Island of Death
Although I have seen most of the films that were either on the DPP's list of films that were officially considered obscene or others that were caught up in the whole débâcle and wrongly termed 'video nasties'. I had never heard of Island of Death until I watched the Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide DVD set and saw it introduced on there by Allen Bryce followed by a German trailer for the film which was under the alternate title of The Devils in Mykonos. Seemingly leaving no taboo left uncovered, I decided that I had to see the film and, fortunately, Arrow Video were planning a release. Showing that a great deal has changed since the mid-1980s, the BBFC passed this uncut with an 18 certificate so the film would be available in the form that writer/director Nico Mastorakis intended it to be seen.
The film begins with a rather oblique image that won't make sense until the film is nearly finished but then you are introduced to an English brother and sister, Christopher and Celia, arriving on the beautiful Greek island of Mykonos. Once there, I a scene that beautifully sets the tone, they decide to have sex in a phone box whilst on the phone to their mother in London. Unsure of where exactly to go, they ask a local for directions only to find that he is actually an American and overtly homosexual. Once they find the apartment, Christopher takes a shine to the small building at the end of the garden which, being a keen photographer, he wants to turn into a dark room for the duration of their stay.
Trying to describe the actual narrative arc of Island of Death isn't easy as apparently Nico Mastorakis wrote the whole thing in only a week but still created something that is fascinating viewing. The film is almost a descent into madness as both Christopher and Celia have prophetic dreams - ones that they believe will come true. This is particularly the case with Celia who dreams they will meet a man who raped her and murders Christopher, something he dismisses out of hand that is strangely superstitious when it came to Celia's decision to buy a diary as he thinks a red book will bring bad luck and he doesn't want to keep a record of what they do on the island.
As the two murderous lovers embark on a rampage across the island to rid it of people who are in some way impure as Christopher wants to leave the island to innocent people and to nature, whoever doesn't fit into Christopher's ideal will be dispatched. Christopher seems to take an instant dislike to his 'guide, when he and Celia are invited to the man's engagement party to (shock, horror!) another man. Although he was a little weird beforehand, something seems to snap in Christopher and he decides to kill the two men. They won't be the only ones to go as he also wants to do away with drug dealers, gays, prostitutes and African-Americans. Unbeknownst to Christopher, the only black man on the island is a private investigator who has been hired by his mother but, PI or not, the man has to go.
During the course of Island of Death, virtually every taboo and depraved act as people are killed in extremely nasty ways and you will have such wonderful pastimes as bestiality, animal murder, watersports, attempted rape, Sapphic love, sodomy, racism, homophobia and incest. There are also many different ways of killing people from shooting them to cutting them up with a sword, beheading them with a construction vehicle, crucifying them and making them drink lime or burning them with an aerosol. Mastorakis reputedly spent one day writing a list of outrageous sex acts and the next a list of gruesome ways to die, with his form in the backbone of his screenplay. As the VHS cover art said, "The lucky ones got their brains blown out"!
This didn't just run into trouble in the UK was banned in several other countries and heavily censored elsewhere and has only been available in cut form in Britain until Arrow Video's submission to the BBFC in 2010. For a film that contains such extreme material, it is surprising just how unintentionally funny some of it is because of the now dated costumes, dialogue and representation of a homosexual lifestyle. In the commentary, Mastorakis claims that people laugh because they need an output from absorbing all the horror and I don't think he grasps how unintentionally amusing some of the dialogue can be. In addition, some of the death scenes are so extreme, they are funny, especially the beheading with the front of a bulldozer!
I really didn't know what to expect from Island of Death, whether I would be shocked, disturbed or affected but I didn't expect to be slightly amused and enjoy it quite as much as I did. In Christopher, Mastorakis has created a truly disturbing and fanatical character who you are occasionally side with (at least I did) as you want the violence and, rather than being upset by the scene in which he makes to a goat because Celia isn't in the mood is somewhat funny because of its absurdity and then, when he takes a knife to the animal, you know that it wasn't really harmed because otherwise the BBFC would have insisted the scene be removed. For a film that was made the sole intention of making money and containing lots of violence because Mastorakis saw how popular The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had been a few years earlier, it is surprisingly engaging and entertaining.
Island of Death has just about everything in terms of the outrageous sexual scenes, methods of murder and a beautiful, picturesque setting. It is also a fantastic watch so should be something that both newcomers to the film and those who have seen it several times before should watch again.
