Saturday, June 20, 2015

ISLAND OF DEATH (1976) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)


Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: Region Free
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 108 Minutes
Audio: Mono LPCM Audio English with Optional English SDH
Video: 1080p HD Open Matte (1.33:1) 

Cast: Robert Behling, Jane Lyle, Jessica Dublin
Director: Nico Mastorakis

Synopsis: Welcome to Mykonos, the holiday destination of choice for sun, sea and slaughter! From cult director Nico Mastorakis, Island of Death is a travelogue of atrocities with scenes so strong that the British Government was once compelled to ban it as a “video nasty”. Arriving on the idyllic Greek island, Christopher and Celia appear to be every inch the perfect, handsome young couple. Little do the welcoming locals realise that they are in fact a pair of murderous degenerates, determined to spread their own particular brand of perversion across the island. DIY crucifixions, opportunistic bestiality, sexual peeing and murder by all conceivable forms ensue – including death by makeshift blowtorch, samurai sword, dump truck and more!

Christopher (Bob Belling) and Celia (Jane Ryall) are a young English couple whom arrive on the small Greek vacation island of Mykonos for a bit of relaxation and good times. The island is simply gorgeous, the villas are clean with bright white painted walls, the locals are a colorful sort and the weather is fantastic. Upon arriving in such a wonderful place the young couple cram into a phone booth for a quickie while Christopher calls his mother in the midst of their fornicating only to taunt her with their naughtiness, which is very bizarre, but trust me, it gets way weirder! At this point we don't know much about this young couple but were pretty sure that both are probably right fucked in the head and the real fun hasn't even started as of yet.

Soon begins a deadly routine of the couple befriending various islanders, seducing them, photographing the dirty deed and then murdering the victims is a series of gruesome ways. This duo are demented nuts who see themselves as some sort of perverted avenging angels who exact severe punishment on sinners with odd proclivities, which is certainly odd as these two are clearly bat shit insane and drenched in sin, the reveal at the end of the film is the cherry on top of this exploitation sundae. 

Director Mastorakis freely admits he deliberately set out to shock audiences with this slice of exploitation nastiness after having watched Tobe Hooper's seminal shocker The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). He set pencil to paper and simply made a checklist of outrageous sexual perversions and disgusting murders, the sleazier the better, it must have looked something like this...
Incest with sister  
Sex with a goat  
Sodomy ✓ 
Golden Showers 
A lynching from a plane ✓ 
Crucifixion ✓ 
Drowning in lye ✓ 
Death by sword ✓ 
Victimization of minorities ✓ 
Christian hypocrisy ✓ 
Death by spear gun ✓ 
Rape ✓ 

Christopher and Celia are not very likable people, they're definitely not people you can empathize with unless you happen to be a demented psychopath. This is not about sympathetic figures caught in an extreme situation who are forced to do the unthinkable, this is a film that simply enjoys seeing bad people act out terrible deeds upon what are largely undeserving victims. As sleazy as the film is it manages to be quite watchable with some decent cinematography shot by Mastrorakis himself and from a variety of skewed angles. Another quirky element that adds to the movie's charm is an odd folky soundtrack which brought to mind David Hess's score from Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972), there's also some strange narration which doesn't so much endear you to the lead characters as it does ad an element of black humor, the film is quite funny despite what my wife thought, looking at me shaking her head disapprovingly from the other room. Island of Death will never be mistaken for great cinema but I think it's a pretty fantastic watch for those predisposed to raunchy exploitation with a side of weirdness. According to director Mastorakis the c0-star of the film Bob Behling, who also appeared in Cujo (1983), committed suicide in a rather odd way, he apparently crammed a tube connected to a propane gas take down his throat and opened the valve, which sounds just awful.

Arrow Video had previously released Island of Death on DVD back in 2011 and have now simultaneously released it on Blu-ray in the US and UK with a brand new 2K restoration from the original negative, providing a nice bump in A/V quality, colors are more vibrant, skin tones appear more natural and there's a depth and clarity largely absent from the standard-def image. Texture and fine detail also have some nice HD gains

The a newly lossless mono audio also fares well enough, those quirky folk songs will be stuck in your head for a few days, the Blu-ray also offers an English subtitle option. 

Onto the bonus material we have some great new extras beginning with a massive four-part documentary exploring the films of Mastorakis, a thirty-eight minute piece with author Stephen Thrower discussing the movie, and a seventeen-minute piece with the director returning to the island of Mykonos where the film was shot. Additionally there's a 23-minute archival interview with Mastorakis, the original trailer, over a half-hour of Mastorakis film trailers. and five selections from the soundtrack. 

Separate from the disc extras we have a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, but it's hard to top the original DVD artwork from Arrow, love it. There's also a fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by academic and film historian Johnny Walker.

Special Features:
- Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, approved by writer-director-producer Nico Mastorakis
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Exploring Island of Death – film historian Stephen Thrower on the making of a cult classic (38 Mins)
- Return to Island of Death – Mastorakis returns to the original Mykonos locations (17 Mins)
- Archive interview with Mastorakis (24 Mins)
- Alternative opening titles (2 Mins)
- Island Sounds – five original tracks from the Island of Death soundtrack (24 Mins)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins)
- The Films of Nico Mastorakis – four-part documentary charting the director’s filmmaking career (159 Mins) (Blu-ray Exclusive)
- Nico Mastorakis Trailer Reel (35 Mins) (Blu-ray Exclusive)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
- Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by academic and film historian Johnny Walker

Notably missing from the Blu-ray is the audio commentary with director Nico Mastorakis and author and Calum Waddell which was featured on the previous arrow Video DVD, which I can only assume is part of the fallout between High Rising Productions and Arrow Video. Also absent is the Mastorakis interview and a Q and A session, plus the 2010 re-recordings of “Destination Understanding” from “Island of Death” by the bands Kylie Minoise, Acid Fascists, Sea Bass Kid, Southern Tenant Folk and The Fnords. The original DVD release from Arrow also included a double-sided fold-out poster and a different collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by critic David Hayles.

Island of Death is wonderfully sleazy and faithfully lives up to it's reputation as a demented Video Nasty, a trashy piece of tastelessness and totally awesome. If you love raunchy exploitation movies this is a must own slice of shock-cinema.