Director: Nick Mastorakis
Screenplay: Nick Mastorakis
Starring: Bob Belling, Jane Ryall, Jessica Dublin, Gerald Gonalons, Clay Huff
Running Time: 106 mins
BBFC Classification: 18
A young couple arrive at the Greek Island of Mikanos and rent a room with a woman whose husband is away a lot. Said couple wander around the beautiful island drinking in the sights and sounds that Mikanos has to offer and initially they seem to behave like normal tourists. Only Chris (Belling) and Celia (Ryall) are no ordinary couple, as we soon find out…
Firstly, they seem to be up for pretty much any crime and also shag each other wherever they like (a telephone box comes in handy early on). It soon becomes apparent that Chris is very critical of others and sees that he has the right to act as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to meting out punishment for any perceived misdeeds. This usually comes down to the wayward couple killing anyone who displeases them.
In fact this film is one long litany of nasty capital punishments, at least in the warped minds of Chris and Celia. One man is crucified and has paint poured down his throat, a gay couple are brutally slaughtered by knife and gun, an older woman is beheaded with a bulldozer, and even a goat is killed, but only after Chris has had his wicked way with it first! And all the while Chris is narrating the story of their visit to the island and we see much of the carnage and mayhem they wreak through his ever present camera’s lens.
It’s only when our two perverted lovers have a chance encounter with a highly-sexed goat-herder, that they actually meet someone who is probably more dangerous than they are and this has severe consequences for both of them, especially Chris.
Island of Death was, for good reason, on the DPP’s original list of ‘video nasties’ here in good old Blighty in the early eighties and much has been written about it. Hence I’m not going to go into too much detail here; suffice to say that it is still a pretty shocking film, although much of the nastiness is amateurishly done so didn’t cause me as much offence as I was expecting. In fact I found myself frequently laughing at it as I couldn’t take it too seriously, which I think was director Nick Mastorakis’s intention. This theory is confirmed by watching the disc’s extras.
Island of Death feels, at times, like an art-house horror film done by Troma, and it’s that weird tone that sets it apart from most other horror films. Undoubtedly it’s pretty unpleasant in places, but compared to some of the more modern gritty horrors of recent years (e.g. Martyrs, Saw, Hostel) it’s quite tame by comparison; although it does still have the power to shock.
The photography is pretty decent, although I think you’d be hard-pressed to make the island look bad. This is accompanied by a rather strange soundtrack, although I did quite like it. In fact picture quality on the Blu-ray I watched was excellent, although there was a bit of grain near reel changes and the soundtrack did flutter a few times.
The acting is a bit of a mishmash of styles and abilities, with Bob Belling coming over strongest and the others seeming to be more am-dram level, if that. To be fair, Ryall hadn’t acted before she did this film so I think she does quite well, considering.
Mastorakis’s direction is generally reasonable, although he’s a bit of an erratic talent – he can provide us with some excellent scenes one minute and then some pretty poor ones the next. In fact his directorial technique reflects the uneven tone of the film itself – you’re never too sure how to react to some of what is going on in front of you – whether you should laugh, cry or shake your head in disgusted disbelief… But that kind of makes it an interesting film to watch and it’s certainly pretty memorable, although maybe for all the wrong reasons!
All in all I found Island of Death an interesting, if not a particularly enjoyable, viewing experience; it’s worth a look though, at least for fans of vintage nastiness.
Island of Death has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray and is being distributed by Arrow Films.
As is typical for Arrow Films they’ve done a bang-up job of the disc as a whole and have provided a whole host of interesting extras to accompany the film. In fact the extras are probably worth buying the disc for alone.
Firstly, there’s a Nucleus Films documentary called ‘Exploring Island of Death’ (38 mins) with exploitation film expert Stephen Thrower, which is really well done and very interesting.
Secondly, there’s ‘Return to Island of Death’ (17 mins), which is another doc where the director revisits the island to take us around the locations from the film and talk about how the movie got made. Again this is pretty interesting and Nick comes across like a Greek version of Lloyd Kaufman, from Troma.
Thirdly, there’s an interview with the director (24 mins) where he gives us a potted history of himself and talks a little about censorship. Once again this is worth a look.
And, finally, there’s a four-part documentary on the films of Mastorakis presented by the great man himself. All four parts are interesting and talk us through the different time periods of his career, including his brief foray into Hollywood filmmaking. Nick is really good value for money and all the sections are worth watching, particularly if you’re a filmmaker yourself. My only criticism is there’s an over-reliance on clips to pad out the running time – some of the clips are more like 10 minutes of the actual films playing out in real-time. In fact this documentary is over two and a half hours in length!