Thursday, March 3, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Island of Death (1976)

Release Date: March 21st 2011

Label: Arrow Video
Region: Region 0 PAL
Duration: 101 Min.
Rating: 18 Certificate
Director: Nico Mastorakis
Cast: Bob Behling, Jane Ryall, Jessica Dublin, Gerard Gonalons

Plot: Greece is transformed into a bloodbath of sex, death and sadism when an English couple arrives for a perverse rampage of lust and murder through the sleepy streets of a quiet island. No taboo is left unbroken as the feral pair screw and slice through the local population and their livestock, driven by a combination of libido and twisted morality to slay those they see as unfit to exist. Now, see Nico Mastorakis’ notorious and long censored video nasty in all its uncut and full strength glory.

Film: Every so often I'll watch a film that really puts my wife to the test. The test being if she made a wise decision marrying me. To be fair I'm not quite sure that she passed the test, and after 13 years together the jury may still out on that one. There must be doubt when she walks into a room and on screen she witness's a man fuck a goat and then slit it's throat. I can see why she questions herself from time to time. It's probably creepy that she's mortified by what's transpiring on screen and I'm off to the side smirking from ear to ear and occasionally eliciting an inappropriate giggle. Well, that's how my wife was introduced to the Greek Video Nasty Island of Death (1977)

Christopher (Bob Belling) and Celia (Jane Ryall) are a young English couple whom arrive on the small Greek island of Mykonos for a bit of relaxation and fun, it's a lovely place. The island is gorgeous, the villas are clean with bright white painted walls, the locals are a colorful sort and the weather is fantastic. In such a beautiful place the two do what any young couple would, cram into a phone booth for a quickie and simultaneously call his mother in the midst of their fornicating and taunt her with their naughty deeds. Bizarre stuff, right away I knew this was going to be the blackest of comedies. At this point we don't really know much about this twisted couple but were pretty sure that both are probably right fucked in the head and the real fun hasn't even begun yet.

Soon begins a deadly routine of befriending an islander, seducing them, photographing the dirty deed and then murdering the victims is a myriad of gruesome ways. This duo are demented avenging angels who exact punishment on those they deem sinners with odd proclivities which is just odd cuz these two are out and out batshit insane and disgustingly pervereted. There's a reveal at the end that's the cherry on top of this grotesque exploitation sundae. Director Mastorakis freely admits he set out to make a deliberate exploitation film aimed at shocking audiences after seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He set pencil to paper and simply made a checklist of outrageous sexual perversions and disgusting murders, the sleazier the better... Incest✓ Bestiality✓Sodomy✓ Golden Showers✓A lynching from a plane✓ Crucifixtion✓ Drowning in lyeDeath by sword✓ Victimization of minorities✓ Christian hypocrisy✓ Death by speargun✓ Rape✓ and loads more. Pure exploitation, little plot, sleazy sex and a decent bodycount.

Christopher and Celia are not very likable characters, definitely not people you can get behind unless you're a psychopath. This is not about sympathetic figures caught in an extreme situation forced to do the unthinkable, this is a film that simply revels in seeing bad people act out terrible deeds upon largely undeserving victims. As sleazy as the film is it's very watchable and rather well photographed by Mastrorakis himself. Other quirky elements adding to the film's entertainment value is an odd folksy soundtrack not unlike The Last House on the Left (1972)   and a weird narration that doesn't so much endear you to the characters as it does ad an element of black humor, the film is quite funny despite what my wife thought. The acting is spotty at times but  I would hold it up against other exploitation classics like I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and The Last House on the Left if not better. While Island of Death will never be mistaken for great cinema I think it's a pretty fantastic watch for those predisposed to raunchy exploitation cinema. On a sad note according to Mastorakis star Bob Behling, who also appeared in Cujo (1983) and Land of the Minotaur (1976), committed suicide in a rather odd way. He apparently struck a tube connected to a propane gas take down his throat and opened the valve.

DVD: Arrow Video have give Island of Death a brand new transfer, completely uncut for the first time. How this made it past the notoriously strict BBFC censors uncut I'll never know, that's just crazy. The film is presented in it's original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio the transfer looks surprisingly good for it's age, great color and clarity with only few noticeable instances of print damage, a very fine restoration indeed. The mono audio fares well enough that the film's quirky folk songs will be stuck in your head for a few days. No subtitle options are provided.  On top of a great transfer Arrow have given the film a great assortment of bonus material including a brand-new commentary with the director, featurettes, interviews and a trailer.

Special Features
- Brand new audio commentary with director Nico Mastorakis and author and Calum Waddell Mastorakis and Waddell discuss the film at length. The two have a jovial  rapport that makes for a spirited and entertaining listen. Mastorakis talks about the films beginnings, it's casting and the films reputation as a Video Nasty. He also discusses the death by suicide of star Bob Behling, it's a pretty bizarre and successful suicide.
- Q&A with director Nico Mastorakis (16:55)
- Interview with Nico Mastorakis (25:00) - an entertaining interview with the director who speaks of the film with great interest and humor.
- Original trailer (2:56) - a trailer under the film's alternate title Cruel Destination.
- The Music of Island of Death (6:43) - a short featurette featuring songs from the movie set to stills and scenes from the film.
- 2010 re-recording of “Destination Understanding” from “Island of Death” (20:39)
An interesting featurette featuring five bands interpretations of the films main title "Destination Understanding", the bands featured are Kylie Minoise, Acid Fascists, Sea Bass Kid, Southern Tenant Folk and The Fnords. A good mix of indie, noise, punk and bluegrass.

My check disc from Arrow Video featured all of the disc information but none of the following packaging extras. Should you be so lucky to purchase this here's what you get.
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by critic David Hayles

Verdict: Island of Death is fantastically sleazy by design and lives up to it's reputation as a vile and demented Video Nasty. It does what few other films have, it actually shocked me a bit and in that respect I was endlessly entertained by the sickening parade of repulsive acts. A film truly deserving of it debaucherous reputation loaded with sex, violence and devilish black humor. It's sleazy, trashy, and irredeemable - it's Island of Death and its totally awesome. If you love exploitation cinema there's no way you're not going to enjoy this, I could watch it again and again which is something I can't say about other exploitation flicks. 4 outta 5