As director Nico Mastorakis tells it, his feature film Island Of Death was inspired by a screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After observing its effect on the audience and its success at the box office, he decided to make his own sensationalistic shocker. The results would play around the world, helping him transition into mainstream filmmaking and even earn a place on England’s “Video Nasties” list. It is nothing like the film that inspired it but it offers a barrage of gleeful transgressions with a twisted personality all its own.
Island Of Death begins with a couple, Christopher (Bob Belling) and Celia (Jane Ryall), visiting the island of Mykonos for a holiday. However, that’s just a cover for their real plans: Christopher is a psychopath whose sees himself as having a holy mission to punish the corrupt in the world. With Celia as his accomplice, they start killing and/or seducing and killing anyone who Christopher deems unworthy: a gay male couple, an aging seductress, a lesbian barmaid, etc. However, it’s a small island and their murder spree brings heat on them, leading to a third act where they learn the error of their ways while trying to dodge the consequences of their acts.
Island Of Death was the work of a self-taught filmmaker on his second feature and the results wear their roughness on their sleeve: performances are all over the map, special effects are modest and the pacing and structure have an erratic, tentative quality. That said, Island Of Death is more a rollercoaster than anything else. Mastorakis makes sure that film features an act of violence or bit of sexual content a few times per reel, which will endear it to the exploitation crowd it targets. He has a few noteworthy co-conspirators in Belling, whose performance has an unnerving intensity that offsets its raw edges, and Ryall, who spends at least half of her screen time topless or naked.
However, what really makes Island Of Death compelling is how weird it is in its approach to its sex and violence formula. Mastorakis goes for the deeply twisted at every turn: Christopher first displays his propensity for violence by raping then killing a goat(!), one murder involves a crucifixion followed by forced paint-drinking and there’s even an unexpected bit of “water sports” thrown in for surprise kink during another scene. The director sets this all to a unique score whose songs mix folk music with slushy Eurovision pop melodies, which makes a queasy contrast to all the perversion on display.
In short, Island Of Death is pure exploitation. Mastorakis would go on to make better, slicker films but this earlier, rawer effort has a go-for-broke sensibility and an unself-conscious eccentricity that makes it worth hunting down for grindhouse buffs.
Blu-Ray Notes: Arrow Video has just issued an impressive blu-ray/DVD combo set for this film in the U.S. and the U.K. The transfer presents the film in its unmatted 1.33:1 ratio and the results are sharp and colorful. The English mono track is presented in lossless form and it is clear and well mixed.
This set also boasts a bevy of extras. Stephen Thrower offers an expansive, nearly 40 minute chat about the film that covers Mastorakis’s early career, critical thoughts on the film and an interesting reading of how it uses its transgressive content to critique moralism and hypocrisy. Mastorakis himself offers a nearly 25-minute chat about the film, freely admitting it was a “recipe” movie that used exploitative elements to help him make a name as filmmaker. He pokes fun at his own performance in the film, discusses his memories of the shoot and cast and offers some impassioned anti-censorship commentary. Mastorakis appears again to take the viewer on a tour of the film’s Mykonos locations in a new featurette.
And there’s much more where that came from: a 4-part documentary that Mastorakis produced about his career is included here, offering tons of detail of all his films as well as a variety of outtakes, on-set footage and even music videos for his films. It’s a great way to get acquainted with this overlooked filmmaker’s career. A 25-minute suite of the film’s catchy soundtrack is included as well as a show-stopping theatrical trailer that crams as much sex and violence in as it can. A trailer show offering over 30 minutes of trailers for other Mastorakis film is also included: it’s a fun montage of shootouts, low-brow comedy, sexy women and periodic cross-dressing for laughs.
A color booklet with memorabilia and liner notes on the film’s legacy completes the package. To sum up, this is a real collector’s edition for fans of classic video nasties. Anyone who fits that definition should pick it up.
Full Disclosure: this review was done using a check-disc blu-ray provided by Arrow Video U.K. The disc used for the review reflects what buyers will see in the finished blu-ray. A PDF of the liner notes was provided by Arrow for this review.