Island of Death (1976)
“The movie that the censors don’t want you to see”
Director: Niko Mastorakis
Cast: Robert Behling, Jane Lyle, Jessica Dublin
Synopsis: A British couple on a break on a small Greek Island spread terror beyond anything the islanders could have ever imagined.
Although his directing skills are highly questionable, there’s no faulting Nico Mastorakis’s forthright honesty; he openly admits that after watching Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) he decided that a sure-fire way to make money and get noticed as a filmmaker was to make a movie that was even more morally corrupt and depraved. He had no artistic intentions and no message to peddle, he just wanted to make a movie which would gain the kind of reputation that would have everyone wanting to see it, regardless of whether it was actually any good or not. Presumably, he sat down one day and compiled a checklist of the grossest things he could imagine, which is why, if you so desire, you can see in Island of Death all manner of perverse acts ranging from the mild (a raggedy Greek shepherd farting on a man he’s just beaten up — a moment which is, quite honestly, hilarious in a strangely surreal way), to the distasteful (a slutty middle-aged bleached blonde receiving a golden shower) to the downright perverse (a man raping a goat before slitting its throat).
Island of Death is a strange hybrid: one part travelogue movie, one part soft-core porn and one part serial-killer horror. Here though, we get two serial killers — Christopher (Bob Belling) and Celia (Jane Ryall), an attractive young couple who travel to the Greek island of Mykonos for a holiday. Mykonos is one of those typical holiday destinations where sex, drugs and general debauchery are high on the menu — and that’s just for the locals. In truth, the place seems to be strangely deserted apart from the few unfortunate souls whose paths happen to cross that of our deadly duo, but each of these characters possesses some flaw or perversion which marks them out for death in the skewed judgment of our two holidaymakers. To show just how out there these two are, Christopher phones his mother from a glass-walled phone booth and gives her a summarised description of exactly what he’s up to as he engages in a bout of enthusiastic public sex with Celia, an act which becomes all the more shocking in the light of a late twist. Obviously, Mum isn’t too thrilled to be receiving this kind of call from her own son, but there happens to be an eavesdropper on the line — a private detective called Foster (Gerard Gonalons) who heads straight out for the island to apprehend the duo.
While Foster’s in transit, a hulking gay man informs Christopher and Celia about a small house they can rent from a sexy Greek woman and, once settled in there, they start their holiday in earnest. The movie introduces them to a number of characters — a randy painter, a heroin-addicted lesbian bar manager, a nymphomaniac blonde, that gay man and his willowy male bride, a couple of hippie rapists, etc — all of whom will eventually become victims of the couple. The deaths are as bizarre as Mastorakis’s warped imagination can manage; the couple’s first victim, after being seduced by Celia, is nailed by his hands to the ground and has 10 litres of Dulux forced down his throat, another is skewered on a ceremonial sword, and a third is actually decapitated by a bulldozer. You’ve got to give Island of Death credit for originality, even if it is all done in a relentlessly ham-fisted fashion.
Judged by the standards of mainstream cinema, Island of Death is a bomb in all departments, but compared to other sleazy exploitation flicks it does actually pass muster. Mastorakis certainly isn’t a hopeless director, although he’s not very good, and has a habit of padding out ‘action’ (for want of a better word) scenes so that they lose any measure of suspense or, well, atmosphere of any description. But, having said that, he’s a much better director than he is an actor — which we know because he gives himself a small role as a novelist who is one of the movie’s few characters to keep all their clothes on and is excruciatingly self-conscious to the point where he can barely speak his lines. In fact, he’s so bad he makes Jane Ryall’s performance seem worthy of an Oscar. Lucky for her she has a gorgeous body (which she’s unafraid to share with the world) with which she can deflect much of the criticism due to her.
Island of Death gained a notoriety it probably didn’t deserve when it became one of the titles singled out for condemnation in the UK during the hysteria over ‘video nasties,’ and I’m fairly sure that, had it not received all that attention, it would have sunk into total obscurity rather than acquiring the cult status that has lovers of exploitation flicks seeking it out. To be honest, most of it is pretty tame by today’s standards, and the movie wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if it was released today. It ends with what is apparently supposed to be a dose of heavy irony and a big twist which does, to be fair, come as something of a shock. But by then you’ll probably have grown bored with the seemingly endless succession of sleazy characters awaiting their turn to be sliced, diced or beheaded by our two heroes.
(Reviewed 29th October 2013)