudity--will find Tower of Evil an agreeable, if at times pokey (hee hee!), time waster. A few extras hosted by Katarina Leigh Waters are included.
The fog-enshrouded Snape Island, off the coast of England. Exceedingly glum sailor Hamp Gurney (Jack Watson), piloting his small boat, theSea Ghost, with his equally charismatic father, John (George Coulouris), docks at the island, where both disembark. Heading for the small island's abandoned lighthouse, they discover first a severed hand, then the nude butchered bodies of American teens Des (Robin Askwith), Mae (Seretta Wilson), and Gary (John Hamill). Unfortunately for John, he discovers the island's fourth visitor, Penny Read (Candace Glendenning), who, bloodied and naked and in a frenzied, terrified state, leaps from her hiding place and uncontrollably stabs poor John to death, before being knocked out by Hamp. Back at an inland hospital, smooth Dr. Simpson (Anthony Valentine) uses drugs and psychedelic lights (?) to prompt the catatonic Penny to recall what happened on the island.
Meanwhile, even smoother museum director Laurence Bakewell (Dennis Price), discovering that Des was impaled with a Phoenician ceremonial sword, believes that Snape Island must be the home of an ancient burial temple, so he assembles a team of archeologists to go ashore: married couple Dan and Nora Winthrop (Derek Fowlds and Anna Palk), and former lovers Rose Mason (Jill Haworth) and Adam Masters (Mark Edwards). Into this tension-filled team--tense because we discover that apparently, these bickering couples have, er, um..."swapped" before--comes Evan Brent (Bryant Haliday), a private dick hired by Penny's parents, who are convinced their little pot-smoking, jazz festival-attending, hard-partying-hippie girl, is innocent of the murders. Aiding Hamp with the boat is his nephew Brom (Gary Hamilton), long of hair and pretty of pants, who immediately sets his sights on horny slut Nora. Naturally, once everybody settles into the abandoned lighthouse, it's time for people to split off on their own so they can get hacked to pieces by whatever it is that roams Snape Island.
Watching this DVD, only tiny bits and pieces of Tower of Evil came back to me, after having caught a version of it called Beyond the Fog at one of my area's last drive-ins back in 1980 or 1981. The amusingly tiny lighthouse model that's behind the credits looked familiar, and of course I recalled how sexy/snotty I thought Anna Palk was here (when wasn't she?). The rest of Tower of Evil, though, was pretty much a blank. As a welcome surprise, though, 30 years on, it sorta grabbed me right from the start. The opening sequence where Watson and Coulouris land on the island and discover the bodies worked better than it had any right to, not despite the skimpy, fog-shrouded studio sets but because of them, with art director Disley Jones (The Italian Job, Murphy's War, Fright) and once-renowned and now-slumming cinematographer Desmond Dickinson (Hamlet, The Browning Version, Murder Most Foul, Berserk) creating a simplified, nightmarish visual that was capped off by the unsettling discovery of the bodies--not to mention naked Glendenning's hot/spooky stabbing of Coulouris and her screaming naked run through the fog.
Things got even better when the movie went inland for Valentine's scenes with Glendenning, with editor Henry Richardson creating some well-pitched flashback montages of Glendenning's terrifying memories of the slayings. The flashbacks are fairly creepy in their intensity, with the unintentionally funny bonus of the hippie clothes, the poor dubbing, the promise of hippie sex (Penny's a virgin...and yet she's okay with "pleasing a man"), and the dated slang. The presence of silky smooth Valentine (so good in Woodward's Callan series) and his bogus "Christmas tree color wheel" psycho-therapy, struck just the right note of ridiculousness that lovers of these vintage horror outings crave (he seems so genuinely serious about this mumbo-jumbo). Add to that, then, the appearance of the swinging archeologists, headed up by rutting cow Palk, and I began to wonder how O'Connolly's (Berserk!, The Valley of Gwangi) movie was going to get anymore enjoyable by this point.
Distressingly, Tower of Evil is all downhill from there. Far from delivering on the promise of some kind of U.K. version of a Swedish sex film filtered through Amicus horror, the cheatin' archeologists turn out to be a fairly boring lot, with only sluttish Palk acting out--to absolutely no impact on the others, including her unknowing husband (only Haworth is even aware of what Palk does...and she doesn't care, either). While the sight of Palk lying seductively on the bed is most welcome, her too-tight vest opened as she appreciatively checks out Hamilton's equipment, it's not nearly enough to distract us from the tired bump-in-the-night spookums that plague the movie's second half (it doesn't help that when she does get down to business with Hamilton, it's so awkwardly staged and cut...no wonder she looks bored). The rest of Tower of Evil is a sub-standard imitation of Hammer gothic horror, with a bit more gore thrown in to reflect the changing exploitation times (coarser times that ironically were spelling the death knell for Hammer), but with absolutely none of the panache and evocative atmosphere of those earlier, better efforts. The Phoenician angle is never adequately explored or made effective, while the rest of the murders are thoroughly routine. As for the so-called "surprise" revelation at the movie's end? Well...even the most casual horror/mystery fan will have sussed it out long before the few remaining dolts do here. Too bad, too... Tower of Evil seemed to have such promise.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.