Island of Death (1975) – By Roger Carpenter

 

Island of Death is a somewhat legendary film for extreme horror aficionados. Lensed in late 1975 on the Greek island of Mykonos (indeed, the original title of the film was Devils of Mykonos), director Nico Mastorakas admits his inspiration was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After experiencing Hooper’s film and noticing the long lines at the cinema, Mastorakas decided he could produce a film similar in content, if not in theme, to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Determined to make a film even more perverse and violent than Hooper’s, Mastorakas filled his script with as many heinous set pieces as he could dream up. The result was a very popular film that made a great deal of money around the world, but was censored and, in some cases, outright banned in several countries due to the violent and perverse content. So, is Island of Death really that violent? Well, yes and no….

Christopher (Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Ryall) arrive on Mykonos to celebrate their honeymoon. The opening shots of the couple disembarking from the boat onto Mykonos’ docks and strolling through the sun-drenched streets of this ancient, whitewashed island are idyllic. The perfect couple on their dream vacation. But Christopher and Celia aren’t who they appear to be. The audience learns this early on when the couple decide to have a little tryst in a public phone booth—and Christopher calls his mother to tell her of the act and to allow her to listen in. There certainly is more to this couple than meets the eye!

The two vacationers locate a house for rent and set up shop. Once unpacked, they wander the island in search of prey. Christopher enjoys pimping Celia out to the locals so he can secretly photograph the sexual encounters. The only problem is that he eventually becomes enraged at each Greek and kills them in creative and violent ways. But he doesn’t reserve his rage only for those men who make love to Celia. He expands his clutches to anyone he deems as “perverted.” Thus we have the painter who commits adultery with Celia, the gay couple celebrating their wedding, the older woman who enjoys golden showers, and the lesbian who also happens to be a heroin addict, all of whom die at the hands of Christopher. For her part, Celia doesn’t mind helping out but becomes tired of the project, only acquiesing because of Christopher’s insistence.

So…yes, the film is violent. There are plenty of murders and other violent acts. One man is crucified to the ground and drowned with a bucket of paint; the gay couple is murdered by sword and by gun; and the heroin addict is drugged and then Christopher torches her face with an aerosol can and a lighter. But, true to Mastorakas’ goal of upping the perversion quotient, there are also scenes of rape, bestiality, and sexual degradation—the last leading to death by kicking when the victim ends up enjoying the humiliating experience. However, while all of these set pieces are violent, many of the deaths occur just off screen and, true to the shoestring budget, the effects are primitive and, frankly, not terribly bloody. So gorehounds likely will not be impressed with the quality and amount of red stuff on display; but the physical acts that occur onscreen are nonetheless pretty heinous.

In fact, I found the motivations of the characters more despicable than the acts themselves. For instance, in one scene, Celia turns down Christopher’s sexual advances causing Christopher to leave the house and wander into the garden only to discover a goat. Christopher then grabs the goat, relieving his sexual needs with the animal. While there is nothing graphic in the scene, the mere idea is enough to disgust most viewers. However, Christopher isn’t finished yet. He then stabs the poor goat, leaving it to bleed to death in the garden. In another scene, an African-American detective has tracked the killers to Mykonos. Apparently, this isn’t their first killing spree as they left New York City when the heat became too intense. But they see the detective before he sees them, wrapping a noose around his neck and pushing him out of a plane, effectively lynching the black man. One has to wonder if Mastorakas was that in touch with American history and intentionally placed the noose around a black man’s neck or was it merely coincidence. Indeed, many of the couple’s victims are members of society’s fringe. No less than three homosexuals—both male and female—are murdered. One of those victim’s is portrayed as a drug addict. The older woman who cruises for younger men and enjoys, shall we say, different tastes, is also killed. The implication is they are all somehow “perverts” while Christopher and Celia who are just as debauched, believe themselves “pure.” Frankly, the whole concept is more disgusting than the acts portrayed in the film. But Mastorakas isn’t finished yet. He ups the ante again by revealing that Christopher and Celia are not actually on their honeymoon. I won’t spoil this particular revelation, but it pushes the Christopher and Celia’s level of hypocrisy to a crescendo.

Eventually both perpetrators become victims though Celia gets off much lighter than Christopher, perhaps paralleling her reluctance to continue the crime spree versus Christopher’s reveling in the destruction.

So, while the film isn’t perhaps quite as bloody as its reputation suggests, it is certainly distasteful on several levels. But the film isn’t without its strengths. The cinematography is very well done, likely helped by the gorgeous Greek countryside and quaint villages scattered across the island. The vast majority of the film, including quite a few of the violent scenes, occurs during bright daylight which further showcases the island views. Many viewers enjoy the soundtrack, composed of original songs co-written by Mastorakis. The music is fine but the lyrics are definitely strange. And the story allows for plenty of action, so boredom shouldn’t be a problem. The acting isn’t particularly strong, but is serviceable.

Arrow Video’s Blue-ray presentation, as usual, is very strong. The violence notwithstanding, the film really is bright and beautiful, with blinding sunlight and villages all in white. The colors really pop and the transfer is very clean. Arrow always includes subtitles, even for the English soundtracks, which is appreciated by this reviewer who is a bit hard of hearing and uses subtitles even for English-speaking films. Arrow has also included a fabulous amount of extra material. There are several short- to mid-length featurettes including an archival director interview, a visit to the film’s locations, and five original songs from the movies soundtracks. There are other short extras like the original theatrical trailer and two alternate opening credit sequences with alternate film titles, and even a 38-minute documentary on the making of the movie. But the real treat is a four part, 160-minute documentary, narrated by the Mastorakis himself, which covers the director’s entire career and nearly every film he worked on. He clearly doesn’t take himself seriously and had a great deal of fun traveling the world making low-budget films. And finally, there is a 34-minute trailer reel of Mastorakis films as well.

Regardless of whether you think Island of Death is a masterpiece of perversity or just another low-budget wannabe film, there is no denying it is always entertaining. And Arrow’s inclusive collection of special features is worth the price of this BD + DVD combo alone.

If you are interested in purchasing this disc, you can go to: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa