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Island of Death
[During which Grampa Kurt goes back on another nostalgia trip, mooning about the Good Old Days of exploitation cinema.] Island Of Death is one of those sleaze classics once whispered about in disbelief. And even though its content has now (and frankly had been then) outdone many times over in terms of explicitness and transgression, the movie still makes your jaw drop like the microphone of an angry poet. So sail on up to the Island Of Death to enjoy your outrage the way we old folks do.
Nico Mastorakis' catalog of perversions sports a pretty simply set-up: a British couple, Christopher (Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle) travel to the Greek island of Mykonos for a little 'R 'n' R'. That's rape 'n' righteous retribution, don't ya know. And of course there's nothing righteous about their forms of retribution, nothing at all. It's likely you already know much of the fun stuff you'll find on this Island, but it wouldn't be a proper review without a list of some kind. What do you get? Goat-rape and murder, surprise watersports, vindictive farting, blowtorch-to-face, loaded-revolver-fellatio, and so much more! Time has passed, special effects have gotten more explicit, and we've all seen worse.
However, the reason Island Of Death still packs a punch, (for those willing to look past their own jaded, hipper-than-thou attitudes) is its complete lack of moral center.
Mastorakis was inspired to make Island by Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, that movie which has yet to be equaled in its depiction of bedrock insanity. Though he mostly just wanted to equal Hooper's money-making success-through-exploitation, Mastorakis gives Saw a good run in terms of directing a movie whose sole purpose is to be shocking. To wit, the protagonists we're forcibly thrown in with are total scumbags (Law Enforcement chasing them represent bit players at best). The best chance we have of identifying with anyone on this Island is represented by the flamboyant gay men who rent Christopher and Celia a room, and those men function mostly as victims. Nope, we're thrown in with a pair that only wants to kill everyone they deem to be 'guilty' in life, in other words, those who represent various aspects of Chris and Celia, the biggest hypocrites on the Aegean.
Behling wholly owns his part as Christopher; he's utterly unlikeable, petulant, egotistical, and takes way too much pleasure in all the killing, raping, and general douche-baggery to which he commits. Lyle is a different story, a model who couldn't act (per the extras, but it shows regardless of foreknowledge). Her stilted line readings do however lend a weird gravity to her character. It's as if she's entirely disconnected from her life and actions. The movie is also frickin' gorgeous, shot by Mastorakis and Nikos Gardelis in woozy whitewash wide-angle shots with plenty of disorienting day-for-night action. It's a lovely fever dream, with Mykonos absolutely playing a vital role, and (thankfully) losing none of its appeal despite the nasty qualities of the movie. And oh yes, there is also plenty of nudity and soft-core sex; goats, rape, watersports, buggery, and more! (Hey, gotta please the exploitation fans!)
Though special effects may have come a long way in the last 40 years, (and were in truth easily more explicit when Island was made) and movies may have gotten more savage, Island Of Death still represents a high-water mark of exploitation. There aren't many more 'daylight horrors' like this one, with a laundry list of awful things done by awful people. Without any ethical grounding, we kind of have to wonder if maybe it isn't OK to pour paint down a fornicator's throat, or shack up with a developmentally disabled shepherd, or rape and kill whomever you please. Leave your need for explicit gore at the ticket office, forget that Hostel was ever made, and luxuriate in the warm Greek sun, where jerks run free with sickles in their hands, and spiritual redemption is but one murder away. Highly Recommended for discerning sleaze enthusiasts.
This full-frame 1.37:1 presentation preserves the Original Aspect Ratio of the movie, while the Dual Layer disc enjoys a fantastic 1080P MPEG-4 AVC Video encoding job that cleans up, brightens up, and generally spiffs up all the daytime horror. Very minor dirt specks and film damage will only occasionally be discernable to those keeping a sharp eye out, as will some minor light level fluctuations at the tail end of the movie, (down to the source material, the original negative) but on the whole this is a fantastic looking presentation of a 40-year-old exploitation classic. Colors are bright, true and rich, while black levels aren't really something to think about, since nighttime scenes were all shot day-for-night anyway. So we'll say the blue levels are luscious, and note that there aren't any transfer problems to mention. Arrow Video has done a fantastic job.
English uncompressed PCM 48K Mono Audio suffers a bit by comparison, but seems completely true to the source material. Songs are loud and proud compared to dialog, and there are lots of them. Source recording reveals some echoes and muffled dialog during parts of the movie, while other weird bits of extraneous noise crop up every now and then (for instance during the notorious goat scene). Nothing is worthy of complaining about, in light of the fact that you can discern everything you need to, easily, but this is not the greatest sounding Blu-ray you'll find, even for an old movie.
Arrow makes amends for neglecting to add a commentary track to this 2-disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo release, by packing a number of goodies on the Blu-ray disc. First up is Exploring Island Of Death, a 38-minute featurette with noted author Stephen Thrower putting the movie in cultural context. It contains spoilers but is quite worth watching. Return To Island Of Death is 17 minutes of director Mastorakis revisiting locations and laughing it up with bit players. Also pretty enjoyable ride for fans. A Nico Mastorakis Interview doles out 24 minutes of the director giving his background and waxing philosophical, which once again makes for fun viewing. The Films Of Nico Mastorakis is a two-and-a-half-hour(!) documentary narrated by Mastorakis, exploring his whole career. Presented in HD, this extra feature comes sourced from a full-frame videotape, so expect a vintage feeling experience. Also included are two Alternative Opening Sequences, (2 min total) with different title cards and suchlike. Island Sounds represents 5 songs (24 minutes) from the film. English SDH Subtitles, the Original Theatrical Trailer, a lengthy Nico Mastorakis Trailer Gallery, plus Reversible Cover Art and a Booklet Insert with an Essay by film historian Johnny Walker, round out the package.
Special effects have come a long way in the last 40 years, and movies have often been more savage, but Island Of Death still represents a high-water mark of exploitation. With a laundry list of awful things done by awful people, and minus any ethical grounding, Island represents exploitation film-making at its finest. Leave your need for explicit gore at the ticket office, forget that Hostel was ever made, and luxuriate in the warm Greek sun, where jerks run free with sickles in their hands, and spiritual redemption is but one murder away. Highly Recommended for discerning sleaze enthusiasts.