Island of Death (1975) (AKA Island of Perversion/Devils In Mykonos)
Distributor: Arrow Video
DVD Release Date: 21st March 2011
Directed by: Nico Mastorakis
Starring: Bob Behling, Jane Ryall, Jessica Dublin, Gerard Gonalons
Review by: Keri O’Shea
Ah, how to describe Island of Death? It’s fair to say there’s nothing quite like it: a pair of sexually-depraved, murderous characters rape and kill their way around a sleepy Greek island in a film somewhere between A Clockwork Orange and a tourist board commercial. Banned for its violent content during the UK’s Video Nasties cull in the 80s and only just released uncut by Arrow Video, it’s one of those terrible films you nonetheless have to see (and may even find bizarrely compelling).
A man lies close to death in a lye pit: helpless, thinking over his life until that point and being refused help by his female companion, Celia. But was it always so? We flash back to happier times: the man, Christopher (Bob Belling), and his ‘wife’ Celia (Jane Lyle) arriving on the picturesque Greek island of Mykonos. It all seems innocuous enough: they meet some of the locals, do a spot of shopping, take a few photos…
But when an afternoon stroll turns amorous and Christopher decides upon simultaneously having sex with Celia whilst calling his mother in London, you start to get the impression that our Chris might be a bit wrong in the head. The call was traced, too, and we see that police in London are keen to catch up with the pair. Perhaps this isn’t your common-or-garden package holiday after all.
From here, an array of variously gruesome, silly or nasty scenarios takes place. Celia and Christopher have very jaded appetites, and Christopher especially alternates between puritanical and batshit-crazy with amazing speed (his knitwear is a good indicator of the danger we can expect: just as poisonous creatures often display ‘warning’ colours, so does Christopher via his frankly shocking wardrobe). Various sexual encounters – mostly photographed either by Christopher or Celia – are followed by the murder of the ‘sinful’ party. Celia is just not getting the same kick out of their activities lately though, and together with the fact that the cops are in pursuit, it looks like their fun and games are under threat.
Island of Death has a reputation: this is no doubt largely conferred by its former banned status. However, in its way it’s an incredibly naïve film, one which operates a kind of tick-box depravity. As the director later admits, the idea was to shoehorn as much creative violence and sex into the film as possible. Incest? Check. Gay and lesbian sex? Check. Bestiality? Sure, the more the merrier! We end up with a series of grotesque characters being bumped off in increasingly ugly ways with only a very loose plot to link what’s going on. However, even knowing that Island of Death was nothing more than an exercise in deliberate shock value to make as much cash as possible, I find it impossible to hate the film. It’s cheap, nasty, yet still watchable in a mesmeric ‘what the hell else are they going to throw at us?’ way. The weird contrasts within it are entertaining, and – dare I say it – there’s even some evidence of technical skill: the film’s voiceover, the use of still shots and photography as a medium and the cinematography are all innovatively-handled. There’s a strange – probably accidental – atmosphere here too, which, combined with a watchable cast of largely amateurs and tourists and that soundtrack, gives us something memorable, even if perhaps for all the wrong reasons.
The Arrow release has a host of special features and some of these are more interesting than the film itself. Director/writer Nico Mastorakis provides an engaging audio commentary and also appears in an interview where he comes across as personable, honest and very down-to-earth. He tells us that Island of Death came about thanks to a conversation about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: here was a film made on a shoestring which nonetheless made Tobe Hooper a fortune. Hey, thought Mastorakis: I could make a film with even less money than Hooper, make it more violent, and maybe make even more profit! He also shares some opinions on censorship which would have most of us giving an inward cheer. The DVD also offers footage of a Q&A with Mastorakis – very much on good form – at a showing of Island of Death at the Dublin Horrorfind film festival in 2010, and a chance to revisit the film’s soundtrack over memorable scenes. Look out for the original trailer, too.
I’m not going to pretend that Island of Death is some lost classic or an example of misunderstood genius. It isn’t. But its weird blend of different elements definitely puts it in the so-bad-it’s-good category for me, and if nothing else it’s an interesting document of just what a filmmaker will do to try to ensure his B-movie makes money.