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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review: Island Of Death (1975)

"Mykonos Island, nothing more than a deserted rock; white houses and small narrow streets; 365 churches; a place where they worship God, the perfect place" exclaims Christopher.  I'm not sure what else our prayerful protagonist read in the brochure, but within minutes of arriving he's putting it to his girl Celia in a phone booth while he makes his mother listen.  If that doesn't seem awkward enough, police tap and trace the call.  Turns out they may be wanted for murder and on the lam.  Christopher's certainly on a goat a little later when Celia's not in the mood.  Yes, you read that right.

You immediately realize that Nico Mastorakis's Island Of Death is a vehicle being driven solely for offensive shock value.  The threadbare plot follows this murder-for-kicks couple whom take it upon themselves to rid the world of sin.  They believe they are doing God’s good work by punishing perversion and delivering any questionable minority to the pearly gates; so homosexuals, blacks, heroin-addicts, horny painters, old rich whores and yes, even a goat, are among the varied (and laughably stereotypical) targets the terrible two set their sights on.

What throws Island Of Death completely over the top is that this devout and dangerous duo also indulges in kinky sex and voyeurism themselves at every opportunity.  So we get to witness them seduce, torture, maim, drug and kill their victims in all sorts of wonderfully depraved scenarios.  And if that's not scummy enough for you, they also capture all their exploits with their trusty Nikon camera to masturbate to later.

There are pacing issues due to the insertion of a few musical segues that are so ludicrous they become amusing in their own right.  Most notably during the police officer's "search montage", where a bizarre uncredited folk-rock song repeats the chorus "Desperation. Understanding. Destination isn't ending" and then culminates in a refrain of "get the sword, get the sword, kill them all".  The score as a whole is rather polished, musical numbers excluded, although it does offer its own strange nuances and curiosities.  For instance, a touching harmonica and harpsichord medley accompanies the unforgettable "goat sequence", just to give it that extra little dab of discordance.

The acting is occasionally weak and it contains enough awkward jump-skips to hurdle the Mississip, but all pretty standard stuff for this type of sordid affair.  The photography is at least superior to most exploitation pictures and suggests Mastorakis is more capable than he's letting on.  There's lots of violence and some mild gore, but handled in a manner that prevent things from having too much accumulative effect.  Some of the more unusual death scenes include a crucifixion, a sickle through a door, gun fellatio and a noosing by plane.

In the end it is the overwhelming sleaze factor of Island Of Death that keeps you watching and makes it such a distinctive work of deviancy.  Its worst moments are implied rather than graphically shown and we're given little time to process anything before it sprints to the next questionable episode.  It encapsules everything about grindhouse films that make them such a guilty pleasure: off-color, politically incorrect, sexually titillating, gratuitously violent and entirely unpredictable.  No morality play or social commentary to get in the way of "the show", just sick people doing sick things for our extreme viewing pleasure.  The original tagline read: "the lucky ones got their brains blown out", to give you an idea of the film's basic ethos.

Not surprisingly, Island Of Death became a victim to British censors in the 80s and it enjoyed the buzz of being on the ‘video nasty’ list.  It's still an indefensible film by any of today's standards, but don't condemn it for not being perversely entertaining - because it is.  Put the kiddies to bed, grab a beverage, pop some corn and get to it.

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