The main extra feature is the commentary with Nico Mastorakis who is joined in the recording booth by Calum Waddell who tries to steer Mastorakis on to the more interesting and appropriate subjects. The great director turns out to be a fascinating and highly amusing speaker and his double act with Waddell makes this one of the more enjoyable commentaries I've ever listened to. Although Mastorakis is Greek, he sounds a lot like Guillermo del Toro because of his rather rough and deep voice and there are quite a few moments when I thought the entire thing was going to go completely out of control and it does finish a couple of minutes before the final credits but is well worth a listen.
Interview with Nico Mastorakis (25:14) who again proves to be an enthusiastic and engaging speaker in a really well directed and edited featurette with great clips, lighting and setting you don't just have a screen with Nico Mastorakis' head dead centre for 25 minutes! Some of the material in this interview was also covered in the commentary but there is some new stuff here so it is worth watching this even if you have just finished watching the film with the commentary track.
Live Q&A (16:54) begins with Nico Mastorakis introducing the film before a screening in Dublin and then a Q&A session follows, moderated by Calum Waddell, during which a variety of interesting questions are put to the director who answers them with enthusiasm and humour, turning the tables on the session by asking audience members questions.
Original Trailer (2:55) is an interesting addition because I'd only seen the German trailer and this one, for the film and its alternate title of Cruel Destination shows you exactly what you should expect from the film in less than three minutes.
The Music of Island of Death (6:43) isn't, as I expected, an in-depth look at the music and score but a selection of songs playing with images from the film - both still and moving - on the screen as a slideshow of sorts.
Re-recording of 'Destination Understanding' (20:39) contains interviews with five different bands with very different musical stylings (from garage punk to folk and industrial metal) explaining why they like the film and the song before giving a live performance of their version of the song. This is really the only piece with the traditional animated credit sequences by Naomi Holwill and it is good to see them at some point on the disc.
As usual, High Rising Productions have done a very good job putting all these together, showing that Calum Waddell and Co. Are amongst the hardest working people in show business.
The set also contains a reversible sleeve so you can either have the terrific piece of artwork by Rick Melton, if you are a real sucker for nostalgia, the old VHS artwork. Additionally, there is a poster with the cover art on one side and the 25 Arrow Video releases on the other, plus a booklet with a fascinating essay by Dave Hayles.
As Mastorakis tells it, the filming process for Island of Death was a strange one as he wanted to release the film in full frame 1.33:1 but, as this was out of fashion in the mid- to late-1970s, he knew that the picture would be 'blown up' for widescreen distribution and had to frame accordingly. Certainly, the film looks as if it was designed to be released in full frame and it looks extremely good here in 1.33:1, not suffering from being 'expanded' to a widescreen picture which would involve the top and bottom of the frame being removed, so it actually benefits from this ratio.
In terms of the colour and contrast, colours are strong and vibrant which make Mykonos look like an idyllic island with beautiful lime washed buildings, permanent blue sky and son and surrounded by a beautiful blue sea. This only serves to enhance the horror unleashed by Christopher and, although the blood may be a little too red, it looks extremely good. The contrast levels fare less well as some of the (unconvincing) day-for-night shooting results in some slightly murky and badly defined shots but, as these aren't integral to the film and are basically there to create atmosphere and a growing sense of tension, nothing really is lost as the atmosphere and tension is still created.
I was surprised at how convincing some of the SFX make-up was, with some extremely simple effects having the most impact including someone whose face has been on the receiving end of a home-made flamethrower.
The film was recorded in English so it makes perfect sense that the only audio track is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono one. The dialogue comes across nice and clearly and there is no problem with any poor dubbing as Mastorakis used English-speaking actors and non-actors -- he even has a cameo appearance as a fiction writer with a rather fetching beard! He does say that some of the extras were members of the crew and the two hippies were really just hippies who were around on Mykonos and even brought their own wardrobe as he thought their own clothes were perfect.
One of the main highlights of the entire film is the soundtrack, particularly the song Destination Understanding, which is a brilliantly cheesy piece of Euro pop and there is an eclectic mix of songs and scored music throughout the film that works really well.
It's time for fans of Island of Death to put their VHS or imported copies to one side because this is a superb release of a brilliant cult film. With very good AV quality, a decent selection of extras in a case packed full of more supplementary material, this is a fine DVD release that should please long-term fans and newcomers alike.