Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Video Nasty #27 - Island of Death

If the reviews at this blog employed a 5-star rating system, Island of Death would score a solid ????? Behind the bland and generic title, (which also served an as alternative title for Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's Would You Kill A Child ?) Nico Mastorakis's 1976 film is a real oddity. When released on UK VHS in November 1982, the distributor, AVI Video proclaimed the film to be "approved and passed by the BBFC", which was not strictly true. The BBFC approved version, which played a few theatrical dates in the late 70's was missing some 14 minutes, unlike the AVI release which was fully uncut and not surprisingly this den of inequity came to the attention of the DPP...


The story concerns a young couple, Christopher and Celia who arrive at the picturesque Greek island of Mykonos. At a phone booth, Christoper phones his mother to taunt her while having sex with Celia, and following that, the couple commit a series of gruesome murders to purge the island of deviants and sinners... Director Nico Mastorakis was so impressed with the box office profits of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (and perhaps the shock tactics of Saló) that his second feature was designed to include as many vices and taboos as possible - wanton sex, homosexuality (gay and lesbian - remember this was the 70's), drug taking, golden showers, bestiality, rape and sodomy, not to mention some sadistic violence. By the time the final scene of the film arrives and it's revealed that Christopher and Celia are brother and sister, it hardly raises an eyebrow. In Island of Death, it seems perfectly appropriate.


Island of Death is noteworthy for the elaborate deaths many of its characters meet - one man is force fed a bucket of paint, a woman is decapitated by a bulldozer, another woman is killed by a massive dose of heroin and finished off by an improvised aerosol can blowtorch. In the the film's most absurd moment, a man on the trail of the murderous couple is hung from a small aircraft, mid-flight, no less. Directed with verve and energy, Mastorakis employs a tight, hand held shooting style, lending the film a distinct otherworldly texture with the use of a fish-eyed lens to distort many of the compositions, and at one point, the action is observed as a series of staccato still images. As well as writing, directing, producing and editing the film, Mastorakis also includes his own musical contributions like the strangely memorable "Destination Understanding" song with it's loopy lyrics ("There is a pocket in my hole, to save the rain drops for the fall, that means I'm rich 'cos I'm crying")


Speaking on the DVD extras, Mastorakis spoils the fun somewhat by claiming the film has little subtext, that the story was written to facilitate as much perversion as possible. But with scenes like Christopher crucifying a man to the ground "in the name of almighty God" it's difficult not to see the film as a broad satire on stern religious morality and the inherent hypocrisy of those who preach it. Perhaps as a nod to Ken Russell's film, the original title of Island of Death was The Devils of Mykonos. Performances in the film are generally good with Mastorakis filling out the cast with almost entirely non-professionals (and among them, the director himself playing a snooping reporter). The two leads are especially fine, given some of the extremes the film demands of them. Bob Behling as Christopher is convincingly edgy (a troubled personal life no doubt feeding in to his performance) and Jane Ryall as Celia, her girlish, delicate beauty striking a nice contrast with her casual way with murder.


Arrow's Region-free 2011 DVD of Island of Death is a beauty, featuring an amazingly detailed fullframe transfer that pushes the envelope for standard definition. There's some debate whether the film should be shown in 1.85 but it hardly matters - simply put Island of Death has never looked as colorful or as vibrant as it does here. The mono audio track sounds excellent too, the dialogue spoken by the actors during filming sounds clear, as does the film's songs which sound tremendous here. The disc includes the same extras as the US Image disc - a commentary by Mastorakis plus two addtional interviews with the director, an interesting feature about the music of the film, and rounded off with an international trailer. As with other Arrow releases this release comes with a double-sided sleeve, sporting Arrow's inhouse artwork, and the flip side featuring the striking pre-cert sleeve seen above. Highly recommended if you're looking to take a walk on the wild side.

5 comments:

  1. Wow this sounds sick and fun! Never got around to see this video nasty, I always mistook this one for the spanish one.

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  2. Sounds really interesting Wes, that VHS sleeve is fantastic and what a tag line! If that doesn't make you want to see it I don't know what would.

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  3. Jesper, definitely see this one if you can, it really is a lot of fun...

    Mart, I think this is my favourite VHS sleeve of all the Nasties. It's actually a split second shot from the film, seen during a nightmare sequence. Arrow did well to include it on the reverse side of the DVD sleeve...

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  4. This has been on my Netflix disc queue forever - I should go ahead and watch it - the plot interested me to add it - but it got lost in the shuffle of the other 499 discs I added.

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  5. Craig, it's well worth seeing, easily the weirdest thing on the Nasties list, but a very strange, singular film in its own right. One suspects the director was using shock and awe techniques to turn his film into an international hit, and in many ways he's succeeded - it's place on the Video Nasties list is a sure ticket to immortality.

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