Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Nico Mastorakis
Starring Bob Behling, Jane Ryall, Jessica Dublin, Gerard Gonalons
Distributed by Arrow Video
As one of the movies that sat proudly atop the UK’s infamous “Video Nasties” banned list before going on to enjoy increasingly more intact (yet still censored) re-releases, Island of Death’s reputation certainly precedes it. Now, for the first time, Nico Mastorakis’ blast of depravity is landing on DVD completely uncut courtesy of genre stalwarts Arrow Video.
Island of Death tells a very basic story: A young couple, Christopher (Behling) and Celia (Ryall), arrive on the beautiful Greek island of Mykonos for what appears to be a holiday. It doesn’t take long, however, for the pair to begin acting rather strangely – starting with Christopher calling his mother from a payphone so she can listen to him having sex with his companion. The call is traced, and we’re made aware that the police are also looking for the pair as a detective jets off for the island. As time moves on, Christopher also starts to make comments about the residents of the island, deeming them perverse, filthy and sordid. Eventually our protagonists (if you can call them that!) kick off a campaign of torture and murder across the island in an effort to cleanse it of those they deem impure.
An extremely low budget exercise in sheer exploitation, Island of Death’s reputation is well deserved. In an endless quest to shock the audience, director Mastorakis pulls out every kind of sexual perversion and act of violence he can, including gay sex, lesbianism, rape, bestiality (and the subsequent killing of the raped animal), urophilia, crucifixion and more. There really is very little point to any of the proceedings, but the ever escalating insanity of the situations that play out here manage to hold your interest in a sheer “what on Earth is coming next?” manner.
Despite being an amateur production, it’s surprisingly well shot and benefits immeasurably from the stunning locations. Having most of the film take place in shining daylight with plenty of brightly coloured clothing and set design adds to the breezy, flippant approach that also serves to make the film as subversive as it is. The music, however, betrays the miniscule budget when it isn’t repeating the Mastorakis-sang theme song incessantly. It’s a quirky, amusing song, but it’s repeated so often that it soon becomes annoying.
Despite how vicious and reprehensible much of the behaviour portrayed in Island of Death is, the film is actually pretty low on the gore score with most of the grue either glimpsed or taking the form of blood/brains splashing onto walls or faces. There’s a huge amount of naked flesh, both male and female, on display throughout, and while even mainstream filmmakers have certainly produced much more graphic material (on both fronts) in recent years, it isn’t difficult to see why the film caused such as stir back in 1977.
Director Mastorakis makes no bones about admitting that he only made the film as a concerted effort to out-do The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in terms of shocking material in order to make money from an ever-growing audience. He simply made a list of the most depraved sexual and violent acts he could think of and wrote the script in a week. This is probably Island of Death’s main downfall, as the story simply has no meat on its bones. It’s a random, meaningless exercise in savagery and audience-baiting held very loosely by a narrative thread. It certainly succeeds in its aim of being an ugly, disgusting piece of work and is a recommended watch in terms of its historical significance in the genre and censorship; but don’t expect anything approaching a developed, or particularly interesting, story.
Arrow’s DVD presentation of Island of Death is very good. The video is well restored, offering a solid and nicely detailed showing. Being an old flick, grain and occasional print damage are unavoidable, but both are handled very well. The original mono soundtrack is clear and light and does exactly what it sets out to do.
True to form for their back catalogue, Arrow have a whole host of extras on display here. Physically, there’s a fold-out poster in the box alongside a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by critic David Hayles. These were not included with the screener so can’t be reviewed. On the disc itself, there’s a brand new audio commentary with director Nico Masterakis and journalist/critic Calum Waddell. The two have a great rapport, and Masterakis’ wealth of information and opinions means this is one of the best commentaries I’ve listened to in a while. In fact, it’s a perfect accompaniment to the film – probably better to listen to than the actual soundtrack!
Next is an interview with Masterakis which runs around 25 minutes or so. This one isn’t new and has been included on previous DVD releases of the film, but if you haven’t seen it, then you’re in for a treat as Masterakis’ attitude, openness and sheer down–to-earth attitude is extremely endearing. This is also seen in the next special feature – a recording of a Q&A session with him, moderated by Waddell at Dublin’s Horrorthon in 2010.
On top of this we have the original trailer for Island of Death, a featurette entitled The Music of Island of Death, which is literally just songs/music from the film played over various stills, and Re-Recording of Destination Understanding. This one’s an odd entry, featuring the previously mentioned theme song from the film being performed by five bands of various genres – Garage Punk, Indie, Riot Grrrl(?), Bluegrass and an unbelievably insane Extreme Noise rendition featuring a “dancer” donning a goat mask. If Island of Death were ever remade by Rob Zombie or Platinum Dunes, I could almost see it being the new theme.
3 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5